Re: [sixties-l] (Fwd):Reparatiopns, DH & the Left

From: Marty Jezer (
Date: Tue Apr 03 2001 - 09:52:59 EDT

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    Like many on this list, I've battled David Horowitz. I agree with Ed Herman
    and others that the media routinely practices censorship and there is a long
    history of it banning ads with peace and justice messages. That said,
    censoring DH was incredibly self-defeating and unprincipled. Not only has it
    made DH a martyr and give him more ammunition to blast the left, but it
    undermines the progressive position with regard to free speech -- or what
    should be the progressive position in that regard. When progressives
    support censorship we forfeit the right to protest when major media censors
    us. More specifically, college newspapers should be open to all points of
    view -- even obnoxious ones. People are in school to learn to think. For a
    college newspaper to censor or to bow to pressure and censor is cowardly.

    The papers that banned the DH ad should have argued against it in editorials
    and written articles to challenge his facts. Reparations, of all issues,
    should be open to discussion. It angers me that the left seems to have
    placed the issue of reparations under the banner of political correctness,
    beyond debate. It does more than anger me. It makes me despair. When will we
    ever learn?

    I first heard of the idea of reparations from Ron Daniels, who was then
    involved in the Rainbow Coalition and is a political thinker whom I
    respect. But on this issue he, and the many others promoting this idea are
    possibly wrong, for reasons of principle, pragmatism, tactics and goals.
    I've not read what DH wrote in his ad but I'm sure what I'm going to say
    reflects some of his points. So be it.

    1) Discrimination in the US, dating back to slavery, continues. The
    devastating legacy of slavery continues to put African-Americans at a
    disadvantage. Jim Crow/legal apartheid, which lasted until the 1960s, also
    devastated the African-American community. Let's grant all this and ask how
    to speed the healing and bring about economic justice.

    2) Can you blame children for the sins of their parents? As a Jew, I ask
    that about the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the
    Nazis. Financial reparations are small compensation for what was lost.
    Certainly, the perpetrators of the crime should pay, and pay harshly. But
    their children? Some say it's the German government that has to pay, but
    after 1945 the Third Reich was gone. How many generations does it take for
    responsibility to end? This is a subject worthy of debate. Or is raising
    the questions now deemed politically incorrect?

    As with the Germans, can we blame the great-great-great-grandchildren of
    slaveholders for the sins of their ancestors? And what about the children of
    immigrants who came here after slavery ended?. Yes, we all benefit from
    having white skin and most of us
    have probably been guilty of some form of racism at one time or another,
    but slavery is not our fault.

    3) From the standpoint of social psychology, victimization is a destructive
    role for a people to assume. The Serbs, the Jews, the Palestinians, and many
    other peoples, to one degree or another, are debilitated when they assume
    this identity.
    African Americans, too. Reparations, I believe, plays in to victimization.
    This issue demands a much larger discussion, but in summary, encouraging
    victimization isn't good for a culture.

    4) Politically and practically speaking will it fly? If it won't, why push
    it? The demand for reparations is, to me, grandstanding, a way of accusing
    whites of racism without trying to deal with the problem. The civil rights
    movement self-destructed when it turned from concrete programs to the
    rhetoric of honky baiting.
    One practical reason reparations won't get political support rests on the
    question of
    how much are African-Americans themselves putting back into their
    community? -- A very touchy subject!. There are studies that show that
    ordinary African Americans put a lot of money into their churches and other
    local institutions. And some church organizations do invest heavily in
    housing and other essential
    infrastructures. But there are now many black millionaires, especially in
    sports and entertainment. Some put back into the community (Cosby, Michael
    Jordan, etc.) Maybe most do and it only needs more publicity. But I think
    not. And on this issue perception counts for a lot. We often hear of a new
    sports millionaire endorsing or sponsoring a basketball league for kids or
    something like that. It's never very much and, more important, the giving is
    not institutionalized. Asians, Jews, and other ethnic groups have thrived
    because those of their number who make it are under great pressure
    to give some of it back. Hopefully my perception of African American
    philanthropy is wrong. But the black community has its work cut out for it
    showing the public that it is doing all that it can. Practically speaking,
    how can one demand that the nation pay reparations when so many black
    celebrities are such conspicuous consumers. Surely there are historic
    reasons for this fact. People denied a piece of the pie are going to want to
    enjoy the pie when they get it. Whatever the facts, the perception
    undercuts the
    reparation demand.

    5) Demographics: African Americans are a shrinking minority. Hispanics now
    equal them in numbers. For reparations to pass in Congress, or any
    legislature, proponents are going to need allies. The fact of #4 undercuts
    that possibility.

    6) So what to we do? the African American community deserves and has earned
    by its
    labor -- in conditions of slavery, under Jim Crow apartheid, and in everyday
    discrimination, e.g., in the building trades -- a better economic shake. So
    do other immigrant groups, as well as whites in pockets of poverty (although
    the cause of their poverty is not so historic and institutionalized). The
    solution is to make this a class issue that crosses racial and ethnic lines.
    We need a War on Poverty (with a different name); one that works. We need
    public investment in wiping out slums, in better schools (and more
    scholarships for higher education), in job training, and so much more. I
    don't know what such a program would look like, but certainly there have
    been lessons learned from the errors of the Great Society. As a race
    issue, reparations won't go anywhere; take race away from it and there is a
    large constituency that can be mobilized. Practically speaking, African
    Americans will be a primary beneficiary of such a program. And that is how
    it should be. But right now there is no political focus or political will
    for mobilizing for such an initiative -- neither from Democrats,
    progressives, or Greens. (Not even a book, like Harrington's "Other
    America," to create attention). In my opinion, the demand for reparations,
    because of its narrow and controversial focus, makes it harder to get the
    issue raised.

    Another movement to end poverty would be a unifier; reparations are
    divisive. Those of us who want the good results that would come from
    reparations (helping the African American
    community) should think hard about whether reparations are what is needed to
    bring them about. The demand for reparations, in my opinion, is
    point-scoring rhetoric, not a demand for something that can be achieved.
    That David Horowitz and other right wingers and racists also oppose
    reparations is no reason for us to give knee-jerk support to it. At the
    minimum, reparations need debate. Circling the wagons to fight people like
    DH doesn't suggest a political climate where honest discussion can begin.

    And that is why I despair for the left.

    Marty Jezer

    Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words
    Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel
    Rachel Carson: Author, Biologist
    The Dark Ages: Life in the USA, 1945-1960

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