James Lubinskas, American Renaissance, May 2002
David Horowitz, Uncivil Wars: The Controversy Over Reparations for Slavery, Encounter Books, 2002, 147 pp.
David Horowitz, the former-Marxist-turned-neoconservative, has emerged as one of the leading critics of political correctness and left-wing dominance in academia. He is probably best known for taking unfashionable positions on race. Books such as The Race Card and Hating Whitey focused on racial double standards and persistent black hatred of whites. In Uncivil Wars, Mr. Horowitz describes what happened when he tried to place an advertisement in college newspapers listing ten reasons why blacks do not deserve reparations for slavery. This book actually deals with two subjects — the reparations issue itself and left-wing censorship of racial dissent on campus.
Mr. Horowitz decided to buy the ads in response to the growing momentum of the movement to have the US government pay damages to the descendents of black slaves — 137 years after abolition. While many whites dismiss the demand for reparations as a fringe movement, Mr. Horowitz points to signs of growing support. In 2000, the Chicago City Council voted 46-1 in favor of a resolution calling for reparations, and after the vote Chicago Mayor Richard Daley publicly apologized for slavery. In 2001, the University of Chicago hosted a pro-reparations conference. Also in 2001 the University of California, Northridge, and other campuses held reparations rallies. The Congressional Black Caucus supports reparations and (though Mr. Horowitz does not mention it) before the September 11 attacks, Jesse Jackson planned to make reparations the number-one issue for black activists. By June, 2001, Randall Robinson, the guru of the reparations movement, could plausibly claim, “there is no major black organization that does not support reparations.”
Mr. Horowitz’s ad was officially titled “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea — and Racist Too.” Most of the reasons are simple statements of fact. Slavery was a universal institution ended by whites. Blacks who came to America were already slaves of Arabs or other blacks, and most Americans have no connection to slavery. He also pointed out that blacks today have benefited from slavery, to the extent that they live better in the United States than anywhere in Africa, and that reparations have already been paid in the form of transfers from whites to blacks through welfare, special programs, and affirmative action preferences.
In February and March of 2001, Mr. Horowitz sent the ad to 71 college papers of which 43 rejected it outright. Those that did print it often came under intense pressure from blacks and left-wingers. Uncivil Wars focuses on three schools — the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin, and Brown — to illustrate the controversy.
Reaction on Campus
Berkeley is the author’s alma mater and the home of the so-called “Free Speech” movement of the 1960s. In choosing what is perhaps the most liberal campus in America, Mr. Horowitz tried to highlight leftist intolerance of dissenting views. The students swallowed the bait. The day the ad appeared in The Daily Californian, a mob of over forty black students led by a professor of African-American studies stormed the office of student editor Daniel Hernandez. They bullied Mr. Hernandez, tore up copies of the newspaper, and demanded a printed apology in the next issue. A terrified Mr. Hernandez did as he was told, and even wrote he was sorry his paper had become “an inadvertent vehicle for bigotry.”
The University of Wisconsin’s newspaper, The Badger Herald also ran the ad and faced similar harassment. Tshaka Barrows, son of the university’s vice chancellor for student affairs and leader of the Multicultural Student Coalition, led over 100 screaming protesters in a rally outside the paper’s offices. They demanded that the chancellor’s office bar the paper from campus newsstands and that it publish a statement by the Multicultural Student Coalition, denouncing the paper as a “perpetrator of racist propaganda.” When asked if his position wasn’t against the principles of free speech Mr. Barrows explained: “Free speech has been used against African-Americans for a long time. Free speech has meant freedom for white folks to say pretty much whatever they want about African Americans . . . Free speech does not exist for everybody.” Another protester, junior Becky Wasserman, agreed: “Freedom of speech does not mean you can infringe on other people’s freedom, right? We’re dealing with hate speech, and that doesn’t fall under freedom.”
Unlike her counterpart at Berkeley, Badger Herald editor Julie Bosman refused to grovel. The editors even wrote a stiff response to the protesters saying: “. . . we only regret that the editors of the Daily Californian allowed themselves to give in to pressure in a manner that unfortunately violated their professional integrity and journalistic duty to protect speech with which they disagree.”
The Brown campus newspaper, the Brown Daily Herald, also ran the ad, and its editors came under heavy fire. The leaders of the Brown mob were a Nigerian immigrant named Asmara Ghebremichael, and a black professor named Lewis Gordon, head of Brown’s Afro-American studies department. Miss Ghebremichael promptly organized a “Coalition of Concerned Brown Students,” which included the Black Student Union, Third World Action, the Young Communist League, and the International Socialist Organization. The coalition demanded that the Daily Herald give the money from the ad to the school’s Third World Center, and that the paper give the coalition a free page “for the purpose of educating the greater Brown community on related issues and other issues important in the minority community in order to protect ourselves in the future from irrational publications like this one authored by David Horowitz.”
The editors refused Miss Ghebremichael’s demands but did print an op-ed piece by her called “Free Speech Is Only for Those Who Can Afford to Pay.” Despite the fact that Brown is considered to be a selective university, the article contained sentences like this: “Dare us to even ask ourselves to distinguish between right and wrong. Naw, you all like to hide behind the code words like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ and the most nefarious of all, ‘paid advertisement.’” She concluded by demanding, “we want one free page of advertisement space to print whatever the hell we want to print.”
The Daily Herald refused this demand, so students stole the entire run — 4,000 copies — of the next issue. Coalition members admitted to the theft but Brown administrators did nothing to punish them. Prof. Gordon defended the thieves saying, “If something is free, you can take as many copies as you like. This is not a free speech issue. It is a hate speech issue.” It was apparently also a medical concern. Another member of the Afro-American studies department declared, “I have talked to students who told me that they can’t perform basic functions like walking or sleeping because of this ad.” Because of threats of violence, the Brown College Republicans were forced to cancel a speech by Mr. Horowitz. The university did, however, sponsor an anti-reparations rally that featured members of the Nation of Islam, former Black Panthers, and members of the Afro-American studies department.
Lost in all the commotion over the ads was the fact that almost none of the protesters attempted to refute their arguments. The radicals did nothing but accuse Mr. Horowitz — and anyone who defended his right to express his views — of “racism.” A few older blacks did write confused replies. One was John Hope Franklin, a Duke professor whom former President Clinton chose to lead his “Dialogue on Race” in 1997. Prof. Franklin started by proclaiming, “all whites and no slaves benefited from American slavery,” and went on to accuse Mr. Horowitz of being “pro-slavery.” Another response, by the editor of The Black Scholar, argued that leaders of slave rebellions such as Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner were the real force behind the abolition movement.
All the major media picked up the story about the reparations ad, and their slant was generally favorable to Mr. Horowitz — on the free speech issue. At the same time, most reporters scorned his arguments against reparations. Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, for example, wrote, “. . . the ad reminds me of one of those tiresome rants supporting a NAAWP (National Association for the Advancement of White People).”
The Reparations Claim
The last part of the book contains a detailed look at reparations claims and the men who peddle them. Chief among them is black activist Randall Robinson, whose 2000 book, The Debt, galvanized the pro-reparations crowd. His point of view is clearly explained in his 1998 autobiography, Defending the Spirit, in which he writes, “I am obsessively black . . . race is an overarching aspect of my identity.” He also wrote: “In the autumn of my life, I am left regarding white people, before knowing them individually, with irreducible mistrust and dull dislike.” He says his dying father slapped a white nurse, telling her not “to put her white hands on him.” “His illness had afforded him a final brief honesty,” writes Mr. Robinson. “I was perversely pleased when told the story.” Not surprisingly, Mr. Robinson’s work was praised by reviewers as “gasp-out-loud frank,” “brutally frank,” and — by the Washington Post — as “an unfiltered, uncensored, smart black voice in your ear.”
Mr. Robinson and the reparationists claim African slavery was benign compared to American slavery, which was the “greatest crime against humanity in the last 500 years.” Mr. Horowitz replies:
In fact Africa’s internal slave trade, which did not involve the United States or any European power, not only extended over the entire 500 years mentioned by Robinson, but also preceded it by nearly 1,000 years. In the period between 650 and 1600, before any Western involvement, somewhere between 3 million and 10 million Africans were bought by Muslim slavers for use in Saharan societies and in the trade in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. By contrast, the enslavement of blacks in the United States lasted 89 years, from 1776 until 1865. The combined slave trade to the British colonies in North America and later to the United States accounted for less than 3 percent of the global trade in African slaves. The total number of slaves imported to North America was 800,000, less than the slave trade to the island of Cuba alone. If the internal African slave trade — which began in the seventh century and persists to this day in the Sudan, Mauritania and other sub-Saharan states — is taken into account, the responsibility of American traders shrinks to a fraction of 1 percent of the slavery problem.
Another central reparationist tenet is that all whites benefited from unpaid black labor and thus accumulated the material advantages they now enjoy over blacks. Mr. Horowitz notes that most whites who owned slaves lost everything in the Civil War, and adds that black labor was hardly free:
During the nineteenth century, most work — even of the labor force that was free — was subsistence labor. Almost the entire income of a nineteenth century worker was spent on keeping himself and his family sheltered and alive. Slaves were housed, clothed and fed by their owners. Since owners viewed their slaves as capital, they had a vested interest in their health and well-being, and not in keeping them in the concentration camps fantasized by reparations advocates.
Ultimately, Mr. Horowitz recognizes the claim for reparations as the racial shakedown that it is:
The racial perspective of the reparations movement can be seen even more clearly in the claims advanced by African nations themselves. These claims are supported by the reparations movement in the United States. While African nations clamor for reparations from the western nations, which abolished slavery more than a century ago, there are still tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of slaves in African nations — the Sudan, Ghana, Mauritania, Benin, Gabon, Mali and the Ivory Coast. By making no claims against African governments that participated in the slave trade (and still do) reparations proponents make clear that their grievance is not against an institution — slavery — and those that benefited from it; but that slavery is a means for them to formulate an indictment against Europeans and their descendents — in a word, against whites.
Mr. Horowitz deserves credit for almost single-handedly trying to nip the reparations movement in the bud. Given the leftist domination of our educational institutions, there is no telling how many people do not know that slavery was a universal institution stopped by whites and still practiced by Africans. Few probably think of welfare and affirmative action as de facto reparations.
The historical facts about slavery need to be spread to as wide an audience as possible. Still, Mr. Horowitz is short on solutions. He closes the book by endorsing the “American ideal” of colorblind justice and equal opportunity. He cites black conservatives such as Thomas Sowell, Ward Connerly and Shelby Steele as proof that this ideal can appeal to American blacks. Still, there are far more Randall Robinsons than Thomas Sowells, and they are unlikely to stop blaming whites for their problems — especially if they are rewarded and praised for this by a weak and pathetic white establishment.
Indeed, the whole question of reparations has revolved around the alleged sufferings of American blacks. Blacks take it for granted that whites have benefited tremendously from their presence. In fact, many of America’s founders thought blacks were a tremendous burden, and worried about placing this burden on their posterity. It was none other than Abraham Lincoln who referred to blacks as “a troublesome presence.” The American Colonization Society, which sought to persuade free blacks to go back to Africa claimed some of America’s leading minds as members: James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, James Monroe, Stephen Douglas, John Randolph, William Seward, Francis Scott Key, Winfield Scott, John Marshall and Roger Taney. It is significant that even during the slavery era very few free blacks wanted to leave the United States.
The founders’ foreboding about the presence of blacks was fully justified. Today, whites are burdened by affirmative action, income redistribution through welfare and other programs for blacks, black crime, pervasive black-on-white violence, the destruction of our inner cities, and the distortion of history. Blacks should be deeply grateful for the historical circumstances that permit them to live in America rather than Africa. To ask whites to pay reparations to blacks is insulting. Indeed, as Prof. Michael Levin has written, “a proper balancing of the books would have blacks owing whites.”