Reparations in Evanston -- Even Vonnegut Couldn't Sell This Plot

Evanston, Illinois is a university town, so I expect a certain amount of irresponsible silliness to emerge from its town hall. But using a sales tax on marijuana to fund reparations payments to black town residents is something even Kurt Vonnegut would have a hard time selling as fiction.

           And yet, the town council this week voted 8-1 to distribute up to $400,000 to eligible black households to use for such things as home repairs or down payments on property. It’s but a down payment on a pledge to distribute $10 million over the next 10 years. The taxes necessary to pay this racial bounty will come from a three-percent tax on recreational marijuana. Evanston becomes the first jurisdiction in the nation to swallow the red pill of reparations.

           I hope it will be the last.

           Few issues have the potential to divide the nation as deeply as reparations. Struggling members of the white working class will never wake up to a rosy new dawn in which they think their African-American neighbors are entitled to race-based transfer payments. The very idea mocks equality before the law. Even the Supreme Court, in recent decisions holding that race can be a factor considered in admissions to state colleges assumed that such remedies would be limited in time. “The way to stop discrimination based on race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a 2007 decision.

           But the reparations bandwagon is gaining momentum. A bill before Congress has scores of co-sponsors; it calls on creation of a commission to study the issue. California is considering it: cities like Amherst, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island, Asheville, North Carolina, and Iowa City, Iowa, are on the cusp of ordering race-based transfer payments. The Episcopal Church is on board.  Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., wants to pay to play along.

           Social historians will look back at this era in the history of the nation and theorize about why this issue has arisen now. It certain isn’t a question of racial justice. Considering the long arc of American history, the irony is that as things get better and better between the races co-mingled on this continent, we’ve decided now is the time to ask for yet more. Forgive me if it feels like a shakedown of epic proportions.

           Yes, slavery was present at the founding. Call it our original sin if you like, but that’s a form of race pandering that grants to persons of color a special status they do not deserve. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome. That means everyone, white and black, Asian, and otherwise. Augustine warned of the dangers of the City of Man. Playing at doing God’s work with the messy clay of humankind simply yields more chaos.

            Slavery was abolished after a bloody civil war a century and one-half ago. Jim Crow was stripped away a century ago. The Civil Rights movement culminated in comprehensive federal civil rights legislation in the 1960s. There are affirmative action plans, set-aside programs. And yet, we’re awash in claims of “systemic racism.” It’s become a wearying form of gibberish. For even uttering these words, I will be accused of being a white supremacist. This mumbo-jumbo logic is a sign of cultural depravity.

           I’m old enough to recall the push back to Ronald Reagan when he talked about welfare queens, a remark widely regarded as a racial swipe. The rejoinder: There were more white Americans on welfare and in need of government support than there were people of color. That is still the case.

           Reparations is dangerous talk. In a fractured country seemingly incapable of uniting around a common vision of the good, the very idea of race-based transfer payments in polarizing in frightening ways. Do you want a civil war? Tell people of one race that they must give financial support to people of another race based on the sins of grandfathers long since dead.

           My grandparents came to this country in the 1930s from Greece and Quebec. They owned no slaves. They were penniless and clawed for the little they could call their own. I doubt they would have come here if they foresaw a future in which their descendants would be paying taxes to give race-based benefits to others. Candidly, I am hard-pressed to imagine wanting to remain in such a country.

           Race-based transfer payments are obscene. They might not be as obscene as chattel slavery but they reek of the same sort of forced dependence. I’ll fight to amend the United States Constitution to ban this cancer. Join the fight.            


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