EVERY TIME I HEAR about the reparations issue ("How I Changed My Mind," by Bob McLalan, March-April 2001), I start to feel this creeping guilt. That is, until recently. Reparations for slavery are inherently racist and victimizing. Only a small part of our forefathers owned slaves. Some of the slaves happened to be white. Will their families be compensated? There were black masters who owned other blacks, so should they pay extra? I know my entire family didn't arrive on the boat until the very late 19th-century immigrations. Why should anyone in my family feel guilty or pay taxes to make these reparations? What about all the other immigrants from various parts of the world in the 20th century?
More important, this century has seen laws and rights enforced. Affirmative action has been here for decades. We even have a black billionaire now! Blacks aren't the only people to have been enslaved. It just so happens that they had a nation of Christians who said enough. This happened at no other time in history! All other slaves from time immemorial have had to move on without public and private assistances like these! I have gotten tired of being the evil white male and everyone else trying to fit into a victim group.
Bob McLalan replies:
I never felt guilty about the issue of slavery or segregation; guilt had nothing to do with my support for reparations. It came as a result of research and the recognition that reparations and punitive damages are awarded to people of all types in this country. Slavery never existed elsewhere in this form at any time in history. There were slaves and indentured servants of different races in the 1600s, but it was the African-American population that was targeted to work the cash crops. The economics of slavery made many people wealthy (landowners, ship builders, laborers, financiers, insurers, etc.), at the cost of tens of millions of African-American lives. Ending slavery was not done to alleviate the injustice of exploitation, and segregation continued to exclude and divert resources from African Americans to others for many decades. Determining whether reparations are justified is one thing; the questions around actual payment—including how and to whom—are much more difficult.