Amid the little good news to emerge from the Attack on America is the abeyance of the slavery-reparations campaign. Long may it wane.
Before September 11, the media brimmed with discussions of how whites somehow owed blacks back wages that their ancestors never received. The Nexis database shows 166 press citations for “slavery reparations” last August. For October, however, that number plunged to 24.
With Americans now as unified as we have been since World War II, the notion of a bitter, national screaming match over a morally repugnant proposal is as wicked as ever. Ironically, the terrorists who murdered some 4,600 innocents correctly saw Americans as equals, not as members of rival tribes feuding over grievances and guilt.
Reparations’ primary flaw is well-known. Today’s whites — most of whose ancestors either owned no slaves or had not reached America before the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation — bear no responsibility for the evils of slavery. They owe blacks nothing. Toss in the twin monkey wrenches of interracial childbearing and recent Caribbean and African immigration, and it follows that this disgraceful issue has sputtered and wheezed to a standstill.
However, a less commonly discussed argument against reparations dovetails with the victimology of many so-called “black leaders.” As blacks flourish in the American mainstream, the idea that we need or deserve whitey’s money grows increasingly hollow. That’s why left-wing black activists seemingly overlook black progress while preaching black stagnation. This pernicious practice is designed to turn an ascendant race into a vortex of pity.
Black liberals, for example, rarely acknowledge that America’s foreign policy is run by black people. Secretary of State Colin Powell (a Bronx-bred son of Jamaican immigrants) and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (who studied in segregated classrooms in Birmingham, Alabama) lead America’s politico-military efforts in the War on Terror and beyond. They rely on Ambassador Ruth Davis — America’s chief career diplomat and director general of the foreign service — who also is black.
Billionaire Robert Johnson, chairman of Black Entertainment Television, appears this fall on the cover of Forbes magazine’s spotlight on America’s 400 wealthiest individuals. At $1.3 billion, Johnson ranks 172. He serves on President Bush’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security. Its co-chairman is Robert Parsons, a black man and co-Chief Operating Officer of AOL-Time-Warner. Other prominent black executives include E. Stanley O’Neal, President of Merrill Lynch, America’s largest securities company, and Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express. Interestingly enough, he and O’Neal — a grandson of a former slave — were next-door neighbors in adjoining skyscrapers at the World Financial Center, which was badly damaged when the Twin Towers collapsed.
While seldom this powerful or prosperous, millions of black Americans quietly are entering the middle class. Using Census Bureau data, the Brookings Institution reported last June that in 2000, 39 percent of America’s 35.5 million blacks lived in suburban areas, up from 34 percent in 1990.
The black poverty rate fell from 29.3 percent in 1995 to 23.6 percent in 1999, a record low. While last year’s median black household income of $27,910 lagged the national median of $40,816, it reached an historic high. In 2000, 78.9 percent of blacks over age 24 completed high school, another record, versus 33.7 percent in 1970. In other high-water marks, 17 percent of blacks held bachelor’s degrees, while 1 million had earned post-graduate credentials.
Black people thrive in America’s popular culture. Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA stirred applause. Academy Award winner Denzel Washington scored a critical and box office hit with the film Training Day. Oscar buzz already surrounds Will Smith’s upcoming portrayal of Muhammad Ali, one of America’s most beloved sports icons.
At a September 12 candlelight vigil in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, I heard a mixed but predominantly white crowd sing a mournful, hushed rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” the unofficial anthem of the civil-rights movement. New York’s WNBC-TV has adopted that title as the slogan for its entire local news operation. On October 21, I joined parishioners at the well-integrated Glide Memorial Methodist Church as we held hands and sang this song before returning to San Francisco’s hilly, wind-swept streets.
While challenges remain — especially for low-income, poorly educated blacks — from sea to shining sea, millions of blacks have overcome or are working hard to do so. Sadly, so-called “black leaders” clam up about this while praying that their reparations gravy train somehow will steam ahead after derailing on September 11.