If not even an avowed socialist can be bothered to grapple with reparations, if the question really is that far beyond the pale, if Bernie Sanders truly believes that victims of the Tulsa pogrom deserved nothing, that the victims of contract lending deserve nothing, that the victims of debt peonage deserve nothing, that that political plunder of black communities entitle them to nothing, if this is the candidate of the radical left—then expect white supremacy in America to endure well beyond our lifetimes and lifetimes of our children. Reparations is not one possible tool against white supremacy. It is the indispensable tool against white supremacy. One cannot propose to plunder a people, incur a moral and monetary debt, propose to never pay it back, and then claim to be seriously engaging in the fight against white supremacy. – Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Why Precisely Is Bernie Sanders Against Reparations?”, The Atlantic, January 19, 2016
The fact that blacks even have to justify the case for reparations is shameful. The fact that only 1 candidate is being called to task is bullshit. Especially when that candidate is the only one with policy proposals that directly effects the black community if elected. – From a series of Tweet by Killer Mike, in Scott Eric Kaufman, “Killer Mike targets Ta-Nehisi Coates for daring to critique Bernie Sanders,” Salon, January 21, 2016
In his critique of Bernie Sanders’ rejection of slavery reparations for black Americans,Ta-Nehisi Coates is absolutely correct: Sanders is able to show political vision and embrace policy solutions that many Americans believe are “impractical” or “unthinkable,” yet he somehow becomes a shrewd and calculating pragmatist who considers “reparations” as “divisive” and politically impractical.
Bernie Sanders is also correct. Reparations for the enslavement of black Americans is politically untenable and yes, extremely “divisive.”
Both Coates and Sanders remind us, in their own ways, that if American politics is a version of chess, then African-Americans are the pawns … and the pawn is the most powerful piece on the board. Unfortunately, because African-Americans are a pawn in a game of political chess they are often the first to be sacrificed. This is not a necessity in the history of American political development. It is a choice. – Chauncey Devega, “White People Just Don’t Get It: Bernie Sanders, Ta-Nehisi Coates, And The Reality Of Reparations,” Salon, January 21, 2016
Let me be right up front: I support reparations to African-Americans. This isn’t about slavery, or whether someone’s family owned slaves, or the color of one’s skin, or when one’s ancestors came to the United States. Our country’s wealth rests upon the shoulders of the enslaved and those trapped in various forms of peonage, whether the southern share-cropping system upheld by Jim Crow and enforced by the lynch mob or housing policies that restricted African-Americans to poor neighborhoods, which reserved the accumulation of real capital wealth through home-ownership to whites. Insurance companies around today grew rich insuring black slaves, insuring the crops the slaves planted and harvested. At a time when even the white working class in northern industrial areas weren’t paid a living wage (much like today), collaborations between Samuel Gompers’ AFL and corporate bosses kept African-Americans from better paying skilled trades by blocking their admission to unions, thus denying them better paying work. Eight years ago the world economy hovered on the brink of collapse thanks in large part to rapacious lending practices aimed at marginalized communities, including African-Americans, whose credit has historically been poorer than their white peers, pushing housing loans upon those least able to support mortgage payments, particularly when the balloon payments came due. To pretend that reparations are just about slavery or the color of one’s skin or giving someone something they don’t deserve ignores the reality that we as a nation are as economically powerful as we are because we stole billions and billions of dollars of wealth from slaves and their descendants while preserving the accumulation of real capital wealth for middle class and upper-middle class whites through a variety of policies. Basic fairness and justice make reparations a no-brainer.
I say all this so I don’t get a whole lot of, “So what do you think? Huh? HUH?” This post isn’t about what I think. Rather, it’s about how to conduct an internet discussion about topic everyone involved knows is divisive that is certainly heated, yet conducted with respect, intelligence, and an understanding not only of the complexities involved, but how such a discussion impacts our Presidential politics. While the white punditry is discussing Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and what their candidacies mean for the Republican Party, an important policy issue and the position the most radical mainstream candidate for the Presidency (at least in my lifetime) are the center of an important discussion without name calling and all the usual internet nonsense.
That political discussions on the Internet usually descend in to a cesspool of mutual name-calling, attacks on the personalities and personas rather than talk about substance, and that our public discourse is led by anonymous posters willing to say the most vile things all are matters talked to death. In the midst of a political season marked with racially, ethnically, religiously, and class-based divisiveness, then, it’s more than a pleasant surprise, but an object lesson in what is possible in our public discourse when an issue of importance and complexities, with strong feelings on all sides, and with the main antagonists all making important points, arises. I think regardless of our feelings about the topic in question, we should all acknowledge the great good Coates, Killer Mike, and others have done in their conduct of this discussion. Even the comment sections, usually things to avoid at all costs, are modicums of tough but civil discourse.
If interested in politics at all, regardless of race or your feelings on the topic, you could do worse for yourself than read the articles linked above and see what’s still possible in an age where calling one another “libtard” and “wingnut” is standard fare. It is still possible to talk with one another without denying the other’s humanity. We should celebrate that.
Oh, and both Coates and Killer Mike are right, which is what makes all this so good.