Tag Archives: reparations

Cutting The Racial Gordian Knot: What Are The Ethical Implications Of The Terrible Economic Disparity Between Black And White In America?

Gordian Knot

The question raises the ethical implications to all American citizens and our shared obligation to our nation and its society of a disastrous, crippling problem that poisons our culture. and society: the persistent plight of Black America.

Back when I was a senior in college majoring in American Government and the U.S. Presidency, I took a course  from Professor Thomas Pettigrew, then as now one of the foremost scholars on race, prejudice and public policy. It was about the challenges facing blacks as they tried then to benefit from new legislation and opportunities created by the Civil Rights Act and other policies, such as school busing. I was very impressed by Pettigrew’s even-handed, objective and non-political approach, even though, at my college, political teaching was the rule, not the exception.

I have never left a course so discouraged. Pettigrew, himself a pretty optimistic man, led us into one dead-end after another: black families, education, neighborhoods, political behavior, crime and more, all dysfunctional or suffering. All areas of black society interfered with or blocked improvements, progress, remedies and policy initiatives that showed promise to address racial inequality in other areas.

Late in the course I asked him if he saw any hope that in 50 years, black America would be approaching parity with white America. “I have hope,” he said. “But I honestly don’t see how we get there from here. There is a path, but we haven’t found it.”

It appears that my discouragement then was an accurate reading of the problems ahead.

Last week, these charts from the Brookings Institution’s Social Mobility Memos blog were posted to the web by other sources. They show    how deeply the problems I was warned about have failed to improve in 50 years. Here they are:

1. Upward mobility is much more unlikely  for black than white Americans. 51% of the black Americans born into the lowest fifth of the earnings distribution remain there at age 40:

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Ethics Quiz: Japan’s Official Apology To The Korean “Comfort Women”

comfort-women

Before and during World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army forced an estimated 400,000 women and girls from occupied territories, primarily Korea, China, and the Philippines, into sexual slavery for the convenience and “comfort” of Japanese soldiers. That the women were kidnapped, raped, and in many cases murdered is not in dispute, but for cultural and political reasons the Japanese government has never accepted full responsibility for the nation’s mass crime, or acknowledged its true nature. To the contrary, Japan has protested memorials to the Comfort women in various locales, including the United States. Japan officially maintains that the women were ordinary prostitutes, and that no crimes were committed toward them. This is a long, bitter controversy between South Korea and Japan particularly.

Pressure from the United States on both Japan and South Korea to resolve the issue had been building, and on December 29, 2015, the two nations reached an agreement by which the Comfort Women issue was considered “finally and irreversibly” resolved. Under the agreement, the Japanese government issued this negotiated statement:

The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women, and the Government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective. 

As Prime Minister of Japan, Prime Minister Abe expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.

As part of the resolution, the Japanese government pledged to contribute one billion yen (about $8.3 million), out of the Japanese government’s budget to a foundation established by the Korean government dedicated to assisting the surviving Korean Comfort Women. Forty six survive. They had no part in the agreement discussions.

The deal is unpopular in South Korea. Critics immediately complained that the agreement is inadequate. Of course it is. $8.3 million would be moderate damages in the U.S. for a single woman who was kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery. Japan is not going to accept full responsibility for the war crimes, and that should be obvious after so many decades and such stubborn denial.

The ethics question that is a bit more challenging is whether the apology is worth the paper it is printed on, or even a true apology. After the agreement, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe  stated: “there will be no future reference at all to this issue [the Comfort Women issue]. We will not raise it in the next Japan-Korea summit meeting. This is the end. There will be no more apology.” Many Koreans feel that an official apology followed immediately by a statement that says, in essence, “There, that should shut them up!” is cynical and worthless. As a Korean issues website put it, “If an apology is not followed by contrition and self-reflection, but instead by gloating—-does that apology mean anything?”

Good question! Let me rephrase that as the Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is the official Japanese apology for the crimes against the Korean Comfort Women ethical?

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Unethical Op-Ed Of The Month, Or Maybe All Time: Theodore R. Johnson In The Washington Post

Well, at least that would explain it...

Well, at least that would explain it…

The essay is titled, “We used to count black Americans as 3/5 of a person. For reparations, give them 5/3 of a vote.” Yes, it’s serious. There is so much wrong with it logically, ethically, historically, legally, and Constitutionally, that it would take more words, time and effort to fully rebut all the nonsense in the article than this oddity is worth. Go ahead, read it. If your first reaction is, “Hey! What a brilliant idea!,” it’s time to seek professional help, and I don’t care what color you are.

Rather than give this perverted, anti-democratic fantasy the dignity of a rebuttal, I’ll just offer a few observations: Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: “12 Years A Slave” Plays The Racial Guilt Card On Oscar Voters

12_years_ad_2.jpeg

“It’s time.”

This is the  tag line in the post-Oscar nomination ads being prominently run in New York and California for  “12 Years A Slave,” a strong Academy Award contender (nine nominations, including best film).

Although there is room for disagreement, and the ad has the virtue of all clever advertising that it conveys different messages to different markets—Haven’t seen the film yet? “It’s time!”  Desperate to see the best movie you saw in 2013 finally get its due? “It’s time!”  When will the question of whether the most honored film of the last 12 months will win the biggest honor of them all be answered? “It’s time!”…or almost time, as the Oscar ceremonies are coming up on March 2—the consensus is that “It’s time” is mainly aimed at Oscar voters, and the message it conveys is, as Slate puts it, “it’s time for a movie about slavery, and with a significantly black cast and crew, to be recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.” Film critic Phil Hammond puts it slightly differently:

“The ad not only can be interpreted as shining a light on a very dark period in American history, it also shines a light on the Academy’s fairly dismal record of awarding its top honor to any movie about the black experience. In fact there has been only one Best Picture winner in the 85 years the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been handing out Oscars that even remotely qualifies in this regard. In 1968, In The Heat Of The Night, a murder mystery set against the racial divide in a small Southern town, won Best Picture and four other Oscars just a few days after the assassination of Martin Luther King (the ceremony was even postponed two days out of respect). The votes were in before the King assassination, but it seemed then that “It’s Time” would have been an appropriate way to describe that victory. However, outside of lead actor Sidney Poitier — who also co-starred in another racially themed Best Pic nominee that year, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner —  this movie  featured a largely white cast, white producer, screenwriter and director (Norman Jewison).”

If so many in the industry are interpreting the ad this way, it is fair to assume that this was at least one of the ad’s objectives, and on the assumption that it was an objective, your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today is this:

“Is appealing to Oscar voters on this basis fair and ethical?”

I can see strong arguments for each position. Continue reading

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Ethics Quote of the Week

“For many African-Americans, these facts can be difficult to accept. Excuses run the gamut, from ‘Africans didn’t know how harsh slavery in America was’ and ‘Slavery in Africa was, by comparison, humane’ or, in a bizarre version of ‘The devil made me do it,’ “Africans were driven to this only by the unprecedented profits offered by greedy European countries.”

Henry Louis Gates, in his New York Times op-ed, “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game,” confronting the complicity of Africans in American slavery by selling their own people to slave-traders.

Harvard professor Gates, a respected authority on race in America despite his problems with the Cambridge police, has made an admirable effort to take the issue of reparations out of the context of racial guilt-mongering and forcing advocates to deal with facts rather than emotion. The fair starting point for discussions, Gates points out, is that the ancestors of white and black Americans profited from slavery.

Does this rule out any fair and coherent allocation of slave reparations, which were conceptually problematical already? Probably, and if so, we should move on to more productive debates. Gates is brave and responsible for shining light on a genuinely “inconvenient truth.”

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