Recently, Coleman Hughes, a Black writer for Quillette magazine, participated in The Mills Series’ annual lecture at Lafayette College. His lecture was called: “Anti-Racism and Humanism, Two Competing Visions.” The topic, reparations for slavery, came up on a few occasions. Hughes made an observation, mentioned a shift, then made a speculation.
In 2014 Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article, “A Case for Reparations,” made the “generational wealth gap” between Blacks and Whites the disparity of national concern. During the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, Coates reached out to candidate Bernie Sanders to discuss adding reparations to his platform. Sanders ignored Coates, and Sanders told the press he rejected reparations because he believed in race-neutral anti-poverty initiatives. Hughes pointed out, in 2016, it was considered political suicide for a mainstream candidate to endorse reparations for slavery.
Hughes mentioned that 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren recently endorsed reparations, and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris suddenly labeled her support for “Bernie Sanders-type anti-poverty initiatives” as a form of reparations for slavery. Why? Because the Democratic candidates are competing for the highest percentage of a splintered Black vote, and this time, it would be political suicide not to endorse reparations for slavery.
Hughes stated fans of his work expressed they would be in favor of a one-time reparation payment if that would end the conversation—in other words, eliminate the historical grievance once and for all. If that did happen, Hughes speculated, there would still be Black people not satisfied, because the dollar amount would be insufficient to compensate for the immoral enormity of slavery. Hughes speculated these Black people would say to America, “How dare you think you can pay us off.”
Now, advocates for reparations for slavery will cite reparation payments made to “the Jews for the Holocaust and the Japanese for internment camps,” and tell Black audiences, “If you’re against reparations then you’re against your people.”
But is that true? Are there any examples of people rejecting reparation payments on moral grounds like Hughes suggested?
In collected Jewish history, Saul Jay Singer wrote, “Following Israel’s war for independence (1948), Israel faced monumental challenges in establishing a firm economic foundation for the new nation, not the least of which were the overwhelming costs of absorbing and rehabilitating half a million destitute Jewish refugees.”
Israel’s prime minister argued that accepting reparations from Germany was the only practical solution to Israel’s economic woes, but “most Jews considered accepting German blood money with deep disdain, and horror.”
Singer wrote, “The reparations question became a delicate issue not only for Israel and the Jewish world, but also for Germany, which was seeking to re-establish itself amongst the community of legitimate nations.”
The Jewish opposition to reparations was fierce.
Singer continued, “On January 7, 1952, the day of the Knesset (Israeli legislative branch) debate on the issue, Israeli security authorities went so far as to have contingency plans to deal with an insurrection, and the IDF (Israel Defense Force) prepared to counter an attempt to overthrow the government. The Knesset ultimately decided by a 61-50 vote to enter into direct negotiations with West Germany—but only after a 15,000-strong violent anti-agreement riot outside the Knesset building was quelled by police after hundreds of protesters and officers, as well as several Knesset members, were injured.”
Now, would advocates for reparations of slavery think these protesters where against their people?
Singer concluded, “Even today, some eight decades after the Holocaust… The issue of Israel and Jews negotiating and accepting German reparations remains highly controversial and heatedly contested.”
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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