America should pay its black citizens reparations for slavery and end the farce of affirmative actionby Charles Krauthammer / August 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
The American people owe a special debt to black Americans. The important word here is special. That debt does not apply to any of the other groups-women, Hispanics, gays, and so on-that have been grasping for the prestige and benefits of victimhood. The African American case is unique. There is nothing to compare with centuries of state-sponsored slavery followed by a century of state-sponsored discrimination.
Collective responsibility does not, however, mean collective guilt. This generation of Americans bears no guilt for slavery. But having benefited from the fruits of America’s past, we have an obligation to pay some of its debts. No 18-year-old, for example, has incurred a penny of our $3.4 trillion national debt. Nevertheless, he will spend a lifetime helping to pay it off because, even when guiltless, we remain collectively responsible for our nation’s past.
How to address that responsibility? Thirty-five years ago, under Lyndon Johnson, we made a fateful decision: to redress the debt owed black Americans by means of a new regime of racial preferences, aka affirmative action.
That experiment has now run its course. It has been corrupted by other groups claiming similar status and privileges. To accommodate the various claimants to victimhood, affirmative action has been inflated and transformed into “diversity.” Every corner of society must now be sprinkled with the correct number of blacks, women, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians-the list grows and grows. It has become an absurdity. By what logic does the son of a newly arrived Salvadorean immigrant have a greater claim to a place in a university than, say, the son of a white Vietnam veteran? Yet under “diversity,” he does.
Affirmative action has terrible costs. It violates the principle of equal treatment and thus creates, in a society founded on the ideal of equality under law, new and bitter racial divisions. More importantly, affirmative action implies that blacks cannot make it on their own. It discredits the real achievements of African Americans, because no one can really be sure whether an individual made it on his own, or on a quota.
Is there is a way out of this cul-de-sac? A way to recognise the debt of the past without poisoning the present and future? There is. Reparations.
A lump sum compensation does not, of course, make full amends. Nothing can. No one, for example, would pretend that post-war German reparations for the Holocaust made amends. But…