Wait until you hear why this conservative thinks Black people don’t deserve reparations

OPINION: Matt Walsh not only argues that the world is better off now because slavery existed in the past, but he pulls out the tired, stale argument that Black people are better off in America than they would be in Africa.


Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I watched this video of conservative gasbag Matt Walsh that’s been going around and I really wish I didn’t. It angered me so much. I prefer to protect my peace, but here we are once again playing “Who’s white man is this?” because someone needs to come get Matt Walsh. He’s been called the transphobe of the year and he’s called the pride flag a hate symbol, which just makes me think it’s amazing how little is required to be a conservative talking head. You don’t have to actually be smart. You just have to somehow seem smart, which means wearing glasses, using big words and being white. You don’t have to like read or anything.

Walsh makes a stale, old argument that we’ve heard on Twitter from people with frogs in their bios — the world, in general, is better off now because slavery existed in the past. Wow. It’s an argument only a white man could make because it requires centering himself so hard that he cannot see the lingering impact of slavery on modern Black people. He also conveniently erases the lives of millions of enslaved people. To say that people today are better off because millions of people were enslaved is morally bankrupt — you are OK with trading millions of Black lives so that you can have a good life? To buy that requires thinking of those who were enslaved as less than human. If Walsh believed that one of his great-grandmothers was enslaved, he would not be making this argument.

Walsh also argues that Black Americans are better off here, in America, than we would be if we were in Africa, so we don’t deserve reparations like the sort that’s now being discussed in California. California’s reparations task force actually aims to pay retribution for “generations of over-policing, disproportionate incarceration and housing discrimination,” according to Associated Press. The task force is also considering some sort of compensation for health disparities that have shortened the average Black life span and for property unjustly taken by the government and for devaluing Black businesses. But Walsh conveniently ignores all of that and frames his argument around slavery. 

In his discussion of reparations, Walsh has shifted the framing of the conversation completely — he’s saying Black Americans have more opportunities in America (so we should be grateful instead of asking for yet another handout). But reparations aren’t about our relationship to Africa. It’s about enslaved people working to create wealth for white people. It’s also about enslaved people providing wealth to white people. Through enslavement, a lot of wealth was transferred out of the Black community and into the white community. In “The 1619 Project,” Trymaine Lee wrote

“White Americans have seven times the wealth of black Americans on average. Though black people make up nearly 13 percent of the United States population, they hold less than 3 percent of the nation’s total wealth. The median family wealth for white people is $171,000, compared with just $17,600 for black people. It is worse on the margins. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 19 percent of black households have zero or negative net worth. Just 9 percent of white families are that poor. Today’s racial wealth gap is perhaps the most glaring legacy of American slavery and the violent economic dispossession that followed.”

There’s a direct link between slavery and the massive modern racial wealth gap. That’s what reparations are intending to repair. But Walsh’s point that Black people are better off in America is a common notion on the right. It’s built on the idea that America is a place of economic opportunity where even Black people have a chance to make it big. Africa, in their mind, was formulated by Sally Struthers commercials and movies like “Out of Africa.” To these people, the 1980s Ethiopian food crisis that inspired “We Are the World” will never die. That’s what Africa is to them. 

To them, America was always going to become a global economic power because white Americans are inherently smart and Africa was always going to fall apart because Black people are inherently not. This is why white people need critical race theory.

America was not a global superpower before slavery. The thing that led to America becoming a global superpower is slavery. At a time when cotton was king, America was the leader in the global cotton trade but more than that we created a multimillion-dollar industry in the buying and selling of people. It was enslaved people and the wealth they created that led to America becoming a global economic superpower. It’s a direct result of the slave trade. A 2021 academic paper called “The Contribution of Enslaved Workers to Output and Growth in the Antebellum United States” considered estimates of enslaved workers’ contributions to regional and national economic growth between 1839 and 1859 and found: “The economic trajectory and development of capitalism in the United States are inextricably linked to the brutal institution of slavery… The work of enslaved Americans was an important driver of growth not only in the South but also for the national economy as a whole… Slavery was an important institution for economic development in the United States, and that the unrequited labor of enslaved women, men and children helped produce in significant ways the nation’s economic expansion in the two decades before the Civil War.” 

Meanwhile, in Africa, the subtraction of millions of young people had a massive negative impact. The continent lost to the slave trade half of its population. The economic impact is clear: “If the slave trade had not occurred, then 72% of the average income gap between Africa and the rest of the world would not exist today, and 99% of the income gap between Africa and other developing countries would not exist. In other words, had the slave trade not occurred, Africa would not be the most underdeveloped region of the world and it would have a similar level of development to Latin America or Asia.” Research found a clear relationship between the number of slaves exported from a country and subsequent economic performance. The African countries that are the poorest today are the ones from which the most slaves were taken.

So if the trans-Atlantic slave trade had never happened, both America and Africa would be vastly different. This is clear because losing citizens and gaining slaves had a transformative impact on both Africa and America. The idea that we should be grateful to be here in America is totally backwards. White people should be grateful that we are here. We changed America forever.

Walsh anticipated my last argument in his rant. “You might offer the rebuttal that if slavery never existed, if we’re reimagining history without that institution at all, then Africa itself would be in a better shade, better place and better shape. And maybe, indeed, Black Americans would be better off there. But this seems highly unlikely…” He does not say why this is highly unlikely. It’s not at all unlikely, but logic is hard. He goes on to say — watch out, the stupid train is coming — “If we’re reimagining the world without African slavery, then we have to also imagine it without all other forms of global slavery …” — why? — “… since African slavery was merely one variety, one offshoot of this global institution. And now we have totally, at that point, rewritten the history of the world …  “ — what? — “ … in a way so dramatic that it’s absolutely impossible to say which individuals today would end up worse or better in this alternate universe.”

Everybody’s so creative! “I mean, if you go back in time and get rid of slavery from the entire world, you have just — it’s impossible to say what the world looks like right now.” Is that a bad thing?

Walsh continues: “Actually, what we can say is that we’d all end up worse — all of us today would be in a worse spot if slavery never existed at all across the entire globe.” Hi, a descendant of enslaved people here, I’m disagreeing with that massively. “A change that significant would likely shift the course of events in a way that would mean none of us would even exist.” Huh? “It would mean a world full of other people who are not us.” When did this become sci-fi? “So, I know that I benefit today from virtually everything my ancestors did and everything did to them, because if any of that had not happened, there’s a very good chance that I never would have come into being. And as I see it, I benefit from being if the other option is not being.” My head hurts. I mean that is such incredibly dumb reasoning it’s painful to think through.

I’m sorry I made you read that, but isn’t it amazing how little it takes to pass for intelligence on the right nowadays?

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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