By Jeff Davidson,
For all the blather about reparations, and who owes what to whom, we ought to step back and consider who among those who reside in the United States have been aggrieved, how recently, for how long, what was the impact at the time, are there ramifications today, and what is the overall assessment?
Many ethnic and racial groups at various times throughout our history made significant contributions, which across the broad swath of today’s population remain virtually unknown.
Focusing on the Chinese
European Jews arriving in the 1890s and again in the 1910s were kept out of every corporation of prominence, denied housing, shunned by the guilds, and were kept at a distance socially by “polite” society. The Irish were once considered vermin. So, pay their descendants reparations? The Chinese workers in the 1890s along the Pacific coast – Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle – were treated badly. Pay them as well?
In the 1800s, for example, the Central Pacific Railroad in California, (that hotbed of reparations proposals) employed as many as 12,000 Chinese as young as age 12. The pool of these workers represented America’s largest industrial workforce. Nine out of 10 people employed by the Central Pacific Railroad were first generation Chinese in America – not merely of Chinese ancestry.
Precious little had been recorded or even noted about this vital workforce while European and American workers of the same era had been described and characterized at length.
In 2012, the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America project assembled a massive collection of oral accounts, documents, photos, and other paraphernalia on this area of American history. This Chinese railroad workforce, it has since been determined, provided the lion’s share of the most labor-intensive tasks: cutting through granite or blasting through it when needed, and effectively laying track across the far western states.
Productive and Unknown
How were they able to be so productive? As it turns out, many of these workers had been blacksmiths, silver smiths, carpenters, woodworkers, and even architects before their arrival in the U.S. In other words, they represented a highly skilled and, in some cases, educated group. Yet, they have been largely ignored by history, and when anything is written about them, it is often in the collective sense.
Whereas we know the names of pioneers in the black freedom movement, such as Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Sojourner Truth, and numerous others, the names of Chinese leaders during this era are virtually unknown. And we tend to view this workforce as monolithic — no individual personalities, aspirations, or objectives.
Among these Chinese workers, one has to wonder. Were they underpaid? Were the rates of injury, illness, and mortality on the job significantly high? Undoubtedly. How about the ability of the individual worker to rise in the ranks, on property, or aspire to U.S. citizenship?
The Folly of Redressing All of History
All four of my Caucasian grandparents arrived in the U.S. after 1907, so how much do I pay? The ancestry of 80+% of U.S. Caucasians arrived after 1880. How much should these descendants pay?
Should descendants of all others throughout our history who did not get a fair share be given reparations? This is folly. We cannot go back and redress every incident, in every locale, for all time. Nor should we.
The history of the U.S., as with the history of EVERY other country on Earth, is replete with unfairness and injustice. Leftists, apparently, are the only group that does not know this, and could care less.
If we consider Caucasian males, today’s scourge among Leftists, their sacrifices have been extraordinary. At least 360,000 Union troops died in the U.S. Civil War with over one million gravely injured and living miserable lives thereafter. What about their descendants?
Caucasian abolitionists (primarily male victims) represented one quarter of all those who died by lynching in the U.S. Do their descendants get reparations? The death toll of Caucasian males in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other battles is staggering.
The reparations proposed by some would total as much as $14 trillion. Meanwhile, the U.S. has spent more than $21 TRILLION since Lyndon Johnson’s “great society” on affirmative action and wealth redistribution programs, paid for largely by Caucasians. This sum equals more than $13,000 per year, every year, to each black person alive, in every year since 1965. This equals $754,000 per person who has been alive during all of those years.
Is the $21 trillion to be subtracted from the reparations total? Uh-oh! Looks like the request for reparations is actually several trillion dollars less than what the U.S. government has already paid!
So, ahem… pay up. That will be seven trillion dollars, please.
Jeff Davidson is “The Work-Life Balance Expert®” and the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management.