UNM law professor Alfred Mathewson said during a campus forum Wednesday that a controversial advertisement against slavery reparations has been a boon to the reparations movement.
Mathewson said that David Horowitz’s advertisement, called “Ten Reasons Why Reparations is a Bad Idea for Blacks — and Racist Too,” that lists reasons why reparations are separatist, racist and should not be indulged has prompted discussion about the issue nationwide.
Mathewson, associate dean of the UNM Law School, was invited to give a noon lecture on the subject by leaders of African American Studies because the reparations debate has been in the national spotlight.
He said the talks about nothing new, only presents the case against reparations and has many assumptions in it.
Horowitz is president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Front Page Magazine, on online magazine that Horowitz regularly contributes to, reported that only 21 of the 73 newspapers approached printed the advertisement without apology or incident, three papers printed the advertisement and apologized for running it and one paper has printed an advertisement attacking Horowitz’s advertisement without actually running it. The Web site also said that five newspapers have not acted after being contacted to run the advertisement.
Mathewson said that when he read that Brown University printed the advertisement and students confiscated the paper before it could be distributed, he was upset because he felt the discussion was made to be an issue of free speech.
“I was disappointed because I knew what we were going to be inundated with afterward; that is, that it was going to be a discussion of David Horowitz’s amendment rights as opposed to reparations,” he said.
Mathewson said that universities are where ideas are and discussion can begin.
“This is not the time to suppress the idea,” he said. “This is the time to join and engage and make the case for reparations.”
Mathewson said he grew up in segregated North Carolina and his mother was one of the first to send her children to integrated schools after the Supreme Court declared that segregation of schools unconstitutional.
He said that after schools were integrated, blacks began to join the discussion about desegregation in schools. He said these discussions continue into presenting a case for reparations.
Mathewson said a large part of the debate stems from trying to understand what “reparations” really means. He said the second Webster Dictionary definition for the word, “an act of making amends,” fits his own definition of reparations the best.
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He said reparations are about atonement, something he said the Horowitz advertisement never mentions.
“Reparations could be limited to just an apology,” Mathewson said.
He said too much emphasis has been put on slavery and more attention should focus on what came afterward, such as Black Codes, restricted voting rights and violent repression.
Mathewson said that after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, the Southern states passed Black Codes that relegated blacks to continue with the work they had done while enslaved.
He said voting disenfranchisement of blacks began after Reconstruction when Louisiana was one the first states to pass a grandfather clause to restrict black voting rights.
Mathewson said that the effect of Jim Crow laws, poor schooling facilities, disenfranchisement, intimidation and murder of blacks and other grievances sanctioned by state and federal laws are some of the reasons reparation claims can be made.
He said a group of law professors and intellectuals are working on filing a class action suit by the first of next year, but the group still has many questions to answer in order to build a legal case.
Mathewson said they have to determine who should be sued, who the plaintiffs will be and whether all descendents of slaves should be paid reparations.
Mathewson said the case of reparations is a conversation that must be had with friends because it is the chance for blacks to now shape the political process and their own voice.
“The whole idea is closure, to make amends and put it behind you,” he said.