Race- Getting wrong again- The Case against Reparations

UPDATE!

Kevin Williamson writing for the National Review gives his take on the same subject, here’s an except:

It may very well be the case that African Americans will never, no matter what policies are enacted, catch up economically with whites. Even assuming that invidious racism were an entirely negligible factor, it is likely that economic development will tend to proceed along broad racial channels if, for example, people of various ethnicities tend to largely marry within their ethnic group, live in neighborhoods largely populated by co-ethnics, and engage in other social-sorting behavior that is racial at its root but not really what we mean by the word “racism.” If that is the case — and it seems that it is — then initial conditions will be very important for a very long period of time.

And that would be true even if there had been no slavery and no discrimination. Imagine, for example, that rather than having been brought to the colonies as slaves, the first Africans to arrive in the New World had come as penniless immigrants in 1900. If their incomes grew in the subsequent century at the same rate as those of white natives, then a century later they’d still be as far behind as they were when they arrived. Income gaps have been closed and closed quickly by some immigrant groups — notably European Jews, Vietnamese immigrants, and Indian immigrants — because their incomes across the first few generations grew much, much more quickly than the native rate. And though the hostility that often met these immigrants is not comparable to the experience of slavery and African Americans’ subsequent repression, it is worth appreciating that Jewish and Asian immigrants have not always been welcomed with universal warmth. The black experience is unique within the context of American history, but it is hardly unique within the context of the experience of other racial minorities in other societies throughout history.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/378737/case-against-reparations-kevin-d-williamson

 

The election season must be near, it is easy to tell as articles such as, the Atlantic’s  Ta-Nehisi Coates’, “The case for reparations“, get published and become the fodder for all the talking heads in the MSM. While it was not his intent he makes a good case as to why we don’t need reparations.  In his attempt to demonstrate the uniqueness of the “Black Plight” he rather shows how similar the experience is to that faced by other groups of immigrants and migrant worker who have thrived and persevered despite the obstacles they originally faced. After quoting the Bible, John Locke and another anonymous source he begins his essay thus:

“The state’s regime partnered robbery of the franchise with robbery of the purse. Many of Mississippi’s black farmers lived in debt peonage, under the sway of cotton kings who were at once their landlords, their employers, and their primary merchants. Tools and necessities were advanced against the return on the crop, which was determined by the employer. When farmers were deemed to be in debt—and they often were—the negative balance was then carried over to the next season.”

Peonage or debt servitude was very common and it was not limited  to blacks but many white farmers had similar arrangements and similar results. A real example of State sponsored Peonage would be like that which was instituted by the Spanish Crown in 1873 when it abolished slavery in Puerto Rico. Under the new law that emancipated the slaves, the slave owners were compensated by the government for their former slaves but it also decreed that the former slaves must work the land of their previous owner for a minimum of 3 years.  They would not be “free” until that time expired.  Though they would be compensated for their work, they could not leave until the peonage had been paid.  Those that did not stay on the land that was provided to them, as many did, without title to the property until their time was up would lose claim to the property and became fugitives. That is not what Mr. Coates describes, but a very common happening to this day of farmers borrowing money for expenses using the projected future crops, with the land as collateral.  If the crops failed or prices deviated many farmers found themselves losing their land to their lenders or bank.  But fallow land is not profitable so many lenders resorted to share-cropping , that would allow the farmer to remain and work the land while debts were paid and crops was the only collateral available to them at that point. In Mississippi for instance while 70+% of black farmers were sharecroppers so were 40% of white farmers.  By the 1920’s  the price of cotton was on a free fall which meant perpetual debts for both black and white farmers. Coates likes to use small anecdotes in making his case, but they leave out information,  is misleading,  incomplete or unverifiable. His anecdote on how the Ross family lost their farm due to back taxes, for instance does not have a date only that it was when Mr. Ross was a child.  He then talks about a story by the AP in 2001 detailing 406 victims throughout the South that the story determine were documented thefts of black properties.  Sad as that may have been 406 “thefts” out of the millions of farmers that existed in the South is hardly indicative of anything. Again he does not mention the story by name, or authors or provide a link. He goes on to detail how Mr. Ross was a smart kid but the better school was to far to walk and return in time to work the fields, this strikes me as a decision of convenience for him and his family. Whether the white kids had access to a school bus or not is immaterial as he was not prevented from attending this new school because of  busing, schools were segregated, but because it would be inconvenient to the family. The same thing happens with Coates’ anecdote about Mr. Ross horse. The story is meant to garner sympathy for a young child. But, does it do that.  Examining the story it is very strange that if the point was to relieve the kid of the horse that they would pay anything for it. Further, if you do a simple search about the prices of a colt,  you find that $17 is about the  price you would pay in 1933 for a 2-year-old colt.  A 6 month-old horse was worth about $8, he could buy 2 for the price of the one he lost or sold.  I can’t help but wonder if because, this was 1933 and the 4th year into the Depression that having a horse for leisure was an extravagant luxury during that time. Cotton had been falling from their high pre-Civil War highs when the South produced 3/4 of  the world’s cotton. In 1919 cotton hit its high 35 cent per bale before the bottom fell out of cotton prices. By 1933 the price was down to 5 cents per bale.  In fact the sharp decrease in prices of cotton in the 20’s led to the First Great Migration of blacks farmers to the North. Looking back at historical data, the avg. price of cotton between 1900 and 1945 was 14.6 cents,  from a high of 35 cents in 1919 to a low 5 cents in 1933 so the prices the Ross family was being paid are certainly within the range of what others were getting regardless of race. Cotton prices would not hit 50 cents a pound until the mid 1970’s, all of this information is readily available for Mr. Coates if he wanted to educate or inform the readers of plight of the farmers at the turn of the century. Living in a farm is hard work, regardless of race.  The years at the turn of the century were hard on farmers there is no need to try to insinuate that things were harder because of race.  The same hardships were faced by White sharecroppers as Black sharecroppers. Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty show, was suspended from his show on the A&E network,  was suspended  for his comments on gay relationships but in that same article he also said this:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

There were calls by some to label Robertson for saying this, as it is against the prevailing story from people like Mr. Coates that Blacks left the South because of discrimination which drove them out of their farms and homes. The truth is a little more nuanced than that.  Is interesting that Mr. Coates choose to showcase Mr. Ross’ story and not someone from another southern State.  Mississippi was the first State to elect a Black Senator in 1870 and the second in 1875.  Their new Constitution in 1868, the  convention adopted universal suffrage; did away with property qualifications for suffrage or for office, a change that also benefited poor whites; provided for the state’s first public school system; forbade race distinctions in the possession and inheritance of property; and prohibited limiting civil rights in travel.   The reforms only lasted for 22 years until 1890 when a new constitution disenfranchised most blacks and poor whites but by that time fully 2/3 of Mississippi’s Delta  farmers where black. Blacks kept coming to the Delta area and it was not until first agricultural depression culminating in the early 20’s that the first Great Migration of  Blacks to the North occurred.  As falling prices of Cotton caused many Black and White farmers to sell their land in order to pay-off  debts.  Though many did remain as sharecroppers for another 20 years. Was discrimination part of the decision to leave the Delta farms and seek better fortunes in the North, probably but it was not until the economic conditions got dire that many made that decision.  The North needed labor, the South had excess labor as with Migration of workers economics was the driving factor. Mr. Coates continues with Mr. Ross’ life by detailing his efforts to buy a home in Chicago,  using  a Contract for Deed.  He tries very hard to make the practice seem nefarious, but that is far from the case. Contract for Deed or Land Contracts are still used to this day.  It provides people who have lack credit or have limited resources and opportunity to own a  property and are used quite frequently.  Are there risks involved sure for both the buyer and the seller. Depending on how the contracts are written a buyer risks losing his investments if he loses his job or some large expense like the boiler breaks down and he is unable to pay for the repairs.  Owners risk potential buyers leaving the property before the contract is finished in deplorable conditions that would require a capital expense before the property could be sold again. Either way Mr. Ross was able to purchase his home using this method despite his complaints against the way by which he bought the property. The complaint about lack  of access to equity in the house while on the Contract Sale is true, but if as Mr.Ross did, and buy out his home the equity did not disappear only his access to it while paying for the house. None of this would strike any other large group of immigrant out of the ordinary, Germans, Poles, Jews, Italians, Irish, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, etc all faced restrictions and lack of access to financing, areas where they could not buy a house at all and were steered to certain areas at one point or another. Mr. Ross’ story should be one about perseverance and success not as case for reparations.  It seems such a shame that rather than celebrating his achievements we are told to see his story as one of deprivation and envy because his journey should have been easier in Mr. Coates’ opinion.

“Contract sellers became rich. North Lawndale became a ghetto…” “According to the most-recent statistics, North Lawndale is now on the wrong end of virtually every socioeconomic indicator. In 1930 its population was 112,000. Today it is 36,000. The halcyon talk of “interracial living” is dead. The neighborhood is 92 percent black. Its homicide rate is 45 per 100,000—triple the rate of the city as a whole. The infant-mortality rate is 14 per 1,000—more than twice the national average. Forty-three percent of the people in North Lawndale live below the poverty line—double Chicago’s overall rate. Forty-five percent of all households are on food stamps—nearly three times the rate of the city at large. Sears, Roebuck left the neighborhood in 1987, taking 1,800 jobs with it. Kids in North Lawndale need not be confused about their prospects: Cook County’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center sits directly adjacent to the neighborhood.”

This is one of Mr. Coates’ most spurious charges, he does not explain how Black home ownership created a ghetto with all the connotations that come with that charge.  If home ownership created a ghetto in North Lawndale, then perhaps the problem is the pressure that is put on Blacks to own a home when renting is better option.  Instead of pushing for higher rates of home ownership, especially of those on the fringes we should discourage it until they a stronger foundation (long-term employment, financial security, marriage, stability, substantial down payment) things that many first-time Black buyers lack, but feel pressure to commit to buying a home nevertheless. There segregation was policy practice against Blacks, as it was other groups but does policies are not in force now and have not been for decades.  Today’s segregated communities are the result, in many cases of governmental policies.  Free or subsidize Housing that directs the poor to certain neighborhoods, welfare policies that penalize recipients if they get married, obtain a job or move to another area and the lack of accountability of those that game the system. Making matters worse, has become permissive of lifestyle choices that while at pains to say it, sociologists have now recognized that the family unit is the a main contributor to many of the ills that Mr. Coates feel will be cure by re-desegregation.  Including lower crime rates, higher wealth and incomes.  It is the reason why Latinos the group most often compared, comparatively to Blacks have surpassed them in practically every category even though back in the 60’s they trailed Blacks and Whites by wide margins. Today Latino’s are reaching parity with Whites in all categories and are poised to supplant Whites as the largest Ethnic group. The rest of Coates’ long essay does not break any new ground, he tries to correlate poverty with crime as an excuse to the Black real problems with high crime in their neighborhoods.  One statement he made I want to address.  He writes the following:

“From the White House on down, the myth holds that fatherhood is the great antidote to all that ails black people. But Billy Brooks Jr. had a father. Trayvon Martin had a father. Jordan Davis had a father. Adhering to middle-class norms has never shielded black people from plunder. Adhering to middle-class norms is what made Ethel Weatherspoon a lucrative target for rapacious speculators. Contract sellers did not target the very poor. They targeted black people who had worked hard enough to save a down payment and dreamed of the emblem of American citizenship—home ownership. It was not a tangle of pathology that put a target on Clyde Ross’s back. It was not a culture of poverty that singled out Mattie Lewis for “the thrill of the chase and the kill.” Some black people always will be twice as good.”

Yes, Trayvon Martin had a “father”  and mother as did Jordan Davis and Billy Brooks Jr. but what they lacked was a family unit. All three were sent to stay with their fathers because they had become too much to handle for their respective mothers.  Being a sperm donor is easy, being a father is much harder.  Showing up after problems manifest themselves is failing in your duties as a father and should not be celebrated. Ethel Weatherspoon, like Clyde Ross bought a house in the North Lawndale area is she also to blame for the condition of the neighborhood today? Of course not, and neither are the rapacious speculators that sold them the house.  They wanted the American Dream to own a house and they did, using the method available to them as many others of limited means did before. That is the problem with Mr. Coates’ essay, with the exception of the despicable period of slavery, the hardships and triumphs  are the same that many other ethnic groups faced and are still facing. The Black experience is only singular in their estimation, as is their feeling that because of slavery their road should to success should have been paved, rather than a curvy, rock-strewn one with detours along the way.

The road to success is not straight. There is a curb called Failure, a loop called Confusion; speed bumps called Friends; red lights called Enemies;caution lights called Family. You will have flats called jobs. But, if you have a spare called Determination; an engine called Perseverance; insurance called Faith, and a driver called Jesus, you will make it to a place called Success!!- Anon.

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