Here are two videos discussing whether African-Americans should be given reparations because many of their ancestors were slaves. I haven’t written about this subject because I haven’t come down on what I think about it. This is my inchoate thinking so far: there is a good case for reparations, but if they’re given, they should be in the form of investments in opportunities for minorities, not simply checks cut and handed out. And if they are given by states or by the federal government, that should—as John McWhorter emphasizes in the discussion with Glen Loury below—bring an end to all forms of racial preference and affirmative action. It is a one-time “reckoning” that should eliminate for the future all other advantages given to minorities over non-minorities.
I of course realize the terrific problems involved with reparations, particularly those of who gets them, who decides who gets them, and how much they will be.
But don’t listen to me: watch Loury and McWhorter below. Loury is dead set against reparations, while McWhorter is on the fence but seems to favor them. (If you want to see the full-on case FOR reparations, the most famous is Ta-Nehishi Coates’s 2014 Atlantic article, “The case for reparations.”)
If you want to see the two guys chew the fat in general, you can listen to the full hour, but if you want to hear just their vigorous discussion of reparations, start at 37:40 with Loury’s tirade and listen to the end of the video.
A summary of the earlier parts includes McWhorter beefing about being a pariah because he’s antiwoke, so he’s suffered professionally for his heterodox ideas as a black man. He says, for instance, that he’s not going to be invited to any more professional linguistics meetings, nor will he be inducted into the AAAS. I’m a member, and believe me, if I could get in, McWhorter certainly deserves it!
They then discuss the incident in which Jordan Neely—a mentally ill black man who was harassing people on the NY subway—was killed after being held in a chokehold by Daniel Penny, an ex-Marine. Most people fault Penny for restraining Neely, but McWhorter, in his NYT column on Jordan Neeley, demurs (he doesn’t favor the killing, though!):
I am going to venture an idea that may be unpopular: Jordan Neely, in all of his innocence, did deserve restraint. Only that. He deserved neither injury nor any more discomfort than necessary, and certainly not death. Where precisely Penny’s actions and intentions fall on this spectrum is a question for the legal system to interrogate aggressively. But society has a problem on its hands when mentally ill people are terrifying innocent citizens trying to get to work or back to their homes. The system needs to help both the Jordan Neelys and the rest of us. And this means there should be an honest discussion about the role of cops and subway officers in confronting and even detaining the mentally ill more frequently. Our mental health system, too, needs to better ensure that people who present symptoms of the kind that Neely did are more rigorously restricted from menacing or threatening others.
The reparations discussion begins at 37:40 with Loury so exercised about the idea that he nearly blows an artery. McWhorter listens attentively, and they note that some reparations have already been given, though not entirely to blacks; these include affirmative action, the Great Society, and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. McWhorter also emphasizes—and here I agree—that if reparations are given, that must be the end of any form of racial preference: there would, for example, be no more DEI initiatives.
Addition: I should have said (see comments below) that McWhorter appears to be in favor of reparations in principle, but doesn’t’ think they’d work in practice. And on that I agree with him.
Have a listen, at least to the last 24 minutes, and see if you agree.
A quote from Loury’s discussion above. Note that he begins the show by announcing that he’s retiring.
There are any number of right-of-center arguments against reparations. I’ve made them before. Now, with cities around the US considering cash reparations payments to black Americans, I’m dismayed to find that I have to make them again. But why do we most often hear objections to reparations coming from conservatives? The left, if it was thinking about its broader long-term electoral viability, ought to reject reparations claims as well.
Imagine, for example, a white working-class voter in a Rust Belt state that is suffering the effects of deindustrialization, inadequate public services, and the opioid crisis. Such a voter might be quite receptive to a senatorial candidate calling for class-based solidarity in order to address these serious problems with large-scale structural reform, a more robust social safety net, and higher taxes on the wealthy. But if the candidate, at the same time, also promises to distribute huge cash payouts to this hypothetical voter’s African American neighbors while leaving him to fend for himself, the voter might question how serious those calls to solidarity really are.v
As well he should. We hardly ever hear this contradiction addressed by progressives calling for reparations, and yet it violates the very premise on which the likes of Bernie Sanders and John Fetterman have based their appeals to voters. Perhaps, as John McWhorter suggests in this excerpt from our most recent conversation, people would be willing to go along with reparations if they would finally end calls for race-based benefits. But, as John also suggests, reparations wouldn’t be the end. And if the payments go out and race remains a divisive issue, our hypothetical white working-class voter, and millions like him, may decide the only thing that’s finished is the left.
Below is half an hour of a 2001 debate on slavery reparations involving both Loury and the late (how it stings to write that word!) Christopher Hitchens. I didn’t listen to it today, though I did before, but, as I recall, they take opposite positions, with Hitchens favoring reparations. Loury speaks first, then Hitch (with his usual panache), and then Loury gets a rebuttal.