By Mike Cronin
Some time ago, I wrote about the squishy-ness of the term “Social Justice.” It still rankles.
In addition to this blog, I frequently answer questions on a forum called Quora. Therein, I recently had a debate with a fellow over “social justice” in general, and whether whites should pay reparations to blacks to atone for slavery/Jim Crow/Segregation specifically.
I’ll state right up front: Reparations are a bad idea, and no, I don’t hate blacks.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I believe in individual liberty, limited, rights-protecting government, and Capitalism. I am also a bit of a skeptic, mildly contrarian, and I tend to prefer rational responses over emotional ones. I don’t waste energy on hatred, I don’t see any race as superior or inferior to any other race, and I generally deal with people as individuals vice members of some group. It also means I think of justice and injustice in terms of individual action and consequence.
This brings us back to Reparations. I can’t support the idea because, regardless of how blacks were oppressed or injured by slavery (or later on Jim Crow laws and Segregation), the people who were slaves have been dead for generations – just as the people who held them as slaves have been dead for generations. Treating blacks as a race of sub-humans then was a morally repugnant act committed by more than a few whites, most especially the relatively few whites who actually owned slaves. But not every white person was an oppressor then, nor were all slave owners white, nor was every black person a slave.
“In my mind, government-sponsored racial discrimination based on benign prejudice is just as noxious as discrimination inspired by malicious prejudice.” – Clarence Thomas
Indeed, social justice warriors seeking to impose reparations on whites always seem to ignore or forget that 360,000 Union soldiers, mostly white by far, died in the service of reuniting the country and limiting the spread of slavery to the west. The Union Army and Navy killed 260,000 Confederates, again mostly whites, who were trying to keep the South, which was wholly dependent on slavery, independent. Let’s make that point a little more succinct: Whites trying to reunite the country and limit, if not outright eliminate, slavery fought and killed other whites – by the hundreds of thousands, to do it. Between the end of the butchery of the Civil War and Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil eloquence, most blacks (but not all) were still treated poorly by many whites (but not all). Black incomes and living conditions took an overall upward trend.
Then came the War on Poverty. Welfare. An insidious form of wealth transfer. Take money from those who earned it, and give it to those who didn’t. It put many blacks (and others) right back into bondage – into the slavery of perpetual dependence. Reparations is a smoke screen word to do more of the same.
During the exchange, I attempted several different ways to make the case that the historical injustice done to the blacks who were slaves and the subsequent victims of post-bellum hatred and discrimination can never be corrected – because the victims and victimizers are long gone. No one alive today can be responsible for transgressions committed generations in the past – because they weren’t even alive, much less involved, in committing the transgressions. Thinking that one race is responsible for, and must atone for, the plight of another race is every bit as racist a notion as thinking that one race is superior to another. It is a large step down the path to perpetual grievance and resentment that plagues much of the rest of the world.
I maintain that “social justice” is a weasel word. Seeking “social justice” in the form of unjust “wealth transfers” and reparations can never correct the uncorrectable sins of the past. Real justice can prevail when everyone stops attributing the traits, or actions, or intelligence, or habits, or crimes, etc. of individuals to all the members of a race, or tribe, or nation, or ethnic group, or gender, etc. and starts treating individuals as individuals.
Despite my denunciation of social justice and my espousing of individualism, my interlocutor kept pressing me for details of my plan to bring social justice to blacks today. We were both using English words, but he was speaking weasel-ese.