Six months of putting aside partisanism and petty
bickering to stand up against the country`s enemies is
quite enough, it seems. In the last week of March, the
first lawsuit claiming reparations for slavery was
launched in court, and it`s entirely clear that the
acrid taste for racial revenge (and racial booty) has
now dispelled any lingering flavor of patriotic unity
that might have wafted onto the national palate.
The lawsuit is directed against three major
companies–Aetna the insurance colossus, Fleet Bank, and
CSX Railroad–for their supposed role, well over 140
years ago, in profiting from slavery in one way or
another. The suit is supposed to have been launched on
behalf of an estimated 8 million slaves who have long
since passed on to the great plantation in the sky, and
the damages the suit mentions consist of the modest sum
of $1.4 trillion. [Read the
whole complaint in PDF,
What Aetna, for example, is supposed to have done to
merit paying out its share of this guilt money is to
have issued, at some time in the distant past when
slavery was perfectly legal in the United States, 16
short-term life insurance policies for 16 black slaves.
CSX, or its corporate predecessors, seems to have
actually owned slaves. The Fleet Bank is descended from
a Providence, Rhode Island, bank owned by someone named
John Brown (not the
terrorist) who owned slave trading ships.
These three are merely the first to be targeted by
the lawsuit, which plans to expand the list to hundreds
of other companies and to swell the plaintiffs to
millions of blacks descended from the slaves.
There are, however, a few problems in the grand plan.
Problem Number One is that the "wrongs" committed
took place well more than a century ago, and damage
claims that old simply have little legal meaning.
Problem Number Two is that the "wrongs" were in fact
perfectly legal at the time. Regardless of the
ethical value of owning, buying, selling, or commanding
slaves or of living in a society that practices slavery
(which happen to be most societies in human history),
the legality of slavery at the time the alleged "wrongs"
took place renders the claims for reparations
meaningless. Problem Number Three is that no one now
living suffered any wrong anyway.
In short, the first reparations lawsuit is legally
and even ethically meaningless. That however does not
mean that the defendants in the suit do not have good
reasons to worry that the suit will ruin them. Given the
blatant injustices, procedural irregularities,
politicized court rooms, racial blackmail, and
transparently unconstitutional substance of what goes on
in American courts today, it`s anyone`s bet who will
eventually win. In a serious legal system the suit would
be pitched out the first day and the lawyers who brought
it would be warned not to waste the court`s time with
frivolities again. That`s probably not what the courts
today will do.
The lawsuit brought last month is only the first of
several that will probably be filed soon. Writing in the
New York Times this week, Charles Ogletree of
Harvard Law School [Email
Charles Ogletree] and something calling
Reparations Coordinating Committee calmly
announces that his committee plans to "file
wide-ranging reparations lawsuits this summer" against
other targets. He also lets an important cat out of his
bag, at least for those who did not already know the cat
The purpose of reparations is not simply to rake in
an almost uncountable amount of swag from corporate and
government coffers, let alone to exorcise the racial
furies that still haunt most American blacks and many
whites. The purpose, Mr. Ogletree tells us, is "to bring
American society to a new reckoning with how our past
affects the current conditions of African-Americans."
What that means is that the purpose of reparations is
bludgeon white Americans into further guilt over
slavery and racial segregation and thereby soften them
up for a continuing river of
financial swag far into the future. Like
Martin Luther King Day,
Black History Month, the war on
Confederate iconography and the crusade against
major heroes and symbols of American history and
culture, the reparations boondoggle is simply one more
part of the continuing political race war that blacks
are determined to wage against whites.
legalistic flaws and ethical fallacies of the
reparations lawsuit are therefore not really the point.
The point is the struggle for what can only be called
racial power that the whole reparations issue
What is happening with reparations is not a silly
argument that won`t stand up in court but a racial power
play that may well eventually win simply because most
whites have neither the will nor the brains to see what
it means or why it`s happening, let alone understand how
to resist it.
April 04, 2002