Monday, December 7, 2020







          Reparations, claimed a commentary in California’s largest newspaper, are the answer to Black protesters’ demands for racial justice.


          Nonsense, responded many others, in letters to the editor and online comments. Modern whites, Asian-Americans and others had nothing to do with slavery, which ended long before anyone alive today was born.


          It’s a subject so potentially consequential that Gov. Gavin Newsom, in one of his quieter moves of the fall, signed a new law creating a nine-person state panel to study the concept.


          This was because there can be little doubt that many consequences of more than 200 years of black chattel slavery live on today. Whenever academic performance is measured, blacks trail far behind whites at every grade level. The number of black children born out of wedlock tops all other racial and ethnic groups in this nation. And so on…


          What does all this have to do with slavery? The new state task force might find connections – or not.


          For sure, there is plenty of precedent for the federal government paying reparations to groups against which it discriminated in the past. The Office of Redress Administration, set up under President Ronald Reagan in 1988, paid $20,000 to each Japanese-American person sent to internment camps just after Pearl Harbor. If actual prisoners in those camps were no longer alive by then, their heirs got the money.


          Long before Reagan’s administration carried out those reparations, Japanese-Americans during 1948 and 1949 received more than $37 million in federal compensation for lost property. The payments were similar in kind, if not quantity, to the $89 billion Germany has paid since World War II to compensate murdered Jews and their heirs. Germany still funds home care and pensions for elderly Holocaust survivors around the world.


          How discriminatory was the Japanese-American internment? Virtually all Nisei were interned, but no group punishment or other scheme interfered during World War II with the lives of German-Americans.


          This was pure racial discrimination: While not a single Japanese-American was ever implicated for anti-American activity, plenty of German-Americans promoted Nazi goals in this country. The recent Showtime series Penny Dreadful depicted some of their activity in California.


          Meanwhile, no American government has paid reparations to former slaves or their heirs. Nor has there been a formal apology for slavery. Not even for the fact that African Americans stem from the only major immigrant population to arrive in America against its will.


          Descendants of slaves may still be paying for some deliberately cruel slaveholder practices. If modern blacks perform worse academically than whites, might that be because literacy was forbidden to most plantation slaves in the antebellum South? Learning to read was punishable by whipping and sometimes death.


          Many slave owners also tried to prevent development of strong family ties among their chattel. Parents were frequently sold away from their children. Married couples were often sold apart.  Both disasters could strike the same family.


          Slave owners were trying to prevent any education ethic from arising among their property, while also working to prevent development of strong families.


          Despite this, many Black families have developed constructive traditions of their own while creating a Black middle class.


          If these values are not universal among Blacks, might that be the direct product of deliberate policies maintained for centuries?


          Germany paid reparations to its Jewish victims and other formerly enslaved laborers who made up one-fourth of its work force during World War II. So it’s fair to ask why the USA has never recognized its own sins.


          One mission of the reparations task force should be to determine as much as possible the effects of slavery on modern African Americans, and to separate those factors from things for which people can be held to individual account.


          California – which entered the Union as a free state – should never attempt to take on this entire responsibility. But consideration of reparations must start somewhere, and the California task force can at least build a body of evidence for or against the need for and justice of reparations.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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