April 3, 2001
*Why* David Horowitz's "Reparations" Ad Was Racist
By Joseph Anderson <email@example.com>
While most other college newspapers did not print the David
Horowitz reparations ad, the reaction of many white students
at those universities that did suggests that students,
including those at Brown, have not been exposed to enough
information about the kind of attitudes the ad expresses and
why those attitudes are indeed racist.
At UC Berkeley, on his latest anti-African American,
racial-vendetta campaign, David Horowitz abruptly turned
tail and bolted, after his speech at UC Berkeley 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.
David Horowitz is a `60's-era former left-wing advocate.
But, Horowitz jumped ship with the shift in the prevailing
political winds toward conservative Reaganism and son of
Reaganism (Bush). Horowitz apparently decided that there was
more money, a better life - and especially much more media
attention, as something he craves - to be gained on the
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-wing were financially fuller - and decided to
go with that.
Horowitz has long been known as a professional gadfly
huckster, who basically makes a living off of disparaging
Black folks. But, the greater blame here goes to student
newspapers that allowed themselves to become his tool.
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.
In the meantime, Horowitz raises to a fine political art the
same "self-victimology" that he generally attacks African
Americans as perpetrating. Here, Horowitz cloaks himself as
the ultimate "free speech martyr." But, David Horowitz was
not out to promote free speech. David Horowitz was out to
promote himself - as usual.
Many whites, including UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert
Berdahl, have tried to twist Horowitz's ad issue into a
"free speech" issue. So, it is obvious that, even in the
year 2001, many whites, including our 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.
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. In
a racist mindset at the foundation of all his arguments,
Horowitz thus stereotypes most blacks as living on welfare.
Apart from that being false, welfare is provided to people
because they are poor, not because they are black.
In a sick twist, Horowitz then claims that not only does
America not owe Africn Americans reparations, but that, in
fact, it is African Americans who owe America a greater debt
- for ending slavery. He further says that African Americans
today have actually benefited from the national wealth that
slavery helped to create. Would any newspaper publish an ad
that said that the Jews actually benefited from the Jewish
Holocaust, because that's how they got Israel?
So, Horowitz believes that the nation that immorally
accepted brutal slavery, then gave blacks a gift by
eventually outlawing the practice - and replacing it with
American "Jim Crow" apartheid practices. By the same
perverted logic, a kidnap-beating-rape victim would owe a
debt to her brutal 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 and from 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
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 and districts 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, but 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: 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 individuals. As a citizen of the U.S., 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 from millions of blacks - barely ending in the
1960's - is an obligation the U.S. cannot ignore.
Nor can the U.S. evade a moral debt merely because the
direct victims have died. The descendents of slavery have
inherited a right to some meaningful form of restitution,
because they still greatly inherit its adverse legacy.
No government would make the descendents of each beneficiary
pay the descendents 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
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, the
Brown Daily Herald, Brown University President Blumstein,
and many white students don't recognize just how racist the
ad was is shocking.
-- Joseph Anderson is a resident of Berkeley, CA, and a member of the National Council for African American Men.
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