Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Slavery Shakedown

From Jeff Jacoby, in the Boston Globe:
AS SOON as he learned the ugly truth, the chairman of financial-services giant Wachovia Corp. issued a remorseful nostra culpa. “We are deeply saddened by these findings,” Ken Thompson said last week. “I apologize to all Americans, and especially to African-Americans.” Wachovia acknowledged that it “cannot change the past or atone for the harm that was done.” But it promised to make amends by subsidizing the work of organizations involved in “furthering awareness and education of African-American history.”
What did Wachovia do to black Americans? Companies that were bought by companies that were bought by companies that Wachovia eventually bought owned slaves. Jacoby explains:
The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, and Wachovia wasn’t founded until 1879. The slaves for which Thompson was so apologetic were owned decades before the Civil War, when slavery was still lawful throughout the South. They were owned not by Wachovia but by the Bank of Charleston and the Georgia Railroad and Banking Co. — two of the approximately 400 financial institutions dating back to 1781 that over the centuries merged with or were acquired by other institutions that eventually became part of the conglomerate known today as Wachovia.

In other words, Thompson’s apology was for something Wachovia didn’t do, in an era when it didn’t exist, under laws it didn’t break. And as an act of contrition for this wrong it never committed, it can now expect to pay millions of dollars to activists for a wrong they never suffered.
Thus a relatively new kind of racial hustle is articulated. It doesn’t much matter to the race hustlers that:
  • No living American was either a slave or a slave owner
  • Many blacks are now affluent, and have more money than the average Wachovia stockholder, and this is especially true if one considers that pension funds and individual retirement accounts own much of the company’s stock
  • Many Americans descend from immigrant stock that came to America after slavery was abolished
  • Many other Americans are descended from men who fought in the Union army to abolish slavery, and indeed may have died in the effort
  • We have had “reparations” in the form of affirmative action and generous welfare programs for more than a generation in this country
Americans ought to be willing to say to reparations proponents: “You are not victims. You are sleazeballs engaged in a con game and a protection racket.”

But saying that has certain political risks. Just as it has always been cheaper in certain urban neighborhoods to pay protection to the Mafia than to fight the Mafia, modern corporate executives find it cheaper to try and buy off leftist activists rather than stand up to them.

But as Jacoby makes clear, this isn’t a very good strategy:
If Thompson thought he would put the slavery issue to rest by apologizing abjectly and promising to put even more money into “diversity” and “organizations that support African-Americans,” he was mistaken. No sooner had he issued his statement than it was dismissed as insufficient. “Wachovia can and must do more,” declared the head of one advocacy group in the Raleigh News & Observer. “It . . . must reinvest in the communities and the people who have been wronged.” Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, a key reparations strategist, warned Wachovia that if it doesn’t “provide comfort to the descendants of slaves,” this issue “will haunt them for a long time.”
What will haunt Wachovia for a long time is the craven willingness of its executives to try and buy off the race hustlers.


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