Racist ad is not free speech issue
REPARATIONS: Students should recognize motives behind Horowitz's claims
By Joseph Anderson
On college campuses across the country such as UC Berkeley, Brown
University, Princeton, Duke, University of Wisconsin and UC Davis, there
has been a firestorm of controversy over an anti-African American
university newspaper attack ad titled, "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for
Slavery is a Bad Idea and Racist Too"
The ad was sent to 34 different college newspapers. It was considered by
many people of color as incendiary and manifestly racist. Indeed it could
have been written by the Aryan Nation.
While the Daily Bruin and most other college newspapers did not print the
ad, the reaction of students at other universities suggests that students,
including those at UCLA, have not been exposed to enough information about
the kind of attitudes the ad expresses and why those attitudes are indeed
The author of the ad, David Horowitz, is a '60s-era, former left-wing
advocate. But Horowitz jumped ship with the shift in the prevailing
political winds toward conservative Reaganism, son of Reaganism (Bush), and
even covertly neo-conservative, "New Democrat," Clintonism.
Horowitz apparently decided that there was more money, a better life, and
especially much more media attention, something he craves, to be gained on
the conservative side.
Unfortunately, there was always a handful of either loosely wrapped or
intellectually thin leftists in the '60s (e.g., Clarence Thomas), who
ultimately felt that the sails blowing to the right were financially
fuller and decided to go with that.
In the meantime, Horowitz raises to a fine political art the same
"self-victimology" that he generally attacks African Americans for
perpetrating. Here, Horowitz cloaks himself as the ultimate "free speech
Horowitz runs his attack operations out of Los Angeles. His headquarters is
the harmless-sounding Center for the Study of Popular Culture. But
Horowitz's activities and his recent book, "Hating Whitey," are anything
but harmless. His book attacks African American civil rights activists as
being anti-white racists.
At UC Berkeley, on his latest anti-African American, racial-vendetta
crusade, David Horowitz abruptly turned tail and bolted after his campus
speech on March 15. This after only the third questioner challenged him.
People of color have rightly condemned his "reparations" ad and ranting
speech as racist.
But many whites, including UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl, have
tried to twist the ad issue into a free speech issue. So it is obvious
that, even in the year 2001, many whites, including the chancellor, still
don't recognize blatant racism, suitably couched. This is a despicable
state of affairs in a so-called institution of "Higher Learning," to borrow
from the title of Ice Cube's rap song on racism in college.
But, David Horowitz was not out to promote free speech. David Horowitz was
out to promote himself as usual.
In a format perverting the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights, Horowitz
claimed that reparations to African Americans have already been paid in the
form of welfare. With a racist mind-set at the foundation of all his
arguments, Horowitz stereotypes most African Americans as living on
welfare. Apart from that being false, welfare is provided to people because
they are poor, not because of their race.
In a sick twist, Horowitz then claims that not only does America not owe
African Americans reparations, but that, in fact, it is African Americans
who owe America a greater debt for ending slavery. He further says that
blacks today have actually benefited from the national wealth that slavery
helped to create.
So Horowitz believes that the nation that immorally accepted brutal slavery
gave African Americans a gift by eventually outlawing the practice and
replacing it with "Jim Crow" apartheid practices. By the same perverted
logic, a kidnap-beating-rape victim would owe a debt to her rapist if he
finally let her go free.
In another twisted claim, Horowitz said that there were thousands of blacks
who also owned slaves. Actually, it was free blacks who, in many cases,
purchased their own family members to protect them in slave-owning states.
In his ad, Horowitz also claimed that most Americans have no connection to
slavery. This is patently false: slavery has spawned a legacy of racial
oppression that exists to this day. As a result of slavery, whites today
have inherited preferential advantage.
Southern post-Civil War laws like the "Black Codes" made it illegal for
African Americans to work for themselves. From Tulsa, Okla., to Rosewood,
Fla., African Americans were later told to pull themselves up by their own
bootstraps, and when they did, successful African American business towns
were often destroyed by rioting whites or, even later, by "urban renewal."
For an enlightening discourse on the reparations issue, Randal Robinson,
head of TransAfrica, the organization that spearheaded the American
divestment movement against then-apartheid South Africa, has written the
book "The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks."
Horowitz's ad not only invokes racist stereotypes, it also relies on
raising straw man arguments to justify his claims. Over and over, he
asserts the usual specious argument that not all whites benefited from
slavery. That is false anyway whites benefited as a nation.
But his argument is legally irrelevant. Many Americans don't directly
benefit from all national policies. But the arguments for reparations
aren't made on the basis of whether every white person directly gained from
slavery (just as the debts of a corporation don't depend on who it
comprises). The arguments are made on the basis that the United States
itself institutionalized slavery and protected it by law.
As the government is an entity that survives generations, its debts and
obligations survive the lifespan of any particular individual. As a citizen
of the United States, one not only enjoys the rights and privileges of
citizenship, but also shares the debts and liabilities of the nation.
Present-day Americans cannot evade national debts by claiming they were
incurred by, and only benefited, a prior generation. Thus, the moral debt
arising from 350 years of free, forced, brutal labor and practically free
"Jim Crow" bitter labor barely ending in the 1960s is an obligation the
United States cannot ignore.
Nor can the United States evade a moral debt merely because the direct
victims have died. The descendants of slavery have inherited a right to
some meaningful form of restitution, because they still greatly inherit its
No government would make the descendants of each beneficiary pay the
descendants of each victim for even an inhumane national policy whose
detriment still exists. Thus, governments make restitution to victims as a
group or class. This is a debt that was once promised but soon abandoned by
the United States.
Finally, Horowitz was forced to admit that the First Amendment does not
require any newspaper to accept a paid ad. But newspapers should have moral
standards below which they would reject any ad, especially an incendiary
publicity stunt. The First Amendment does, however, allow a newspaper to
express regret, upon reflection, for printing a self-promoting, morally
obscene ad. The fact that the Daily Californian, Chancellor Berdahl and
many white students on campus didn't recognize just how racist the ad was
It is hoped that students at UCLA, regardless of color, don't become
victims of Horowitz's racist manipulations and his self-serving media
gambit, as did many white students at Berkeley and other universities.
Students should always critically analyze specious claims in any such ad,
especially against people who are popularly stereotyped. We should all
always realize that voices of oppression will never retire.
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