Slavery is evil and like so many evils in this world it has been a stain on humanity for a very very long time.
But does the mere existence of the abomination require it be redressed through the imposition of unspecified transgenerational culpability on some of the owners of others or is it necessary to consider the totality of the practice throughout history?
Like so many other government bodies discussing the idea of reparations, California’s “Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans” emphasizes how the enslavement of African-Americans was not just wrong when it was happening but has social and financial impacts in the real world today and, therefore, these existing issues must be addressed through the lens of that inherent and imposed disadvantage. (You can find the entire report here.)
The focus, for the most part, has been on the roughly $800 billion dollar price tag attached in May.
But that number is impossible and, it could be argued, an intentionally cruel way to ensure continued political support for California Democrats from the African-American community by propagating that promise. Gov. Newsom, for example, after expressing reserve about the figure was pilloried by the progressive press and back tracked – that is the power of the promise.
The New York Times impression aside, slavery did not suddenly appear on the planet in Virginia in 1619 – the inhumanity extends back to the start of humanity.
Slaves have been taken, bought, used, freed, brutalized, and killed since the beginning of history. Beyond dehumanizing, slavery in fact creates un-humans, things of people, the eliminated.
Slavery has a history. Captured warriors were often sold as slaves after they lost the battle – it was no different than seizing gold and camels and cows; slaves were part of the standard plunder package and if they had won they would have done the same thing.
When Rome captured a new area, they tended to enslave at least a portion of the population for use as typical slaves and some for other purposes, like teachers and bureaucrats. The most trusted advisors of Emperor C-C-C-Claudius were slaves.
Nearly every ancient culture on the planet – no matter their ethnicity – has both engaged in slavery and been subjected to slavery itself. (Side note – the pyramids in Egypt were not actually built by slaves, or at least not by very many of them. Egyptian farmers – 90% of the population – had about a third of the year off due to the flooding/planting cycle of the Nile so the government recruited them to build public works. It was how they paid their taxes. Really.)
After a battle, slaves, as property, could be kept or sold on; to a large extent, that is how millions of sub-Saharan Africans ended up in the Americas. While Boston brahmins disgustingly ran the enormously profitable triangle trade of molasses to rum to slaves, they did not go running into the jungle to find the people themselves – they bought them from local leaders who either captured them in battle or went out purposefully hunting for supply.
Slavery has existed in myriad forms – Jews and other undesirables in Nazi Germany, for example, were enslaved if they were not murdered. Slavery also has issues of its own – besides being despicable, it is not in fact of long-term benefit to a society. It creates an inner depravity that eventually leads to either cultural upheaval or utter repression and, not to sound freezing cold, it damages a culture and an economy because it obliterates the need for innovation – why build a gadget to save labor when you have free labor?
The slaver/enslaved list is global and – it can be argued – growing to this day. Certain middle eastern countries reportedly engage in the practice, tweens are toiling for titanium for your car in Africa as you read this, and drug cartels ship people around the world as mules and sex slaves.
American slavery can be seen as different, though, as it occurred in a nation built on human freedom and remained institutionalized in such a similar format for such a long period of time. People were born into slavery generation after generation – a relatively uncommon occurrence in the past.
It wasn’t everywhere and it wasn’t 1619, but it was different.
But different enough to create a descendent benefit system based on the concept of unspecified transgenerational culpability?
Defining that term may be a good idea.
“Unspecified” refers to the fact that the re-payment is not solely borne by those who directly benefited from either slavery itself or the hardships it caused since. It means that “everyone else” – no matter what their circumstance, how long they have been in the country, whether or not they had ancestors who died freeing the slaves in the Civil War, or any other “mitigating,” for lack of a better term, factors.
It also means that the benefit is to be distributed in a non-specific manner, as if very African-American ever faced the same issues and/or currently has the same lot in life. It is absolutely not comparable to the payments received by Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II.
“Transgenerational” refers to the fact that the initial causal event – enslavement – occurred at the very least 150 years ago; therefore, generations have gone by since anyone could have been said to directly benefit from the system and that any actions taken to improve the African-American experience by anyone since then are meaningless. Essentially it demands specific compensatory action from a person who could not possibly have been at fault.
“Culpability” is just that – who and/or how are people alive today culpable and therefore liable? How is California – a free state since its inception – culpable for what happened 3,000 miles away? How are immigrants – many of whom faced, and still face, myriad and somewhat similar challenges upon arriving in the United States – at all in any way culpable?
In other words, do you owe a person you have not harmed and do not know anything because a person you could not possibly know did harm them?
The state task force argues “Yes:”
“Today, 160 years after the abolition of slavery, its badges and incidents remain embedded in the political, legal, health, financial, educational, cultural, environmental, social, and economic systems of the United States of America. Racist, casteist, untrue, and harmful stereotypes created to support slavery continue to physically and mentally harm African Americans today. Without a remedy specifically targeted to dismantle our country’s racist foundations and heal the injuries inflicted by colonial and American governments, the ‘badges and incidents of slavery’ will continue to harm African Americans in almost all aspects of American life.”
The report continues to argue this point voluminously. The 1,080-page report is a compendium of harm wrought, it claims, on the African-American community as a direct and continuing result of slavery and the unfair society it bequeathed.
Every aspect of society – including society itself – is found to be at fault:
“This system of white supremacy is a badge of slavery and continues to be embedded today in numerous American and Californian legal and social systems. Throughout American history, this system has been upheld by federal, state, and local laws and policies and by violence and terror,” the report explains. “The perpetuation of “color blind” thinking, rather than advancing social justice, has allowed injustice to fester and entrench.”
The report is replete with recommendations, though, oddly enough for a system that is supposedly intrinsically racist to its core, few propose to directly change that. Most are mere modifications to existing governmental and societal systems meant to nudge the system to provide more of its offerings to African-Americans.
For example, the report includes an oddly detailed outline of the bureaucracy of the proposed “California American Freedmen Affairs Agency.” The agency – which one assumes would help female and non-binary African-Americans as well – would be the overseer of the implementation of the recommendations throughout the state government and itself involve hiring many many people – even public relations flacks.
As to recommendations themselves, they vary across a spectrum of issues and include:
- Repealing Proposition 109
- Empowering a Racial Equity Commission
- Paying prisoners “fair market value” for their labor
- Barring ID laws for voting
- Pay the cost of any form of required ID
- Making landlords take government housing subsidy vouchers from tenants
- Taking a “housing first and harm reduction” stance when addressing homelessness
- Eliminating standardized testing for UC/CSU enrollment purposes
- Making UC/CSU free for African-American students (and possibly others)
- Ensuring previously ‘redlined” and/or current “communities of descendants” of slaves have more trees
- Removing certain public statues, monuments, and changing certain names of things
- Expanding California’s anti-Black hair style (SB 188) discrimination law beyond the workplace onto athletic fields
- End three strikes
- End the death penalty
- End cash bail
- Fund African-American owned banks
Other recommendations require a bit more detail. The task force asks that the state pay to increase African-American “civic engagement.” And what does that entail?
“(Providing a funding stream) to nongovernmental organizations who in turn could provide support in campaign strategy training, political discourse seminars, and workshops offering support and training for those wishing to organize within their communities. Funding could also support voter education and outreach campaigns in communities of low voter turnout and among youth to establish a pipeline of voter engagement. Selection and oversight of these organizations could be administered by the California American Freedman Affairs Agency, which may review grant proposals and program efficacy.”
In other words, the proposal calls for tax dollars to be spent directly influencing voters. And not just voters, but specific voters and not just by anyone but by organizations of the state’s choosing. The beyond anti-democracy stance is shocking, but not something California should be surprised by. In fact, The California Endowment – a health care non-profit that spends almost nothing on health care – does that already.
In light of the decriminalization of jaywalking law – which was supposedly both racist and anti–sex worker – the task force asks that crimes like fare jumping be done away with because “(T)ransit mobility laws perpetuate vestiges of slavery to the extent that they criminalize poverty and race, limit economic opportunity, and lead to the displacement of African Americans.”
The report also calls for the closure of 10 state prisons with the money saved to go to the Freedmen Affairs Agency and the facilities being re-purposed “as appropriate to support African Americans, with specific benefits flowing to those who are descendants of a person enslaved in the United States.”
The Agency – if and when it is created – should not count on that money though. In the past 10 or so years, the number of prisoners has been cut nearly in half while the prison budget has grown by about 40%. In other words, even with zero prisoners the prison’s department will still somehow not save any money to give to the agency.
The task force also calls for “communities of descendants” to be kept together for the purposes of drawing new electoral districts as there should be no “dilution” of the African-American voting bloc. It is unknown if the task force interviewed former Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez on the topic.
Again, the report seems more about skewing the system rather than changing it, seeks to embed a progressive laundry list of demands into the already hopelessly progressive governance of California, and is a perfect example of “stakeholder politics.”
“As an aside on task forces and blue-ribbon commissions in general, there are four types/reasons they are created. First, and most rarely, they are created to actually look closely at a complex problem removed from the daily political give-and-take and come up with a solution.
Second, they are set up to avoid – or at least delay – making what could be perceived as a controversial decision.
Third, they are created in response to public pressure on an issue that the creators do not want to actually deal with – upon completion, the report of the board is accepted by the governing body which then cherry picks one or two of the easiest/most milquetoast recommendations to implement and then files the report away never to be seen again while being able to publicly claim they handled the issue and made changes to address the problem (NOTE – in the case of reparations, it’s this one.)
Fourth, they are created with a specific outcome in mind and are packed with experts and “stakeholders” who are known to already agree in principle with whatever that outcome is supposed to be. That way the governing body, upon the issuance of the report, has what is known in the public relations field as “third party validation” and can then move forward with even the most controversial plan while claiming they are “just doing what the experts say,” no matter how unpopular, wrong, or detrimental the idea may be (see COVID).”
The premise of this form of reparations is inherently racist, deeply unethical for its casting of blame on the blameless, immoral in its inherent indiscriminate theft, and utterly unfeasible anyway.
There is an undeniable draw to the idea of reparations, an allure of absolution that can be so calming. For people who feel guilty about, well, anything, doing something – anything – about it can cleanse a multitude of sins, whether they be race-related or not.
Just saying “I support reparations” can act as a mantra that releases endorphins and deflects blame – for anything.
An expiation of the white liberal guilt, so prevalent in the fancier reaches of California, is what in part is driving the concept. It’s not about actually doling out $800 billion dollars’ worth of anything because that is impossible and it has always been known to be impossible by its political manipulators.
It is impossible, but at least they can feel better about themselves when they try to convince themselves that “well, at least we tried.”
And – in the end – black people get lied to…again.
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