Salvo 03.01.2023 8 minutes

Prescription for Disaster

The United States burning

We can have reparations or we can have a functioning multi-ethnic democracy.

Until you sit down and read it, it’s hard to believe how absolutely insane the city of San Francisco’s Reparations Advisory Committee’s recently released reparations plan is.

But this is San Francisco. Just because a policy is completely insane doesn’t mean it won’t be enacted—at least in some form. Nor does it mean it is not a harbinger of America’s future.

In fact, the recent San Francisco reparations plan has implications far beyond the current explicit claims being put forth by African Americans and the Left. Most who have attacked it have missed or misunderstood its most important aspect. The plan is the opening salvo in a broader campaign by the Left to justify and enable the economic and political dispossession of white Americans. Adding a note of grim comedy to the situation, the original meeting by the SF Board of Supervisors earlier this month to discuss the draft reparations plan was postponed after its principal sponsor was delayed getting back from his wild birthday bash at a Hooters in Medellin, Colombia.

Absurdities like missing your own reparations grift show because you were partying hard in Colombia are why the Right loves to mock San Francisco, but pretending that what happens in San Francisco stays in San Francisco is pure wishcasting. San Francisco and the greater Bay Area have enormous cultural, financial, and technological clout in our current era, clout which has been scarcely diminished by the city’s utter dysfunction. For decades now Bay Area movements that once seemed incredibly marginal eventually entered and then became the mainstream.

The first legal same-sex marriage was performed by then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004. In 2015 the Supreme Court, in Obgerfell v. Hodges, made it mandatory nationwide.

“America must admit its sin,” says Rev. Amos Brown, an influential African American San Francisco pastor and member of the San Francisco committee, told Fox News. But we cannot atone for another’s sin—his biblical logic is the logic of those who enslaved African Americans, suggesting that they deserved to be enslaved because of the Curse of Ham.

Meanwhile, San Francisco Board of Supervisors Chair Aaron Peskin said he hopes his colleagues will approve the Task Force’s recommendations. His fellow Supervisor Shamann Walton cites cities from Boston to St. Paul, and St. Louis to Providence which are taking up the reparations crusade.

Before we get into the specific absurdities of the proposal, we should refute its broader philosophical claims. As a collectivity, the U.S. does not owe anyone anything by virtue of them having a certain skin color or because of the experience of their ancestors. This of course in no way is meant to minimize either the reality of slavery or subsequent anti-black discrimination in American history. It is to say that this sort of racial score settling is ultimately both impossible to do justly, and even if it were, attempting to put a price on it would cause far more problems than it solves.

For example, Jews have been discriminated against badly in American society and so have Asian Americans—but both are extremely successful groups overall. Jews make up today approximately 1/3 of the 400 richest Americans despite being just 2% of the population. Asian Americans have the highest average income of any ethnic group. Are we going to hand Jewish surgeons or Asian lawyers reparations because their ancestors suffered very real discrimination in America?

And of course, by many measures, the African American population itself is already very successful. As a recent article in Deutsche Welle put it, “America is home to the biggest group of wealthy, highly successful Black people in the world.” It also has a large middle class which, depending on definition, constitutes anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of the African American population. They are certainly vastly, vastly better off than their counterparts in Africa whose ancestors, in many cases, were responsible for selling the ancestors of African Americans into slavery. While African Americans have been the victims of some of the crimes and failures of America, they have also reaped (and continue to reap) enormous benefits from living here and from their participation in American life.

The racial calculus demanded by reparations advocates is inherently toxic and dangerous, because “justice” ultimately depends on who is defining victimhood. For example, for decades African Americans have committed a vastly disproportionate number of crimes in relation to their population, including thousands of murders, rapes, and violent assaults each year against whites. Yes, most crime is intraracial, but for decades now, interracial crime has been overwhelmingly black on white and not vice versa.

Some whites have also been pushed to engage in “white flight,” where (generally middle and lower middle class) people were portrayed as racists by elites for having left neighborhoods where the property values were tanking as crime rose. Should these people or their descendants be entitled to reparations for having pushed to sell (often under pressure from “block-busting” real estate speculators) into collapsing real estate markets and losing out on the generational wealth they might have accrued had their neighborhoods not changed?

To be clear, we must utterly reject this sort of thinking. If its logic offends you, direct your outrage to the reparations cartel employing its mirror image in the real world—a group that, in violation of natural rights and our basic individual liberties, seeks to put arbitrary penalties on “perpetrator” races while giving benefits to “victim” races. Criminals are guilty of crimes—not other people who happen to share the same skin color—or their descendants. The ultimate solution to less than equal treatment in the past must be to strive for equal treatment today. History is inherently messy, and the attempts to divide it between perpetrator groups and victim groups is intellectually incoherent, dishonest, and politically explosive. What Thomas Sowell called the “quest for cosmic justice” invariably causes greater injustice.

Given the inherently racist origin of its claims, it is typical that the reparations draft report is rife with implicit and explicit black supremacism, at one point describing African Americans as “the most influential creators of artistic expression globally through dance, music, fashion and language.” This is no different from listening to white supremacists who personally have created nothing bask in the achievements of Bach or Shakespeare.

As many have noted, California was never a slave state and San Francisco never a slave city. Aside from slavery, which is not at issue here, very few of the disabilities suffered historically by African Americans weren’t experienced by countless other groups in San Francisco from Hispanics to Asians. Giving reparations payments to blacks under these circumstances logically justifies payments to Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans (who have far stronger claims to oppression in California than African Americans). If any level of reparations is granted, you can be sure that these groups will be next in line, with their activist proxies, to feed at the trough. Even gay reparations are on deck. And much of those reparations dollars, by design, will flow through (and enrich the founders of) racial activist groups.

Given all of the above, the details of the reparations themselves are of secondary importance, but they are crazy enough to merit discussion (in case “moderate” white Americans are so naïve as to think they are going to escape the reparations crusade with a few thousand bucks payment per person and an “I’m really sorry” letter).

In the San Francisco plan, reparations start with a $5 million per person payment that would cost an absolute minimum of $100 billion, and could easily be several times that. This will go to a population that barely existed in San Francisco before 1940, when black people comprised 0.8% of the local population.

The report also calls for a 250-year program to guarantee an income of $97,000 per year to low-income black residents and loan forgiveness that “clears all educational, personal, credit card, payday loans, etc.” It demands that blacks receive below-market rate housing, demands refinancing existing black-owned mortgage loans, exempts blacks from payroll and property taxes, allows black residents to purchase their public housing “with a $1 buy-in,” funds tuition assistance for blacks, eliminates their student loan debt, and provides free therapy for black SFUSD kids and teachers.

In fact, the plan is currently so incompetently written that it does not appear that beneficiaries even have to have lived in or near San Francisco at all. If you are a black descendant of a slave anywhere in America and your parents were convicted of cocaine trafficking (i.e., “a victim of the failed war on drugs”), you’d be eligible.

As my Claremont colleague and longtime Californian Steve Hayward said in a recent interview: “This is an invitation to open ethnic conflict in the country.” Even Governor Gavin Newsom, who convened a state reparations committee that came up with only slightly less absurd figures, has remained silent on San Francisco’s proposals.

But attempting to make this make sense in the context of logic and facts misses the point. It’s a pure racial shakedown, enabled by an African American activist class that is never told “no” and a cowardly white leftist class that is steeped in uniquely pathological self-hatred. 

And we aren’t going to win this fight by nibbling around the edges, by compromising, or by saying that some groups deserve reparations for this but not that. We must pull out the entire concept of mass racial reparations root and branch as completely inconsistent with American rights, traditions, and liberties. If we do not, we will likely see attempted racial extortion on an almost unimaginable scale, one that will permanently rip apart our already tattered racial fabric, with disastrous consequences.

Does America want mass interracial score settling forever, or does it want something resembling a functioning multi-ethnic democracy? How we deal with demands for reparations will determine what vision of America’s future lies before us.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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