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President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others look on. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office, 2 July 1964.

Why Reparations and Equity Are Bad Ideas

As a Black, Caribbean immigrant who identifies as a patriot of our great republic I am often asked why I take such a strong stance against issues such as reparations, antiracism, systemic racism, Critical Race Theory, and Diversity Equity and Inclusion movements as they are promulgated today. If I could give an answer standing on one foot in a single sentence it would be this:

All such movements presuppose that by constitutional design the United States of America is ineradicably racist (in its cultural DNA so to speak) and require a radical political and moral rebranding to remedy the sins of its past.

The reparation movements, for example, overlook the fact that reparations have already been paid to Blacks. The Third Founding of the United States in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its various amendments, such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and other attendant pursuant articles and legal enfranchisements for Blacks, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 and subsequent affirmative action programs, constitute reparations. I place reparations for Black Americans into the plethora of affirmative action programs that set aside preferential policies in education and employment for Blacks and women. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was as revolutionary as the founding of America and the Bill of Rights. Not only did it single-handedly right the wrongs of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, but in this unique moment in U.S. history, in (arguably) justifiably violating the property rights of U.S. citizens, it was the most audacious act of cultural and moral eugenics ever leveled against the United States of America. By this I mean that it resulted in the broadest moral resocialization and social engineering program of White Americans in the history of this country. The concomitant moral eugenics was a form of moral paternalism and intrusion in the conscience of White Americans. It was an abrogation of freedom of conscience and the application of that conscience in concretized, material form.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, enacted on July 2 of that year, was a landmark civil rights and labor law that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and later, sexual orientation. It prohibits unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in all schools and public accommodations, and any employment discrimination. Under the Act, Congress asserted its authority to legislate under various parts of the Constitution, especially to regulate interstate commerce. It guaranteed all citizens equal protection under the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment and exercised its duty to protect voting rights under the Fifteenth Amendment.

The target of the 1964 Act was as much Whites as it was Blacks—and not just in the sense of mandating that Whites cease egregious practices of discrimination against Blacks, but rather, that Whites become entirely new types of persons by undergoing a moral makeover.

The state had been the biggest manufacturer of systemic racism by creating laws that barred Blacks from full entrance into mainstream society, and had been a great socializer in the formation of the ethos, mores, norms, and values that shaped the sensibilities of Whites. In short, it made it difficult for non-racist Whites to be non-racist in their dealings with Blacks. Homeowners and hoteliers were not free to sell or rent to whomever they chose regardless of race, and miscegenation laws prohibited interracial marriage. Conceptions of the good life were vastly limited for Blacks based on their racial identities created not by private citizens but by the state. The establishment of racial taxonomies, of miscegenation laws, of redlining policies, and of discriminatory housing and school policies were all creations of the state—the biggest and most nefarious enemy of Black Americans who had deputized and socialized ordinary American citizens into a cult of racist practices against their fellow citizens.

In granting Blacks full equality before the law, the state reversed a metaphysical crime it had long been guilty of committing against the former slaves: failure to apply the principle of legal egalitarianism to one group of people for a morally neutral reason—their ascriptive racial identity.

As far as the Diversity Equity and Inclusion movement goes, the real goal here is equity. And the goal of DEI is to conflate equity with equality. They two are different concepts. Equality means treating everyone the same regardless of ethnic or racial affiliation. Equity demands legislating equal results from unequal causes. It is a nefarious idea that must be explained properly so people can reject it outright.

Those who uphold the principle of equity are attempting to advocate the idea that all men are actually born with or acquire talents, skills, and capabilities of equal proportion in intelligence, strength, discipline, perseverance, frugality, temperance, tenacity, exercise of our rational faculty, wisdom, moral sensibility, and a plethora of other dispositions that determine outcomes.

Equity advocates attempt to pass over on society the following idea: if such talents, capabilities, and dispositions were not equally allocated among the races and among individuals, then the state would need to artificially interfere and ensure that equality of outcomes and results preceded equality of opportunity. That is, they mandate equal results from unequal causes, and equal rewards for unequal performance.

Opportunities arise as human beings are left free to pursue their values and exercise efforts on behalf of their lives. Values result from attributes persons possess, which cannot be redistributed.

Equality of results (i.e., equity) advocates a sort of magical thinking. They take any disparity in income between the races as causally reducible to the residual effects of slavery.

The equity appropriators fail to realize that economic inequality is the inevitable result of the fact that human beings were not born equal; but they avoid also the fact that the United States was founded not upon the principle of economic equality, but political equality.

Wealth that is privately created by individual effort is not created on the assumption that the creator of that wealth will end up with an equal share of his wealth. Quite the opposite. As Yaron Brooks points out in his book Equal is Unfair: if I plant ten apple trees on an island, and Jack plants five, one cannot say I have grabbed a bigger part of the island’s apple pie, so to speak. I have created more wealth than Jack, and I have left him no worse off. It would be absurd to say that I have stolen fifty percent of the island’s wealth. If Jack especially made a choice not to plant extra tress, having rather spent his time relaxing under a coconut tree, there is no reason why I should be penalized for the extra initiative I have taken in planting the extra apple trees and cultivating them.

By participating in the massive welfare reparations programs of the 1960s, Black Americans were complicit in their own stigmatization that came to be associated with the wealth extortion wealthier Americans paid for their financial upkeep. Blacks sold out their autonomy, sovereignty, and pride for entitlements they were told they deserved. They voluntarily evicted themselves from that competitive and venturesome realm in which the American Dream is achieved. The American Dream, however, was never achieved through a government handout.

The persistence of racism continues. But to causally link all disparities between Blacks and Whites to either slavery itself or the residual effects of slavery such as Jim Crow seems untenable. As I have argued in my book, What Do White American Owe Black People: Racial Justice in the Age of Post-Oppression, not only did the 1964 Civil rights Act and its attendant amendments outlaw racism, it morally transformed America in overturning a form of systemic racism that had been the norm. Today, there are no policies directly aimed at destroying the lives of Blacks. There are no laws that are punitive simply on the basis of racial ascription.

Systemically, our public and private institutions are just not suffused with attitudes, policies, and mores that would seek to keep Blacks out of such institutions, and more importantly, outside the domain of the ethical and the pantheon of the human community. What generally has not been discussed, and which I do tackle at length in my book, are some of the pathologies that exist in the Black community that speak for many of these disparities. Until the 1960s, poverty did not entail a social dysfunction in the Black community. The marriage rate in the Black community was higher than it was in the White community despite economic deprivation and virulent racism. In 1925, for example, 85 percent of Black families were a husband and wife raising their children. Today the out-of-wedlock births among Black people is nearly 71 percent.

Blacks are now part of the sovereign mass. The achievement of that status prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act was not theirs to claim and enjoy entirely. Like all persons who, through legislative and judicial processes, are admitted into the judicial and ethical pantheon, they must face harsh truths. There will be inequities, inequalities, and disparities. But life itself is not predicated on equality because, again, we are all not equal. In fact, disparity and inequality are the norm. What must be secured are the foundations of freedom and liberty and equality of rights. END

About the Author

Jason D. Hill is professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago specializing in ethics, social and political philosophy, American foreign policy, and moral psychology. He is the author of five books, including We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to the American People and What Do White Americans Owe Black People: Racial Justice in the Age of Post-Oppression. Dr. Hill has been published in The Federalist, The American Mind, The American Thinker, Commentary Magazine, Spiked Magazine, and Salon, and interviewed on NBC’s Today Show, Fox News, NPR, and several other mainstream media outlets. He is also a contributor to The Hill. Follow him on Twitter @JasonDhill6.

This article was published on December 20, 2022.

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