Ten reasons why Horowitz is wrong — and racist too

We strongly disagree with David Horowitz’s paid advertisement against slavery reparations. In an effort to correct Horowitz’s grossly inaccurate descriptions of historical events, to inform the Northwestern community about the logic behind the argument for reparations and to encourage an informed dialogue on reparations, we are responding to Horowitz’s claims. Our goal is neither to advocate nor to oppose slavery reparations, but to challenge the unfounded claims and clearly anti-black overtones of his argument. As the descendants of slaves, black Americans have always held a disadvantaged position in this country’s economy, political system and social hierarchy. The acknowledgement of this fact should neither induce fear nor intimidate, as Horowitz presents. It is an invitation for all Americans to collectively seek retribution for those particular Americans affected by the past crimes and injustices of the government of the United States.

– The U.S. government is responsible for institutionalizing slavery.

Horowitz states, “No single group is responsible for the crime slavery” because “Arabs and black Africans were responsible for enslaving the ancestors of African Americans.” Indeed, many groups took part in the sale and purchase of Africans, yet only European and American individuals and institutions, including the U.S. government, were responsible for institutionalizing slavery in the Americas and for the slave trade. In an attempt to incite racial division, Horowitz points to slave-owning blacks. He fails to mention that the majority of free blacks who owned slaves had purchased family members (and other enslaved blacks) in order to free them.

– Black Americans didn’t benefit from slavery.

Horowitz claims, “There is no single group that benefited exclusively from slavery.” While Horowitz’s wording forces us to agree with him, he evades the issue of who benefited primarily. Although white Americans across the country benefited from slavery, black Americans in general did not. White Southern planters and Yankee merchants and ship-owners made fortunes, as did newspapers that printed ads for slave sales. Even the Industrial Revolution was boosted by slavery through its dependence on cheap, slave-produced cotton.

– The Civil War was not fought to liberate slaves but to preserve the union.

Horowitz claims, “Only a minority of white Americans owned slaves, while others gave their lives to free them.” The U.S. government initially defined the Civil War as a “war to preserve the union.” Many Northern troops showed their lack of concern for slaves by plundering the personal property of slaves and appropriating their belongings. White soldiers did die to free the slaves, but about 170,000 black Americans also served in the Civil War, representing almost one third of the free black population.

– White privilege, on the one hand, and racial discrimination on the other hand, are direct institutional connections to slavery that affect all Americans today.

Horowitz claims, “Most living Americans have no connection (direct or indirect) to slavery.” But the reparations argument is not based on whether every white person directly gained from slavery, but on the fact that slavery was institutionalized and protected by law in the United States. The passage of time does not negate the responsibility of governments for crimes against humanity, just like debts and treaties.

– In conceptualizing slavery, race and injury cannot be separated. The claim for reparations is based on injury endured by slaves and the descendants of slaves as a socially constructed race.

Horowitz claims, “The historical precedents used to justify the reparations claim do not apply, and the claim itself is based on race and not injury.” Because slavery was based on race alone, it is reasonable to argue that the consequences of slavery also are based on race. Black Americans still do not have access to the same resources or opportunities that white Americans have. These inequities began with slavery and continue today.

– Black Americans today are disadvantaged by the economic consequences of slavery and racial discrimination.

Horowitz claims, “The reparations argument is based on the unsubstantiated claim that all African Americans suffer from the economic consequences of slavery and discrimination.” Here Horowitz diverges from the argument to attack black Americans. He refuses to admit that most black Americans were systematically denied the opportunity of personal gain and improvement through education, paid employment and participation in the political arena, and thus suffered the economic consequences of slavery and discrimination. Unemployment, underemployment, a higher cost of living, and a lack of economic resources for black Americans today are remnants of a highly segregated social system.

– The reparations claim itself does not turn blacks into victims. It is an attempt by black americans to seek restitution for slavery.

Horowitz claims “The reparations claim is just one more attempt to turn blacks into victims. It sends a damaging message to the African-American community.” Black Americans have been victimized, but this fact and the push for reparations is not a case of “playing the victim,” but of seeking justice.

– Reparations have never been paid to black Americans.

Horowitz claims, “Reparations to African Americans have already been paid … in the form of welfare benefits and ‘racial preferences.'” Claiming welfare as a race-based transfer payment is preposterous. Horowitz conflates the Great Society and civil rights legislation into some contention that only black Americans have received their benefits. Under the New Deal, the recipients of federally created jobs were predominantly white men, and the recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children were predominantly white widows and their children. While there is a larger percentage of the black population on welfare, there has always been a larger number of whites than blacks on welfare. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s gave black Americans what belongs to every American citizen: the legal precedence to be treated as a full citizen of the United States. None of these are reparations. Affirmative action, another program purportedly giving unmerited favor to blacks, has always benefited more women than men, especially white women who have most capably used these programs to advance in the education and corporate worlds.

– Why should black Americans repay those who enslaved them?

Horowitz asks, “What about the debt blacks owe to America?” Black Americans owe no debt to America or white Americans for their freedom. The genesis of the abolitionist movement was within the black community. Accounts from across the United States exist of slave revolts predating the white abolitionist movement — even on slave ships coming across the Atlantic Ocean, Africans rebelled against slavery. The American government imposed slavery upon blacks, and then removed them from that predicament.

– The issue of reparations is not a separatist one. It does not position blacks against the nation.

Horowitz states, “The reparations claim is a separatist idea that sets African-Americans against the nation that gave them freedom.” In income, family wealth, housing, legal treatment, education and political representation black Americans already are separated. Furthermore, as said, the U.S. is not “the nation that gave them freedom,” but “the nation that enslaved them.”

We have taken much of the information in this article from an article written by Richard Chisalm and Ernest Allen Jr. For a complete bibliography, contact one of the five authors. Also, in the coming weeks, a number of events are planned that will focus on the topic of reparations and that will also question the acceptability of racist propaganda, paid or free, in the mainstream press of this campus. Please commit yourself to this dialogue.