Now that Gay Marriage, on the basis of a series of fabricated popular opinion polls and even-more-shamelessly-fabricated judicial opinions, seems to be firmly established as a feature of American life, the Establishment media is competing to pick the next great liberal cause. Time Magazine plumped for Transgender Rights. The Atlantic, more conservatively, just allowed its house affirmative action senior editor to publish an interminable screed demanding reparations.
That editor, a fellow named Coates who affects the silly and pretentious Afro praenomen Ta-Nehisi, makes an essentially preposterous claim. His contention is that we all owe him money because the entire American economy and Capitalist System as we know is built upon the unremunerated contributions of black slaves prior to 1865.
There are a number of obvious problems with this theory. According to historian Eugene Genovese, the most authoritative student of the subject, during the Antebellum period, black slaves typically received a significantly larger share of the product of their production than did free laborers in the North.
Additionally, the economic contribution of black slaves was regional, overwhelmingly restricted to the agricultural and non-industrial South. Industrial America and modern American capitalism developed in the far more urban and populous North. The wealth of the South was ultimately sunk in the struggle for Southern Independence, and its economic assets, its modest industries, and its large agricultural economy was destroyed in the war. After the Civil War, the Southern states sank into provincial poverty and economic backwardness for most of a century.
If the South owed Black America anything, in 1865 it was bankrupt and in no position to pay. Congress, moreover, specifically repudiated all the debts of the late Confederacy.
The Northern States extinguished Slavery at the cost of more than 700,000 American lives, the equivalent of two and half percent of the entire population of the country, four years of war, and the expenditure of what would undoubtedly be trillions of today’s dollars in wealth. The entire record of history fails to disclose any equivalent example of so enormous an effort and so enormous a sacrifice of blood and treasure by any society for the benefit of another people. The absolutely incredible cost of the Civil War would be taken by any fair-minded person to wipe the slate clean for the entire nation, North and South.
Finally, of course, there is to be considered the obvious enormous distance of time, and the tremendous changes in American society and its population which have occurred in that century and a half since 1865. Few people living today actually even know the names of their ancestors who were living in 1865, let alone their circumstances.
For Mr. Coates to claim that America owes him, and others of his kind, for potential underpayments of wages to some great great grandfather is just ridiculous. Nor does his endless series of sob stories about bad real estate deals and segregation impress me very much.
I don’t think I owe Mr. Coates, or the rest of Black America, a damn thing. No members of my family ever set foot in this country before the mid-1890s, a full generation after slavery was extinguished. My Lithuanian ancestors settled in the Anthracite mining region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, where they enjoyed the distinctly white European privileges of digging coal, getting killed in cave-ins or gas explosions, and dying unusually young of Anthrosilicosis.
They probably would have discriminated against Mr. Coates’ ancestors, given the chance, but happily they were spared the moral burden of Black Segregation because there simply weren’t any blacks at all living in their part of the country.
Segregation would have seemed the natural order of things to my relatives, who self-segregated themselves by settling in Lithuanian communities, living in Lithuanian neighborhoods, building and attending Lithuanian churches and schools, shopping at Lithuanian butcher shops, and drinking in Lithuanian saloons.
We owned no slaves, oppressed no Negroes, denied them no public accommodations, and had nothing to do with them whatsoever. My family additionally, in generations gone by, enjoyed no particular white privileges denied to Mr. Coates’ family. I was the first member of my family to attend an elite college. My father had to leave school after the 8th grade and go to work. His father was dying of miner’s asthma and the family needed the money. My grandparents bought a house in Mahanoy City early in the 1920s. They paid it off in three years, having no more access to federal mortgage financing than Mr. Coates’ family and their peers.
But, I’m willing to be generous. I don’t believe I, or any other Americans, owe Mr. Coates anything, but let us bend over backwards to quiet his complaints and make him whole.
I agree with the philosophy expressed by Rupert Birkin, speaking for D.H. Lawrence in Women in Love:
The minute you begin to compare, one man is seen to be far better than another, all the inequality you can imagine is there by nature. I want every man to have his share in the world’s goods, so I can be rid of his importunity, so that I can tell him: “Now you’ve got what you want — you’ve got your fair share of the world’s gear. Now, you foul-mouthed fool, mind yourself and don’t obstruct me.
And what would appropriate reparation for Mr. Coates consist of?
Clearly, we need to remove all the burdens and oppressions heaped upon his shoulders by evil America and wicked European Civilization. We ought to restore to him everything he has lost. We should give Mr. Coates a spear, and grass skirt, and along with them a one-way ticket back to Africa. As part of the deal, of course, we’ll have to take away his shoes, his trousers, his personal computer, and his position as senior editor at The Atlantic. Good luck in Africa, Mr. Coates! Say hello to that panther there for me.