Remembering Charles Krauthammer, The Lonely Republican Who Supported Reparations In The ’90s

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Charles Krauthammer may be unknown to many activists fighting for reparations for Black Americans, but he was an unlikely advocate for their cause. Photo: Levan Ramishvili/Flickr

Charles Krauthammer may be unknown to many activists fighting for reparations for Black American descendants of slavery, but until his death in 2018 he was an unlikely advocate for their cause.

Krauthammer was a conservative Republican, political pundit and syndicated columnist. However, he defied the typical conservative anti-reparations stance regarding the debt America owes for its original sin of slavery.

In 1990, Krauthammer penned a column “Reparations for Black Americans” in which he expressed he supported one-time cash payments to Black families.

He believed it a more dignified and fair solution than affirmative action. According to Krauthammer, affirmative action made people doubt the abilities and accomplishments of talented Black people, while reparations was a way to attempt recompense for centuries of systemic racism and oppression.

“Representative Washington has it exactly backward. Forget the crumbs; demand reparations,” Krauthammer wrote. ”It is time for a historic compromise: a monetary reparation to blacks for centuries of oppression in return for the total abolition of all programs of racial preference, A one-time cash payment in return for a new era of irrevocable color blindness.“

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He said paying cash reparations wouldn’t lump Black Americans in with other groups who were not transgressed against, but rather focus specifically on the group which deserved it.

“Why reparations: First, because they are targeted precisely at those who deserve them,” Krauthammer wrote. “Let us be plain. Richmond’s sin — America’s sin — was against blacks. There is no wrong in American history to compare with slavery. Affirmative action distorts the issue by favoring equally all “disadvantaged groups.” Some of those groups are disadvantaged, some not. Black America is the only one that for generations was officially singled out for discrimination and worse. Why blur the issue?”

He acknowledged reparations would not offer ”full amends” for slavery, but said it was a start. According to Krauthammer, there wasn’t an absolutely satisfactory was to pay ”for irremediable national crimes,” but he felt “reparations are as dignified a form of redress as one can devise.”

Krauthammer’s candor on the matter was an anomaly, but his opinion was not. He reiterated his position on reparations over a decade later in an article called “The Grand Compromise” published in The Washington Post in 2001.

“The American people owe a special debt to black Americans. The key word here is special. That debt does not apply to any of the other groups — women, Hispanics, now gays, etc. — that have been grasping for the prestige and special benefits of victimhood,” Krauthammer wrote. “The African American case is unique: There is nothing to compare with centuries of state-sponsored slavery followed by a century of state-sponsored discrimination.”

He dismantled the argument of many white Americans who are anti-reparations because they had nothing to do with slavery.

“Collective responsibility does not, however, mean collective guilt. This generation of Americans bears no guilt for either slavery or Jim Crow. But as Americans who benefit from the fruits of America’s past, we have an obligation to pay some of its debts,” Krauthammer wrote. ”No 18-year-old, for example, has incurred a penny of our $3.4 trillion national debt. Nonetheless, he will spend a lifetime helping to pay it off, because even when guiltless we remain collectively responsible for our nation’s past.“

Krauthammer died in 2018 after a battle with cancer. Yet even today he is remembered for his ability as a conservative Republican to separate himself from the larger party’s agenda and support what advocates see as the only morally correct way to address the institution of slavery.