Tuesday, October 16, 2012

David Horowitz, Racism, and Reparations Part 1

David Horowitz, conservative white supremacist, offered 10 reasons to not support  reparations that reveal his right-wing racism. Check it out here.

There Is No Single Group Clearly Responsible For The Crime Of Slavery
Black Africans and Arabs were responsible for enslaving the ancestors of African-Americans. There were 3,000 black slave-owners in the ante-bellum United States. Are reparations to be paid by their descendants too?

First of all, black slaveholders in the antebellum South often purchased their relatives to keep them from being sold into slavery under white rule. This is not to suggest that some people who would now be called African-American were not, perhaps, brutal slaveholders, but without any research one cannot claim that the 3,000 black slave owners in the US South were all the same type of brutal slave drivers that were far more common among white Americans. Furthermore, the antebellum years of US history included punitive Fugitive Slave acts and other measures to ensure the free black population in the North and South were vulnerable to re-enslavement, limited mobility, and little access to formal education or political rights. Indeed, the free black population actually became a small proportion of the total black population due to these punitive measures passed by Southern states and the federal government that sought to end runaway slaves. 

Furthermore, one cannot simply state, "Black Africans and Arabs were responsible for enslaving the ancestors of African-Americans." How did these enslaved Africans get across the Atlantic? Obviously, white Europeans and whites from the Americas transported them in dangerous, overcrowded slaveships where mortality rates were high, Africans were terrified and countless committed suicide or led revolts (the famous Amistad, for instance), and then, when this horrendous Middle Passage was finally over, a life of likely perpetual servitude awaited them. Yes, the slave trade in Africa existed for thousands of years, as it has existed elsewhere in Europe or Asia, but white Europeans specifically can take credit for the largest forced migration in history under the most savage, dehumanizing conditions. White Europeans and European-descended slave traders from the Americas, from the 16th century til the late 19th century, sold manufactured goods and various other products in exchange for enslaved Africans who were then enslaved based on the color of their skin. African slavery, beginning in Latin America and the Caribbean before English colonization in North America, quickly became justified based on the alleged inferiority of Africans. So sure, Africans and Arabs, like everyone else, was engaged in slave trades of some sort, but the specific highly racialized form of forced labor and migration that arose in the Americas, is due to white European racism and nothing will change that fact. White Europeans conquered the Americas through disease, genocide, and forced labor of indigenous peoples, and when that labor pool was exhausted or deemed insufficient, they imported millions of African laborers whose material civilization was the basis for countless societies across the Americas.

There Is No One Group That Benefited Exclusively From Its Fruits
The claim for reparations is premised on the false assumption that only whites have benefited from slavery. If slave labor created wealth for Americans, then obviously it has created wealth for black Americans as well, including the descendants of slaves. The GNP of black America is so large that it makes the African-American community the 10th most prosperous "nation" in the world. American blacks on average enjoy per capita incomes in the range of twenty to fifty times that of blacks living in any of the African nations from which they were kidnapped.

Obviously, blacks have arisen in this nation not because of benefits from slavery, but in spite of it. The wealth for white elites created by black slaves on plantations, homes, urban centers, docks, and in various other fields of agriculture (rice, for instance), technology (Eli Whitney got the idea for the cotton gin from a black slave), music, language, art, literature, and intellectual endeavors was part of a dialectical process with the emergence of modern capitalism. White slaveholders in the South were connected with white elites and businesses in the North, particularly the shipping industry. Slave labor was also instrumental for creating wealth for Whites in the United States but also European colonial powers, such as Britain and France, whose shipping, trade, and manufactures found markets in the colonies and Europe, while also contributing to the development of industrialism in Europe and the Northeast of the US. Where do you think the cotton and other products of the antebellum South were going? Those raw goods were sent long distances to the emerging factories of the Northeast, Britain and other nascent industrial centers which only grew because of cheap sources of raw products that could then be manufactured and traded again. This was also part of the triangular trade in which European manufactured goods, made with products from the colonies or states of the Americas, were sold to Africans in exchange for human labor which went to the Americas to produce a lot of the aforementioned cotton, coffee, sugar, gold, and tobacco. Furthermore, I am speaking in a broader hemispheric perspective, not solely a US context. Enslaved black labor was also instrumental in the North, since many Northern states only emancipated their slave populations decades after the American Revolution.

All of this aforementioned wealth was raised disproportionately for white benefit and has been passed down to future generations of white Americans. Indeed, many white institutions and corporations that arose in the antebellum period owed their rise to the sale of humans or profited of their labor. Since blacks were largely excluded from the monetary system as unpaid, mostly rural workers, succeeding generations were unable to accumulate wealth or property (especially since they could and would be sold off to different plantations, sometimes in different parts of the US, such as the sale of blacks to the Deep South that led to more enslaved blacks being forcibly relocated than the entire number of enslaved Africans who survived the Middle Passage en route to the US (about 500,000 enslaved Africans arrived). Although it is true that the extreme wealth created by African American slave labor has fueled the growth of the US exponentially, and since blacks have forced the nation, through massive social movements and their own active participation in the industrial economy of the 20th century, especially during the Great Migration, to be included, albeit as an exploited labor force, blacks still lag far behind weights. Based on wealth as defined by assets, the average white family is better off, owns higher-valued homes, attends better schools, are not targeted based on race for mass incarceration, and enjoy a lower unemployment rate while blacks, even when a larger proportion of the black population is seeking work, still suffer from higher rates of joblessness. Moreover, the higher GNP of African Americans collectively being greater than that of any of the African nations from which their ancestors came from is irrelevant to the issue of the ongoing racial disparities in wealth, access to healthcare, education, unemployment, and shelter. 

Furthermore, the economic conditions of various African states is related to the slave trade, European colonialism, and the exploitative neocolonial, neoliberal economic models and framework which impoverishes many post-colonial states. The continued poverty of African Americans and various African states, therefore, is related to consequences of unequal trade relations, a capitalist world system that thrives on exploitation for production, and the maintenance of white supremacy worldwide. One must be wary of racist attempts by individuals such as Horowitz who endeavor to justify slavery based on the current predicament of economic instability or stagnation seen in many African countries. Indeed, an Arkansas Republican recently stated blacks were better off for slavery, racist sentiments also espoused by Pat Buchanan, Robert E. Lee, and many other whites. The better question is, where would America be without the African American material, intellectual, and cultural contributions that have forced it to live to its ideals against its own will? Where would the impetus have arisen for the Industrial Revolution or the growth of colonial economies thriving on the trade of agricultural products? Would white European settlers have been able to do all the labor? No, African Americans are not and should not be grateful for slavery. Rather, white Americans should be grateful for the black presence that has played a huge role in building this nation and fomenting abolitionism and a democratic consciousness absent in the supposedly universal political ideology and liberalism of the European Enlightenment.

Only A Tiny Minority Of White Americans Ever Owned Slaves, And Others Gave Their Lives To Free Them
Only a tiny minority of Americans ever owned slaves. This is true even for those who lived in the ante-bellum South where only one white in five was a slaveholder. Why should their descendants owe a debt? What about the descendants of the 350,000 Union soldiers who died to free the slaves? They gave their lives. What possible moral principle would ask them to pay (through their descendants) again?

True, only a tiny minority of Americans ever owned slaves. However, their descendants and the descendants of whites who did not own slaves have intermarried, so the divisions are not always clear or known. For instance, some American presidents with roots to the North, are descended from slaveholders. Also, whites who did not own slaves benefited materially, socially, and psychologically from being light-skinned, white European-descended. Their white skin saved them from perpetual stigmatization or forced labor because of their skin. This is not to suggest that all contemporary white ethnic groups never suffered in the past. Clearly, Jews, Irish, Italians, and many others were also, for a time, oppressed by Protestant Anglo-Saxons. However, they, because of their white skin, were quickly able to join the white race, a notion constructed based on opposition to a black, allegedly inferior racial group easily distinguishable. This confers white privilege on these European-Americans, and since they were and are not black, they have been allowed many benefits, such as access to higher education, more social mobility, political rights such as suffrage, better schools, and membership in a constructed race defined as normative for American society. White privilege also entails additional likelihood for accumulating wealth, being able to live in a community without fear of housing segregation (although, historically, many white ethnics were excluded from certain neighborhoods, such as Jews), and more chances for varying types of employment. Blacks, on the other hand, were often excluded from trade unions, repressed politically, suffered disproportionately from mob violence and lynchings, were and are rejected for loans, targeted for subprime loans, more likely to attend underfunded schools in high-poverty areas,  and excluded from many professions and colleges.

In addition to whites, regardless of descending from slaveholders or not, benefiting from white privilege, society's collective debt to redistributive economic and social policy, taking the form of reparations or otherwise, would have to include the present since whites still benefit from the historic and current oppression, exploitation, exclusion, and suffering of African Americans. The Union soldiers who died to the free the slaves is also a problematic, and poorly worded assertion from the white supremacist Horowitz. If blacks really needed liberation from above, from white Americans, they would not have caused the Civil War. In truth, if blacks were not already resisting slavery in various ways, Southern states and "free" states would not have come to conflict regarding slavery and its immorality. Besides the importance of slave resistance prior to the Civil War and during the conflict, many blacks took it upon themselves to serve in the Civil War, with over 200,000 African American men serving for the Union during the war and thousands of black women also participating in the war for their own liberation. One must also not neglect to mention that many of these white soldiers, especially the Irish in NYC, were drafted against their will because they did not care about black slaves. This is not to suggest that the consequences of the war, the 13th Amendment, and the abolition of slavery, except for criminal offenses, were not great, but these whites who served in the war and who led both sides were committed to white supremacy by and large. The North betrayed democracy and blacks after Reconstruction, ensuring the maintenance of virulent white racism, and whites from all regions of the US participated in this process as moderates indifferent to the plight of others in their midst or by actively contributing to racial inequality through racist practices, attitudes and behaviors.

America Today Is A Multi-Ethnic Nation and Most Americans Have No Connection (Direct Or Indirect) To Slavery
The two great waves of American immigration occurred after 1880 and then after 1960. What rationale would require Vietnamese boat people, Russian refuseniks, Iranian refugees, and Armenian victims of the Turkish persecution, Jews, Mexicans Greeks, or Polish, Hungarian, Cambodian and Korean victims of Communism, to pay reparations to American blacks?

Yes, American society is multi-ethnic, but this nation, founded on racial slavery, genocide, and thievery against indigenous peoples, has an obligation to ensure redistributive justice, which must result in strong affirmative action and reparations. Most Americans do have a connection to slavery, since white privilege has directly impacted all white Americans in the US, regardless of how recent their entry.  Other people of color besides blacks are also affected since the maintenance of white supremacy with black and brown poverty makes it quite clear that white supremacy is thriving at the core of this increasingly multi-ethnic society. Vietnamese boat people and victims of oppression not directly caused by or encouraged by the US government domestically should still receive additional aid and reparations through redistributive social policies that would ensure equality of opportunity and outcome for everyone, regardless of race. The white supremacist Horowitz wants to pit non-whites and victims of oppression against each other, but the collective interests of people of color against whites necessitates reparations for blacks as well as a broader left that fights for economic change and reform. Moreover, no nation operates in complete isolation, and US imperialism has a significant if not overarching role in the suffering of Vietnam, Russia, Iran, Mexico, and other groups.The battle for reparations for African Americans must entail a broader leftist struggle for social justice that includes collective uplift for all people of color and marginalized members of society.  Thus, the rationale for other groups to support reparations to American blacks would be a common goal of dismantling white supremacy and ensuring the aforementioned equality of access and outcome for all members of American society.

The Historical Precedents Used To Justify The Reparations Claim Do Not Apply, And The Claim Itself Is Based On Race Not Injury
The historical precedents generally invoked to justify the reparations claim are payments to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Japanese-Americans and African- American victims of racial experiments in Tuskegee, or racial outrages in Rosewood and Oklahoma City. But in each case, the recipients of reparations were the direct victims of the injustice or their immediate families. This would be the only case of reparations to people who were not immediately affected and whose sole qualification to receive reparations would be racial. As has already been pointed out, during the slavery era, many blacks were free men or slave-owners themselves, yet the reparations claimants make no distinction between the roles blacks actually played in the injustice itself. Randall Robinson's book on reparations, The Debt, which is the manifesto of the reparations movement is pointedly sub-titled "What America Owes To Blacks." If this is not racism, what is?

Once again, right-wing racist Horowitz endeavors to paint black Americans demanding reparations as "racist" when his dialogue clearly indicates tremendous ignorance of African and African American history, as well as white privilege. Once again, the numerous accumulated benefits of black slave labor for whites and the white-dominated US includes numerous accumulated black disadvantages that are generational. Blacks were not allowed access for centuries to accumulate wealth and many other social capital whites have, by and large, had within reach. Yes, some African Americans were not slaves and some were able to accumulate wealth or become slaveowners, but that does nothing for the overwhelming majority of African Americans who were still in bondage. Moreover, a nuanced perspective on class dynamics of African Americans throughout history would reveal the greater chances for decline in social mobility among the black middle class, so prosperous blacks from the antebellum period or Jim Crow-era were not necessarily passing down their wealth to their progeny as successfully as whites. Whites, with legal resources and the plethora of privileges that came with their skin, were and are better able to survive economic crises, such as when corporations or Wall Street screws over an entire national economy, disproportionately obliterating black wealth. 

Therefore, regardless of whether or not African Americans were directly affected by slavery, their slave ancestors never received their 40 acres and a mule, and their descendants had to live through nearly a century of Jim and Jane Crow that further curtailed black human rights, inevitably having a negative impact of blacks' socioeconomic status to this day. The New Jim Crow, detailed in Michelle Alexander's great book, also details the current mass incarceration of African Americans that resembles the conditions of slavery. Furthermore, since most blacks were not free or slave-holders, and the particular instances of blacks owning other blacks is not fully explained by our whites supremacist friend, his observation has no bearing. It's also not surprising that some members of an oppressed group collaborate with the oppressor group, since that usually raises their status or may bring some immediate short-term benefits. Some Jews collaborated with the Nazi regime, but does that mean Jews don't deserve reparations for the Holocaust? Our racist friend is unclear.

No comments:

Post a Comment