by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Commentary of the Day - April 2, 2001: The Horowitz Hustle:
The Irascible Professor was amazed by how easy it was for David Horowitz to snooker the editors of college newspapers with his controversial advertisement "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks -- and Racist Too". Most failed to grasp that this was a setup. Horowitz, a one-time denizen of left-wing fringe politics who now occupies the same niche on the right, clearly did not intend this to further a serious discussion of race in America. Instead, his goal was to provoke the "politically correct" and to further incite campus tensions.
It was a clever ploy on Horowitz's part to gain publicity by opposing an idea that has no serious support except at the very edge of the political spectrum. He was able to claim that editors who turned down his advertisement were interfering with his "free speech" rights. He also had the satisfaction of seeing angry reactions from minority students at those campuses where the ad was published. It was a win-win situation for Horowitz, except for the fact that most of his arguments were specious.
As many observers have noted, editors are under no obligation to accept advertising -- even advertising that makes a political statement. The first amendment does not guarantee anyone a forum, and -- in fact -- decisions about which ads to accept and which to reject are made by editors every day. As an example, we see plenty of advertisements for Viagra, but few for condoms. Both products cover the same territory, but editors -- for whatever reason -- find ads for Viagra more acceptable than those for condoms. No one argues that the "free speech rights" of condom manufacturers have been denied.
The fact that there is essentially no serious support for the idea of reparations for slavery makes the Horowitz ad superfluous except that it provides him with a vehicle to repeat a number of racial canards that are guaranteed to provoke the angry reactions. Reactions that in fact occurred on a number of campuses. One of these is the notion that the welfare system was developed primarily for the benefit of black Americans. As Eric Alterman so ably noted in a recent MSNBC opinion piece, the laws regarding aid to dependent children were written in such a way as to make it more difficult for African-Americans to qualify; and, in fact, whites benefited to a far greater degree from welfare programs than blacks.
In the IP's opinion, however, the most egregious aspect of the Horowitz ad is that it trivializes the effects of slavery and the century of "Jim Crow" segregation that followed. These included the systematic destruction of family life and the denial of even the most basic education to those who were brought here against their will and kept in servitude. Slaves were bought and sold without regard to family relationships, and in most states where slavery was legal it was against the law to allow slaves to be taught to read and write. The century of segregation that followed emancipation had as its main goals preventing the repair of the damage caused by slavery and maintaining a social system that continued to discriminate against African-Americans long after nominal freedom was attained.
We are but a few decades past those sorry times. Remarkable progress has been made. The very concepts of race and ethnicity are changing with incredible speed in American society. We have gone from thinking about America as a "melting pot"; and, instead view it a tapestry that weaves together a very wide range of colors and cultural threads.
However, we are not yet at the point where the playing field is completely level for all Americans. Education is one key to opportunity. The playing field will not be level until every child has access to a quality education.
© 2001 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.