June 7, 2023

Team Biden Pitches Reparations at UN

The administration’s special appointee to the United Nations called for a reparations solution both created and implemented by non-whites.

In a 10-minute speech last week before a sparsely populated United Nations audience, Justin Hansford, a radical Howard University professor and Biden appointee to the UN’s Permanent Forum for People of African Descent, made a rather remarkable call for reparations.

He began by noting that this year marks the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which he called “America’s most well-known and least well-understood speech.”

“The truth is,” said Hansford, “Dr. King believed in reparations. He called for it explicitly up until the last speech of his life. The promissory note, the check that he demanded according to the terms of the U.S. Constitution, was never cashed. And 60 years ago until today, the wealth gap between black Americans and white Americans remains exactly the same. So 60 years later, it’s up to us to now acknowledge him as the visionary he is, because after all these years it’s now more clear now than ever before that reparations is what justice looks like in the 21st century.”

It’s an interesting claim, that Dr. King “explicitly” called for reparations, because it’s not true. At least not as near as we can tell. In all the words that King uttered publicly throughout his life, we can’t find a single “explicit” reference from him about “reparations” for slavery. Not one. Not even in the definitive biography of King’s life, David Garrow’s 800-page, Pulitzer Prize-winning Bearing the Cross.

What Hansford and other revisionists, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, are referencing is this passage from King’s August 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech:

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. The note was a promise that all men, yes black and white, would be guaranteed the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. … It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as the citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.

To our reading, Dr. King’s reference here to cashing a check and to a “promissory note” of “insufficient funds” is a relatively clear and simple metaphor illustrating America’s failure to fully embrace its black citizens as equals under its founding documents — which is a failure to fully deliver on the blessings of Liberty, not the blessings of a cash payment for past wrongs.

Hansford told the forum that the UN has a history of supporting reparations for human rights violations, and he included the body’s role in reparations for Jewish victims of one of the 20th century’s greatest crimes, the Nazis’ systematic extermination of the Jews of Europe. That history, said Hansford, “includes monetary compensation proportionate to the gravity of the harms done to our people … and the ending of cultural genocide” as well as laws to “ensure that the continuation of slavery that in the United States we call mass incarceration would begin to stop.”

Here’s an idea for the professor: Tell young black men to stop murdering each other and to stop committing other crimes at such an extraordinary pace. Then, perhaps, “the continuation of slavery” that he shamefully mentions will stop.

“But so far we’ve left it to the scholars of the past, the lawyers of the past, the white scholars, the white lawyers, to determine the bounds of our legal imagination,” he says, “to determine the narrow strictures that we will use to determine what justice looks like for our own people.”

So much for Dr. King’s clear and memorable message about color-blindness.

Hansford closed his remarks by proposing “that we begin to think our own thoughts, propose our own vision of justice, and implement that justice as part of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent.”

He then called for “a new bar association, including lawyers and non-lawyers, to discuss what it means to be repaired in 2023 for crimes that have been done to us and are continuing to be done to us for over 500 years,” with legal thinkers who would “come together and demand that many of the states in this room that have benefited from the legacy of our oppression start the process of apology and reparation, but not on their terms but on our terms.”

It needn’t be said that slavery is the Great Stain on the American fabric. But nor does it need to be said that a world-historic transfer of wealth from those who did no wrong to those who incurred no harm is not the answer.

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