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Reparations Now!

April 24, 2001

The idea of reparations for slavery is in the air these days, and I must say that as a white American my first reaction was negative. My ancestors had nothing to do with the slave trade, as far as I know.

On my father’s side they were Ruthenians, on the western verge of Ukraine, pretty far from both Africa and Mississippi. Even on the venerable principle of hereditary guilt, I’m pretty clear of participation in American slavery.

Some of my forebears on my mother’s side were Massachusetts yankees. It’s barely possible, I suppose, that they participated in the importing of slaves, but I’d like to see proof. In any case, I didn’t inherit any of the profits, so how can I make reparations at this late date?

But of course the case for reparations isn’t a matter of personal responsibility. That’s an outmoded idea. It’s larger and subtler. The new idea is that all white Americans, even recent arrivals, are the beneficiaries of black slavery. So all of them should pony up.

Put that way, as I say, the proposition doesn’t hold much appeal for me. But there is a larger principle here that does have possibilities, when you think about it.

When the 13 American colonies broke free of Great Britain, they were content to gain their political independence. That was all they asked, and that was what they settled for when they signed the peace treaty in Paris in 1783. It was a simpler age.

But now, with the aid of modern psychology, we can understand the deeper issue which has never been properly addressed. I refer of course to the profound trauma, the lasting wounds, of nearly two centuries of British colonialism.

Do you think these things just go away overnight? The pain of subjugation, the economic exploitation, the stigma of inferiority, and of course the Stamp Act — nobody can put a price tag on these things. We can only demand all the money we (and our finest legal talent) can get, recognizing that it’s still bound to be inadequate.

[Breaker quote: 'Sir' Sean Connery 
and other knaves]To this day, the British are felt to be culturally “superior.” Americans have internalized the values of their oppressors so deeply that they still admire the English just for having British accents, which are regarded as tony even if they’re only cockney. Academy Awards are given to English actors merely for speaking elegantly, even if they’re playing cannibals. Working-class Brits like Richard Burton and Michael Caine come here and suddenly they’re aristocrats.

Every time the queen knights one of these birds — “Sir” Michael Caine, “Sir” Anthony Hopkins, and my own favorite, “Sir” Sean Connery — it raises their market value by millions of dollars, because in this land of equality we worship “Sirs.” In this country any fool can become a tycoon, but you can’t become a “Sir.” (Or a “Dame.” An American woman will slap you for calling her a dame, but in England it’s the female version of a “Sir.”)

When he first came to Hollywood, Laurence Olivier used to make fun of “professional Englishmen” in the movies. That was before he became “Sir” Laurence Olivier, the most successful professional Englishman of them all.

And let’s not forget Princess Di. This country took her death harder than England did. She probably spent more time (and made more money) here than at home. But ask yourself one question: did she number any Americans among her many lovers? Of course not. How do you think that made American men feel? But it was only one in a long history of snubs.

So we’ve made the Brits feel they’re bestowing an honor on us every time they come over here and take our money. They never think of making amends for the scars they’ve left on us, because we gratefully pay them for inflicting and exploiting those scars.

We say all men are created equal and titles of nobility are banned by the Constitution, but you’d never know it from the way we grovel when a titled Englishman deigns to favor us with one of those faint, thin-lipped smiles. It has to stop.

I say let’s soak these Brits for all they’re worth. Their fortunes were built, and are still being built, on the backs of white Americans. We are victims! Reparations now!

Joseph Sobran

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Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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