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  Paul's Column Archive

February 26, 2007

You’ve Already Been Repaired, Jesse


A few weeks ago, Virginia Delegate Frank Hargrove said that “Virginia’s blacks need to get over slavery,” causing an uproar in the black community. Granted, perhaps his views were not very delicately stated. But if we look at the core of his statement, is it really that appalling? What exactly would be so bad about blacks moving on from the issue of slavery? They are surely not expected to forget it or hide it. But they certainly would do well to stop using it as a political tool. The reality is that slavery and its horrors ended more than 140 years ago, and both its victims and villains have long been dead. The issue of slavery now belongs to the history books – not in political campaigns.


Many leaders of the black community bring up a history of slavery in order to score points with their constituencies and even lawmakers. We saw an example of this behavior in recent weeks, when the Virginia legislature passed a resolution apologizing for the role that the commonwealth played in slavery. It was a nice thing to do, though a little strange considering the fact that the representatives who voted for the apology represented neither slave-owners nor slaves. Yet despite the stretch on behalf of the legislature to provide some sort of closure to the issue, black leader Jesse Jackson said that the apology did not go far enough, and that it did not provide for reparations for the damage.


Blacks are not the only ones with an ancestry that had a difficult past. The first Chinese immigrants did not exactly enjoy the American dream when they worked on the railroads. The families of many Jews now living in the United States had to wait until the very end of 1941 before America finally decided to stop Adolf Hitler (and some of these victims are still alive, unlike black slaves who have long been dead). The Native Americans’ ancestors lost their land and their livelihood to white settlers. And all of this, of course, is not to mention the millions of immigrants who came to America to avoid death and persecution at the hands of the Ottomans and European monarchs, and more recently communism, civil war and Islamic extremism, among other calamities.


How are the descendants of these victims, and in some cases the victims themselves, less deserving of apologies and reparations than the black community? Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton never suffered through slavery. As far as they are concerned, their lot has improved – if it were not for slavery, today they would be living in Liberia, Togo or Gabon. If it is that for which they really want reparations, well, they can go back there right now and live like kings on even mediocre savings by American standards.


Not that it is acceptable to enslave people if their descendants can live better lives. But it already happened, and we had nothing to do with it. In fact, we strongly condemn it and have effectuated policies – some of which have lasted more than they need to, mind you – to ensure equal opportunity for all. But now that we are here, we would be wrong to ignore the facts: On the whole, today’s American blacks received their reparations by virtue of being born in the United States.


I am a recent immigrant to the United States. Not only did my ancestors in Lebanon have nothing to do with slavery in America, they were in fact the victims of their own tragedies at the hands of ruthless occupiers that have for centuries ruled my native land. I myself grew up in the midst of a civil war, and was forced to spend much of my early years in bunkers or in refuge. The period following the war saw my country in ruins, coupled with social and economic deterioration. I would have given anything to live in America, even as a “deprived,” “disenfranchised” member of society, as Jackson claims “his” people do. Now that I finally made it here, I am not about to give Jackson my money just because he is better at whining than I am.


The fact that so many black leaders continue to insist that they are deserving of reparations is truly mind-boggling. American blacks are born in the best country in the history of the world. They have laws protecting them against any potential racism they might face at the hands of employers or the government. They get to check off a little box on their college applications that does magic to their admission chances, whereas the children of Holocaust victims do not. They have their own history month, for crying out loud. Heck, they might very well provide us with our next U.S. president. Just relax, Jesse Jackson, I think it safe to say that you have been very well repaired.


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