Whether to provide reparations to African Americans for the atrocities of slavery and segregation is arguably the most controversial public matter concerning race in the United States today. This debate, a clash over the economics and ethics of equality, is nothing less than a struggle over the future of racial identity, race relations, and racial progress in the current post–civil rights movement era.
With the stakes for African Americans so high, and the prospects for affirmative action dim, public intellectuals have weighed in heavily on each side of the issue. Randall Robinson—author of the best-known work advocating for reparations, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks (2000)—and David Horowitz—the reparationist movement's most reviled nemesis and author of Uncivil Wars: The Controversy over Reparations for Slavery (2002)—have become the alpha and omega of almost any deliberation on Black reparations.
Not surprisingly, rancorous rhetoric has often overshadowed rigorous research on the veracity of antireparations and proreparations claims. This essay aims to correct this problem with an extensive analysis of David Horowitz's (2002) arguments, providing a synthesis of data, concepts, theories, and methodologies from the disciplines of sociology, history, economics, and anthropology. This essay finds that Horowitz's use of academic scholarship to discredit African American reparations fails to meet the “scientific” standards he demands of his opponents.