Opinion | Civil Rights

Slavery reparations are a divisive waste of time

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Why are we talking about slavery reparations again? Why has this hot-button topic made its way back into the national spotlight? 

Like most Americans, I am sickened by the specter of slavery and understand the horrors it wreaked on African Americans generations ago. Most of us are painfully cognizant of slavery's ugly legacy. But to once again resurrect the idea of paying off a current generation of Black people for the sins committed by white people - and others - decades ago makes no sense at all. It is ridiculous.

The issue of slavery reparations dates to the Civil War and has always been fraught with controversy. It is back in the news because the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties recently heard testimony on a piece of legislation, H.R. 40, that proposes the creation of a federal commission to study reparations and recommend remedies for the harm caused by slavery and the discriminatory policies that followed abolition. Under the bill, the United States would have to formally apologize for the institution of slavery. 

I predict that this will stir up plenty of controversy and hard feelings, but ultimately go nowhere - as usual. 

We are already seeing troubling signs of companies pursuing misguided efforts related to issues of race. Coca-Cola recently came under fire for a diversity training program that essentially asked its white employees to be "less white," whatever that means, to help eliminate racism.

Sadly, this reflects absurd liberal actions that demoralize Black Americans into self-pity while doing nothing to help them. Instead, people should feel free to be who they are and accept other people for who they are, and their beliefs or life choices, especially given that we are all children of God. 

Reparations, like diversity training, will encourage divisiveness - something we need far less of these days, when everyone is quick to err on the side of outrage. If the Black Lives Matter movement and the inequities caused by COVID-19 did not already create a big enough split in our bitterly divided society, the continued demand for slavery reparations will finish the job.

In fact, the results of a recent Associated Press-NORC poll indicated 74 percent of Black Americans now favor reparations payments, while 85 percent of white Americans oppose them. The split is staggering. So how will that fulfill the pledge of President Biden and the Democrats to bring about unity in America? 

It is time to move forward from this ugly chapter in history and look to our future as Americans, which I believe is bright. Paying cash reparations using taxpayer funds is absurd. The practice would spark substantial blowback from white Americans who had nothing to do with the sins of their forefathers. 

How can all Americans in the 21st century be held financially responsible for the actions of a subset of Americans hundreds of years ago? The concept makes no sense from start to finish. The first slave ship arrived in Jamestown, Va., approximately 400 years ago. How does that make our white neighbors responsible for the reprehensible actions of greedy slavers centuries ago? Most Blacks today do not even know anyone who is even related to someone who was a slave. 

An apology for slavery might help the country move on, but adding a price tag to that apology would be sheer folly. How could anyone ever calculate a cost for the long-term effects of slavery? What criteria would be used to figure damage, who would determine the criteria and how would the money be distributed? 

Would individuals or families receive a one-time payout, or would reparations be distributed over time? Would the money be distributed based on need, or would everyone receive the same amount? How could the involved parties ever agree on a dollar amount for the societal effects of slavery?  

The conversation over reparations will further divide Americans at a time when we more than ever need to come together. We know that American history is composed of the good, the bad and the ugly, so why continue to focus on the ugly? We must leave this horrendous chapter in the past, where it belongs. What's more, no white person living today ever owned slaves, and not all the Blacks living in the U.S. today are descendants of slaves. The Civil War was fought over the practice of slavery. Thousands died to end this barbaric practice. I think that price tag was high enough.  

Reparations would become little more than a government money grab for most. Pursuing this path is a waste of time when so many other pressing issues face the Black community. It also sets up a dangerous dynamic of raising expectations for something that likely will never happen. The subject of slavery reparations has come up every year since 1989 and never passed. We need to put this in the past forever and look to the future.

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of "Reawakening Virtues."

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