America has been paying reparations for slavery for more than 160 years.
President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged this in his second inaugural address, saying, “We pray fervently for the abolition of this mighty scourge of war. However, if God wills it to continue until all the wealth accumulated by the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil is sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash is paid for by another drawn with the sword… ‘the Lord’s judgments are true and righteous altogether.”
The Civil War cost the Union and Confederacy more than $90 billion in adjusted terms, as well as 750,000 predominantly white lives. That was only the first installment of our reparations.
True, there are still significant disparities between Black and white Americans in terms of pay, wealth, health, education, and other factors. We must do better. That has always been the goal of America – a “more perfect union.” But, rather than racial entitlements – programs for Black farmers, Black college students, Black homeowners, Black businesses, and so on – the path to a better, more equal America is through colorblind reform and individual justice.
African Americans, for example, have complained that they are hampered in their quest for home ownership because years of on-time rental payments do not result in the good credit required to buy a home. We can include rental payments on all credit reports, assisting poor people of all races and ethnicities just as much as poor Blacks. It just so happens that the assistance will be disproportionately directed toward Black Americans.
African Americans have a right to complain about a history of poor education that has condemned their children to a life of poverty. Colorblind school choice for students in failing schools to attend better public or private schools will benefit all students in failing schools. It just so happens the help will go disproportionately to Black families.
Following the murder of George Floyd by a cop, reforming police has become a major national cause. We can certainly find ways to reform policing so that violence is not used as a tool of choice by those with a badge. The colorblind outcome will save more white lives than black lives, but black people will benefit disproportionately.
In other cases, we can help people get their lives back on track after being harmed directly. If you were wrongfully denied a government loan because you were Black, you should be eligible for compensation, not because you are a member of a group, but because you were wronged as an individual.
All of these steps will lead us to a colorblind equality in which everyone has a fair shot at the American dream if they work hard and follow the rules. Race-based reparations will lead us away from that goal by perpetuating racial division and political strife.
Handouts and benefits for Blacks of all economic classes will be viewed as an insult to poor whites’ own struggles. Many people will object to “reparations” for the 17 percent of Black Americans who are immigrants and their children. They have no history of slavery or Jim Crow segregation.
Many whites descended from those who fought and died to end slavery may legitimately argue that their ancestors have already paid the price for America’s sins. Millions more Americans, including my grandparents, did not arrive in America until the twentieth century, rendering them blameless in the face of structural racism.
And it won’t just be white people who are outraged. Last year, liberal Californians were given the opportunity to vote on the following issue: Should the state return to race-based admissions policies at public universities? The majority of voters said no.
If racial reparations fail to pass in a state that has voted for Democratic senators and Democratic presidents in every election this century and has one of the nation’s largest minority populations, the idea will fail nationally.
Indeed, despite a more than 16-to-1 spending advantage for supporters of race-conscious policies, a majority of Asians, nearly half of Hispanics, and a significant minority of Blacks in California voted against race-based affirmative action.
Race-based reparations are a return to the world of racial politics that Americans are attempting to escape. Stopping racial discrimination is the only way to end it.