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Ta-Nehisi Coates Calls Out Reparations Critic For Repeating Decade-Old Argument

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Prompted by Ta-Nehisi Coates' much-discussed essay, Walter Williams made a case against slavery reparations in a piece published by The Washington Examiner.

"First off, let me say that I agree with reparations advocates that slavery was a horrible, despicable violation of basic human rights," Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University, wrote for the Examiner. "The gross discrimination that followed emancipation made a mockery of the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. I also agree that slave owners and slave traders should make reparations to those whom they enslaved. The problem, of course, is that slaves, slave owners and slave traders are all dead. Thus, punishing perpetrators and compensating victims is out of the hands of the living."

That sounded familiar to Coates, who called out Williams on Twitter.

How similar are the columns? Let's dip into the Williams oeuvre.

Here he is in 2000 preemptively rebutting Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who's tried to legislate slavery reparations throughout his long congressional career:

First off, let me say that I agree with reparations advocates that slavery was a horrible, despicable violation of basic human rights. I’d also agree that were it possible slave owners should make reparations to those whom they enslaved. The problem, of course, is both slaves as well as their owners are all dead. Thus, punishing perpetrators and compensating victims is out of the hands of the living. Reparations advocates, however, want today’s blacks to be compensated for the suffering of our ancestors.

Williams addressed the subject (and Conyers) again in 2001, offering a nearly identical disclaimer.

Slavery was a gross violation of human rights. Justice would demand that slave owners make compensatory reparation payments to slaves. Since both slaves and slave owners are no longer with us, compensation is beyond our reach.

It goes on like this. In Monday's column, Williams touched on "another moral or fairness issue" in the reparations debate.

"A large percentage, if not most, of today's Americans — be they of European, Asian, African or Latin ancestry — don't even go back three or four generations as American citizens. Their ancestors arrived on our shores long after slavery. What standard of justice justifies their being taxed to compensate blacks for slavery? For example, in 1956, thousands of Hungarians fled the brutality of the USSR to settle in the U.S. What do Hungarians owe blacks for slavery?"

He made the same point in 2000.

"We might also recognize that a large percentage of today’s Americans, be they of European, Asian, African or Latin ancestry, don’t even go back three or four generations. Are they to be held accountable and taxed for slavery and why?"

And again in 2001.

"Are the millions of Europeans, Asian and Latin Americans who immigrated to the U.S. in the 20th century responsible for slavery, and should they be forced to cough up reparations money? What about descendants of Northern whites who fought and died in the name of freeing slaves? Should they cough up reparations money for black Americans? What about the descendants of non-slave-owning Southern whites, who were a majority of Southern whites — should they be made to pay reparations?"

Coates ultimately lodged the self-plagiarism complaint to Justin Green, a web editor for the Examiner, who pledged to alert the appropriate editors.

The Examiner eventually added an editors' note to the bottom of Williams' latest column, seemingly dismissing the accusations of self-plagiarism.

"Syndicated columnist Walter Williams expressed these views on the issue of reparations in columns he wrote a decade ago," the note reads. "It appears Williams' views have not changed."

Coates said he was disappointed with the "snarky explanation":