Slavery Reparations

Walter Williams, Townhall, June 18, 2014

Calls for slavery reparations have returned with the publication of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic magazine (May 21, 2014). In making his argument, Coates goes through the horrors of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and gross racial discrimination.


Punishing perpetrators and compensating victims is not what reparations advocates want. They want government to compensate today’s blacks for the bondage suffered by our ancestors. But there’s a problem. Government has no resources of its very own. The only way for government to give one American a dollar is to first–through intimidation, threats and coercion–confiscate that dollar from some other American. Therefore, if anybody cares, a moral question arises. What moral principle justifies punishing a white of today to compensate a black of today for what a white of yesterday did to a black of yesterday?

There’s another moral or fairness issue. A large percentage, if not most, of today’s Americans–be they of European, Asian, African or Latin ancestry–don’t even go back three or four generations as American citizens. Their ancestors arrived on our shores long after slavery. What standard of justice justifies their being taxed to compensate blacks for slavery? For example, in 1956, thousands of Hungarians fled the brutality of the USSR to settle in the U.S. What do Hungarians owe blacks for slavery?


When African slavery began, there was no way Europeans could have enslaved millions of Africans. They had no immunity from diseases that flourished in tropical Africa. Capturing Africans to sell into slavery was done by Arabs and black Africans. Would reparations advocates demand that citizens of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Kenya and several Muslim states tax themselves to make reparation payments to progeny of people whom their ancestors helped to enslave?

Reparations advocates make the foolish unchallenged argument that the United States became rich on the backs of free black labor. That’s nonsense that cannot be supported by fact. Slavery doesn’t have a very good record of producing wealth. Slavery was all over the South, and it was outlawed in most of the North. Buying into the reparations argument about the riches of slavery, one would conclude that the antebellum South was rich and the slave-starved North was poor. The truth of the matter is just the opposite. In fact, the poorest states and regions of our nation were places where slavery flourished–Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia–while the richest states and regions were those where slavery was absent: Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts.

One of the most ignored facts about slavery’s tragic history–and it’s virtually a secret today–is that slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years. It did not become a moral issue until the 18th century. Plus, the moral crusade against slavery started in the West, most notably England.


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  • David Ashton

    It still goes on, and one related form of it is the exploitation of immigrants and their labor by an avaricious “right” and a revolutionary “left”.

  • TruthBeTold

    Coates was on cspans’ Washington Journal last week talking about his article (soon to be made into a book).

    He doesn’t just expect reparations for slavery. He expands it to Jim Crow, bank loans, red-lining, etc.

    He wants money for every perceived injustice. He wants the money to come from insurance companies and universities like Harvard that he says benefited from slavery.

    • TNC also tried to make the case that Colin Powell and Eric Holder deserve reparations.

    • archer

      Bank loans? If a black or hispanic was given a loan at a higher rate or refused a loan only because of their ethnicity, that is surely wrong. But most of the time they were deemed poor risks because of poor credit or were living in a area where the houses were judged to be poor collateral because of their worth.
      Clinton ordered his justice dept. to prosecute lending institutions that wouldn’t give out “sub prime” mortgages to people of color causing fannie mae and freddie mac to hold trillions of dollars in bad paper. This lead to bundling of worthless mortgages in the derivatives trade that caused the collapse of Greece for one and a world wide recession that’s still going on. We forget the many sayings that were handed down to us over the generations. One that is appropriate here is “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

  • It’s not about the arguments for or against reparations.

    It’s not that those calling for reparations are actually expecting to receive them or for reparations actually to happen.

    It’s all about yelling the magic words: “Slavery,” “segregation,” “Jim Crow,” etc. to goose turnout among elderly black women in November.

  • Truthseeker

    As Williams says, Whites are not the only people who ever practiced slavery. The problem is that they’re the only race misguided enough to be coerced into guilt over it. Opportunistic shakedown artists go where the potential money is, and they know Whites and their altruistic nature can be exploited.

    • Jim

      There’s not one wasted word in your response.

    • Giovanni704

      It’s not altruism…a natural feeling of empathy. It’s righteousness. As Mark Dyal says: “They would rather be righteous than right.” Whites who succumb to this pressure are narcissists. They don’t really care about other people. They don’t really want to be a part of one global humanity. They just want the public recognition of being righteous. Jim Goad’s piece the New Church Ladies addresses this psychology as well.

      • LHathaway

        Being righteous for them is at the expense of other whites.

      • freddy_hills

        Some people think leftists are ‘self-hating’. A few may be but most don’t hate themselves. On the contrary, they think they’re better than everyone else. Like you said, they’re zealots obsessed with some twisted sense of “righteousness.” The best way I can describe them is “self-righteous bigots.”

      • guest
    • John Smith

      One key point that is always overlooked is the huge amount of racial mixture in today’s American blacks.

      Millions of racially mixed blacks actually have more white ancestry than black. Do these blacks pay or get paid?

      Other millions of racially mixed blacks have more black ancestry than white. But what if their black ancestors were slave owners, but their white ancestors were NOT slave owners. Do these blacks pay or get paid?

      This is a huge can of worms.

    • TruthBeTold

      The other problem is that whites are a literate race. We recorded our activities which are now being used against us.

      Blacks didn’t have a written language so they left no paper trail and as for the Arabs, if they kept records, they’re keeping them to themselves or the slavery academics aren’t interested in searching their records.

      • TruthBeTold

        I should add that Arabs don’t seem interested in exposing their own guilt.

  • Berkeley Guy

    I’m still waiting for reparations from the Japanese to the Ainu, from the Anglo Saxons and Normans to the original Celtics of Britain, from the Zulu to the other tribes they slaughtered, from the Arabs to various African tribes they exploited, and from the Han to the Tibetans. Back to being serious, reparations is just a hot-button topic that gets talking heads talking.

    • gemjunior

      I am personally waiting for my own reparations from the Normans as well, and of course from the Vikings who robbed and pillaged their way up and down the east coast of Ireland where my parents are from. Can I get some handouts? Do I apply to the Norwegian Department of Reparations, or the Danish Department of Reparations, or both? Who else owes me money? I know that Britain can be hit up for some spondoolies because they enslaved some people and maybe some were my relatives? What about the Romans? They might

    • kikz2

      … can add the vatican via the new world populations used to mine gold that ended up in its churches worldwide.

  • Einsatzgrenadier

    European slavery was the best thing that ever happened to blacks. Blacks should just shut up and be grateful for once. If anything, they should be getting down on their knees and thanking whitey for rescuing them from some cannibal’s pot in the jungles of sub-Saharan Africa.

    • Truthseeker

      While that statement would surely offend some people, it’s true. Black “culture” is well-known and popular throughout the world, and it only happened because Blacks had access to the opportunity provided for them by the West. If it hadn’t been for slavery, the only thing people would know of “Black culture” is primitive tribes living in the jungle engaging in barbarism. If the people of Africa had never met the White man, there likely wouldn’t be any rich or famous Blacks today. I’m not defending slavery as a practice, I’m just saying that it was a net positive for the Black race.

    • TruthBeTold

      The proof in that statement is that if we are as bad as they claim, they would demand WE stay away from THEM.

      • Ellis Kurtz

        “The proof in that statement is that if we are as bad as they claim, they would demand WE stay away from THEM.”

        ..or they would return from whence they came.

    • AndrewInterrupted

      I agree. That allowed them to race mix with superior European genes. American Blacks have something like 22% European blood. Caribbean Blacks even more. We should charge those gene thieving dirt-bags royalties. Our DNA is the only thing that kept their knuckles from dragging on the ground.

  • dd121

    Memo to blacks: when my Irish ancestors came here, they weren’t exactly handed a bunch of thornless roses and asked to join the board of directors. Get over the past and get over yourselves.

  • Reparations is a code word for funneling billions or even trillions of dollars into black organizations such as Sharpton’s and Jackson’s. Besides getting money into their hands, it also demoralizes whites through legally validating a “collective guilt” mentality.

    In this way, the white race feels even more powerfullly compelled to self-annilhilate through miscegenation and failure to reproduce. That’s the hidden agenda, a world of a single race with low IQ, easily controlled by the self chosen elites, who themselves preach racial purity.

  • RyanP

    Part of me would like to see reparations as a social experiment. The follow up studies that look at how the recipients used the windfall to better their lives(or not) would be interesting.

    • JDInSanD

      You’ve already seen the results of the experiment. The reparations were simply called welfare, EEO, affirmative action and Obamacare and the results were Detroit, flash mobs, the knockout game, 87% illigitamacy, 1/3 of black males in prison, on trial or on parole, the mortgage crisis and billionaire Oprah safely and publicly stating she’s waiting for all the old white people to die.

  • OhWow

    I know this is off topic, but I thought of AmRen tonight at a meeting for a summer job. I’m a supervisor and they just hired a few black guys for diversity purposes (every year they hire a few new ones). I was training the new employees and explaining important concepts to them. All the whites listened. All the asians listened. All the hispanics listened. But there were the two black guys on their phones the entire time with mugs on their faces like they were bored. They didn’t even make eye contact. I asked them kindly to put their phones away because it was important that they hear what I was saying. One of them said “Pshhh…cmon man is this over yet?”.

    It’s just so typical. Over the past 3 years we have had 3 people fired. All black diversity hires. One was on his phone and never listened, the other showed up late all the time, and the other got in arguments all the time and butt heads with other staff. By the way I live in suburban NYC. It’s nice. It’s upper middle class. So the socioeconomics can’t be used here. I just thought to myself “of course”. Blacks just are not like any other race. They have the biggest egos, the worst work ethic, and respond HORRIBLY to authority of any kind.

  • PvtCharlieSlate

    Of course, sure, OK, here you go …
    Here’s your free, one-way ticket to any black African country you want.
    Enjoy your trip.
    Don’t come back.
    Don’t write.
    ‘Bye …

  • IKUredux

    So, OK, let’s talk reparations. Here’s what I want: I want reparations for my ancestors who died in the Revolutionary war. My family could have been wealthier if they had lived. I want reparations for the Civil War. I had several ancestors who died (sadly on the Union side), I’m sure my family would have been wealthier if they had not died for Negro emancipation. I want reparations for several of my ancestors who died in the second world war, I’m sure if they had not, our family business would have been bigger. I had ancestors who fought in the first world war(none died), and in the Korean war (none died), and, in the Vietnam war (none died, but I heard stories ,that would make your toes curl). I want reparations for the injustices my family ancestors went through in Europe. Some of my ancestors were French Protestants, whose lands and holdings were seized by the Catholics. So, I want reparations from France, Germany, England, America. You all owe me a boatload of money.

  • De’Ontavious Jizzaiah Jones

    I am of Irish ancestry. Many Many Irish kids were kidnapped into slavery and sent to the colonies circa 1600 and on. Many English parents sold their surplus children into slavery and those children and Irish kidnapped children were shipped off to the colonies and to Caribbean. Our history books called them indentured servants. They were slaves. Read your history. It is all documented including in old court records.

  • M.

    If countries made their wealth on the backs of black slaves, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq would be the wealthiest nations on earth.

    • Saudi Arabia is wealthy now, but only as the result of the petroleum industry there, which was simply an accident of geology. Slaves certainly didn’t make the oil and then bury it for the Bedouin Arabs! Moreover, Saudi refinery capacity is fairly one-dimensional. During the buildup for Desert Storm in late 1990, many specialty fuels actually had to be sent there.

      Russia also has the same difficulty. The Russian navy has retired the old “Ivan Rogov” class amphibious assault ships, and ordered replacements from France, of their “Mistral” class. These are Diesel-powered, but there was a minor scandal in Russia when it was realized that Russian oil refineries have no current capability to produce the grade of Diesel fuel the Wartsila engines in these ships require.

  • SoulInvictus

    “A large percentage…of today’s Americans…don’t even go back three or
    four generations as American citizens. Their ancestors arrived on our
    shores long after slavery. What standard of justice justifies their
    being taxed to compensate blacks for slavery?”

    And that is why “white privilege” was likely invented.
    poof, your question answered author.
    As growing numbers of (not just white) groups begin to question the special treatment of our darker citizens with exactly the logic you were offering, then white privilege and systemic discrimination is the response so the hustle can continue unabated.

    Anyone else notice how right about the time affirmative action and race based everything began to come under serious fire for the first time ever, magically white privilege conferences and heavy use of the terminology conveniently popped up…

    • kikz2

      when yammering on about White Privilege….. Blacks use the liberal spoon fed term.. ‘systematic’….for systemic, and have no idea they are confusing procedure for scope… 🙂

      • SoulInvictus

        They must truly bear the mark of Cain huh, since they are the only race all that “systematic” racism seems able to keep down.
        Pakis, Indians, Asians, Jews, Arabs… etc etc etc all seem to thrive just fine despite our interminable efforts to keep them down.
        And the leg up I get from my white check in the mail every month is totally unfair.

        • kikz2

          right you that aspect….as a race, they excel as no other. oddly, their condition is a source of hubristic pride and boasting. i assume the cliche’d axiom applies..if ya got it flaunt it.

  • DooDoo Brownstein

    Walter Williams starts off with a false premise. Why on Earth does it matter if my ancestors were or were not slave owners in America? Am I responsible for *their* actions?

    And he basically self-plagiarized this article, which he originally wrote almost 15 years ago. All he did was plug in Ta-Nahisi Coates’ name in the first paragraph and called it new.

  • kikz2

    polite golfclap….

  • awb

    Let’s hear them.

    • M.

      Some of the best-known authors who wrote about blacks was Al-Jahiz, who was himself a quadroon (a quarter African). Here are some of his quotes:

      “We know that the Negroes are the least intelligent and the least discerning of mankind, and the least capable of understanding the consequences of actions.”
      (Al-Jahiz, The Book of Misers)

      “The Shu’ubiyya maintain that eloquence is prized by all people at all times – even the Negroes, despite their dimness, their boundless stupidity, their obtuseness, their crude perceptions, and their evil dispositions, make long speeches.”
      (Al-Jahiz, The Book of Eloquence and Demonstration, vol. 3)

      His view on blacks wasn’t all negative though:
      “These people have a natural talent for dancing to the rhythm of the tambourine, without needing to learn it (…) No other nation can surpass them in bodily strength and physical toughness. One of them will lift huge blocks and carry heavy loads that would be beyond the strength of most Bedouins or members of other races (…) They are always cheerful, smiling, and devoid of malice, which is a sign of noble character.”
      (Al-Jahiz, Treatise on Blacks)

      “As regards southern countries, all their inhabitants are black on account of the heat of their climate. Most of them go naked. In all their lands and provinces, gold is found. They are people distant from the standards of humanity.”
      (The Regions of the World, A Persian Geography, 982 AD)

      Ibn Khaldun, a 14th-century North African historian, said in his Muqaddimah (Part I):
      “Therefore, the Negro nation are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because they have little that is essentially human, and have attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals, as we have stated.”

      “A man of discernment said: the people of Iraq (…) do not come out with something between blonde, buff and blanched coloring, such as the infants dropped from the wombs of the women of the Slavs and others of similar light complexion; nor are they overdone in the womb until they are burned, so that the child comes out something between black, murky, malodorous, stinking, and crinkly-haired, with uneven limbs, deficient minds, and depraved passions, such as the Bantus, the Somalis, and other blacks who resemble them. The Iraqis are neither half-baked dough nor burned crust.”
      (Ibn al-Faqih al-Hamadani, Kitab al-Buldan (The Book of Countries), 903 AD)

      Ibn Khaldun again in his Muqaddimah. That dude was a little harsh. I read a part of his book years ago. He was also very harsh about the Bedouin Arabs who came from the Arabian Peninsula and invaded North Africa and other neighboring regions.
      “Beyond known people of black West Africa to the south, there is no civilization in the proper sense. There are only humans who are closer to dumb animals than to rational beings. They live in thickets and caves, and eat herbs and unprepared grain. They frequently eat each other. They cannot be considered human beings.”

      Another 10th-century geographer and author, al-Muqaddasi, said the following:
      “As for the Bantus, they are people of black color, flat noses, kinky hair, and little understanding or intelligence.”
      (Kitab al-Bad’ wah-Tarikh, vol. 4)

      From Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa, vol. I, p. 68:
      “The racism of the ruling Muslim elite ran deep and became worse as the empire became ever more dependent on
      slave labour. For instance, the famous Muslim historian, al-Mas’udi, basing himself on the authority of Galen states the ten qualities of Sudanese, thusly: “Kinky hair, thin eyebrows, broad noses, thick lips, sharp teeth, malodorous skin, dark pupils, clefty hands and feet, elongated penises and excessive merriment”. Further on he quotes Galen approvingly: “Surely the black person is overwhelmed by merriment due to the imperfection of his brain; therefore, his intellect is weak.””

      Apparently, describing black people’s hair and eyebrows is racist.

      “The geographer al-Idrisi ascribes ‘lack of knowledge and defective minds’ to the black peoples. Their ignorance, he says, is notorious; men of learning and distinction are almost unknown among them, and their kings only acquire what they know about government and justice from the instruction of learned visitors
      from farther north.”

      (Bernard Lewis – Race and Slavery in the Middle East: A Historical Enquiry)

      Obviously, part of these extremely negative descriptions can be owed to the fact that most black people didn’t live in a civilized environment. Contrary to the Middle Easterners, who have always had some sort of civilization, although theirs never surpassed those of Europeans. And as we know, civilization does tend to improve IQ and behavior, which are party due to environement. I mean, blacks who live in 1st-World countries are a little better than those who live in the African jungle.

  • M.

    And also in North Africa. The slave market of Algiers received thousands of Europeans too, who were abducted by the Barbary Pirates.