- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

I'm sorry about the slave trade. I'm sorry it happened in America, and I'm sorry it's happening today in the Sudan. I'm sorry human beings are being incarcerated and otherwise persecuted in Afghanistan for their unsanctioned religious beliefs and for being female.
Now that one-half of the intention of the U.N. racism conference has been satisfied — I have apologized — what about the other half? Should my fellow white Americans and I pay "reparations" to black Americans? The U.N. conference wants reparations to take the form of debt relief and other economic assistance to African nations. Some advocate direct payments to all black Americans.
Though no one in my family (I've looked it up) ever owned a slave, I, as a "white" person, am supposed to bear a racial "mark of Cain" and give money I have earned to a select group of my fellow citizens.
Here are some conditions under which I might be willing to pay:
First, those receiving reparations must be able to trace their heritage directly to someone who was a slave, or suffered direct and personal discrimination at the hands of their government and has been denied redress.
Second, such reparations would be prohibited to anyone who produces children out of wedlock. The out-of-wedlock birthrate among black Americans is more than 80 percent. No amount of money can solve the poverty problem that stems from a broken or never-made family. Neither should money go to anyone addicted to alcohol or drugs, or in prison.
Third, reparations would be means-tested. No financially successful African-American would get a dime. In fact, one of the provisions should be that recipients agree to be mentored by successful blacks. If the successful would not do this out of racial solidarity, perhaps tax breaks would persuade them.
Fourth, reparations would end all future claims to affirmative action, set-asides, quotas and other breaks based on racial statistics or characteristics. Otherwise, reparations would come to resemble a modern-day protection racket whereby certain "leaders" are constantly attacking non-blacks and demanding money from them. This is precisely what we now have with the likes of the Rev. Jesse Jackson extracting "contributions" from big corporations in order for them to avoid bad publicity and lawsuits.
Fifth, people who receive reparations should be required to take money-management classes. If one does not know how to handle money or squanders it, that person will return to his or her former lifestyle and circumstances when the money is gone and the reparations will have been wasted.
Sixth, African-American parents should have the option of using reparations to extract their children from failing schools and send them to private schools where they will get an education, their best ticket out of poverty and dependency.
Immigrants who came to America voluntarily had a different language and culture but overcame discrimination. Their main strength was not money but an intact family. Nothing fosters hope, commitment and persistence like a family working together for a common purpose.
The problem for "people of color" is not discrimination. I have been discriminated against at various stages of my life because of my race, age (too young or too old), experience (too much or too little), height (too tall), and religion (too serious about it). I didn't complain, other than in private conversation. I worked harder to overcome. That used to be the model in America before grievance mongers convinced substantial numbers of people that they could never overcome; that they would always need "leaders" who only talk about the poor and never do much for them, and that it is government's responsibility to "cure" poverty. Government has spent trillions in that noble pursuit, but the poor we still have with us. That's because poverty's main cause is not lack of money, but wrong lifestyle choices.
When the above conditions are met, I'll be happy to pay "reparations" and sing a new song with my fellow citizens of color: "We Have Overcome."

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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