I'm currently attending the annual research conference of the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management. This morning I attended a session titled Reparations for African Americans: Considerations for a Non Incremental Policy. The panel was very enlightening and brought to mind a lot of new perspectives on the topic of reparations for African-Americans. The most memorable moment, though, has to go to NYU professor Lawrence Mead. Dr. Mead was not actually on the panel or a discussant, but (unfortunately) was sitting next to me in the audience. Following the presentations, Mead had the first question. I paraphrase:
I think that the approach each panelist is taking is based on a false premise. Namely, you are comparing the opportunities of black and white Americans. But black Americans, unlike white Americans, were brought here under slavery. So, unlike Japanese Americans who had their liberties taken away, black Americans were not deprived of opportunities in America. Wouldn't it be better to compare the opportunities and losses between blacks in America and blacks in Africa? And then isn't it obvious that blacks brought to America under slavery actually benefitted greatly from their situation? After all, they (eventually?) had access to greater opportunities and quality of life than those who stayed in Africa.
I was floored. My jaw dropped, my heart started racing, and I looked around for someone to point out the idiocy in Mead's suggestion. The very impressive Dr. William Darity from UNC Chapel Hill was quick on the draw and noted that he was well acquainted with the classic racist suggestion that black Americans were "lucky" to suffer the violence and indignity of slavery. He then went on to point out the obvious racist assumptions made by Mead (ie. that social and economic problems in African nations are the result of black inferiority and not intervention and manipulation by European colonialism and aggression - including the slave trade itself).
So far this conference has been a joy. I've attended several sessions that were fascinating. I've both learned a lot, and found new perspectives and directions that I want to pursue on my own. I was not expecting, however, to come face to face with 19th Century racist/colonialist apologists. Next time someone tells you that "racism isn't as bad as it used to be," have them watch Two Towns of Jasper and then listen to the racist apologia of people like Lawrence Mead.