Michael Bindner's DC Blog

In this blog, I discuss DC politics and other issues of import to local government. I have posted several essays from my book, Musings from the Christian Left, on blog entreies dated June 2004.

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Location: Alexandria, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Racial Justice (Geocities Rescue)

Race is a key factor in several issues, many of which are covered in separate essays on education, crime and the District of Columbia. Two issues are covered here, reparations and affirmative action.

Reparations for the Descendants of African Slaves
No topic is more volatile than reparations for the descendants of African American slaves. It is an issue that deserves a lot more light and a lot more heat. I attempt here to provide the former and encourage the latter. The basic question is whether the United States Government apologizes for slavery and compensates the descendants of African American slaves for this grievous sin perpetrated upon their ancestors. The United States made reparations to surviving Japanese Americans it interred during the Second World War, an action that strengthened the call for similar treatment in the African American community. Germany has compensated Jews for the Holocaust, mandating both public and private payment. Indeed, the United States, through its support of Israel, attempted to wipe its own stain for allowing this tragedy by not vigorously opposing it and by not allowing fleeing Jews entry prior to the war (though the U.S. now arguably owes some form of reparation to the Palestinian people). Of course, the reparations made to the Japanese were different than that made to the Jews, as the United States Government was directly responsible for the internment, but only indirectly responsible for the Holocaust.

What responsibility does the United States have for slavery? As a nation, did the United States Government establish the slave trade? No, it did not. At the founding of this nation, slavery is the issue that came close to preventing its establishment. Even at the beginning, this nation was not of one voice regarding slavery, with some founders in favor of abolition and some for preservation, though many thought it a temporary condition before the invention of the cotton gin made the institution profitable. This is why the Constitution set a date in the future for stopping the international slave trade – it was predicted to be unprofitable by then.

Randall Robinson of TransAfrica maintains that the United States benefited from slavery through collection of export taxes on cotton. This cannot be true, as part of the original compromise on slavery was the banning of export taxes – which was an advantage to the cotton industry that benefited mightily from this exemption. The taxes that were collected were on imports, which resulted from the use of cotton credit and every other credit. As we know from our current trade economics, the propensity for import does not require export, which means those tariffs are collected anyway.

The United States, on balance, did not foster slavery, and at great human and financial cost finally ended it by defeating the Confederacy. If anything, a debt of thanks is owned to it that wipes out the stain of both Dred Scott and of any indirect participation due to the cotton trade.

This does not mean, however, that the United States is without blame for its conduct toward African Americans, subsequent to the abolition of slavery. The United States has made certain promises that it has ineffectively kept. The promise of America is equality, yet as a direct result of governmental inaction or ineffectiveness the position of African Americans in our society is grossly unequal in several ways, to which I return after addressing the responsibility of certain others for the institution of slavery.

While the United States is not directly responsible for slavery, there are those institutions who are and who must apologize and pay some form of reparations. Chief among these is those states that enforced a condition of slavery, whether or not these participated in the treasonous war against the United States. My current home state of Virginia is chief among those who are obliged to apologize for both slavery and for segregation. (Update: They actually did). As a jurisdiction that allowed slavery, the District of Columbia need also apologize, as well as the Congress for enforcing slavery within the District. While its national participation in slavery is tangential, its participation in slavery in the District was direct. The descendants of slaves who were resident in the District of Columbia during slavery must be compensated by the District of Columbia, as should the descendants of Maryland and Virginia slaves by their respective states.

Certain private concerns must also compensate the descendants of slaves, principally the cotton, tobacco and sugar industries. The sugar industry must go even further, as it still practices a form of chattel slavery to harvest sugar in the developing world. If this does not cease ban this sugar from import into this nation. The labor movement needs to atone for its part in segregation by compensating those to whom it denied membership and by aggressively recruiting African-American youth.

Subsequent to slavery, the United States allowed certain conditions to exist that require compensation. Chief among these conditions is the sharecropper system. Until the advent of automated harvesting technology for cotton, poor blacks were held in virtual slavery to grow and harvest cotton for the profit of rich landholders, as if slavery were never abolished. Any survivor of this system must be directly compensated for this backbreaking labor. This compensation should come primarily from the cotton industry, but also from the United States Government.

The United States continues to allow, through inadequate enforcement, the perpetuation of discrimination of African Americans in the areas of employment and housing, and for allowing rampant violations of its wage and hour and environmental laws where African American and Latino workers or residents are concerned. Provide adequate funding to assure sure enforcement of equal employment, fair housing, wage and hour and environmental laws, particularly where the victims are African American. Locally, one of the most glaring examples of environmental racism is the odor from the Blue Plains facility, whose primary victims are the African American citizens of Ward 8 in the District and the Inner City neighborhood of Alexandria, although as a nearby neighbor I can testify that odor knows no race.

Governmental action has damaged the African American family. The United States Government has required that to receive economic assistance, families must break up. To a great extent, this has been an act of intentional discrimination against the African American male, as has the enforcement of our nation’s drug laws, particularly mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine, which fall hardest on black males though they are not by any means the exclusive users. It is past time for the repeal of these onerous provisions.

African Americans have received a secondary public education, due to the link between educational funding and property taxes. This link must be forever broken. Education is a redistributional activity, to be funded by a progressive income tax.

Finally, it is time for the progressive movement to apologize. After the Civil War, the radical Republicans made several promises to freedmen. Many of these were not kept, or were discarded when the White House was at stake in the election of 1872. Eventually, the Democrats became the heirs to this tradition, although one cannot tell from their last stint in the White House. Arguably, it is the Green Party of the United States that is now the heir presumptive to the progressive cause. It is for this reason that the Green Party of the United States must take the first action and apologize to the descendents of slaves for promises that have not been kept.

One obvious form of reparations is affirmative action, which we discuss next.

Affirmative Action
Affirmative action at schools of higher education needs reworking for it to survive. I offer a fairly straightforward proposal. In each state, assess the success in college of the graduates of all high schools in the state in terms of both grades and test scores. Admit applicants whose marks indicate that they are sure to succeed academically, based on the performance of those who have gone before. Admit those whose marks indicate that they have little chance of success to the state’s community college system or to an open enrollment university. Both of these steps are the easy part. The controversy arises in how to treat the vast majority of individuals in the middle. Admit the remaining applicants based upon a lottery for the remaining slots. This system is fairer than trying to second-guess academic success and failure based on some tortured process. No one can argue with the fairness of random chance, except self-important selection committees and legacy admissions, which are also ended.

Affirmative action and even non-discrimination in a small business setting is hard to design and enforce. The best alternative is to just set up your own business - which people do frequently. There, affirmative action is accomplished with economic development loans. Enforce anti-discrimination laws with much more vigor. Establish an inspection arm for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Send identically qualified agents as applicants into recruitment and housing situations and compare how the members of the various races, genders, etc. are treated. It is likely that there is much to inspect. In a variety of situations, including an employment interview for a conservative think take, I have heard people say that they would never hire someone in a protected class of fear of a discrimination suit. What they don't realize is that they already have discriminated, for not hiring someone for that reason is both discrimination and actionable. There is a saying in public health inspection that the best form of education is a fine. The same is likely true in the world of housing and employment. Fines are also attractive because they fund the inspection program, which is why what I am suggesting is not the common practice. The majority would rather not believe that racism is as common as it is.

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