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Atonement and ForgivenessA New Model for Black Reparations$

Roy Brooks

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780520239418

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520239418.001.0001

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Opposing Arguments

Opposing Arguments

(p.180) Chapter 6 Opposing Arguments
Atonement and Forgiveness

Roy L. Brooks

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

Slavery has a long existence in Western civilization. The year Brazil nurtured its last slave from ancient Mesopotamia to 1888, practically every Western society condoned slavery, and many, including the pacifist Quakers, practiced it. Human beings were used as a form of currency, even to retire debts or as items of barter. The wide acceptance of slavery in ancient times does not validate or even explain the singular evil of slavery in the Americas. This brand of human bondage introduced by Portugal was unprecedented. The trans-Atlantic slave trade extremely diminished human life compared to what existed virtually anywhere on the continent before, as Basil Davidson points out. This difference in the quality of slavery applies with equal force to Africa prior to transatlantic slavery. Racial, or color-conscious, slavery appeared in direct response to the unique demands of the plantation system in the Americas.

Keywords:   Western civilization, Brazil, Mesopotamia, Quakers, Basil Davidson

In this final chapter, I shall address many of the most significant arguments advanced in opposition to slave redress. Some of my answers have already been stated. They are contained in the previous chapters of the book and, thus, require little more than a brief explanation and cross-reference. New responses are discussed more extensively.1

1. The whole notion of atonement seems opportunistic and morally arbitrary, because African tribes played a major role in the enslavement of blacks, and no one is asking them to apologize.

There is no moral equivalency here. As one commentator has noted, “it wasn’t the [African] locals who instigated the [transatlantic slave] trade, or who supervised the appalling cruelty of the Middle Passage, or who later worked the victims to death. Nor was it really the locals who profited by the business, except in the short term.”2

Also, some African nations have in fact apologized for their predecessors’ participation in racial slavery. For example, the president of Benin, Mathieu Kerekou, sent a delegation to the United States to extend an apology for his country’s role in the African slave trade. In a visit in 2000 to the capital of the former Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia, Benin’s minister of environment and housing, Luc Gnacadja, stated: “We cry for forgiveness and reconciliation.” But even if no African nation apologized for slavery, that (p.181) would not absolve our government of its own moral duty to apologize for its role in slavery. There is enough moral culpability in varying degrees to go around. Each wrongdoer is responsible for its own wrongdoing.

2. There is no rational basis for slave redress, because chattel slavery—the use of human beings in a commodious and bestial manner—was a universally accepted practice during the time the government enslaved blacks.

Slavery has a long presence in Western civilization. From ancient Mesopotamia to 1888, the year Brazil freed its last slave, virtually every Western society condoned slavery, and many, including the pacifist Quakers, practiced it. Human beings were used as a form of currency, even to retire debts, or as items of barter. But if there was a common thread linking all systems of slavery, it was the treatment of human beings like domesticated animals or pets—what Orlando Patterson refers to as the “Sambo” stereotype and David Brion Davis calls the “effort to bestialize human beings.”3 Slavery’s long and ubiquitous presence in the Western world does not, however, immunize it from current condemnation and redress.

Not only should we look upon the past with better vision, but there was no dearth of people during the slavery era who had 20–20 vision. I agree with President George W. Bush, who said in a speech given in Africa in 2003 that “some have said we should not judge their failures by the standards of a later time, yet in every time were men and women who clearly saw this sin and called it by name. We can fairly judge the past by the standards of President John Adams, who called slavery ‘an evil of colossal magnitude.’ We can discern eternal standards in the deeds of William Wilberforce and John Quincy Adams and Harriet Beecher Stowe and Abraham Lincoln.”4 I have never heard the president sound so right.

Also, slavery’s wide acceptance in ancient times does not justify or even explain the singular evil of slavery in the Americas. This brand of human bondage, introduced by Portugal as early as 1444, was unprecedented. As Basil Davidson points out, “The trans-Atlantic slave trade vastly devalued human life compared to what existed virtually anywhere on the continent before.”5 This difference in the quality of slavery applies with equal force to Africa prior to transatlantic slavery. “For centuries in Africa,” Howard French reminds us, “ethical conventions had governed the taking and use of slaves, who in most cases resembled the serfs of Europe more than the chattel of (p.182) the Americas.”6 Thus, although slavery within the continent began long before the arrival of whites, and continued for a good many years after it was abolished in the United States, it was “a very different kind” of slavery.

This difference lay mainly in the emphasis on phenotype and concomitant notions of racial inferiority. Color became the social marker of slavery in the New World. That was not the case in Greece, Rome, or other ancient places—“Among the ancients, the slave belonged to the same race as his master,” Alexis de Tocqueville notes.7 Among the Africans as well, the slave belonged to the same race as his master. But in America, the slave belonged to a different race than his master.

Racial, or color-conscious, slavery appeared in direct response to the unique demands of the plantation system in the Americas. First, the sugar industry in Latin America and later the cotton industry in North America needed dark-skinned workers, without whom they could not have survived. “The grandiose visions of New World wealth—once the Spanish had plundered the Aztecs and Incas—seemed always to require slave labor. Largely because many experiments in enslaving Indians failed, African slaves became an intrinsic part of the American experience.”8 This led to the eventual importation of somewhere between nine and twenty million Africans to the New World over four centuries.9

One of the most important distinguishing features between ancient or African slavery and American slavery was the interchangeability of power and status between master and slave. In ancient slavery, “the roles of master and slave could be reversed: Diogenes [the master] could become the slave and Manes [his slave]…could become the master.”10 Indeed, some slaves became well-known community leaders, as I shall discuss in a moment. Similarly, in Africa prior to the slave trade, there were “cases in the Zaire Basin in Africa in which a slaveholder lost his wealth in gambling and then became enslaved to one of his own former slaves.”11 No such possibility presented itself to the black slave in America, North or South. No master would ever have conceived of becoming the slave of his black slave-turned-master at anytime in his lifetime. Most slaves, in fact, were not even manumitted.

Marxist scholars have attempted to explain why this ancient practice of interchangeability did not take hold in American society. They argue that interchangeability only worked in societies with primitive or rudimentary markets, that it did not work in societies characterized by advanced markets.12 (p.183) Where the slave was purchased as a source of labor, as in the Americas, his commodification created a powerful disincentive to interchangeability. It simply made no economic sense to the master class to accord such freedom to the slave class. On the other hand, in cultures wherein slaves were mainly prisoners captured in war, the line between master and slave was more fluid. These “slaves had symbolic value as proof of a tribe’s power and honor.”13 Thus, because of economic imperatives, interchangeability and a kind of “soft” slavery developed in traditional slave systems, but not in American slavery.

Master-slave interchangeability in America was also made impossible by the creation of a racespecific ideology of condemnation, which was itself a departure from the received tradition of slavery. Intended to justify the new look given to an ancient institution, this false rhetoric—namely, racism—not only removed from the realm of cultural and political possibility the interchangeability of slave and master—that is, the ancient prospect that a slave might someday even become his master’s master—but it also outlasted slavery itself. Not even the statusconscious Greeks traveled in this nefarious direction. The Greeks first justified slavery not on racist grounds but on a theory that held most men to be naturally inferior due to their inability to govern themselves or others. This thinking was in harmony with the Platonic mind-set regarding the just society. Subsequently, the Greeks, in line with Aristotelian dogma, refined that theory to distinguish between natural and accidental slaves. Slaves by nature were “the barbarians deemed noble only when at home,” Aristotle wrote. Slaves by misfortune were those who “regard themselves as noble everywhere,” and should not be enslaved, as in internecine wars between Greek city-states:

There is a slave or slavery by law as well as by nature. The law of which I speak is a sort of convention—the law by which whatever is taken in war is supposed to belong to the victors. But this right many jurists impeach…they detest the notion that, because one man has the power of doing violence and is superior in brute strength, another shall be his slave and subject…. Others…assume that slavery in accordance with the custom of war is justified by law, but at the same moment they deny this. For what if the cause of the war be unjust? And, again, no one would ever say that he is a slave who is unworthy to be a slave…. Wherefore Hellenes do not like to call Hellenes slaves, but confine the term to barbarians.14

(p.184) Likewise, color did not define the Egyptian, Roman, or Christian notions of slavery. Although there were various methods of enslavement in ancient Egypt—including birth, criminal penalty, and even self-enslavement in satisfaction of personal debts—“[t]he principal and oldest cause of slavery was capture in war.”15 Roman slaves came in all races and colors. Roman law, moreover, came to accept “the Stoic conception of the essential equality of the human race.”16 Christianity, as noted earlier, set in motion moral forces that would eventually sound the death knell for slavery. The Patristic Fathers did, however, defend slavery. “They relied chiefly on Noah’s curse upon Canaan for Scriptural authority, but did not apply it specifically to Negroes, who were a small minority among Roman slaves.”17

The racist rhetoric created to justify the enslavement of blacks not only made interchangeability impossible, but it radically changed the slave’s status in other ways as well. Although American slaves, like their brethren in antiquity, could be marginalized, even killed, at the whim of their masters, they enjoyed far fewer privileges and respect than slaves in prior times. Our government did not recognize the peculium, or private property of slaves, as did the governments in the Graeco-Roman world.18 Nor did American society appreciate the talents of the slaves as did ancient societies. “It is known that several of the most celebrated authors of antiquity were or had been slaves: Aesop [ca. 620–560 b.c.] and Terence [ca. 190–159 b.c.] are in this number,” Tocqueville notes.19 Nathaniel Weyl summarizes the social construction of slavery in ancient times:

[Roman] slaves provided, to a varying degree in different periods, much of the brain power of the Empire. Slaves brought Greek culture to the Roman nouveaux riches. Slaves and freedmen dominated most of the free professions. Those who gained their freedom served, especially during the reigns of Caligula, Claudius and Nero, as powerful elements in the managerial elite which ruled the Roman world. This bureaucracy of freedmen and slaves was depicted by Suetonius, Petronius and others as gross, uncouth, degenerate and money-mad, but those who drew the caricature were linked to the envious remnant of a dying aristocracy…. Enfranchisement was frequent and, in Cicero’s opinion, a hard-working slave could buy his freedom in six years.20

No such accommodations were accorded to the American slave. Indeed, had the victims of the peculiar institution been allowed to hold private (p.185) property, or even a small bundle of financial or intellectual assets, it would have called into question the veracity of the racist rhetoric used to defend slavery. The Supreme Court was largely correct in 1856 when it summarized the status of blacks since the inception of slavery in North America “as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”21

The use of racist ideology to justify slavery is not only an important point of distinction between traditional slavery and American slavery; it also took on a life of its own, outlasting the institution of slavery itself. This is perhaps the most diabolical feature of American slavery, because it means that former slaves and their descendants can never really be totally free of slavery. After manumission, the American slave in fact entered the netherworld of quasi-slavery. This was a life of repression and reduction, an inevitable by-product of the ideological debasement of the black slave. Color was construed as a social stigma, from which blacks, freed or not, could not escape. This life contrasts sharply with the life of the manumitted slave in antiquity or in Africa before the slave trade. “Freedom alone,” Tocqueville observes of ancient slavery, “separated [slave and master]; freedom once granted, they easily intermingled.”22

American slavery also operated on a much more self-sustaining basis than ancient slavery or African slavery prior to the slave trade. The peculiar institution was a stand-alone operation, one that involved the brutal yet profitable transoceanic transportation of human beings. In contrast, ancient and African slavery generally operated as an appendage or afterthought to some larger endeavor, usually as the spoils of wars. The traditional system of slavery in Africa changed, however, in response to external pressures. Slaves were no longer acquired as captives of African internecine wars. “Negro potentates not only had no scruples about selling their subjects to foreigners, but competed in man-stealing and waged tribal wars motivated solely by greed for vendible slaves.”23

There is one other very important aspect of American slavery that cannot be ignored when considering the question of apology. The culpability of the founders of the republic is heightened by the very fact that they breathed new life into a morally moribund institution. “By the eve of the American Revolution,” David Brion Davis observes, “there was a remarkable convergence of culture and intellectual developments which at once (p.186) undercut traditional rationalizations for slavery and offered new ways of identifying with its victims.”24

There is some indication that the global perspective on slavery may have changed directions by the time slavery took hold in the American colonies (ca. 1640), almost a century and a half before the new republic (1787). Most of the Western world no longer viewed slavery as a morally respectable enterprise. Some scholars see signs of this turnaround as early as the Roman Empire.25 Having accepted the fundamental proposition that all humans are essentially equal, Roman law, it is argued, sought to reduce the harshness of slavery. “From Nero on, the trend of Roman law was to ameliorate the slave’s position.”26 The Christian Church, which had always permitted slavery, came to regard the act of freeing slaves as “an act of Christian virtue,” and, indeed, this attitude led to the freeing of thousands of slaves by, among others, St. Melania, St. Ovidius of Gaul, and Chromatius, an official who served under Trajan.

So powerful was this sense of morality, Weyl argues, that “[i]n the 13th century, when Christians found it hard to find slaves to free on high church festivals, they brought pigeons and let them fly off.”27 Even though St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Thomas More defended the practice, slavery slowly died out in Europe during the centuries between the death of Justinian, whose legal codifications lasted two centuries after Rome’s conversion to Christianity, and the rise of the Renaissance.28 Weyl adds that in the sixteenth century, the French jurist Jean Bodin declared that slavery had become extinct in his country four centuries earlier, and that “a slave became free merely by touching French soil.”29

Robert Shell’s account is slightly different. He argues that Christianity’s change of heart only applied to baptized slaves, and that the issue of whether slaves should be baptized was very contentious as late as 1618 when it was raised at the Synod of Dort (Dordrecht) in Holland, which brought together Protestant theologians from Great Britain and the Continent. Although the delegates could not agree on a single policy, Shell maintains, their writings ended or limited the trade in Christian slaves.30 Thus, Weyl and Shell are in basic agreement with each other and with Davis’s cautious opinion that “by the 1760s and early 1770s…the emergence of a widespread conviction that New World slavery was deeply evil and embodied all the forces that threatened the true destiny of the human race.”31

(p.187) The American colonists were certainly aware of the changing global perspective on slavery, but they chose to ignore it. Some colonies enacted legislation for the specific purpose of countermanding principles established at the Cape of Good Hope calling for the treatment of baptized slaves in accordance with the customs afforded to other Christians.32 But there were some dissenting voices that sought to bring the colonies in line with the new-age thinking. The New Englander James Otis, for example, made a famous speech in 1761 calling for the immediate freeing of all slaves. Benjamin Franklin, who at one time not only owned two house slaves, whom he later freed, but also invested heavily in the slave trade, stood almost alone among the founders in “adamantly opposing slavery” in 1776. Thomas Jefferson charged that “‘the Christian King of Great Britain’…was responsible for the horrors of the slave trade,”33 but the protector of liberty who penned the soaring declaration “that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” owned some two hundred slaves. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and other founders also owned slaves. In all, ten U.S. presidents owned slaves (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses Grant).34 Indeed, when the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776—not only on behalf of the Second Continental Congress, but also on behalf of “[t]he unanimous…thirteen United States of America”35—slavery, David McCullough reminds us, “had long since become an accepted part of life in all of the thirteen colonies.”36

This hypocrisy was too obvious for even the founders to miss. As discussed in chapter 2, the founders, by not using the words “slave” or “slavery” in the Constitution, made a veiled attempt to hide the fact that they were codifying a morally indefensible practice in that great document. They knew what they were doing, that they were going against the grain of developing opinion in the Western world, and against the views of a moral minority in their own country.

Clearly, then, American slavery was different. It kept alive a moribund institution—one that Western societies had marked for extinction due to its moral bankruptcy. Worst of all, American slavery injected the element of race or color into slavery. For the first time in Western civilization, the slavers took serious note of the fact that master and slave were of different (p.188) races. More than that, slavers targeted dark-skinned people and, not coincidentally, developed a racist ideology that sought to justify this prac-tice—a social marker that affected free blacks as well and that continues to outlive slavery itself. The social construction of race that emerged from this protracted transaction in human bondage certainly contributed to the destruction of masterslave interchangeability that had existed in antiquity and in Africa before the slave trade. This is reason enough for the government to apologize for slavery.

3. Camille Paglia, among others, argues that slave redress would be unfair to present-day white Americans, especially white immigrants, who simply have had nothing to do with slavery. Along with blacks like Armstrong Williams, John McWhorter, and Shelby Steele, Paglia also argues that the claim for redress lends itself to the vulgarism of identity politics and victimhood. In other words, making the claim for slave redress leaves blacks enslaved to the past.37

My initial response to Paglia’s innocent-whites argument is to note its faulty factual predicate. Redress under the atonement model is not about the guilt or innocence of white Americans any more than German reparations for the Holocaust were about the guilt or innocence of the German people in 1960, 1980, or, for that matter, today. The atonement model requires the government rather than the individual citizen, who had nothing to do with slavery, to acknowledge wrongdoing.

While I do not believe whites should apologize for slavery or Jim Crow, I do believe they should support slave redress because it is the morally correct thing to do and because of the benefits slavery and Jim Crow have bestowed upon them and this nation. Whether white or a person of color, each American has a reason for supporting slave redress based upon the benefits each has received from slavery.

Whites in General. White ethnic groups benefit more than other American groups from the lingering effects of slavery. They are favored in the color hierarchy created by slavery and preserved by Jim Crow. Whiteness in the main is an asset in this country, not a liability. Those who have it benefit from it, both in terms of the psychology of slavery and the socioeconomics of slavery. In short, racial fault lines laid down during slavery continue to give whites racial advantages. Robert Jensen candidly describes the privilege he, as a white male, enjoys in this society: (p.189)

When I seek admission to a university, apply for a job, or hunt for an apartment, I don’t look threatening. Almost all of the people evaluating me for those things look like me—they are white. They see in me a reflection of themselves, and in a racist world that is an advantage. I smile. I am white. I am one of them. I am not dangerous. Even when I voice critical opinions, I am cut some slack. After all, I’m white.38

Richard Delgado elaborates on the “drawing power of whiteness”:

Not only are whites in this country the most numerous and powerful group—something that could easily change over time—they are also normative, their ideas, hopes, values, holidays, heroes, traditions, language and narratives enshrined deeply in American culture. American children’s heroes, like Snow White, are Euro-American. Language imagery associates whiteness with purity, innocence, and virtue. Think of our most sacred ceremonies: white is for weddings, black for funerals. Even many minorities carry these associations and attitudes in their heads. Phrases like “sisterhood is powerful,” “brown and black power,” “power to the people,” and others invoking outgroup solidarity possess an undeniable appeal. But whiteness’s rewards, which include acceptance, validation, power, and influence, can plant a seed of doubt in the mind of any but the most dedicated insurgent of color.39

Given the power of whiteness in contemporary society, Joe Feagin, among others, makes a strong case for disgorgement. He argues that, as recipients of “stolen” goods, whites have a civic, if not a moral, duty to disgorge their unjust gains.40 One might also argue that allowing whites to retain their ill-gotten gains stands as a “sequel” to slavery and, in addition, represents the “present embodiment” of that corrupt past. Disgorgement, then, operates as a credibility check on the integrity and morality of the current political order.

Although there is considerable merit to this line of argument, I do not think disgorgement is necessary, or that “innocent” whites should have to apologize for slavery, an atrocity for which they are not personally responsible. But I do believe they should be grateful for the bounty and advantages they have received from slavery—that is, they should collectively acknowledge slavery’s contribution to our society—and that they should show their appreciation by unequivocally supporting political measures (p.190) designed to honor the lives of the slaves and to redress the lingering negative effects of slavery (see relevant discussion in chapter 5).

White Southerners. While I do not believe white southerners can be blamed for what their ancestors did in fighting to keep blacks in bondage—both the North and South held slaves, but only the latter fought to retain slavery—they can be blamed for a protracted celebration of a racist heritage. If southern whites wish to be emancipated from the legacy of slavery, they must reject that legacy. They must burn the Confederate flag, that brazen symbol of white hegemony. Thus, in the context of slave redress, white southerners carry additional responsibility. They must, as one southern historian has said, “stop venerating a heritage that was centered on slavery and a flag that came into existence to represent the defense of slavery.”41

White Immigrants. Newcomers to our shores have a special reason to show appreciation for what the slaves have done for them. Even the most recent arrivals enjoy the lingering beneficial effects of slavery. As Vivian Martin has said, “There would have been no there here [no country] to make immigration seem attractive to your ancestors if there hadn’t been slaves here first who built it.”42 White immigrants have another reason to support measures aimed at honoring the slaves and redressing the lingering negative effects of slavery. Immigrants necessarily assume the liabilities as well as the assets—the negative legacies as well as the positive legacies, slavery as well as the Declaration of Independence—of our country or any other country to which they emigrate. A Russian immigrant to the United States will enjoy the freedoms this country has to offer, but she will also spend a good portion of the rest of her life paying off the national debt, even though she had nothing to do with its establishment or accumulation. Whether a recent arrival or a member of an old-line family, an inhabitant of a country cannot pick and choose from among aspects of the country’s history. Certainly the nation’s largest and longest moral debt, slavery carries over from generation to generation until it is paid off. There is a corporateness to any country that cannot be gainsaid.

Nonblack Persons of Color. Just as black Americans have supported redress for Native Americans and Japanese Americans, these groups owe a debt of gratitude to blacks. But the obligation to support slave redress is deeper and broader than a simple quid pro quo. Like all Americans, Native Americans, (p.191) Asians (including Pacific Islanders), and Latinos should support slave redress because it is the right thing to do. That is, they should support their government’s attempt to right moral wrongs for which it is responsible. In addition, most nonblack racial minorities are part of America’s immigrant experience. Like other immigrants, they assume the country’s legacies, both negative and positive. Finally, there is a sense in which nonblack persons of color benefit from the lingering effects of slavery more than blacks but less than whites. Indeed, some nonblack persons of color, as Frank Wu reminds us, have traded on their “honorary whiteness”—their closeness to the European ideal—and, in so doing, have “perpetuat[ed] the problem of race.”43 I do not, however, wish to push this line of argument. For the point made here—that nonblack racial minorities should support slave redress—and the one made in chapter 5—that the atonement trust fund should only apply to slave descendants—can be advanced on other grounds.

Blacks. Like all Americans, blacks should support slave redress because in doing so they support morally good government and racial reconciliation. But blacks have a special reason to support slave redress—dignity. No selfrespecting black should be satisfied with the racial affront that has dogged black Americans for hundreds of years. How can blacks expect the respect of others if we do not demand respect from those who have disrespected us in the past? Any self-respecting person would demand an apology from someone who accidentally stepped on his foot. Any selfrespecting people would demand no less from a government that deliberately stepped on its face for nearly four centuries.

The identity-politics, or victimhood, argument, which is a recurring protest among black conservatives levied against anything that does not smack of black self-help, can be quickly disposed of. Pursued through the atonement model, the claim for slave redress does not reduce itself to identity politics, any more than redress claims advanced over the years by Japanese Americans, Native Americans, black South Africans, Jews, or the Comfort Women. Slave redress under the atonement model is about standing up for one’s human dignity. When opponents of slave redress argue that the entire enterprise stigmatizes blacks as hapless victims in need of a governmental rescue, they are wrong, at least with respect to the atonement model. Seeking reparations under the atonement model is an affirmation rather than a negation of self-respect. It is a demand for honor, not an exercise in identity politics. (p.192) “[T]hough what is remembered may be painful, forgetting is more devastating to the self and destructive to the human spirit.”44

4. Slave descendants are not direct victims of slavery and, thus, are not entitled to receive anything for that atrocity.

First, there is the link between slavery and slave descendants through Jim Crow (see chapter 3). Second, privity between perpetrator and recipient is not morally necessary, and may not even be legally necessary. Following in the path of traditional civil rights law where, for example, the victims of a private or public entity’s past discrimination do not have to be the beneficiaries of the entity’s affirmative action program, there is no need to insist on privity in the context of slave redress. The Supreme Court has supplied solid reasoning for this position in justifying certain affirmative action plans. In upholding the constitutionality of involuntary affirmative action programs imposed by judicial decree, the Court reasoned that the purpose of such affirmative action programs is “to provide [relief to] the class as a whole rather than to individual members; no individual is entitled to relief, and beneficiaries need not show that they were themselves victims of discrimination”45 (see relevant discussion in chapter 5).

5. The debt was paid off through the enactment of civil rights legislation during the 1960s. Coming after that, the demand for slave redress is nothing more than another attempt to obtain racial preferences; it is affirmative action through the back door.

The civil rights legislation of the 1960s ended the atrocity of Jim Crow. It did not atone for Jim Crow or slavery. Atonement comes only after the atrocity has ended. More than that, atonement legislation speaks to the moral enormity of slavery and Jim Crow in a way that traditional civil rights laws and affirmative action simply cannot. Traditional civil rights laws and affirmative action are symmetrical measures. That is, they apply to blacks but are equally accessible to other groups as well. A constitutional civil rights provision, the Fourteenth Amendment, for example, provides that “No State shall…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”46 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against “any individual…because (p.193) of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”47 The Voting Rights Act of 1965 guarantees the right to vote to “[a]ll citizens of the United States who are otherwise qualified by law to vote at any election [under state or local law]…without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”48 And racial preference law (affirmative action) applies to racial minorities, women, and even veterans.49 Thus, many groups have access to our antidiscrimination laws. Civil rights legislation does not apply only to blacks.

In contrast, redress for slavery and Jim Crow, like redress for other atrocities, is necessarily asymmetrical. It applies only to the victims of slavery and slavery’s lingering effects, just as the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 applies only to the victims of internment during World War II. Focusing on the moral enormity of slavery and Jim Crow (with its spectacle of black lynching) under the atonement model separates slave redress from routine civil rights laws, including racial preference law. It provides not only a rational but also a moral basis for singling out blacks for special treatment. It is the only way other protected classes (such as Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and women), who are accustomed to being treated pari passu with blacks, can properly understand and, it may be hoped, accept this departure from standard civil rights treatment.50 Blacks would be receiving something of value from the government that is not equally available to other traditionally subordinated groups. This large asymmetrical undertaking can only be justified within our liberal democratic state as a onetime response to events of extraordinary proportions.

6. The debt owing to slavery was paid handsomely with the blood of Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.

This argument is misguided for several reasons. The North fought to put down a rebellion so as to preserve the Union. Had the Constitution definitively addressed the question of state secession from the Union, the North would still have had a fight on its hands. The South was not going to allow a piece of paper to stand in its way, which is to say the South fought to preserve its slaveholding way of life. Hence, while the South fought to deny the slave’s liberty, the North fought in spite of the slave’s liberty, at least at the beginning.

The North’s reasons for fighting the war subsequently changed to include (p.194) the abolition of slavery. This transformation began after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in January 1863 and was completed by the time of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Public opinion in the North was reshaped in large part by returning soldiers who spoke firsthand of the horrors of chattel slavery. James M. McPherson, our preeminent Civil War historian, makes this point in For Cause & Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, although he also makes it clear that the war did not and could not have begun on that note.51

But even if the Civil War had begun with the primary purpose of ending slavery, that would not constitute an apology nor reparations for slavery, to say nothing about Jim Crow. Aside from the brief period of Reconstruction, slavery was not replaced with a system of racial equality. Slavery was replaced with a regime of racially repressive laws in the South and racially repressive social norms in the North. Ending slavery only to impose another, albeit less severe, system of racial subordination on blacks is more akin to a slap in the face than an apology or reparations for slavery.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, atonement (apology and reparations) cannot logically begin until the atrocity ceases. Ending slavery itself cannot be viewed as a redress for slavery. That undertaking simply brings the injustice to an end, a precondition for atonement, but it does not itself constitute atonement for the injustice. Atonement can only come after the injustice has ended. For example, the act of liberating the Jews from Nazi concentration camps is not a reparation or an apology for the Holocaust.

7. Ward Connerly and Dinesh D’Souza argue that blacks have nothing to complain about because they are “better off as a result of slavery.” If it were not for slavery, blacks would be suffering in Africa today rather than living in the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.52

With all due respect to both Connerly and D’Souza—and putting aside the fact that neither mentions that we live in the freest and most prosperous nation in large part because of the slaves—they put forth a morally bankrupt distributive argument that can easily be dismissed by posing the following rhetorical question: should American Jews then be thankful for the Holocaust because it caused many of them to leave Germany for the United States and helped to establish the state of Israel in 1948? Good (p.195) ends—which, of course, is not what the slavers or Hitler intended for their victims—can never justify immoral means. Slave redress is less a question of distributive justice than a question of restorative justice.

8. The atonement model assumes a legislative rather than a litigation approach to slave redress. What happens if legislation fails?

Then we litigate, as happened in Tulsa. There, the Oklahoma legislature did not offer an apology for its role in the Tulsa race riot of 1921, even though its culpability was clearly established by a state commission it had set up to study that tragic event. Furthermore, the Oklahoma legislature adopted the commission’s findings and promised to provide rehabilitative reparations, but it failed to follow through. A lawsuit was then instituted to obtain compensation for the victims of the riot (see chapter 4). Redress litigation has yet to bear fruit, not because these cases lack merit—indeed, courts have yet to speak to the merits of these claims—but because they face serious procedural obstacles. But, that said, I wish to reiterate that even successful slave redress litigation has its limitations. Most important, it cannot bring about the type of forward-looking redress our country needs. Without an apology and reparations, the issue of forgiveness is never broached. And without forgiveness, there can be no racial reconciliation (see chapters 4 and 5).

9. Reparations are by definition asymmetrical measures; they are designed to benefit only the victims of the atrocity in question. Wouldn’t symmetrical measures, which are accessible to many more people, be a better way to win the legislative battle? Wouldn’t Congress be more inclined to pass legislation that was not race-specific?

Giving reparations a symmetrical look would distort the way in which reparations have been conceived in the modern international redress movement, of which the black redress movement is, in my view, a part. The purpose of reparations is to redress the atrocity in question so that both victim and perpetrator can establish or reestablish a healthy relationship. In addition to this historical purpose, asymmetrical measures are more logical and much more meaningful to the victims of the atrocity. Tailoring reparations to the atrocity that begets them heightens our awareness of the atrocity; it places the atrocity above the garden-variety of social wrongs for which (p.196) symmetrical measures are designed. There is little logic in atoning for the Holocaust by providing general aid to the citizens of Germany, or in atoning for Japanese American internment by strengthening Title VII or opening welfare eligibility. These reforms are distributive rather than restorative and hence miss the point of atonement. Distributive programs should be in place in spite of these atrocities. And so it is with slave redress. Renewing our commitment to racial equality, a hollow gesture at best, or undertaking a new war on poverty is not narrowly tailored to slavery or Jim Crow, the sine qua non of white-on-black oppression. Neither speaks to the moral enormity that these race-specific systems of subordination were. Racespecific harms require racespecific remedies.

True, such an approach may be politically unwise, and hence may exhibit a flaw in the atonement model. But I would argue that the real flaw is in our political system and the will of the American people. The flaw may lie in the character of the American people, in their unwillingness to push their representatives to apologize for slavery and Jim Crow, atrocities for which our government is undeniably responsible.

The argument that symmetrical measures should be used to atone for slavery and Jim Crow may reflect different concerns. It may exhibit a belief that the descendants of slaves are not seriously victimized by slavery or Jim Crow, or that race-specific measures are too racially divisive, that they constitute bad social policy. chapter 3 is an attempt to demonstrate the debilitating effect slavery and Jim Crow continue to exert on the higher education aspirations of black college students. I stand by that demonstration, which I believe can be replicated in other areas of American life.

The argument that race-specific measures constitute bad social policy is too solicitous of the views of unsympathetic white Americans; it does not give sufficient deference to the views of most black Americans. Not to do anything specific about slavery and Jim Crow is upsetting to most blacks and many whites. Moreover, any civil rights policy, whether symmetrical or asymmetrical, is racially divisive in this country. That, indeed, is the history of the struggle for racial justice in this country. Martin Luther King is a national hero today, but when he was alive pushing for civil rights, both symmetrical and asymmetrical, he was vilified by the majority of whites. Had he ceased his efforts so as not to upset whites, the nation’s civil rights record would be far worst than it is today.

(p.197) 10. A frequently asked question by white persons goes as follows: “I’m sure there is some black blood in my family. Am I entitled to a reparation?”

The short answer is that this question should be ignored because it is an attempt to trivialize the redress issue. On the other hand, the question does raise a serious matter for consideration—namely, the issue of eligibility—despite the speaker’s intent. This issue can also arise in connection with a black immigrant, say from Jamaica or Canada, who seeks reparations under the program.

Let me begin by saying I am in favor of self-identity. People should be allowed to determine their own race. But for purposes of receiving reparations for slavery or Jim Crow, that selfdetermination should be subjected to two constraints or checks to protect the integrity of the redress mission. One is honesty and the other is history. The recipient should be a person who has always represented himself as a black person. There was a case in Boston where two Italian brothers sought to benefit from an affirmative action program created in the city’s fire department by claiming their grandmother was black. The judge convened an evidentiary hearing for the purpose of determining their race sociologically; that is, whether they self-identified as blacks in their private and public lives. The photo they presented of their grandmother looked suspicious, and they could not establish that any of their friends or co-workers or their boss saw them as black. Their claim was a sham, and so it failed.

If the reparations claimant can establish that she or he is sociologically black, then he must satisfy another requirement—namely, a familial connection to slavery or the first fifty years of Jim Crow. Documents or testimony from a minister or other reputable persons who know the family’s history would be sufficient to establish the requisite nexus. The familyhistory requirement would naturally disqualify foreign-born blacks from the redress program for slavery or Jim Crow. They are not, however, left without a remedy. The race-based discrimination they face in America will have to be dealt with through our normal, symmetrical civil rights laws and enforcement.

11. It is impossible to calculate the amount of reparations to which each black American is entitled. Even if calculation were possible, how could something (p.198) like the atonement trust fund be financed, especially considering the fragile state of our post-9/11 economy?

Some blacks may be able to arrive at a reasonable amount of reparations due to them. This could be done with the assistance of family databases like the one at Louisiana State University discussed in chapter 1. Otherwise, individual reparations could be calculated on the basis of formulas presented in the work of Bittker and Pugh discussed in chapter 5.

Redress does not, however, have to be awarded on an individual basis. Redress can be rehabilitative (community-oriented), which I favor, rather than compensatory (focused on individuals). As discussed in chapter 5, scholarship funds, an atonement trust fund, and a museum of slavery are among the forms of rehabilitative reparations the government could create. None of these forms of redress involves the kind of logistical problems that can arise from the calculation of compensatory reparations.

Whether calculated at the group or individual level, reparations can be financed in a variety of ways, some better than others. As Professors William Darity and Dania Frank explain:

Public-finance theory suggests that nonblacks could finance [reparations]…by paying additional taxes, borrowing (dissaving), or lowering their spending. Alternatively, the United States could borrow by issuing government bonds to finance the reparations program. In general, African-Americans should not bear the tax burden of financing their own reparations payments. Blacks paid local, state, and federal taxes for more than 80 years while being disenfranchised in the U.S. South, a paradigmatic case of “taxation without representation.” If, however, taxes are levied universally to finance reparations, guarantees must be put in place that the reparations payment net of the tax is substantial for black taxpayers. Furthermore, reparations income should be tax-free.53

The claim that the nation cannot afford to pay for reparations after 9/11 is a canard, and an old one. It is the same reason given to the ex-slaves who pressed for reparations in the years following the Civil War, and to their descendants who continued to seek reparations in subsequent years, both before and after 9/11. Despite this claim of poverty, Congress in short order established a victim compensation fund of $3 billion for the 3,016 people who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. (p.199) Congress “found” this money, even though, unlike in the cases of slavery and Jim Crow, it lacked moral culpability for these particular tragedies.54

12. After 9/11, this is not a good time to point an accusatory finger at our government. In fact, to do so can only be construed as an unpatriotic act.

In the wake of the terrorists’ attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, Americans on both sides of the color line have become self-consciously patriotic in ways we have not seen since the days of World War II. This, then, would not seem to be the proper time for African Americans to point an accusatory finger at our government, let alone raise the issue of apology for slavery. What could be more unpatriotic than to raise the ugly specter of slavery at a time when Americans should be pulling together, closing ranks behind our president to fight the deadly threat of terrorism? What could be more socially divisive than to resurrect a national embarrassment that ended some 138 years ago?

Let me begin with what I take to be self-evident: loving one’s country is a weaker form of patriotism than loving one’s country because it is virtuous. Even conservatives like Dinesh D’Souza would agree with this observation. Indeed, D’Souza, an opponent of reparations, makes the point quite elegantly in What’s Great about America. Patriotism in its highest form, D’Souza argues, is more than just enthusiastic flag-waving in the days and months following September 11. It is more than joining the armed services to fight bin Laden or al-Qaeda. Patriotism is rallying around our country because its citizens and institutions—its culture—function from high moral ground. America tries to do the right thing, and that is why we love America. D’Souza quotes Edmund Burke’s lovely words, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”55

In fact, D’Souza argues, Americans cannot effectively respond to the most sensible Islamic critique of American culture without basing that response on virtue. It is not enough to say our culture is better than Islamic culture because we are more prosperous than Islamic societies. Nor is it sufficient to say we are better because we exercise more freedoms—especially political and religious freedoms—or because we are more tolerant of others—particularly of women and foreigners—than those living under Islamic regimes. In short, American exceptionalism is not a good defense of America these days.

(p.200) The best Islamic critics do not deny American exceptionalism. But, as D’Souza correctly observes, they demur to it, dismissing our prosperity and freedoms as “worthless triviality.” The best and the brightest of Islamic scholars argue that the things that make us exceptional are not the most important values of a society—virtue is. Virtue is the highest value of the good society. Virtue is the will of God, and it is the will of God that the Islamic world is trying to implement. That is what makes the Islamic culture morally superior to America and Western culture in general. Even though we may have fallen short of our goal, the Islamic argument continues, at least we are trying. Yes, “the United States and the West may be materially advanced but they are morally decadent…, especially in the sexual domain.”56 Jerry Springer; Howard Stern; Dennis Rodman; Madonna; the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. “Hey! American man! You are a godless rapist of your grandmother’s pet goat.”57

D’Souza believes America must respond to the Islamic critique of the West by acknowledging the fundamental truth of the Islamic premise—in other words, virtue is the highest goal of the good society—but then follow that admission with a brilliant observation: Islamic societies can never be truly virtuous because they lack what the West has in abundant supply—namely, liberty. Freedom is a necessary and essential condition of a virtuous society. The Islamic woman who is required to wear a veil is not modest, D’Souza argues, because she is being forced to wear it. A coerced virtue is no virtue at all: “The fundamental difference between the society that the Islamic fundamentalists want and the society that Americans have is that the Islamic activists seek a country where the life of the citizens is directed by others, while Americans live in a nation where the life of the citizens is largely self-directed…. The Islamic fundamentalists presume the moral superiority of the externally directed life on the grounds that it is aimed at virtue. The self-directed life, however, also seeks virtue—virtue realized not through external command but, as it were, ‘from within.’”58 Liberty is what makes the West more likely to achieve virtue than the Islamic world, although decadence is an inescapable possibility of a free society.

With this type of thinking, D’Souza should be an unabashed supporter of a governmental apology for slavery, but he is not. Like most conservatives, D’Souza does not believe “that racism today [is] potent enough and widespread enough that it could prevent [any person of color, including (p.201) blacks,] from achieving their basic aspirations.”59 These aspirations, according to D’Souza, are “to be in the entering class at Berkeley and Yale,” to have “more seats in the boardroom at Microsoft and General Electric,” and “greater representation in the Congress.”60

While I certainly do not agree with D’Souza’s argument that race has become a trivial matter for blacks in our society, as it has for certain nonblack racial minorities,61 that argument is quite beside the point, because apology is about the perpetrator’s virtue. Apology is the virtuous act of honoring the lives of the millions of dead slaves who contributed to the economic development of this country without so much as receiving a paycheck. If it is virtuous to construct a memorial for the victims of 9/11, then it is surely virtuous to pay similar tribute to the millions of slaves who died in forced service to this country.

My response to the 9/11 argument, then, is simply this: the atonement model is an affirmation rather than a negation of the new American patriotism. This new patriotism, unlike the old patriotism, encourages us to love our country, not simply because it is our country, but because it is “lovely”—that is, virtuous, morally decent. Apologizing for slavery and Jim Crow is an important demonstration of this new patriotism, because no government can commit an atrocity as large as slavery and simply walk away from it, without so much as offering an apology, and call itself “virtuous.” The government that turns its back on its moral transgressions cannot expect to have credibility when it criticizes the moral shortcomings of other nations. Apologizing for its own atrocities is something our government, with the support of the American people, should choose to do, because it is the morally correct thing to do. Atonement gives shape and substance to flag-waving. Atonement says to the world that America has not only grown stronger over the years but also grown up.

13. Opinion polls indicate that white Americans simply do not support reparations. No politician will support such a politically unpopular program.

If black Americans had waited for favorable white opinion before pursuing racial justice, the civil rights movement would have never gotten off the ground when it did. Dr. Martin Luther King would have never marched or spoken so eloquently on behalf of racial justice. Indeed, it is because of negative white attitudes that blacks had to seek civil rights and, in the (p.202) process, educate whites. Educating whites about reparations is one of the missions of this book. Much of what Americans on both sides of the color line know about reparations is based on the tort model, not the atonement model. Proponents of reparations, many of whom are white, must fight to shift the focus from the unappealing tort model to the more palatable atonement model and to maintain that focus.

This effort must be directed toward politicians as well, and must include getting them to lead rather than to follow “the people.” That, indeed, is the role they are supposed to play under our form of government. As Brian M. Carney has stated, “It is precisely to temper the passions of the people that we resort to representative rather than direct democracy. Such a form of government, in turn, imposes an obligation on our elected leaders—not merely to follow public opinion but to shape it.”62 Joe Feagin and Eileen O’Brien are hopeful that effective leadership on racial matters can come from the current group of political, business, and civil leaders. Their research demonstrates that elite white males, the “baby boomer” generation, are persistently and strongly progressive on racial matters.63 This certainly works to the benefit of the atonement model.

14. What precisely should blacks do to help repair the broken relationship with America? How should they contribute to racial reconciliation?

With the government’s genuine apology for slavery and Jim Crow, with the construction of the museum of slavery, and with the creation of the atonement trust fund, slave descendants will have good reason to embrace America as a country that is worthy of their respect—a country that does not ignore its discriminatory past or the consequences that flow therefrom. Atonement should convince disaffected blacks that it is time to change their behaviors and attitudes toward America. After atonement, it will be difficult to justify the racial chip so many slave descendants wear on their shoulder, in some instances as a badge of honor. In a postatonement America, slave descendants will simply have no right to be angry about centuries of racial exploitation, no reason to feel largely constrained by the past, no logic to act, like Styron’s Sophie, in a self-sustained, self-destructive protest against “the man,” or “the system.” To the rapper’s and hip-hop’s legitimate charge of racial desperation—“I’m sorry if my language offends you, but it can’t offend you any more than the world your generation has (p.203) left me to deal with”64—a postatonement U.S. government can legitimately respond: “Get over it; for you now have the means and, hence, good reason to relinquish racial anger and resentment and, in turn, release yourself from an imprisoning life.”

It would, however, be Pollyannaish to expect disaffected slave descendants to adopt, at least initially, the star-spangled view of America that is held by so many immigrants of color, such as the Somali refugee working as a police officer in an inner-city neighborhood who gushes: “I go to work every day, put my life on the line—and it is a pleasure to do that…because this country I owe a lot. I owe my life and my family’s life. So the most precious thing I can offer to this country is not money, not time, but my life. That is my intent—to…be a good citizen. There is no place like the United States, when it comes to immigrants.”65 It will take a period of demonstrated success before postatonement slave descendants can be expected to imbibe the immigrant’s uncritical love of America. Slave descendants are casualties of America’s history of race relations; new immigrants of color are not. Even second- and third-generation immigrants of color, whose people were not enslaved by this government, have racial sensibilities that are quite different from those of slave descendants. As discussed in chapter 5, what is problematic about America for slave descendants is not necessarily problematic for other persons of color.

Thus, unlike other racial minorities, slave descendants have, at best, mixed feelings about this country. There is the desire for worldly success, but not on the terms set by “the man.” Anger, defiance, low self-esteem, and even self-hate can overwhelm the drive to succeed. This racial outlook is particularly strong among the young, and is reflected in such youthful conventions as the use of the “revisionist self-denigrating” term “nigga,” or “thug life.”66 Disaffected young blacks “take the racism they feel and use it to soothe their pain. Not only criminal behavior, but defiance and disruption in the classroom, irresponsible sex, and even the word “nigga” (perhaps the worst racial insult possible), all become self-identifying features of an authentic ‘blackness’ for these young [blacks].”67 These behaviors and attitudes are certainly self-destructive, yet they are merely reactive to white-on-black oppression. If one could only walk for a day in the shoes of these young Americans—young black males, in particular—one would instantly understand this.68

While it will take some doing to manage dueling emotions, the government’s (p.204) apology and reparations will give slave descendants a much greater investment in America than they now have. With a genuine sense of belonging to the American family, slave descendants should begin to see themselves not as limited by skin color as they once were, and even less limited by racial anger, preatonement. The atonement trust fund will give them the financial and human capital needed to overcome many of the lingering effects of slavery and Jim Crow, including low-performing public schools and meager family resources to sustain a college education. If the trust fund does its job, slave descendants should have no felt need to soothe their despair in drugs and street crime or attempt to wield these pernicious elements as misguided forms of protests. In a postatonement America, slave descendants should feel secure enough in their investment as citizens to overlook everyday sources of racial friction—such as the sales clerk’s dirty look or the carload of whites who yell racial slurs as they speed by. There should also be more of a willingness to submit to industrial discipline fully—playing by the rules of the workplace—as the primary reason to hold back — silent protest against a racially unjust America—will have faded.

None of this means slave descendants will be free from all racism in postatonement America. Atonement will not obviate the need for ongoing civil rights reforms. Slave descendants will have to continue to use our civil rights laws to fight racial discrimination wherever it occurs. Atonement only means that slave descendants now have reason to begin to trust the government’s commitment to racial justice.

I find the experience of Lawrence Mugin, a Harvard-educated lawyer, who by his own admission made a conscious effort to be “the good black,” most instructive as I ponder the knotty question of how slave descendants might proceed toward racial reconciliation in postatonement America. Paul Barrett writes about his former Harvard classmates with both insight and sensitivity in The Good Black:

Despite his alienation from his past and membership in the contemporary version of DuBois’ talented tenth, Mungin wasn’t immune to infuriating stereotypes in middle-class white circles. When he returned from work dressed in a suit, he got friendly nods from neighbors in his apartment complex in Alexandria, Virginia. Later the same evening, however, wearing sweat clothes on his way to the gym, he found that the same neighbors would visibly tense up. On the elevator, some women would punch the (p.205) control panel and get off at the next floor, or clutch their handbag to their chest, as if Mungin were about to rip it away from them.

“I understand what’s going through their minds, but how do you think that makes me feel?” Mungin asked angrily. “I’m black, so they think I’m going to rob or rape them. But I’m the same person who walks in with the Armani suit. Don’t they see me? The answer is no. They see a black man. I am the one who is robbed. I am robbed of my reputation because of the color of my skin.”

Race had crept up on Mungin and forced its way into his life. In his youth, he had avoided the issue—amazingly—and had few visible racial scars from that period. But he encountered isolated examples of hostility as soon as he arrived at Harvard. As a rule, he didn’t react outwardly; he walked away. But by the time he reached his mid-30s, he had accumulated enough unhappy experiences that it was becoming difficult to contain his building anger. The effort made him weary. It left him confused about his black identity. He couldn’t ignore it anymore, as was illustrated by his asking the question at his job interview about the number of black [attorneys] in Katten Muchin’s Washington office. Being the sole black attorney worried him, but he didn’t want to make a stink about it. When some of the black secretaries at Katten Muchin went out of their way to strike up conversations with him, and he learned that they had various grievances tied to race, he did nothing to investigate or come to their aid. Indeed, he speculated in conversation with his brother, Kenneth, that the secretaries were using race as an excuse, that they might be cooking up an unjustified lawsuit. Larry sounded to Kenneth as if “he was the big company man—just work hard, everything will be fine, no complaining,” Kenneth told me later. In retrospect, Larry felt chagrined that he had dismissed the secretaries’ complaints so quickly. “I didn’t go into the place looking for discrimination,” he said.69

Not so ironically, Mungin would later sue his employer, the Katten Muchin law firm, for employment discrimination in denying him a much-deserved partnership.

The lesson I draw from this story is that even “the good black” can expect an uneasy existence as she achieves worldly success in postatonement America. For those who think this assessment is too bleak, I cite the sobering story of the white New Orleans judge who attended a 2003 Halloween party costumed in blackface makeup, an afro wig, and a prison jumpsuit with shackles around his wrists and ankles. That and countless similar stories (p.206) middle-class blacks tell in private strongly suggest that even well-educated, well-mannered slave descendants will have to continue to be on guard against racial discrimination.70 Indeed, such continuing racism will make it very difficult for slave descendants to see themselves as unblack. Yet, atonement—the government’s demonstrated commitment to racial justice—will give slave descendants the internal resolve and external means to overcome much of that racism and, hence, that instinctive sense of hopelessness that can result from racial subordination.


(1) . After writing this chapter, I received a copy of “Justice and Greed: Black and White Support for Reparations” (MS, 2003) by Professor Michael Dawson of Harvard University and Professor Rovana Popoff of the University of Chicago. Many of the points raised in this excellent paper are presented in this chapter. Nonetheless, I believe the paper is worth reading, as is Charles J. Ogletree, “Repairing the Past: New Efforts in the Reparations Debate in America,” Harvard Civil Rights–Civil Liberties Law Review 38 (2003): 279.

(2) . Christopher Hitchens, “Who’s Sorry Now,” Nation, May 29, 2000, 9. See, e.g., Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London: Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, 1972).

(3) . Davis, In the Image of God, 134–35. See Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), 96.

(4) . These remarks are taken from a speech discussed in the Epilogue.

(5) . Howard W. French, “The Atlantic Slave Trade: On Both Sides, Reason for Remorse,” in When Sorry Isn’t Enough, ed. Brooks, 355, 357 (interviewing Basil Davidson).

(6) . Ibid.

(7) . Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835–39), ed. and trans. Harvey (p.267) C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 327.

(8) . Davis, In the Image of God, 130–31 n. 1. See also, Nathaniel Weyl, The Negro in American Civilization (Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1960), 9–10; Carleton S. Coon, The Story of Man: From the First Human to Primitive Culture and Beyond (New York: Knopf, 1954), 211 ff.

(9) . A precise estimate of the number of slaves taken to the Americas is hard to come by because of the absence of careful or uniform record keeping. For a discussion of the problem, see, e.g., Franklin and Moss, From Slavery to Freedom, 39; Weyl, Negro in American Civilization, 9.

(10) . Davis, In the Image of God, 130.

(11) . Ibid., 135 n. 19, citing Robert W. Harms, River of Wealth, River of Sorrow: The Central Zaire Basin in the Era of the Slave and Ivory Trade, 1500–1891 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981).

(12) . See Claude Meillassoux, The Anthropology of Slavery: The Womb of Iron and Gold, trans. Alide Dasnois (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

(13) . Scott McLemee, “The Slave History You Don’t Know: A Scholar’s Startling Study of the Southwest Wins Unprecedented Acclaim,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 16, 2003, p A14 (quotations from interview with James F. Brooks). See James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

(14) . Aristotle, Works, trans. W. D. Ross, in Great Books of the Western World, ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins, vol. 9 (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), 2: 448–49, Politics 1.1255a [5]–[35]. See also Davis, In the Image of God, 128–30.

(15) . The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. 3, Donald B. Redford, editor in chief (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 294.

(16) . Weyl, Negro in American Civilization, 5. See William E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (1869; reprint, New York: G. Braziller, 1955), 327 (arguing that “the slave code of Imperial Rome compares not unfavorably with those of some Christian nations”).

(17) . Weyl, Negro in American Civilization, 6. It has also been suggested that the Christian churches believed that “slavery would not be permitted in an ideal world of perfect justice, but was simply a fact of life that symbolized the compromises that must be made in the sinful world of reality.” Davis, In the Image of God, 130. On Greek and Roman slavery, see, generally, Wiedemann, Greek and Roman Slavery.

(18) . Weyl, Negro in American Civilization, 5.

(19) . Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 327 ff.

(20) . Weyl, Negro in American Civilization, 3–4, 5. See Ludwig Friedlaender, (p.268) Roman Life and Manners under the Early Empire (London: Routledge, 1928), 1, 33–70.

(21) . Dred Scott v. Sandford, at 408. See chapter 2 for a clarification of the Court’s infamous characterization of black rights.

(22) . Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 327.

(23) . Weyl, Negro in American Civilization, 10.

(24) . Davis, In the Image of God, 133.

(25) . The Cynics, Stoics, and other Greek philosophers objected to wide acceptance of human bondage in Greek society. While not evidence of a change in Greek thinking about slavery, these dissenting voices do indicate that support for slavery in Greek society was hardly unanimous. See Davis, In the Image of God, 129. For a general discussion of slavery in Greek society, see Thomas Wiedemann, Greek and Roman Slavery (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).

(26) . Weyl, Negro in American Civilization, 5.

(27) . Ibid., 6.

(28) . Ibid., 8. The Justinian Code, which codified the law and custom of the Roman Empire, exhibited an “extraordinarily humane attitude” toward the slaves. For example, it permitted a free woman to marry a slave upon the consent of the slave’s master.

(29) . Ibid.

(30) . See Robert C. H. Shell, Children of Bondage: A Social History of the Slave Society at the Cape of Good Hope, 1652–1813 (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1994), 332–70.

(31) . Davis, In the Image of God, 131 n. 1. “This eruption of antislavery thought,” Davis points out, “cannot be explained by economic interest. The Atlantic slave system, far from being in decay, had never appeared so prosperous, so secure, or so full of promise.” Ibid. It was just that “[b]y the 1730s, arguments in favor of slavery, including the one that equated it with war, were beginning to appear absurd to a generation of English and French writers who had learned from Locke and others to take an irreverent view of past authority and to subject all questions to the test of reason…. [Ironically,] John Locke, the great enemy of all absolute and arbitrary power, had been the last major philosopher to seek a justification for absolute and perpetual slavery.” Ibid., 132–33.

(32) . See Shell, Children of Bondage, 332–70.

(33) . David McCullough, John Adams (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), 131.

(34) . See, e.g., Feagin, Racist America, 15.

(35) . These words appear in the opening lines of the Declaration itself. See, e.g., The U.S. Constitution and Fascinating Facts About It, 6th ed., supplemental text by Robert F. Tedeschi Jr. (Naperville, Ill.: Oak Hill Publishing, 1996), 45.

(p.269) (36) . McCullough, John Adams, 131. See also ibid., 131–33. Vermont’s constitution outlawed slavery in 1777. See, e.g., Davis, In the Image of God, 134.

(37) . See, e.g., Camille Paglia, “Ask Camille: Camille Paglia’s Online Advice for the Culturally Disgruntled,” in When Sorry Isn’t Enough, ed. Brooks, 353–54; Should America Pay? Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations, ed. Raymond A. Win-bush (New York: Amistad, 2003), pt. 3 (“Voices for and against Reparations”).

(38) . Brooks, Structures of Judicial Decision-Making, 209–10 (sources cited therein).

(39) . Richard Delgado, “Linking Arms: Recent Books on Interracial Coalition as an Avenue of Social Reform,” Cornell Law Review 88 (2003): 855, 870 (citations omitted). See Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106 (1993): 1709.

(40) . See Feagin, Racist America.

(41) . Robert S. McElvaine, “They Didn’t March to Free the Slaves,” in When Sorry Isn’t Enough, ed. Brooks, 358, 359.

(42) . Vivian B. Martin, “Everyone Stands to Gain from Reparations Debate,” Hartford Courant, November 7, 2002, A17.

(43) . Wu, Yellow, 18.

(44) . Jennifer Fleischner, “Remembering Slavery,” in When Sorry Isn’t Enough, ed. Brooks, 333, 334.

(45) . Local 28, Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 474.

(46) . U.S. Constitution, Amend. 14, sec. 1.

(47) . Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1).

(48) . Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. 1971(a)(1).

(49) . See, generally, Roy L. Brooks, Gilbert Paul Carrasco and Michael Selmi, Civil Rights Litigation: Cases and Perspectives, 2d ed. (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2000), ch. 10.

(50) . See Jacobs v. Barr, 959 F.2d 313 (D.C. Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 831 (1992).

(51) . See James M. McPherson, For Cause & Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 117–30.

(52) . D’Souza, What’s So Great about America? 59. Connerly’s remarks were made in a debate on reparations between the two of us that aired on MSNBC in March 2002.

(53) . William Darity and Dania Frank, “The Economics of Reparations,” Political Economy of Ending Racism and the WCAR, 93, no. 2 (May 2003): 326, 328.

(54) . See Diana B. Henriques, “Concern Growing as Families Bypass 9/11 Victims’ Fund,” New York Times, main section, August 31, 2003, 1. Some victims have chosen litigation over the federal payout. See Larry Neumeister, “Ruling Opens Door for 9/11 Lawsuits,” San Diego Union-Tribune, September 10, 2003, A6.

(p.270) (55) . D’Souza, What’s So Great about America? 28.

(56) . Ibid., at 133.

(57) . Ibid., quoting Salman Rushdie.

(58) . Ibid., at 189–90.

(59) . Ibid., 101–2.

(60) . Ibid., 172.

(61) . See chapter 3. For much of the past dozen years, I have attempted to document and argue that race matters. See, e.g., Brooks, Rethinking the American Race Problem; id., Integration or Separation; Brooks, Carrasco and Selmi, Civil Rights Litigation.

(62) . Brian M. Carney, “Bookshelf: What Machiavelli Can Still Teach Us, Even in a Democracy,” Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2003, D8

(63) . See Joe Feagin and Eileen O’Brien, White Men on Race: Power, Privilege, and the Shaping of Cultural Consciousness (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003).

(64) . Michael Eric Dyson, Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2001), 153, quoting the rap artist Tupac Shakur.

(65) . Peter Rowe, “Peace Officer: Refugee Brings Sense of Justice to Little Mogadishu,” San Diego Union-Tribune, November 9, 2003, E1.

(66) . See Dyson, Holler If You Hear Me, 144. Rap artist Tupac Sakur, who died a violent death at the age of 25 in September, 1996, coined the expression “thug life” in an attempt to rescue the hip-hop term “nigga,” or “nigger,” “by redefining it” to stand for an “underdog” who is “never ignorant [and] get[s] goals accomplished” (ibid.). Yet, the absurdity of this misadventure is irrefutably demonstrated by the fact that “historically astute and racially sensitive whites have rarely attempted to use the term, even with black friends. When these whites stepped out of bounds, black friends or colleagues readily set them straight” (ibid., 145.). If the revisionism were successful, blacks rappers would feel pride rather than pain when their savvy white friends used their invention. The hip-hop generation is not the first generation of blacks to use the derogatory “N” word as a form of civil rights protest. The black comedian Dick Gregory, for example, used the term in this manner in the 1960s. See Dick Gregory, Nigger: An Autobiography (New York: Dutton, 1964). See generally Randall Kennedy, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word (New York: Pantheon Books, 2002).

(67) . Brooks et al., Civil Rights Litigation, 684.

(68) . It took his own drug addiction for the controversial, conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh to understand the extent to which an individual can be “powerless to overcome his addiction.” See “Limbaugh Returns to Radio after Rehab for Painkillers,” San Diego Union-Tribune, November 18, 2003, A8. Prior to being caught purchasing drugs illegally, Limbaugh stated these harsh words, “Too many whites are getting away with drug use. Find the ones who are gettingaway (p.271) with it…and send them up the river” (Evan Thomas, “Cover Story: Rush Limbaugh’s World of Pain,” Newsweek, October 20, 2003, 45).

(69) . Paul M. Barrett, The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America (New York: Dutton, 1999), 42–43.

(70) . See “La. Judge Ripped for Halloween Costume,” San Diego Union-Tribune, November 11, 2003, A6.