How Reparations Doesn’t Address America’s Problems Today

David Shuey
Jun 23 · 15 min read
Coleman Hughes giving testimony against slavery reparations June 19, 2019. See full testimony here.

Ever write a comment on someone else’s strong post and think, “Wait, this should be a standalone post”? This is one of those cases.

First, to Samuel Kronen, thanks for your piece “In Defense of Coleman Hughes.” I appreciate you taking the time to transcribe this important argument from the intelligent and brave Coleman Hughes. Though, I also see now when researching that Quillette also has his entire testimony before the United States House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Bill H.R. 40, which if passed would create a commission for reparations for descendants of slaves.

I also have several of my own thoughts about Hughes, as well as other public black intellectuals like Glenn Loury and John McWhorter who go against the grain. I’ve sprinkled their views in past articles, but today I want to give them my full attention as I attempt to articulate and defend their point-of-view. Like them, I’ve taken some heat. But it won’t change our purpose of wanting better outcomes for black Americans as we find the solutions — or hand-wringing, finger-pointing and excuses, often — coming from the left severely lacking.

“Nothing I’m about to say is meant to minimize the horror and brutality of slavery and Jim Crow. Racism is a bloody stain on this country’s history, and I consider our failure to pay reparations directly to freed slaves after the Civil War to be one of the greatest injustices ever perpetrated by the U.S. government. But I worry that our desire to fix the past compromises our ability to fix the present.” — Intro of Coleman Hughes’ Congressional Testimony, June 19, 2019

What’s clear to me: While Hughes is swimming against the tide of the Democratic party today, media elites, and haters on Twitter, he’s firmly within the mainstream of the rest of the U.S. Even Barack Obama wasn’t for reparations when he was president.

Even The Guardian saw this as a head-to-head match-up with this headline: “Should America pay reparations for slavery? Ta-Nehisi Coates v Coleman Hughes

As Hughes stated right off the bat in a packed hearing room, he was warned not to testify against reparations in front of the whole world. Hughes continually risks his reputation and standing in the “wokeIvy Leagues (remarkably, he’s still attending Columbia as an undergrad in philosophy) just as he’s beginning his professional life. The fact one-third of African Americans, and a majority of all other races and ethnic backgrounds, do NOT support reparations shows he’s not some fringe conservative. Hughes is a heterodox moderate who votes Democratic, like myself. He merely refuses to accept that reparations is some kind of realistic solution to today’s social ills. This is despite even conservatives like David Brooks of the New York Times coming around to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ position and favoring reparations. Though perhaps Brooks did so because, well, he works for the New York Times.

Government programs and private-sector partnerships based on economic need and geography — think South Side of Chicago or Appalachia — and not race would still help black Americans disproportionately, and would be vastly more politically viable and far less divisive. I’ve said this for at least 20 years. But in today’s world, those views are actually deemed racist to some. And polls geared towards engaging black communities continually focus on reparations as a solution, though their data shows it’s less of a priority for black Americans compared to expanding financial coaching programs, down-payment assistance, and low-cost bank services.

Coleman Hughes even wrote piece for Quillette when Kanye West started wearing a Donald Trump campaign hat: “Kanye West and the Future of Black Conservatism

For being against reparations in 2019, the 23-year-old Hughes has been vilified online, such as being tarred with racist language and called out hysterically as a “coon” by a prominent TV writer on HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show.” No, what’s actually racist — beyond the ugly, juvenile language — is telling black people they can only think in one specific way and calling them “sellouts” or “Uncle Toms” if they don’t. On this point, Kanye West was attempting to state something important by wearing a #MAGA hat, before retiring it amidst a a tidal wave of negative criticism. He was saying: Think for yourself and be an individual.

Hughes has defended himself from the #ADOS (African Descendants Of Slaves) militant pro-black community by Tweeting the fact he is indeed a descendant of slaves and Tweeting his old rap songs ahead of critics “unearthing” them (they’re actually pretty good). What I mostly have seen on social media are not solid arguments rebutting his points, but personal attacks and name-calling.

Coleman Hughes rises above it all with powerful argumentation and poise.

This is even as he was booed immediately after — and heckled during — his testimony, forcing the subcommittee Chairman Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) to bang his gavel and say, “Chill, chill, chill, chill!” before finishing with the condescending line: “He [Hughes] was presumptive, but he still has a right to speak.”

This moment itself gave me chills. And pissed me off. Who’s this white Jewish liberal politician to tell Hughes that he’s “presumptive”?

How is it “presumptive” to point out, as Hughes did during his testimony, that there’s income disparities of at least 20% between Russian and French Americans, illustrating clearly how “gaps” doesn’t always mean racial prejudice? He understands, as I do, that America’s racist history makes up a portion of the inequality equation, but it’s not the be-all, end-all in today’s world 50 years since the passage of civil rights legislation. You will always have a “gap” between two groups anywhere on Earth, an argument posed by Thomas Sowell which Hughes adopts, and it’s intellectually dishonest to call 100% of that “gap” racism. I’ve heard this termed by Hughes as “racism in the gaps.” The same argument takes shape when we see fewer women in STEM or coding and the only reasons that are deemed socially acceptable to utter to explain that outcome is “prejudice,” “oppression,” and “patriarchy.” This is said despite the fact that in countries that are undoubtedly treating the female gender worse have a higher percentage of women in STEM, according to peer-reviewed research pointing out this paradox.

It’s undeniably true every ethnic group has a different income, with most Asian groups being ahead of the median income for whites. Yet that gap isn’t called racism. Few outside men’s rights groups points out the 20:1 gender gap of men and women being killed by police, or the 10:1 gender gap in prison — which is incredible once you consider there’s only a 4:1 gender gap in arrests. Put another way, women are 26% of arrests, 10% of the prison population, and 5% of those killed by police.

On the basis of race alone, the difference is around 3:1 for both blacks and whites in all those aforementioned categories, with criminal activity predicting nearly all outcomes in the criminal justice system [link to a draft article of mine I plan to publish in 2019]. What’s remarkable is this reliable 3:1 disparity of behavior and outcome proves American criminal justice is not “racist … front to back” as Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren says. But it’s completely taboo to argue that. The gap alone must mean racism exists. Or somehow a small 5-10% rate difference in sentencing, an arguable small amount of institutional racism, is evidence of completely broken and racist system.

Here’s a hard stat: There’s even a 3:1 black-white disparity in rates of abortion, down from nearly 5:1 in the year 2000. Is racism to blame for that, too?

And when there’s nearly as wide an income gap between Asians and whites as there is between whites and blacks in the U.S., that’s also incredibly called “White Supremacy.”

One can be forgiven for calling this what it is: Insanity.

America Has Apologized for Slavery & Arguably Paid Reparations

If another public statement needs to be said of government apologizing for slavery and Jim Crow, so be it. I’m not completely closed off to it. But we can’t just pretend it hasn’t happened before. It has:

And yet U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, (D-Houston) who proposed the bill has the temerity to say that her reparations measure was “long overdue,” adding that “slavery has never received an apology.” Wait, what happen in 1998, 2008 and 2009? Do we have collective amnesia? Or is it really all about the money? I guess the ideas of The Root have firmly taken root.

The National Review also wrote this cogent piece with a familiar title:

One can debate the merits of the arguments for and against reparations. One can label them impractical, immoral, previously paid, or pressingly necessary. But one must never debate whether a person’s skin color ought to determine his view. Because nothing — I repeat, nothing — could be more disgustingly racist.

The two links on “previously paid” in the excerpt above are directed towards the words of John McWhorter, including a recent YouTube link of McWhorter talking alongside Glenn Loury. In it, he eloquently states that reparations have already been doled out in America in every sense but semantically. This came in three ways: Welfare expansion, affirmative action, and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. I’ve done the basic math, and on a per capita basis, black Americans have received at least three times more money from government programs than whites in the past several decades, which conservative groups have claimed came at a $22 trillion dollar price-tag for taxpayers. When I do a quick search, I find the same results:

Percentage of benefit usage from any of the welfare programs, by race, 1985–1995. Compiled by economists Robert A.Moffitt and Peter T.Gottschalk. SOURCE: https://www.nap.edu/read/9719/chapter/8

McWhorter also points out that he knows very well that the minute reparations occurs, in whatever form, that the very next minute people (cough, Al Sharpton) will say, “Reparations are only the beginning.” The fact of the matter: Whether it’s Sharpton’s National Action Network, the ACLU, or the SPLC, they need the specter of racism to continue so they can survive as institutions. This wouldn’t close any chapters in American history and reparations would not be the endpoint. The goalposts would be moved again.

Here’s McWhorter making that argument:

Professors Glenn Loury (Brown, Economics) in the middle and John McWhorter (Columbia, Linguistics) on the right. Watch more of them on The Glenn Show, as they talk almost every month or so. Loury on their March 25, 2019, conversation called reparations a “terrible idea.”

Here is my very rough translation of McWhorter’s words if one doesn’t wish to watch the YouTube video queued up to the reparations part of the discussion (from notes I had scribbled down):

“When people say there’s never been a serious addressing of racism, to tell you the truth: That’s a lie. That’s a common canard among the pundits and folks with PhDs, and it’s is a lie. America has acknowledged it in a great many ways, but in a semantic sense it wasn’t called reparations. (Spike lee should make a movie on this, but he won’t.) #1 — Affirmative Action is reparations, and it’s not just benefiting white women. And we still have it today, and the minute people talk about wanting to get rid of it they say how much it helps African Americans. #2 — Welfare was transformed in the late 1960s with the outwardly spoken goal of bringing more black people onto the welfare rolls. The idea was constructive in its intent, and it was brought about by Marxists. It went from white woman knocking on doors to make sure it was a stingy program to a program where we now have multi-generations of welfare families — and it occurred between 1966 and 1972. And #3 — The Community Reinvestment Act 1977 which was created with the intent of investing and revitalizing black communities (that were affected by redlining). You can’t make a movie about it, but it was reparations.”

McWhorter then says around the 34:00 mark how he finds it “bemusing” that those who are trained to engage complexity — academics — merely say slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining are responsible for all outcomes today, even teenage black boys in Chicago killing each other in the hundreds. He knows it’s more dynamic than that, and then drops his harsh assessment that we’re dealing with ideology as religion: “It doesn’t mean that these people aren’t intelligent. We’re trained to suppose that when you think about race in this country, you’re to suspend your higher reasoning for what anyone from the Middle Ages would recognize directly as mysticism.”

As I watched this video a second time, I realize Americans like Loury, McWhorter, and myself have evolved from being sympathetic to being very cynical towards the more radical social justice crowd. We find their theories, such as critical race theory, provide more excuses than solutions. Or in the case of intersectionality, it’s often misunderstood and abused on all sides. McWhorter has long called the new anti-racism movement a religion, meaning speaking pieties about racism matter more than affecting change. It’s better to virtue signal than the virtue of being a critical thinker of sacred cows.

SOURCE: https://blackdemographics.com/households/african-american-income/

It’s almost as if we three — if I may be so bold to include myself — all went down the radical academic rabbit hole, but broke through somehow into not buying all its excesses. (I have a degree in sociology, so many of these terms and concepts cropping back up over the years aren’t unfamiliar; McWhorter has pointed out how in academia it’s sociologists who loathe him the most.) We’ve seen in our lifetimes so much progress in America — a black president, even — yet people keep acting like nothing’s changed since Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Loury and McWhorter acknowledge racism — hell, they face it and talk about those moments — but they also know it’s minuscule compared to yesteryear, and prejudice is really not much of a barrier anymore to success, despite the oft-used yet debunked myth of black-sounding names on resumes alone is what’s leading to disparate call-backs.

Watching their almost monthly hour-long discussions on Loury’s Bloggingheads.tv YouTube series, you see their palpable frustration with the constant excuse-making by media and so-called elites. While we also agree the improvements promised since the 1960s have not happened — vast inequality still persists, even as a black middle class has grown — we tend to be open to the more “conservative” view that emancipation rhetoric and expanded welfare aren’t the solution, in fact they may be part of the reason these problems remain. Instead, they argue, we should continue to invest in human potential and not surrender to the soft bigotry of low expectations. We must also have an inclusive, all-American model for moving forward — together as a civic community bonded by citizenship, and not solely by race, gender or sexual orientation. Crude identity politics isn’t the path forward. For example, they think that affirmative action has been around long enough — it served its purpose in the 1970s coming straight out of the Jim Crow era. McWhorter has long argued we need to consider teaching our black children how to read using a phonics-based system if we want to get out ahead on addressing inequality of outcomes — and he also includes as panaceas better access to birth control and ending the War on Drugs. Loury himself has said publicly in 2019 at a Manhattan Institute event discussing hardships facing African Americans, “[Racism is] hardly such an implacable force holding me back. What I have to say to such people is ‘grow up, no one’s coming to save you.’” Loury’s recent 2019 paper on race and outcomes titled “Why Does Racial Inequality Persist? Culture, Causation, and Responsibility” is a masterwork.

Yet, they are the marginal voices, at least publicly. Though McWhorter can still cordially debate Cornell West about reparations on CNN with host Don Lemon, and The Atlantic recently gave him a regular column. Instead, the long-standing and most radical call for justice that requires specific financial backing for U.S. blacks only — historically promised as “40 acres and a mule,” which is also the title of Spike Lee’s film company — is now mainstreamed. Reparations are currently the policy of the Democratic party and a major focal point of our 21st century politics.

They may also cost Democrats the 2020 election, as I surmise making Black Lives Matter a focal point of the party partially swung the election over to Trump 2016.

Correlation Doesn’t = Causation. But We Also Have Common Sense.

I’m often struck about how there’s few peer-reviewed published social science articles on how single-parent households skyrocketed, along with crime, as welfare also expanded in this country. Only conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) tend to write reports backing that argument. What’s been verbalized personally to me from older people living in poor black communities: Welfare was a disincentive to having a father present and financially responsible, leading to more children born out-of-wedlock. They saw it. Everyone saw it. If the father was living in the house, the mother would lose their benefits — it is literally baked into the policy.

So let’s look at that correlation:

SOURCE: https://thesocietypages.org/graphicsociology/2010/10/18/out-of-wedlock-childbirth/
SOURCE: http://federalsafetynet.com/poverty-and-spending-over-the-years.html
SOURCE: https://www.heritage.org/welfare/report/understanding-the-hidden-11-trillion-welfare-system-and-how-reform-it
Note also that inflation will affect monetary increases more, so don’t think the two graphs above and this one here on U.S. violent crime are showing the same thing. And I’m still simply showing correlation when causation (especially around crime) is complicated. But per capita rate of violent crime undoubtedly shot up since the mid-1960s, when a host of government programs came into place (many as a response to increases in crime and poverty, from The Great Society to The War on Drugs), and that is almost entirely not talked about today. Coleman Hughes did. SOURCE: http://pol-check.blogspot.com/2011/08/rise-in-crime-generally-since-1955.html

Indeed, it’s undoubtedly true trillions of dollars have been transferred in welfare payments since the 1960s, when they were expanded specifically to assist black Americans, and by rates at least three times higher than whites, they do. But you still get dishonest push-back from liberals, reflected perfectly in the Huffington Post 2015 headline: “Who Gets Food Stamps? White People, Mostly.” In my first Medium post, I wrote that intelligent people should, “Take 15 seconds and think about that in the context of #blacklivesmatter” and then pointed out the percentages in the article are exactly the same breakdown for shooting victims by police (around 25% black, close to 50% white).

Indeed, the ideological-driven left has long been dishonest about using “sum totals” when convenient, and “rates per capita” otherwise. And when it comes to interactions with police, rates of criminal activity are omitted and invisible.

Want to hear something truly crazy? Otherwise smart people regularly tell me there’s no difference in criminal activity by race, just over-policing leading to unequal outcomes.

When I hear this, I can only come to one conclusion: People are being brainwashed. Do they not see the headlines of shootings in Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis? No, they just see other headlines that make them think police are gunning down black people all the time, and indiscriminately. Even though several studies haves shown that not to be true.

That’s what Hughes is talking about when he mentions, “The Center for Disease Control reports homicide as the number one cause of death for young black men.”

Coleman is correct and I want him to continue pushing facts like the ones I’m trying to put out there, focusing on the fact gun crime is so much worse than police violence. I pointed out below there’s currently a ratio of 200 civilian shootings for every 1 police shooting in Chicago, likely the largest difference in the country, yet seemingly everyone still focuses on violent police in Chicago as the #1 threat to the black community:

:

Yet, such facts are forgotten in the rhetoric where it’s easier to ignore social problems and instead think “reparations” will solve our problems. It won’t. Yes, on a psychological and cathartic level, it will have some resonance. But I have grave doubts it could be the beginning of the end of the process of racial reconciliation. Frankly, too many people — if not major American parties — need the ghost of racism continue and perpetuate what Hughes calls “stale grievances.”McWhorter says this victim narrative is part of the black psyche. For what would it mean if all racism falls away, all the past evils are recognized, all the moneys paid, and the intolerable disparities persist?

When people do admit black-white criminal disparities, they point to income inequality. When this happens I find myself coming back back to this paradox: Blacks and Hispanics are closely aligned in terms of average income in the U.S., but they’re vastly different in terms of violent crime rates of commission, where Hispanic outcomes are more closely aligned with non-Hispanic whites. (See two charts below.)

Without a time machine and a magic wand to end chattel slavery, can anything change?

America: Meet Coleman Hughes

For those that want an entry point into the world of Coleman Hughes, I suggest his Quillette articles or follow him on Twitter. Or check out this enlightening conversation with Sam Harris:

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