Slavery Reparations Aren’t a “Free Lunch,” by Michael King

For fans of science fiction and mysteries like me, the acronym TANSTAAFL means a lot. It refers to the notion that if something is too easy it is either too good to be true or has much larger and harsher consequences down the road.

When it comes to the reparations debate, black America needs to learn about TANSTAAFL: “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” Many of us believe the government “owes” us reparations for the years of slavery in the United States and British Crown Colonies. Members of the so-called “black elite” such as former TransAfrica head Randall Robinson and Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) hold this view.

Robinson authored The Debt: What America Owes To Blacks in which he lays out his case for government reparations for black Americans. Conyers repeatedly introduces legislation for reparations payments to the descendents of slaves in the United States.

Robinson and Conyers hang their hat on the concept of “40 acres and a mule.” It’s the failed Reconstruction idea to give freed slaves 40 acres of farmland and a mule to plow it. This notion, championed by General William Sherman after the Civil War, was vetoed more than once by President Andrew Johnson. The misconception of a government promise to provide land and labor to emancipated slaves persists today.

On talk shows from coast to coast, people sell the sizzle of a payment in the form of land, money or both. Hucksters set up scams, promising to create a massive class action lawsuit to force the government to “enforce their own promise.” You must, however, pay them fees in advance “to help defray legal costs.” Others claim to offer reparations payments if the gullible simply provide their credit card numbers.

When people point out the fallacies related to the reparations debate, and they are black themselves, they are derided as sellouts, “Uncle Toms,” “Oreos” and far worse names. They are told they have forgotten who they are and that they are helping the “white devils” keep the black man down.

But these people seek to point out rational and reasonable truths: there are no living slaves left. If the government gave money to every descendent of every slave, the government would quickly go bankrupt. Finally, if the government were to make payments, how could the government determine exactly who descended from slaves and who descended from free blacks in the north, free citizens from other countries or whose ancestors immigrated after slavery was abolished?

In the rare instances where reparations were paid to ethnic groups for past injustices, they were paid to the individuals to whom the injustices were inflicted or immediate family. I know there isn’t a single slave and probably no immediate family member left alive to receive government reparations from when slavery was legal for less than 100 years.

That’s right. Slavery was legal in the United States for only 89 years. It may not have been right in the eyes of God, but it was right and legal in the eyes of the law of the era. Should the government apologize for slavery? Yes and no. Yes, apologize for the wrongful treatment of the countless blacks enslaved in this country. However, no apology is necessary for the fact that, at that time, it was legal. You don’t see the government apologizing for not granting women the legal right to vote prior to 1920. This situation is regrettable, but really no different.

Moreover, we, as a people, should forgive and move on. By dwelling on the past, we are doing nothing short of wallowing in our own self-pity. From the reaction I get when I suggest this, you’d think I had thought it was right and proper to beat your children or your dog with a sharp stick.

All I want people to do is think rationally and get away from the emotionalism that the so-called black leaders are using to rabble-rouse us.

Trying to goad, push and blackmail the government into paying out what amounts to a winning lottery check to black America is nothing more than trying to get something for nothing. And, as we all know, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

(Michael King is a member of the African-American leadership network Project 21 and an Internet and radio broadcaster in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at [email protected] and A downloadable photo of Michael King is available at

Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.

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