Racial reparations—a policy that would grant African-Americans money or government benefits not received by others as compensation for the sin of slavery—used to be an idea of the far left fringe. Not any longer. Major elements of the Democrat Party and the progressive intellectual class now advocate reparations as a matter of guaranteeing racial “equity” and to elevate black Americans to opportunity parity with whites.
Just look at the increased backing the proposal received in the last few years. During the campaign, several Democratic candidates supported reparations—or at least, the idea that the issue should be respectfully explored toward implementation.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, endorsed H.R. 40, a bill that would “establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans,” including, “what form of compensation should be awarded.”
Senator Kamala Harris, while she was still a candidate for the presidential nomination, affirmed that if a reparations bill was sent to her as president, “I will sign that bill.”
Moreover, Biden just named a law professor named Mehrsa Baradaran—a major booster of reparations—to his Department of Treasury transition review team. If it is true that personnel is policy in Washington, D.C., Baradaran’s appointment speaks volumes.
Movers and shakers among the intelligentsia have also supported reparations. Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television and the first Black American billionaire, has proposed a $14 trillion reparations framework that would give 40 million African Americans about $350,000 in direct payments.
The influential and very establishment Brookings Institute has also issued a report favoring the concept, stating, “a Black person who can trace their heritage to people enslaved in U.S. states and territories should be eligible for financial compensation for slavery.” In the current context, this is a big deal. Brookings always has a prominent role in supplying policy proposals to Democrat administrations.
Most recently, racial financial compensation was boosted in—of all places—the New England Journal of Medicine. An article in the “Perspectives” section, written by Harvard-affiliated medical professors, characterized reparations as “a public health priority” to eradicate “black-white health disparities.”
What dangerous folly. If we are a divided society now, just imagine the explosively bitter rending that would be caused by paying one segment of society benefits denied to others solely based on race. And talk about litigation! Reparations would surely land in the Supreme Court which, I believe, would declare such a racially invidious policy unconstitutional—with who knows what short and long-term consequences to racial peace.
No. Antebellum slavery—one of the great evils of human history—is long gone, and Jim Crow is dead, never to be mourned. The answer to eradicating still-existing racism isn’t more racism.
Reparations would be the antithesis of e pluribus unum. In place of exacerbating our disputations over race, let us commit instead to living by the precepts of human exceptionalism. Human exceptionalism holds that we each possess unique and immeasurable value simply and merely because we are human.
To put it another way, we all possess inalienable moral worth as an objective principle. Our skin color, the texture of our hair, and the shape of our eyes are irrelevant. We are equal because we are human. Period.
Human exceptionalism also imposes duties on each of us based solely on our humanity. Racism and discriminatory behavior violate our duty to perceive and treat each other as the inherent equals that we are. In this sense, racial bigotry is a profound violation of the Golden Rule by refusing to behave toward the fictional “other” as we want to be treated ourselves.
The same goes for reparations. By establishing invidious racial distinctions by which to reward or withhold financial gain, reparations would impose collective guilt on those who never enslaved anyone. Punishing contemporaries for the sins of ancestors is both morally wrong and profoundly unjust.
In his last speech, delivered the night before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King urged each of us to “not be compassionate by proxy” but “develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” And he stirringly evoked the Parable of the Good Samaritan as a remedy to racism, calling us to assist our brothers and sisters who metaphorically lie wounded by the side of the road.
Prophesying his own murder, King immortally concluded, “I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Reinstating explicit racism as public policy would take a hard U-turn away from the almost reached “Promised Land” of racial equality and transform “the road down to Jericho” into a bitterly resented toll highway, the costs of which would be paid by all but with proceeds only benefitting some. What a catastrophic rejection of King’s immortal great vision that would be.
Award winning author Wesley J. Smith is chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.