Demands for slavery reparations are an example of race hustling at its worse. Americans of good will are working hard to bridge the racial gap that still exists in our country and bring about a state of racial harmony; something that would benefit the vast majority of Americans.  Unfortunately, there are still a few people who view racial discord as an opportunity to be exploited—think of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton—people best viewed as race hustlers. Race hustlers continue to fan the flames of racial discord as a means to keep themselves relevant, maintain power, and fatten their wallets.  The biggest fear of race hustlers is that people in America will do what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recommended: judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.  If this ever happens, the days of race hustling are over.
Fearing exactly this, race hustlers have long sought a way to really pour fire on the embers of racial discord.  The more progress people of good faith make in bridging the racial divide in America, the more frantic race hustlers have become in seeking a burning issue that will ensure them of more years, if not decades, of relevance and financial security. The more entrepreneurial of the race hustlers think they have hit upon just the issue: slavery reparations.  As racial hustles go, this one must look inviting to people who benefit from racial discord because it appeals to them on so many different levels.  There are the feelings harbored by some black Americans who know their history and understandably resent aspects of it, there is the growing entitlement mentality in American society, there is white guilt, and, finally, there is the always enticing element of money.
With these perceived potential assets in mind, the case for slavery reparations was recently advanced by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the May 21st edition of Atlantic magazine.  The call for reparations is not new—it comes up from time to time.  The article by Coates is just the latest shot fired in an on-going battle.  When slavery reparations do come up the arguments for it boil down to this: slavery was bad, Reconstruction didn’t fix things, and Jim Crow institutionalized racial discrimination.  Essentially, these are the same arguments Coates made in his Atlantic article, and they are all true.  Let me say from the outset that I agree that slavery was a moral blight on society, Reconstruction was a badly misnamed concept, and the Jim Crow laws just made legal what was really criminal.  I also agree with Coates that slavery reparations should have been paid.  But I part company in a major way with advocates concerning when they should have been paid and by whom.
My view is that those who captured, transported, traded, and owned slaves should have been made to pay reparations to those they enslaved 150 years or so ago when slaves and masters were still alive. Reparations assessed at that time would not have erased the blight on humanity that slavery represented, but they would have at least been an attempt at justice.  Speaking of justice, this is why I disagree with Coates and other advocates of slavery reparations who want American citizens alive today to be taxed to pay reparations to black Americans.  If the goal of reparations advocates is justice, where is the justice in asking Americans who are living today to pay for the sins of Americans who died long ago, sins they played no part in and owing to the span of time involved could not have stopped?  How can a person alive today possibly be culpable for sins committed 200 or more years ago? What about Hispanic and Asian Americans? Should they be required to pay?  What about Americans of mixed racial heritage? Should they be required to pay? What about the fact that a high percentage of Americans living today trace their lineage to immigrants who came to America after the Civil War? Should they be allowed to pay?
To race hustlers, slavery reparations certainly must look like a promising issue on which to hang their hats, not to  mention their futures.  Their thinking probably goes something like this:  If we make enough noise about this issue and stir up enough guilt, maybe pandering politicians will go along with reparations just to shut us up.  But on more careful examination, the idea of reparations is not just fraught with difficulties; it is the result of twisted logic, entitlement, and greed.  Society cannot right one wrong by perpetrating another.  You do not establish justice for one man by inflicting injustice on another.
Look into this issue and you will notice right away that slavery reparations advocates do not limit their expectations of payment to just the direct descendants of slave traders and slave owners.  This is not because they acknowledge that even direct descendants played no role in the heinous activities of their forbearers.  The descendants of slave owners and slave traders weren’t even alive in those dark days of America’s history, nor would they be for a long time.  Obviously, people cannot be held responsible—legally, ethically, or morally—for things they did not do and could not prevent.  But this is not why reparations advocates choose not to focus on the descendants of slave traders and slave owners. The real reason is the very essence of expedience: money.  There are not enough direct descendants of slave traders and slave owners alive in America today to generate the kind of money advocates are hoping to receive.  Better for the pocketbooks of race hustlers if all Americans have to pay into the proposed fund and let justice be damned.
Here are just a few other questions that slavery reparations advocates should be required to answer: 1) Should black Americans be required to pay into a reparations fund—after all there were free blacks who owned slaves?, 2) Should Americans of mixed racial heritage where one of the parents was black and one white be required to pay into the fund?, 3) Should white Americans who are the descendants of those who hid slaves from their masters and helped them escape be exempted from paying into the proposed fund?, 4) Should Americans whose forbearers immigrated to the U.S. after the Civil War be exempted from paying into the proposed fund?, and 5) Who would administer the proposed fund and determine how much each recipient is allotted.
I don’t know how reparations advocates will answer the first four of these questions, but they have already answered the fifth.  The plan is to ask “black leaders” to administer the reparations fund and make decisions concerning how to distribute any money that would be collected. Now there’s a plan. Besides this approach being a formula certain to encourage cronyism, graft, and corruption—that much power always corrupts, just look at Congress—who is going to choose the black leaders to administer the fund and who is going to oversee their decisions?
Slavery was an abomination, not just to America but to humanity. I state this as a given.  However, expecting reparations to be paid by people who did not live during the slavery era, have never owned slaves, and in all likelihood are not even distantly related to slave owners of the past is a bad idea; an idea that is not just, fair, or logical.  In fact, the demand for slavery reparations is little more than an example of the entitlement mentality at its worst being pushed by people who are really just interested in receiving money they don’t deserve from people who don’t owe it to them.