Saturday, March 18, 2023

Brendan O'Neill: Why slavery reparations are a terrible idea

San Francisco’s reparations plans are divisive, demeaning and insane.

To see how destructive identity politics can be, how toxic and divisive, look no further than San Francisco’s crazy reparations idea. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors appointed a panel to consider whether reparations should be paid to the city’s black residents for the historic crimes of slavery and racism. The panel decreed that, yes, they should be. Every eligible black citizen of San Francisco should get $5million each, it said. They should also get $97,000 a year for the rest of their lives and be able to buy homes in the city for $1. Incredibly, the Board of Supervisors is seriously considering the recommendations rather than hurling them into the trashcan of crackpot ideas that deserve not a split second’s contemplation, which is where they should be.

Every member of the Board of Supervisors accepted the plan on principle. All 11 of them. No decision has been made on exactly how and when the city will fork out financial compensation for historic moral errors – that will be a far longer process – but the board believes that it should happen. That potentially hundreds of millions of dollars should be taken from some taxpayers and handed to others for past events that not a single living soul had any involvement in.

The board members have so completely left the realm of reason that they cannot understand why the public isn’t dancing in the streets over these ideas. Board president Aaron Peskin says he’s ‘startled’ by the negative response from the inhabitants of our ‘allegedly liberal progressive city’. Another board member slammed his own constituents for their ‘overheated and irrational’ response to the reparations idea. Imagine nodding along to the notion that people should be given millions of dollars for something that happened to their great-great-great-great grandmother and calling other people irrational.

These events in San Francisco sum up what a terrible idea it is to have slavery reparations. They show what a disruptive and discordant impact on society reparations would have. Around 50,000 black people live in San Francisco. It’s not clear how many of them would be eligible for the historic-pain handouts. The panel says folk should be able to apply for the money if they’re at least 18 years old and have identified as black or African American for at least a decade. Identified as? Maybe Rachel Dolezal will get some of that sweet slavery cash in the future. The Hoover Institution at Stanford University estimates that if San Francisco adopts the panel’s plans, it will cost each non-black family in the city around $600,000.

Take that in. Elected supervisors in a modern city are thinking about charging non-black families hundreds of thousands of dollars to soothe other people’s alleged historic hurt. And ‘non-black’ doesn’t just mean white. San Francisco has a huge Asian-American population and many Latino citizens, too. Imagine recently arrived, hard-working Latino families having to pay an atonement for past events their ancestors played no role in whatsoever. It’s unhinged. Of course it’s equally mad to expect modern-day whites to cough up cash for the sin of slavery. Especially in California, which was a free state. The madness of wokeness is surely captured in the fact that people who were never slave-owners might have to pay compensation to people who were never slaves in a state that never had African-American slavery.

The racial divisiveness of what San Francisco is seriously considering cannot be overstated. Splitting the city into victim races who deserve millions of dollars in love and care and culpable races who will have to stump up the cash for this mad plan is one of the most poisonous proposals I’ve heard in a long time. The far right can only dream of so expertly fracturing a city along racial lines. San Francisco’s reparations idea exposes the rotten hyper-racialist heart of woke politics. This fatalist ideology condemns whites to permanent culpability and blacks to permanent pain. It impresses the sins of the father on white folk and the agony of the ancestor on black people, condemning all to live in a forever purgatory of historically determined angst. What a dispiriting and anti-democratic way of life they aspire to impose on us.

That is the worst part of the slavery-reparations idea – its historical determinism. The idea that modern-day blacks are shaped and haunted by the crimes of yesteryear is deeply demeaning. Randall Robinson, in his influential tome The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, said reparations are necessary because slavery ‘debilitated a whole people psychologically, socially and economically’. Such thinking presents black people as marionettes pulled this way and that by dead events over which they have no control. Their self-esteem, their opportunities (or lack thereof) – all are apparently moulded by the terrifying force of history. This is ahistorical, apolitical and patronising. It disavows the agency of living black communities. In the words of columnist Gregory Kane, the ‘Victimhood Sweepstakes’ of the reparations ideology actually ‘reinforces’ despondency in African-American circles, rather than challenging it.

Reparations are a con. Paying them might provide a moral thrill to wealthy whites, for whom they will become a kind of modern-day Indulgence, a payment of cash to absolve oneself of the moral stain of whiteness. But such narcissistic privilege-checking would come at the cost of social harmony. And claiming reparations might seem like a good idea to some African Americans, who would get to live more comfortably as a result of modern America’s depressing obsession with historic wrongs. But the financial perk of reparations would be completely outweighed by their sinister compromising of individual agency, of autonomy, of the idea that all of us, whatever our background, are responsible for our lives and our destinies.

I prefer Frederick Douglass’s approach. That great slave turned abolitionist never asked for compensation, despite experiencing the whip and humiliation of enslavement for himself. On the contrary, his response to the question of what should be done with black people post-slavery was: ‘Do nothing with us!’ ‘If the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall’, he said. ‘All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!’ Such words might sound harsh to delicate modern ears, but there’s far more humanity in Douglass’s bet on black autonomy than there is in the politics of racial pity promoted by today’s woke elites. San Francisco, let people alone.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer. This article was first published HERE


Doug Longmire said...

Crazy !!
However, something similar is actually taking place here in New Zealand, where tribes are claiming payback or reparation for supposed/real wrongs committed by "colonists" generations ago.
The payback of course is taken from current taxpayers who had no involvement whatsoever to these events.

robert Arthur said...

Whilst the ship journey may have been somewhat rugged (as were other voyages. One of my wickedly indutrial colonist ancestors came here on the "Brothers Pride"), life was no worse than very many "free" factory and mine workers in Europe. Perhaps maori tribes should compensate the tribes extensively enslavened. Logan Campbeoll observed that their life was better than a factory worker in England, except that if guests were coming could be on the menu.

Clive Bibby said...

A great article but would have been even better had it included reference to the Kiwi way of paying reparations that are deeming acceptable
compensation for past Crown mis-treatment of indigenous populations.
Nowhere in the world has any other country settled on a formula that is as effective in both moral and monetary terms at providing the “opportunity” for recipients to “stand on their own feet”. Many have tried but most come up with deliberately meaningless additions to the constitution (if they have one) but no real way of healing the wounds inflicted by our forebears.
The best example of these disingenuous attempts is in the current Australian talkfest inappropriately named “The Voice.”
The secret behind New Zealand’s successful remedy is in the willingness of both parties to genuinely seek a workable formula that enables the bulk of the nation’s peoples to reconcile their historical differences and move on.
Having said that, our chosen pathway is far from perfect with opportunities for tribal routing of the compensation formula via the clause that allows for additional relativity payments that has a habit of stalling the settlement process. We should drop that clause and move on.
But for all that, our system seems to be working while all the rest have failed - there must be something in the water.

Anonymous said...

totally agree with doug! NZ has no right to make fun of this. at least SF is charging $1 for a home, we are giving it for free!

DeeM said...

Looks like San Fran is on its way to becoming the first 100% black city in the US. I can see Harlem and a good chunk of the Deep South packing their bags and claiming a house for $1 and a $100k/yr for life.
Then, of course, most of the native black San Franciscans won't want to live there either.
Realistically, the city will become a ghost-town with all the "residents" permanently on holiday spending their $5M handout.

The fact that imbeciles like the Board of Supervisors can get appointed to these positions when their mental faculties are seriously impaired demonstrates how completely unhinged wokeism has become.

Anonymous said...

The dumbness of people never ceases to amaze me

Anonymous said...

Yes the Māoris were great slavers of their own. And takers of other Māoris lands and heritage with their rights of conquest.

By contrast will any one pay me compensation for the historical wrongs and damage done to my Irish and Scottish ancestors driven half way around the world as a desperate escape from grinding poverty and quasi feudalism?

Actually, I would be humiliated by compensation. I am proud of my ancestors , they took the initiative against unknown odds ( just better than what they had) and worked hard and diligently with both Maori and other colonials to pass on great opportunities for the next generations.

Terry Morrissey said...

The San Francisco version of He Puapua.
I cannot see a great deal of difference between the sanity of the Board of Supervisors and the labour/greens cult. They obviously are from the same planet. I feel sure that Willie and the Mahutas will be researching that idea, despite the fact that it was the maoris who had slaves here before the arrival of their saviours. Never let a few facts get in the way of a good scam.

Anonymous said...

@anon2.59 Good on you and your forebears, which aligns with a great many other colonist's histories who have done nothing more than worked hard for generations. Yet, as Doug points out, here we are many generations later paying compensation for something we and the recipients of it had absolutely no nothing to do with. A Crown 'subject' paying another Crown 'subject' for something the Crown reputedly did - and we think these SFns are mad?

Anonymous said...

Furthermore clearly the value of Maori being given the rights and privileges of British subjects is worth nothing. What an insult to the tribal signatories who facilitated such advantages for their people.