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 fathers 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, Im pretty
clear of participation in American slavery.
Some of my forebears on my mothers
side were Massachusetts yankees. Its barely possible, I suppose, that they
participated in the importing of slaves, but Id like to see proof. In any case,
I didnt inherit any of the profits, so how can I make reparations at this late
But of course the case for reparations
isnt a matter of personal responsibility. Thats an outmoded idea.
Its 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
Put that way, as I say, the proposition
doesnt 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 its still bound to be inadequate.
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 theyre only
cockney. Academy Awards are given to English actors merely for speaking
elegantly, even if theyre playing cannibals. Working-class Brits like
Richard Burton and Michael Caine come here and suddenly theyre
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
cant become a Sir. (Or a Dame. An American
woman will slap you for calling her a dame, but in England its 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 lets 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 weve made the Brits feel
theyre bestowing an honor on us every time they come over here and take
our money. They never think of making amends for the scars theyve 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 youd 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 lets soak these Brits for all
theyre worth. Their fortunes were built, and are still being built, on the
backs of white Americans. We are victims! Reparations now!
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