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, 321 KB.]
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 and something calling itself the 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 was there.
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 to 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.
The 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 spearheads.
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.