Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Case for Reparations

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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303 Responses

  1. Avatar Kevin
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    says:

    Just a suggestion, Tod, but you might want to consider something that TNC often does: closing the comments for a couple hours to give time for reflection, then opening them.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Kevin
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      says:

      @kevin That’s an excellent recommendation, and I think if it were a weekday I would do so.

      Since it’s Memorial Day weekend, though, I’m going to assume that our dimished traffic will lend itself to that. But if it starts out that way, I might do a temporary hold as you suggest.Report

  2. Avatar Stillwater
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    {{“repartitions” in third paragraph. }}

    It’s a really powerful piece. He makes an argument very friendly to my own views on this stuff, which is that reparations aren’t about extracting lost wealth or imposing retribution but about an admission, a reconciliation, an acceptance of reality and all relief that accompanies coming to terms with a willful, self-interested lie. My favorite part, which captures what I took to be his main mission in writing it, was the paragraph beginning “What I’m talking about is….Report

  3. Avatar Angela
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    I’ve been reading Coates for while (since just before he started a daily post during “Confederate History Month”) He had a couple of posts about Chicago’s housing that really started me thinking. I was born here, and grew up here. The concept of “privilege” was not something I was exposed to in college, nor did I think about all the ways Chicago’s neighborhoods isolated groups.
    His article (as well as previous shorter pieces) was hard for me to read because they force me to face the willful ignorance of my upbringing and life. And that’s a hard thing for anyone to accept.
    On the north side of the city (where I grew up) the neighborhood ethnic concentration was more voluntary and benign. People moved in and settled in similar communities with support for language, restaurants, groceries and culture. On the south and west side, it was very different.
    I need to read the article again before I start to try to think about changes.
    At the same time, while I see some hope for change and improvement in Chicago, I’m very concerned about a more polarized country in general.
    Were you thinking of a “book club” kind of discussion, once people had finished reading the article, perhaps with pulling in reference materials? I’d be very interested in participating.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Angela
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      Hey @angela — I don’t know what I was thinking, exactly, other than I think it’s something every adult in America should read.

      I like the idea of a book club, but I haven’t figured out how to do those very well yet here at OT. Though I suppose this could be an opportunity to put some solid effort into trying.Report

  4. Avatar Brooke
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    I am against the idea of reparations to members of the African-American community for historical mistreatment and injustices. It is better to discuss the situation of African-Americans in the context of the larger problem of inequality and declining social mobility. Focusing on the history and experiences of one community in this country drowns out the legitimate concerns of other groups that should be a part of this conversation.

    We need to start by enforcing the laws that should protect black people and other groups from discrimination in housing, employment, banking, and other activities. People consciously excluded from benefits under government programs (like government-backed home loans and the GI Bill) should receive access to those programs and compensation for the wrongdoing. Where specific mistakes were made by the government, they can be corrected. Those fixes have value that broad discussions of reparations can’t provide.

    By being aware of the past and working to change the attitudes of those who still hold prejudiced views, we can start to get beyond the legacy of exclusion in America. I don’t think we need payouts or other blanket benefits for each member of the black community.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Brooke
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      What do you find objectionable about the idea of specific justice for a specific group that suffered wrong? I think history well-demonstrates that you can’t simply get rid of past injustices by reversing discriminatory laws, creating theoretical equality of opportunity, and saying “my bad” for past actions. It didn’t work that way for Jews in Europe, for African-Americans in the United States, Untouchables in India or women or members of the LGBT community everywhere. To really do persecuted groups right, you need to provide particularly tailored form of justice.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to LeeEsq
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        I don’t find the idea of blanket payments or preferential treatment as a remedy for past injustices attractive. Those instances where specific harms can be proven should be remedied, but I don’t think there exists a reasonable way to provide “tailored justice” to a group of people while still being fair to, or upholding equality for, everyone else.

        I think that the most practical answer is one that nobody wants to hear, that this is going to take some time to achieve. Generation, in fact. If we do enforce the laws that are meant to prevent discrimination and deal with the overall problem of inequality, we can make a lot of progress. I don’t think there’s a switch that can be flipped to change things rapidly.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq
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        @brooke

        I don’t find the idea of blanket payments or preferential treatment as a remedy for past injustices attractive.

        To be fair, I’m not sure Coates is necessarily arguing for “blanket payments,” and it’s unclear (to me) what his exact argument is about affirmative action. (When he talks about the Contract Buyers Association, he’s referring to a specific, more or less easily identifiable, instance of harm and a remedy that the association sought, with minimal success as it turns out.)

        How Coates defines (or doesn’t) “reparations” is actually one of my problems with his essay. He makes the case for historical and current systematic racism. And I think he’s right. But the actual thing he’s trying to make a case for–reparations–remains pretty ill-defined in his piece.

        However, I think that’s because he wants to open a discussion on exactly what “reparations” means. In these discussions, we (all of us) tend to have something in mind, and he seems to be suggesting we be open to different approaches to the idea of what constitutes reparations.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq
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        Brooke,
        How many generations must we wait?
        If Blacks have a TENTH of the wealth of whites on average, and more than HALF of your wealth is inherited, you’re talking — what — ten generations?Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Brooke
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      And of course with this comment you prove you haven’t actually read the TNC piece. Please, do yourself a favor and go ahead and read it.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        Actually, I have read part of it and quite a bit of the coverage of it.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        But the very point of having the debate about reparations and the political football about it is to dig deep into the extent to which the system was setup in a flawed manner. You’re sort of using his end thesis to try to discredit the word sticky word reparations, which is strange.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        I’m not against having a discussion, but it seems like the general understanding on all sides is that it’s very unlikely that anyone would receive anything as a result of this discussion. As Americans, we should all be aware of our history and regret the crimes inherent in it, but this entire exercise seems to lack a definitive endpoint.

        Shouldn’t there be a goal? Eliminating remaining institutional discrimination seems like a good one to me. Compensating individuals who suffered as a result of specific discriminatory actions is another. Punishing those who continue to profit from, say, the targeting of blacks for sub-prime loans is yet another.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        Brooke,
        Most people are against reparations because they haven’t thought of what we have that’s essentially free to give away.

        Land, what got most of white wealth in the first place.

        We got plenty of it that’s still Federal out west. Will it be as good as what the white folks got? No way, but it’s a start.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brooke
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      I am against the idea of reparations to members of the African-American community for historical mistreatment and injustices.

      I didn’t read Coates as making that argument. His is a case for reparations, not an advocacy for doing so. Furthermore, his argument isn’t based on only historical evidence, say restricted to economic gains derived and resulting from the institution of slavery, but rests on contemporary evidence of institutional racism the persist to this day whose roots go back to the pre-civil war era.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Stillwater
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        I’m not sure why someone would draft a 16,000 word piece making a “case for” something if he was not advocating doing something to bring it about. The article reads as a recitation of the injustices that blacks have suffered throughout American history, and in some cases, continue to suffer, so one would think that if a case for reparations was being assembled, a request would naturally follow.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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        Brooke,

        He primarily wants the issue to be seriously addressed rather than merely a check written. He doesn’t have a dollar amount in mind, nor does necessarily believe that an accurate number could ever be arrived at or paid. Here’s the last paragraph Tod quotes in the OP where TNC reveals his purpose for writing the piece.

        John Conyers’s HR 40 is the vehicle for that hearing. No one can know what would come out of such a debate. Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.

        Saying that the issue isn’t worth discussing because reparations are a political non-starter, or because it punishes the present for crimes in the past, or because “It is better to discuss the situation of African-Americans in the context of the larger problem of inequality and declining social mobility,” are exactly the types of view he’s challenging.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        I haven’t ever said that I opposed discussion of the issue, as long as it happens in a way that leads to something being done to fix the institutions and attitudes that have contributed to the victimization of black people.

        When someone uses phrases like “not ignoring the sins of the past,” I’m concerned that the vagueness of that statement implies something beyond being aware of that history, regretful about what happened, and dedicated to making sure it doesn’t happen again. To me, that should be the goal, but I worry that these discussions lead to a place where white citizens are always expected to be overwhelmed with guilt for the actions of the government and other people.

        I’m not convinced by Mr. Coates’s arguments that the particular situation of black people in America needs more focused or special attention than the plight of the poor and disadvantaged as a whole. We should be looking for solutions to all of these problems instead of focusing on the experiences of one particular community.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Stillwater
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        @brooke

        I’m not sure why someone would draft a 16,000 word piece making a “case for” something if he was not advocating doing something to bring it about.

        I think the proximate thing for which Coates is arguing is HR 40. Perhaps he hopes from it something like the Myrdal study in the late 1940s (American Dilemma), or a broad-ranging investigation, on the order of the Temporary National Economic Commission during the New Deal. (Which was an attempt to assess the state of business and violations of antitrust laws during the 1930s, and it created several volumes of testimony and studies.)Report

    • Avatar Lyle in reply to Brooke
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      Of course the real question is what is that statute of limitations on past bad treatment? Obviously if we think about folks of African descent, we need to think of native Americans as well. What about native Hawaiians? Do we provide reparations to the celts for the Anglo Saxon capture of England ( or the Norman takeover). What about the folks displaced by the population migrations of the 4-8 th centuries? One can go on and on. (it is clear that the period based upon WWII events is at least 60 years).Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Lyle
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        says:

        Slippery slopes!Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Lyle
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        I saw an episode of “Behind the Music” on the Slippery Slopes.

        They started with just one gig, then larger and larger ones followed.

        Of course, inevitably they were embroiled in a controversy over a misconstrued racial slur embedded in their bandname, and were banished to a lifetime of playing podunk ski resort lodges.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Lyle
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        says:

        “When we started the band, we just wanted to play one gig at one specific location in our hometown and call it quits. Unfortunately, it was a pretty good show. People liked us. Pretty soon we were doing multiple gigs in a bunch of different cities. Then things really got outa hand. We were playing everywhere at the same time, all the time. It was way too much. We shoulda never played that first gig.”Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    Coates makes a very persuasive statement on the justice of reparations. The problem, as Boulle pointed out in responding Slate article, is that politics is the art of the possible and reparations is not possible. Large swathes of the electorate is going to reject the idea of reparations out of hand for a variety of reasons. This portion of the electorate is large enough to use certain features of our political system to prevent even the idea of reparations from being discussed in Congress, let alone any concrete action taking place.

    The GOP recently passed a bill that provides summer funding for free lunches for kids in rural areas but not in urban areas. There can be no doubt why funding was provided to rural areas but not urban areas. Poor kids in rural areas are much more likely to be white than of color. If one party is willing to engage in such obvious discrepancies in federal funding based on race than even talking about reparations in Congress is a no-go nationally. Until the political landscape changes, reparations are going to be a long time coming.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to LeeEsq
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      That rural/urban funding thing is just so fucked up it’s beyond words.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        What is most surprising is about how unsubtle it is. The GOP are usually more deft in their coding and dog whistling.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        Probably because they knew they’d get away with it. Notice how it’s only liberal news sites pushing it. Urban voters are A. Overwhelmingly Democratic and B. Don’t have a lot of outrage generation ability.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        Actually it is subtle. The funding in question is a pilot program that represents about 5% of the total funding that goes towards summer nutrition assistance. It’s only this pilot program that, if the interpretation of the person who found it is correct, will only be used in rural areas in future yearsReport

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        Kolohe, its about as subtle as a hammer to the head.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        says:

        @leeesq

        …its about as subtle as a hammer to the head.

        That doesn’t particularly answer @kolohe ‘s point. Your response suggests a certain point of view that insists that it’s all just rural bigotry and can be nothing else, whereas Kolohe is offering an explanation that puts the policy into perspective and context.

        I think it’s possible to admit of subtlety and varied motives while all along recognizing that race politics play into it. In fact, admitting and acknowledging the subtlety can go a certain distance toward recognizing the race politics you’re decrying.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to LeeEsq
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      The problem, as Boulle pointed out in responding Slate article, is that politics is the art of the possible and reparations is not possible.

      I’m very sympathetic to this view but civil-rights politics has been about deciding on the kind of world you want to live in and then working towards that goal incrementally. So I see Coates essay as an example of the former and not a political playbook. He does outline one place to start though, in the fact that HR40 has never been up for a vote and it’s co-sponsorship has essentially withered away. This is a fact completely independent of the GOP or the political landscape, so I think it’s reasonable to start asking Democrats why they haven’t been more aggressive in signing onto the bill.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      @leeesq

      There can be no doubt why funding was provided to rural areas but not urban areas. Poor kids in rural areas are much more likely to be white than of color.

      I don’t doubt that racial politics plays into that decision, but I don’t think the rural preference in that case is necessarily reducible to racism. It’s also a question of the GOP trying to appeal to its rural constituency, and is probably of a piece with both parties’ efforts to pander to, say, farmers through subsidies. Now, that constituency might skew white and therefore racist appeals, especially if veiled as distinctions between “the real America” and the “inner cities,” might have traction there. And of course, gerrymandering gives the rural communities a greater voice than they might otherwise have. But I’d be wary of baiting such programs as necessarily and only racist just because, well, you know how those people are.

      Also–and I don’t know anything about this measure other than what you describe–how did access to such lunch programs compare before the bill? Did urban residents have greater access already? I don’t know, and I imagine the answer is complicated, but I also imagine that supporters of the bill probably had some case for claiming they were fulfilling a theretofore unmet need. Not that there’s no hypocrisy or race-baiting in such measures, but I doubt it’s as simple.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird
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    Some math that I did in my head, I’d be pleased to have people point out any mistakes that I’ve made.

    According to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States

    There are 38,929,319 African-Americans and 9,009,073 “two or more races”.

    Would anyone mind if I fudged those two numbers together and used “40,000,000 African-Americans” for the sake of math? I’d be pleased to use “45,000,000” if we’d prefer, of course, it’s just that I’m lazy and find 40 million an easier number to work with in my head than 45 million.

    If we start discussing numbers of how much is owed, and pick a number like “one thousand dollars” (a number that, I think, we’d all agree is “insulting”), we’d see that the price would be about 40 billion dollars. That’s about the size of what Berkshire Hathaway has on hand in available cash or about the budget of Homeland Security.

    If we pick a number like “ten thousand dollars” (a number that, I think, we’d all agree is less insulting but still insulting), we see the price go up to 400,000,000,000 dollars. That’s about 2/3rds the budget of the military or pretty much the size of Russia and China’s recent natural gas deal.

    “One hundred thousand dollars” (a number that, I think, would finally have most of us saying “now we’re in the ballpark”) would get us to 4 trillion. That’s a little more than the US budget for last year.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        Well, I left off the part where I got to “one million dollars” and pointed out that that would be half of the World’s GDP.

        If I were to imply anything at all, it’d be the tautology that any debt that cannot be repaid won’t be.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        You do realize that you’re comparing an absolute amount to a yearly rate.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        What would the proper comparison be?

        A payment plan?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        Unless there’s something magic about a year, then, yes, you might consider periods longer than a year.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        Well, what I consider magic about a year is that if we say something like “We’ll pay this over 20 years!” then we have to consider the whole “what is the likelihood of this stopping after 1 year?”

        It seems to me to be non-zero and to grow significantly every year.

        The beauty of one year is that you can’t stop the program when the House/President changes. It will have already been accomplished.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        @mike-schilling
        I think a fair point @jaybird could make here would be that an amount meant to be some kind of non-insulting gesture toward composition/restitution would necessarily look insulting if divided over 20 years. Or to put it another way, whether one-time or as a multi-year payment, the number likely to have the greatest public salience will probably be the per annum amount regardless (even if it’s just one-time – people will still think, “How would I feel if I got 10 grand one year? How would I feel the next year when I didn’t?” etc.). One way or another, that’s probably where the rubber’s going to mer the road as a public perception matter.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        -compensation-Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        I don’t see that. I’d love to have X every year, tax free, guaranteed, for 20 years, even if X by itself weren’t that impressive-sounding,Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        If I understand Jaybird’s point, he’s actually talking about the problem of credible commitment. Set up a 20 year payment plan (or such like), and you have to trust that for the next 20 years Congress doesn’t decide to repeal the law. Or from another angle, that for 20 years the majority of white, Latino Americans and Asian Americans don’t get so tired of seeing just African-Americans get the payments that they demand an end to them.

        If I was offered the 20 years or the upfront payment, I’d take the upfront payment, because it’s hard for government to credibly commit to 20 years of payments.

        And that’s not even considering the issue of discounting those future payments. $X per year over 20 years is actually a steadily diminishing amount, whereas getting that amount as an upfront sum allows the person to invest it all and make it worth more as the years go by.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird
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      Do they not have payment plans where you’re from?Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to Jaybird
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      $4 Trillion is about what the DoD expects the Iraq war to cost, all in.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to LWA
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        So it can be paid for twice over simply by not invading Syria and Iran.Report

      • Avatar Ken S in reply to LWA
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        Coates doesn’t advocate financial restitution in this article. The most he actually advocates is the Conyers bill, which calls for a study of reparations. My takeaway from the article is this: So you think you know about the African American experience because you have studied slavery and Jim Crow. You don’t know the half of it.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to LWA
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        Coates doesn’t advocate financial restitution in this article. The most he actually advocates is the Conyers bill, which calls for a study of reparations.

        Is it unreasonable to suspect that what this really means is “Let’s work on building a stronger case for financial reparations?”Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to LWA
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        Is it unreasonable to suspect that what this really means is “Let’s work on building a stronger case for financial reparations?”

        I was trying to figure that out too. It makes little sense to write an article laying out a case for something, titling it “A case for [X],” and then claim that there’s no advocacy for that to actually come about.Report

      • Avatar Ken S in reply to LWA
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        Is it unreasonable to suspect that what this really means is “Let’s work on building a stronger case for financial reparations?”Is it unreasonable to suspect that what this really means is “Let’s work on building a stronger case for financial reparations?”

        Yes. But to assume that the reparations will take the form of a $100,000 payment to every living African-American is nothing but a straw man.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA
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        I apologize if trying to tie a cash value to the concept of paying reparations is a straw man. I was under the impression that reparations would involve payment.

        If reparations do not, I guess this subthread isn’t necessary at all.Report

      • Avatar Ken S in reply to LWA
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        Is it unreasonable to suspect that what this really means is “Let’s work on building a stronger case for financial reparations?

        Sorry, I missed two letters in BB’s comment. What I meant to say is
        “No, it is not unreasonable. But to assume that the reparations will take the form of a $100,000 payment to every living African-American is nothing but a straw man.”Report

      • Avatar Ken S in reply to LWA
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        Many different forms of reparations have been discussed over the years. Of course they involve money, but not necessarily cash payouts to individuals.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA
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        Whenever I have discussed reparations (or seen reparations discussed), it’s always taken the form of cash payments to individuals. (Well, occasionally some jerkface shows up and says something like “WHAT ABOUT WELFARE AND FOOD STAMPS! WE’VE BEEN PAYING REPARATIONS FOR YEARS!”… I suspect that we’re all in agreement that this person doesn’t even have anything close to a point.)

        What form of reparations are you talking about if not cash payments to individuals?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to LWA
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        Did anyone actually read TNC’s piece? He starts with the story of someone who had suffered demonstrable discrimination, resulting in his being unable to get a real mortgage, instead being pushed into a predatory, quite possibly illegal arrangement that combined all the worst features of owning and renting. He was part of a class action that sued for actual damages, but lost, with the foreman of the jury being quoted as wishing he could undo Brown vs. Board of Education too.

        Obviously, in telling this story, Coates isn’t trying to disprove the idea that economic harm from racial discrimination ended in 1865. He just want his million bucks, and once we’ve observed that, we can go back to saying “Reparations? Yeah, maybe if there were still ex-slaves around.”Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to LWA
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        What form of reparations are you talking about if not cash payments to individuals?

        Perhaps a Congressional committee to study the effects of slavery on modern-day society as well as appropriate remedies? The way I interpret Coates’ statement that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. is that such a committee would be reparative as much as – if not more than – a single cash payment to individuals.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA
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        The way I interpret Coates’ statement that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. is that such a committee would be reparative as much as – if not more than – a single cash payment to individuals.

        I don’t know that we haven’t wrestled publicly with these questions but that’s beside the point, I suppose. So we put together a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and, finally, wrestle with these questions publicly.

        It seems to me that such a Commission will need to address at least two things:
        1) the racism that one finds in the stereotypical South waving a Confederate flag
        2) the racism that one finds in liberal communities where well-meaning liberals can pass laws integrating schools but still find ways to send their own children to 95% white schools in circumvention of the law

        And I imagine that half of those on the committee will salivate at the thought of wrestling with the one and will wave away the other as not particularly relevant to the discussion of racism as it exists today in 2014.

        But, sure, let’s pass HR 40.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to LWA
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        @jaybird
        It depends on who is appointed to such a commission. Particularly given the opportunity to reach beyond sitting members of congress you wouldn’t have members fall into those postures. I’m thinking a president would be looking for American, Desmond Tutu level people to be on such a commission. And they wouldn’t necessarily be about falling into the potentially unconstructive, well-worn grooves you outlined. Also, it is not like the US can’t do some critical self-reflection when necessary. Admittedly a totally different topic, but the 9/11 Commission executed its responsibilities, and in something that rarely happens, its report was a best seller.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA
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        Dude, seriously. Let’s pass it and see what happens.

        I imagine that the country, as a whole, pretty much takes the attitude “yeah, some really crappy stuff has happened to African-Americans but other people did it and I didn’t. My solution is to blame them.”

        But maybe it will actually result in forward movement. I can name a dozen worse things that the government does without stretching. A Truth and Reconciliation Committee would be something good that the government could do.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to LWA
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        I’m thinking a president would be looking for American, Desmond Tutu level people to be on such a commission.

        Why the president? Why is that the default assumption? Why couldn’t Congress do this on their own?

        Even more than that, why sit around on our asses wishing and hoping for government to pass a bill that year after year is submitted to Congress but apparently never even gets brought up in committee?

        There are half a zillion foundations in the U.S. looking for things to fund. Go get one to fund a commission and get on with it. Even if it’s results don’t have the same public perception of legitimacy that a government commission would, it might at least be significant enough to start the kind of conversation TNC wants, and could be the stimulus for government to pay attention and create its own commission.

        Seriously, this attitude of “if government doesn’t do it, there’s nothing to be done” is one of the greatest impediments to making progress on a wide variety of issues, and it’s not a technical stumbling block, it’s just a perceptual one.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to LWA
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        says:

        @james-hanley
        The conversation is taking place in the context of a specific piece of legislation (HR 40) proposed by a specific member of congress (Conyers). Also, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been referenced, and in that instance it was indeed the South African President who appointed TRC’s chair Desmond Tutu.

        I’m not saying that is the only way such a discussion could happen, nor am I saying this is the only path for the critical self-reflection that’s needed. And I’m not opposed to your suggestion, foundations, think tanks, universities, or some combination of non-governmental actors could also examine the issue and publish their findings.

        I would note though, as you mention elsewhere on the thread, government action confers a certain legitimacy. It does make a difference if a commission is established by the president and/or an act of Congress on the one side or on the other side if the Ford Foundation and Gates Foundation decide to do it. There’s, at least, an expressive power in the government of the United States undertaking the task that is less in evidence when private actors do it (though, as you point out, the work product could be just as high quality if conducted by a private group).

        “if government doesn’t do it, there’s nothing to be done”

        I don’t think anyone is suggesting that’s the takeaway.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to LWA
        Ignored
        says:

        @jaybird

        I apologize if trying to tie a cash value to the concept of paying reparations is a straw man. I was under the impression that reparations would involve payment.

        I think it’s reasonable, when the issue of “reparations” comes up, to start thinking in terms of cash payments. However, I think Coates is in part arguing for us to reconsider what we mean by reparations. That’s not a knock against arguing about cash payments, just a suggestion that the issue could extend beyond cash payments.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA
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        says:

        Well, to go back to his analogy of the drunk, I decided to look at the 12 steps and see which applied.

        1.We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
        2.Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
        3.Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
        4.Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
        5.Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
        6.Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
        7.Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
        8.Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
        9.Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
        10.Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
        11.Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
        12.Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

        It seems like he wants us to go through 4 and 5 (and 8) so we can sit down and really talk about what 9 would be and, after that, live 10.

        But this fails mostly because we’ve managed to move to a “racism without racists” paradigm and the problems are with the institutions as much (or more?) than with the individuals.

        I mean, off the top of my head, I went to a high school where Spanish-speaking kids were shuttled off to the ESL ghetto where nobody ever really interacted with them.

        How in the hell can I make amends for that? From what I understand, the ESL system was intended to help these kids out but, as it turns out, didn’t… and how much did I benefit from that (and the implication is *NOT* that I received no benefits… I probably did). From there, I look back and realize that the classes that I was in didn’t have that many black kids, despite there being a number of black kids in the school. We had mixed classes for gym. Health. Driver’s Ed. The classes that didn’t have “General”, “Regents”, or “Honors” attached to them.

        How do we figure out #5 with that?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to LWA
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        says:

        It makes little sense to write an article laying out a case for something, titling it “A case for [X],” and then claim that there’s no advocacy for that to actually come about.

        It can make sense. You can make the case that there’d actually be a moral case for doing X fully acknowledging that X is impracticable or impossible, and then from that moral position offer up a feasible Z for people to consider as an alternative arrangement. That’s what would make a case for reparations that doesn’t call for them to actually happen make sense, and I suspect that TNC is thinking about things that could be considered as reasonable Zs. I hope we hear some things along those lines from him at some point. It would be a bit disappointing if we didn’t, because I don’t see a lot of point to the exercise without it, except to buttress extant white guilt in society. I believe that unfocused white guilt has been a force for a lot of good in our history, but it’s probably a less contestable proposition that it’s also been the cause of a lot of harm as well. Ideas for how to focus white guilt from people like TNC (by which, yes, I mean thoughtful people of color) are I think exactly what we need more of in our discourse about race right now. So I hope he comes through with that.

        Unfortunately, there is a strain of deepest pessimism that runs through his writing, and I am not at all convinced that he wouldn’t reject that role out of hand. But If he did, I would have to share the puzzlement over making the specific case for a reparations idea that he views as impracticable while making to suggestions for reasonable alternatives. What exactly would be the point of that? (In fact, the answer to that is probably also available through a full review of his writings, and will relate to the pessimism I mentioned. We shall see.)Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      The federal government owns roughly 635-640 million acres. Sixty-two percent of Alaska.

      A goodly amount of that is in national forests and whatnot, certainly.

      Still, we’ve seen pushes for the federal government to divest itself of some of its land ownership. Seems like we could kill two birds with one stone, here.

      Although Nevada, Arizona, and Alaska would probably have issues with > 50% of “their” land suddenly given away to “not them”.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        600 million acres/44 million African Americans. So we’re down from 40 acres to 13…and how much of a mule goes with that?Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        40 million trucks would be a nice order for Ford. We wouldn’t even have to call it “stimulus”.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        Patrick,
        Oh, no, not really. Because NV, AZ, and AK could buy their land from folks who don’t terribly much have interest in living out there. And then it would be their land.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        (I’ll note: this is a terrible way to actually handle reparations, IMO. But that’s just me)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        Ford has done a lot worse in naming its vehicles than Mule. The name Ford Mule would capture my interest in a way that the name Ford Focus wouldn’t.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick
        Ignored
        says:

        @patrick
        40 million trucks would be a nice order for Ford. We wouldn’t even have to call it “stimulus”.

        Oh, but we would. Hell, we might have to, just to get enough legislators on board.

        @will-truman
        Ford has done a lot worse in naming its vehicles than Mule.

        I’m reminded of my first brush with market research. My friend and I were approached by a young guy who wanted to ask us questions about a new tennis shoe, white, with no brand markings. When he asked, “If this shoe was called the Bronco, which company would you think made it?” my friend immediately said, “Ford.” The young guy didn’t crack a smile, and I thought, oh, he’s heard that half a hundred times already. And for several years I look for a tennis shoe called Bronco whenever I was in a mall. If that shoe appeared on shelves, I’m pretty sure it never did under that name.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Jay,
      I’m pretty sure we can give blacks wealth the same way we gave whites wealth. Give ’em federal land. Lord knows there’s enough of it. Will it be enough? probably not, but hey, what do you expect for something free?Report

  7. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    The cataloging of the things done to blacks is impressive. What is sad though is that people still argue over the measures we have already taken to try to unwind some of that damage. Affirmative Action or the Community Reinvestment Act measures are the causes of problems not corrective acts. There will be no discussion of reparations since some actually try to blame the CRA for the great depression; like just saying no more red lining if you are a FDIC bank was some sort of controversial or stunning thing. Just discussing the history though of what has been done could be a start to something positive.Report

  8. Avatar LWA
    Ignored
    says:

    I read the article, and it is blistering.

    I remember thinking, in the late 70’s, that the civil rights battles were over, and justice had won.
    It isn’t, and it didn’t.

    Just as Jim Crow was able to eventually prevail over Reconstruction, bigotry has won back some of the ground they lost.Report

  9. Avatar trizzlor
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    says:

    I’m curious what the response has been, particularly from opponents of government solutions to recovering from slavery and racism. The general argument I’ve seen, from Kevin Williamson at NRO (whom I generally like), is that, in practice, reparations will punish some whites that are not guilty to benefit some blacks that are already well off. This seems like a minor practical issue to me (victims of government brutality often get paid out by non-perpetrators, and some boundary cases will get the benefits of any such scheme) but Williamson elevates it to a moral argument. To a large extent this is the argument I’ve seen elsewhere, with critics emphasizing how many affluent blacks or poor innocent whites will be affected to varying degrees. Are there other aspects to the rebuttal that I’ve missed?Report

  10. Avatar James Hanley
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    says:

    I admit to not having read the article yet, although that’s next on my list. But just responding to 2 bits of what Tod quoted.

    1. Whatever kind of reparations we give, if the structural issues don’t change, the effects will be short-lived. One time actions don’t change structural problems, and what is given is mostly thrown away.

    2. If TNC thinks reparations–of whatever forms–will lead to “the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage…the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag,” then I think he’s wildly overestimating humanity. In fact I suspect one of the side effects of any form of reparations would be to further embitter some significant proportion of American whites.Report

    • Avatar Brooke in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      Item 1 is what I’ve been getting at in my responses to the article and the coverage surrounding it. Fixing the system will have the greatest long-term impact. It’s the harder thing to do, and it means we’ll finally have to get down to the business of changing the minds and behavior of bigoted people.

      On the topic of cash reparations, has anyone done any studies about what that kind of payout would do to the economy?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      The picture TNC paints of German reparations to Israel impresses me. At the time they were being argued, Germany was, as a whole, in complete denial about their culpability in the Holocaust. Today it stands out as the one encouraging example of a country that’s come to terms with its past (unlike Japan, Turkey, and, I hate to have to say, the US.) I think the controversy over reparations forced Germans to have that conversation, and while there are no guarantees, that might happen for us as well.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        I wasn’t impressed with the militancy in the quotes from Ben-Gurion and Meir Dworzecki, and I wouldn’t support that kind of attitude in any discussions that took place in our country.

        The phrase “coming to terms with its past” is pretty vague. What’s implied when this phrase is used, exactly?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        Really, you’d respond badly to people who were angry about slavery, Jim Crow, and the Klan?

        Coming to terms with its past means, among other things, not doing this.

        Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, provoked fury yesterday by saying that the so-called “comfort women” were not coerced into becoming sexual slaves of the former Japanese Imperial Army.Report

      • Avatar Brooke in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        I can understand anger, resentment, and a desire for the acknowledgment of the wrongs that have been done to your community, however making remarks about wanting to see people dead or wanting to take other people’s money and property by force are neither appropriate nor helpful. That’s what was shocking about the statements I was referring to from Ben-Gurion and Dworzecki.

        Obviously, remarks like the ones from Abe are not helpful, either. But I think at a certain point, once people have been educated and expressed appropriate regret for the wrongs done to people, there has to be an end to the constant expectations of guilt and hand-wringing.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        So you’re upset with Jews having revenge fantasies against Germans, but OK with the PM of Japan saying those Korean women enjoyed being raped?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        The interesting thing about German reparations to Israel was the rightest factions in Israeli politics were against the idea of reparations. There belief was that reparations would allow Germans to get too easily off from the Holocaust by allowing them to wash their hands of the guilt by giving money and other material goods.

        What is your ethnic background Brooke? Groups that experienced great amounts of persecution are likely to get militant even if they did not directly experience it as individuals.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        I agree, but I have to wonder if the fact that those reparations were done within a generation of the holocaust makes a difference.

        I mean I get TNC’s point that American oppression of African-Americans is contemporary, and not just in the past. But it’s a lot easier to get people to see slavery, or even Jim Crow, as an “event” like the holocaust was an “event,” whereas all these more hidden techniques today make it a lot harder to persuade white people that it’s still a real event.

        And as far as persuading white people in a way that leads to the total mental shift he suggests, I think visible, albeit individual, black successes makes that hugely harder. During slavery, there were no visible black successes. During Jim Crow, even successful blacks were very evidently excluded. During the holocaust, very successful Jews weren’t immune from being rounded up and sent to the camps.

        Today we have millions of white people listening to successful black recording artists. Dr. Dre may become the first billionaire rapper, in a country where 99.9% of white kids know they’ll never become billionaires. Whites wear Air Jordans and LeBron Hamilton jerseys, and lust after Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, and don’t even blink at the idea of Morgan Freeman as god. And of course Barack Obama not only won the presidency, he was the first in half a century to get over half the popular vote twice.

        I’m not arguing that any of this suggests TNC’s evidence about on-going discrimination is wrong. I’m arguing that as individual black successes mount, the difficulty of persuading white Americans may also mount. It’s sort of paradoxical–when discrimination was far more obvious, reparations were impossible because of the level of hatred of blacks. Now that the levels of outright hatred and open discrimination diminish, so that people might object less on those grounds, they may object more on the grounds that, “look at Dr. Dre, obviously reparations are no longer necessary.”

        I’m not trying to whitesplain here, I’m trying to ‘splain whites. (As I see them–I could be wrong, of course.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        By the way, I have read the piece now, and I hold to my opinion. But I’m not arguing against study of the issue.

        Of course there’s nothing stopping private study of the issue, and there’s nothing a government commission could figure out that a private commission couldn’t. But of course a government commission, despite being no more capable than a private one, would give the issue greater legitimacy. I find that weird, but undeniably true.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        Note that there were in fact reparations for Japanese-American victims of the Roosevelt administration’s internment policies. But this was in the late ’80s, at a time when many of the victims were still alive.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        Whoops. Wrong subthread.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Never mind. Right subthread.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        In the era of Jim Crow and mass racism, millions of whites enjoyed successful African-American artists like Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday while millions of African-American struggled. Its little different today. There might be more African-American artists and a much larger African-American upper middle class but the legacy of racism still affects African-Americans in very material ways.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        @leeesq

        I don’t think @james-hanley is denying that, or that racism persists in very materials ways even though whites continue to enjoy the artistic talents of, and in some cases vote for, some successful black people. He seems to be saying that this phenomenon might provide a check in trying to convince whites of the need to address the issues similar to ones Coates brings up. This is all assuming I’m reading James’s comment correctly.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        Gabriel’s right. I’m not denying the on-going presence of racism.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        @mike-schilling

        Is your sense that the argument is that legislating the payments acted as a way of making the moral accounting more concrete and (if the payments are renewing) and constantly present with the majority who make the payments? If so, that seems like a reasonable argument about a reason to do the payments that doesn’t actually claim that justice is being done through the payments per se.

        A caution would be the one that Hanley raises – that it could embitter, or, perhaps worse, make people let go of any sense of need to do the moral accounting – i.e. thinking the payments wipe away any need to do the societal accounting at a personal level. OTOH, if the accounting is already happening to essentially no significant extent at all, there may be little to lose in that regard. And to some extent it might be argued that a person who is bitter about making slavery reparations payments in the 21st century is actually engaged in just the kind of accounting we’re seeking for the payments to cause. No one can rightfully expect such accounting to always be easy, pretty, or to take just the ideal form those calling for it would like it to take. So long as it didn’t incite violence, it might be worth it.

        It might incite violence in some instances, however. I think that could be a real, if somewhat remote, concern.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      @james-hanley, your probably right on number 2 but there are some exceptions. The TRC really did seem to help South African society overcome many but not all of the societal problems caused by Apartheid. West German reparations to Israel really did seem to make them accept responsibility for the Holocaust. In America, reactions are likely to be different.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      He defines reparations:

      Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans.

      I suspect we’d be more comfortable paying up and going on as usual rather than going through the deep soul searching and leveling-of-playing field Coates would see us experience; that his use of the word ‘reparations’ to imply ‘seeing ourselves squarely’ hints at the impossibility of seeing ourselves squarely without attaching monetary value.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic
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        says:

        Good comment zic, insofar as it clears up what Coates is arguing for in his piece. He’s talking about reparations at a more spiritual/social healing level than reimbursement for monetary losses or takings. A material price – and perhaps the accompanying willingness to pay – is a part of the reparative process, bu not the central motivator for engaging in the process. Which is why I find all the attempts to pre-empt that process from even getting off the ground so fascinating and rather ironic given the content of his essay.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic
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        says:

        Given that reparations is a sticky word, and that TNC seems to be using it in a way that’s outside the normal understanding, the snide part of me wonders why zic isn’t telling him he needs to use a different word.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to zic
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        says:

        Part of my theory of sticky words is that their use can be an occasion to blame the user, for perhaps unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) drawing on connotations that aren’t erased simply by defining it a certain way.

        But another part of my theory is that sometimes the reader ought to suspend the connotations at play and take the author’s definition for a spin and see how far it takes one.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic
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        says:

        the snide part of me wonders why zic isn’t telling him he needs to use a different word.

        Well, he does seem to have created a great deal of miscommunication, particularly for of those who didn’t read the piece and see reparations = money, no?

        “But if I were to take TNC to task for his usage, I’d take him to task on his own blog; not on a blog (or comment) far removed from his direct writing,” responds zic snidely.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic
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        says:

        I dunno about all this “sticky” business. TNC’s use of the word “reparations” wasn’t sticky for me. I mean, he’s pretty damn clear about what he means by the word and that the reparative process is more important “than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic
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        says:

        Given how closely reparations is linked to the concept of money, if it’s not a sticky word, then I think we can retire the concept.

        I do, though, respect your approach of letting him define the word, rather than insisting on the sticky understanding. Would that such generosity in reading had been showed to me by me volunteer editor. 😉Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic
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        says:

        @james-hanley

        From Oxford US English definition of reparations: The making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged:

        Reparations, as a concept, involve analyzing and quantifying wrongs and assigning them some sort of value to repair the wrong. Coates use of the word is the first step in that sequence.

        I see a vast difference here with my critique of your use of coercion. In fact, I’d argue that coercion, in the sense it’s normally construed, often leads to the need for reparations. Your argument, in this context, would be that the reparations themselves present a form of coercion. Which either seems to dilute the potential force of the meaning of coercion or potentially suggests reparations is simply coercing more injustice — which is how I suspect it might be taken by the folk who often suggest democracy is coercive.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic
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        says:

        Walk down to the local bar and ask folks what they think reparations for blacks means.

        Honestly, I think a person has to be pretty out of touch with the general public to think reparations isn’t sticky with the concept of money. You’re thinking like an educated liberal who cares about the issue, not thinking about how average white Americans will hear the term.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to zic
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        says:

        I don’t mind taking TNC to task for using the term that way – here because no one will care if I do it at his blog.

        It’s a hugely reasonable argument that he’s making. It’s just not an argument about the thing the word reparations generally means. Reparations have been paid in other instances. Coming to terms with the facts of Japanese internment wasn’t “reparations” (it might have been part of a hopefully reparative process, but that’s a, um, different word). Payments to those interned and their families were reparations.

        Maybe this is an instance of the rogue headline-writer phenomenon, but I don’t get the sense that it is. TNC is arguing about what reparations in this context should be. The problem with that is that if that is his argument, then in fact his argument is about why there is apparently not a good case for reparations as we traditionally understand them in this context. If there were, he’d be making it, since that’s what the title of the article promises. Instead, the article is an argument about why something else should take their place.

        And fair enough. It’s a good substantive argument. I wouldn’t even deny that it’s an argument for reparations. But it’s definitely (perhaps sneakily) marketed as an argument for “reparations.” In fact, it’s something not too far short of an argument against them.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to zic
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        says:

        Mike James Zic:
        I think this is a problem of Audience. TNC writes for the people who read him, presumably. Anyone who’s been reading the man for a while is going to know what they’re in for (a scholarly and reasoned “thought through” article) — and be willing to let him use a sticky word (which reps is!) because they respect him enough to let him create his playing field.

        OTOH, the Other Audience (the one of Page Views and Drive Bys) is going to swing by for some bitching.

        I’m not going to say that TNC ought to write for the Other Audience.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      @james-hanley

      I’m concerned about no. 2, also, but from a different angle. I’m not sure what good it would do to “pause and remember the bad things our country stands for,” although doing so is probably better than not. Should we just let fall to the ground two drops of our beer before we scarf down hot dogs and watching fireworks display and then pretend that we have atoned? I think the transformation Coates is arguing for could be a force for good, but it could be just an occasion to cry crocodile tears.

      Coates, in a recent interview of Bill Moyers’s PBS program in which his article was discussed, made the point that in a sense, it was “easy” for Germany to apologize for the Holocaust because most of the victims were no longer around and present as a political/social reality.Report

  11. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    Like @james-hanley , I’ll cop to not having read the piece yet. But reading Tod’s two points here, I will offer the following:

    1.) Not to make light, but your discussion of TNC’s discussion reminds me of a Chris Rock bit. Rock lived (and maybe still lives) in a very tony neighborhood not far from where I grew up: Alpine, NJ. Alpine is the sort of town we used to drive to to look at the absurd mansions. Rock talks about how he is one of a very small handful of black folk who live in the town (which is itself rather small). At the time he was doing this particular standup, he was arguably the biggest comedian in the world. And who lived next to him? A dentist. As he says in the standup, “You know what a black dentist would have to do to live in my neighborhood? Invent teeth!” For whatever reason, your description of the pressures that even very successful black folks face to do something other than what very successful white folks do made me think of that bit.

    2.) A while back I shared a TED Talk (which I unfortunately can’t find right now) of a black lawyer discussing capital punishment in the US. In it, he talks about how South Africa had a Truth and Reconciliation Committee. And while SA is still plagued with a number of racial issues, he cites the existence of this committee as hugely important in that country moving itself over. Apartheid ended within our lifetime; slavery ended a century and a half ago. But we never had a TRC or anything like it. As such, we continue to stumble along attempting to move on from something we never even made sense of having had happened.

    I’ll hopefully get to the piece on Monday. I may or may not weigh in with more then.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      @kazzy At the time he was doing this particular standup, he was arguably the biggest comedian in the world. And who lived next to him? A dentist. As he says in the standup, “You know what a black dentist would have to do to live in my neighborhood? Invent teeth!”

      How does this work? Is it because black dentists make less than white dentists? Even if that’s so, that can’t be the whole story—Coates mentions in his article research which found that black families making $100,000/year live in neighborhoods similar to those inhabited by white families making $30,000/year. The obvious question is why, but that doesn’t seem to be addressed, unless it comes up again later in the article.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        @brandon-berg

        As I said, I didn’t read the article. So I don’t know specifically what TNC is discussing. But based on Tod’s summation and (moreso) my own observations, black folk and white folk who would seem to inhabit similar social standing often do not inhabit such. As you note, the wealthy black person lives in a poor white neighborhood. Not because black folk tend to be the highest of the high in any particular neighborhood. But because there are a number of factors that push even successful black folk into areas below their presumed standing.

        From my observations, these include but are not limited to:
        1.) Feelings of isolation. Being the only black family (and, particularly, the only black children) is difficult.
        2.) Feeling of not belonging.
        3.) Other supposed measures of success. Sure, you’re a dentist, but are you a fifth-generation dentist?
        4.) Pressure to stay “true” to one’s community.

        I can point to a few towns/neighborhoods in my immediate area (Metro NYC) that are almost exclusively white, inhabited largely by financial folk, bankers, lawyers, and doctors. The few black folk who live in those spaces are almost all big name entertainers. E.g., Patrick Ewing, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock. I’m not saying it is all white people’s fault that black financial folk and bankers and lawyers and doctors don’t also live in those communities. What I’m saying is that the phenomenon is real and likely exists for unsavory reasons.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        (And I used those specific names because I can show you where their houses were/are. They weren’t randomly pulled out of my ass. They are the “tokens” in their respective communities.)Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        Coates addressed this in a blog post in April.

        You’ll have to watch a video to get your answer; I’ll post it in a follow-up comment.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        The video:

        Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg
        Ignored
        says:

        Brandon,
        That black family making $100,000/year may be middle class only by technicality. By wealth, they may still be counted as working class.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      Here’s the Chris Rock bit.

      Report

  12. Avatar Tod Kelly
    Ignored
    says:

    So this conversation is neither going as badly as I had feared nor as well as I had hoped.

    At the risk of sounding like I’m scolding (not my intention), I’m going to once again ask that our mostly white readership take the time to read the Coates piece rather than jump in with what they are pretty sure black people mean when they talk about stuff.

    For those that have read the piece and are still hung up on money, let me challenge you in this thread to consider and suggest non-monetary outcomes of HR 40 that might make a positive difference — not to square the balance sheet of the past so much as right the ship today.

    Here’s a rather obvious one: A constitutional voting amendment, since it appears that targeting black communities because of how those people will probably vote is still a thing being made into law and upheld be certain courts.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly
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      says:

      What would your proposed amendment say that the 15th does not?Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @jaybird
        Given US history, it seems to make sense to go for the belt and suspenders approach to voting rights.

        Here’s one text, HJ Res 44,

        “Article–

        “Section 1. Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal
        voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public
        election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.
        “Section 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement
        this article by appropriate legislation.”.

        Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @creon-critic

        Can you explain the meaning of “belts and suspenders approach?” That went right over my head.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley
        Just an idiomatic expression to mean extra cautious. Here’s one explanation,

        http://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-it-mean-to-wear-belt-and-suspenders.htm

        I must have heard it in UK politics, because my definition isn’t the superfluous extra caution line, but the worthwhile redundant safety line.

        So the 15th Amendment might need a partner that even more clearly expresses voting rights.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @creon-critic

        I do think the proposed amendment, as written, might arouse the ire of some because it would permit prisoners to vote. I actually don’t have a huge problem with prisoners voting, but the amendment would encounter some difficulties there.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        Thanks, seems like a useful phrase.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        Creon, off the top of my head, I could see legislation ensuring that it was, in fact, citizens that were voting.

        And I might be able to see a 5-4 Supreme Court agreeing.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @jaybird
        Perhaps. But the “fundamental right” bit could (more firmly?) put such attempted inquiries as to citizenship under strict scrutiny. So maybe courts would put the burden on the board of elections to figure out citizenship through less onerous means rather than put the burden on the individual citizen to present appropriate ID. And even within the range show ID requirements, there was sketchy stuff going on. I recall gun permits were ok but student ID wasn’t in one set of legislation (Texas?). That’s pretty suspicious.

        Also, the range of playing with early voting, the hours polls open and close, weekend voting or not, etc. perhaps the various restrictive measures in that domain would also get a look over by the courts.

        I’m not particularly married to the text of HJ Res 44, but it seems that maybe some further voting rights clarification is necessary given the recent past of legislation and Roberts court rulings.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        @gabriel-conroy

        I believe this is something that has become an issue with regards to census counts and congressional appointment, but the location of prisoners presents a major issue with regards to voting. When you have a host of people being housed in a location other than where they live — even within the same state — things started to get skewed. It is my understanding that Republicans want prisoners counted in census counts because prisons tend to be in more rural parts of the country (which skew right). So counting prisoners can bump up an area’s population considerably. When you factor in that a large amount of these prisoners are from urban areas — where they are now not being counted — the skewing only gets worse.

        I’m on board with giving prisoners the right to vote. It never made sense to me that committing a crime robbed someone of this right. However, there would need to be some work done to determine where there vote should count, especially if they are being housed out of state.

        But that is a practical matter, not an ideological one.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @kazzy

        I hadn’t even thought about that aspect of it. I suppose I would side with giving prisoners the right to vote on the assumption that their prison is their “residence.” Part of the reason I support that is because then some politicians might take issues like prison reform seriously and would have an incentive to curb some of the greater abuses in the system. It might not work so happily in practice, however.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        “A long-standing flaw in the decennial census counts some 2 million incarcerated people in the wrong place for purposes of redistricting and undermines the “one person, one vote” principle of the 14th Amendment. Census data, of course, forms the basis for re-drawing state and local districts each decade to ensure that each district will contain a similar number of people and each resident will therefore have the same access to government, a result required by the one-person, one-vote rule.

        However, although people in prison can’t vote, and remain legal residents of their home communities under the laws of most states, the Census Bureau currently tabulates people in prison as residents of their prison cells, not their homes. Using this flawed data to draw legislative districts grants the people who live near large prisons extra influence at the expense of voters everywhere else.”
        From: http://www.demos.org/publication/census-count-and-prisoners-problem-solutions-and-what-census-can-do
        @gabriel-conroy

        Now, that is from an advocacy group, but I think it outlines the difficulty of addressing the issue.

        I actually have the opposite response as you do though. I fear that the locations of prisons would become politicized.

        However, the practical difficulties — which certainly could be worked out and which may be mitigated if you are right (and I hope you are) and politicians take prison reform more seriously — shouldn’t trump the ethical issues of denying people the right to vote.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @kazzy

        I don’t have anything to say against what you quote from the advocacy group. I’m far from an expert, but that jives with what I had guessed the situation would be when you brought it up in your earlier comment.

        I do think assigning the prison-as-residence for right to vote is perhaps more pressing. Perhaps this is because of my (questionable, I admit) belief that prison-as-residence could create an incentive for prison reform. But also because I think their vote would count more if localized in the prison residence rather than spread out to who knows how many districts in the city they hale from. (Of course, my understanding of places like Chicago is that the people who tend to end up in the state prisons tend to come from very specific neighborhoods, for all of the reasons that Coates documents. So maybe using home residence as place of voting residence could still have a strong impact.)

        I do think the voting rights issue is an important one in itself, and I concede that the issues that concern prison reform are much more complicated than can be solved solely by voting.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        @gabriel-conroy

        You are probably right that the sudden appearance of a large group of voters (who may or may not vote as a bloc, organized or otherwise) would get the attention of legislators. Home residence would be difficult because it would be hard to substantiate.

        This actually dovetails with something I’ve been thinking about recently. Zazzy and I are planning to move out of our current town (hopefully very soon). As such, I opted not to vote in some recent local elections because it felt problematic to contribute to decisions that ultimately will not impact me (this isn’t entirely true; as a homeowner, the results of elections can impact our ability to sell our home). However, if we were renters with an expiring lease, I’m not sure that it’d be “right” for me to vote in these elections.

        I could see an argument being made that the 1700 people in Sing Sing should be voting for the mayor of Ossining because they are unlikely to interact with his decisions: as prisoners, I doubt he has any practical impact on their lies and upon their release, they are almost all headed elsewhere.

        I think it presents an interesting ethical question about who should be voting in what decisions.

        All that said, we should be doing everything we can to expand voting rights (including to prisoners) AND we should be addressing issues within our prison system.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        I have similar ethical issues when it comes to voting to retain judges or who sits on some (to me) unheard of position, like water board. I’m reasonably well-informed about politics (even local politics), but I almost never know who the judges are or what the issues are about the water board (or whatever commission is up for election). Instead of abstaining, I sometimes opt for the cynical approach and assume that they’re all corrupt and part of the Chicago machine and need to be voted out, or in the case of the water board (or whatever commission), I vote for the Green guy or gal. I sometimes vote for the Republican just to be a warning to the shoe-in Democrat not to take their umpteenth re-election for granted.

        That’s probably not the right way to go about voting.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        @kazzy

        I think it presents an interesting ethical question about who should be voting in what decisions.

        Maybe personal decisions, but nothing beyond. I’ve heard people, in all good earnestness, suggest renters should not be able to vote in local elections. College students, too. In fact, this was a big deal in my state a few years ago, college students voting was used as the justification for a proposed voter-id law, and triggered a big voter-fraud investigation which turned up exactly two students who were registered to vote both in their home towns and college towns — a problem of the improper voter-roll maintenance by the respective town offices, and not wrongdoing on the students part — and no evidence that the students actually voted twice.

        So given the right to vote, and given that the right is linked to geography, I don’t think you should have had any qualms on voting in the election. Thought you are planning to leave the community, you want to leave it (I presume) in good health, and your voting matters to that end.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        @zic
        Good points. And I should make clear that I wouldn’t suggest raising my ethical questions to legal restrictions. Assuming I vote in good faith, I think the issue is moot. But I could vote in bad faith. Acting in bad faith is probably unethical, even if it’d be worse to stop the person.

        Case in point: several local sites are lobbying for a newly approved casino. There is much division over this. Certain sites’ proposals would probably be beneficial to meet from a property value standpoint. They might also be bad in terms of the broader impact on the community. It feels unseemly of me to support the plans, sell my house, and bail. I should have every right to do so, but I’m curious about the ethics of it all.

        Would love to hear from @james-hanley on this…Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        @kazzy I still think you’re overcomplicating the ethics question.

        It is okay to vote for something that will benefit you financially. Personally, I’d argue the greater ethical violation is not participating in the process; but I view it as a civic duty.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        @zic

        You’re probably right. I’m not certain there are ethical issues. I’m curious as to whether there are and, if so, what they might be.

        This is how I’m thinking of it: If I would vote differently were we to plan on staying here versus on our current plan to leave, that seems to mean something. What, I’m not exactly sure…Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @kazzy

        First of all, I don’t think you can count on a specific location impacting your property values in a positive way; from what I’ve seen, property values near casinos decline with two exceptions: first, the land in question is for the casino itself, or the location has commercial value due to proximity to the casino (so gas station, convenience store, hotel type value to the location). Now I admit that it’s been a decade since I crunched those numbers; but I did crunch them. I could not find instances where residential neighborhoods saw an increase in value from proximity.

        Second, you may be planning to relocate now, but sometimes, the best of plans don’t materialize. So any decision you make on how to vote should include the possibility.

        Third, the best way to maximize your property values is to vote/contribute/encourage the long-term well-being of the neighborhood. Park spaces provide the biggest increase of property values I know of. Improved schools matter, too. But if you want to increase your local property value in a residential area (not rural), lobby for a public park, pathway, bike path, etc.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @zic

        But I could push for substantial improvements to our public parks, gain financially when the plan is approved and my property value goes up, sell the house, move, and leave my former neighbors holding the bag to pay for those improvements. Is that ethical?Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        Yes, Kazzy, that’s ethical. Because the people remaining in the neighborhood still have the benefit of the park and it’s positive impact.

        I’d say this is ethical because I’m presuming you have no other conflict of interest, and you are simply advocating as one citizen, your voice amongst many, and the things you’re advocating are not going to harm some specific group (restrictive covenants that exclude children, for instance; something I find highly unethical in almost all cases).Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        You guys are not very good rent seekers. You don’t claim appreciable rents by voting for a park. You claim them by passing regulations against growth or for environmental, open space provisions. This reduces supply, increases demand, increases home prices, keeps out the riffraff, improves schools, and allows one to go to sleep knowing that you made the world a better place and thus are a morally superior being.

        Chicken soup for the soul.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m curious about the ethics of it all.

        Would love to hear from@James Hanley on this…

        About ethics? Me?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        Maybe you.

        (After correction.)

        Yes, you.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        What would your proposed amendment say that the 15th does not?

        That John Roberts is not allowed to gut me.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        but I almost never know […] what the issues are about the water board

        Just write in “John Yoo.”Report

  13. Avatar North
    Ignored
    says:

    I have read TNC’s article, it’s a blistering indictment in general and in specific of the persecutions that Black Americans suffered running right up to the present. Some rambling:

    -I’m all about studies being done on reparations and I’d be interested in reading their results. My cynical estimate is that reparations will remain a dead letter. The American populace remains wedded both to the idea what white America is no longer directly responsible for/benefits from slavery and that Black America contains too many people who never suffered from slavery. The idea of direct transfers from some who may not be responsible to benefit some who may not have been harmed strikes me as a political dead end.

    -It is also, sadly, way too soon for much discussion of reparations to happen. The GOP is completely lost down the rabbit hole right now. They’ve been wedded to McConnell’s total obstruction strategy ever since Obama was elected. The only way I see them letting it go is once they suffer some overwhelming electoral routes and the way the electorate is structured currently their routes will be interspaced with midterm retrenchments. Maybe if the turtle man himself gets the boot that could help.

    -Maybe reparations could succeed as a policy if they’re directed more as a transfer from the wealthy (heavily white) to the poor (heavily black) rather that direct racial transfers. This might help with some other claims that could be wrapped in with the question of slavery. What kind of reparations are due, for instance, to first nations people for genocide and the theft of an entire continent? What reparations are due to women for millennia of oppression and theft of labor by men? The list goes on and on.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to North
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      says:

      The problem with first nations folks in America is that most of them are from South of the Border. At which point, America is making reparations for France or Spain.Report

  14. Avatar James Hanley
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    says:

    I’d add, having read TNC’s piece, that he does a great job of detailing the on-going discriminations, but he doesn’t talk enough about reparations in it, what form they might take and the mechanism by which they might actually create change, to be convincing on that score. I get that he’s saying “let’s create a commission to figure out those tough questions,” so he’s implicitly admitting that he doesn’t have those answers. This is honest on his part, but the unfortunate effect of this kind of honesty is to weaken the advocacy effectiveness of the piece.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      @james-hanley

      I had pretty much the same feeling you express here. But I also think–and this is something I kind of just thought of answering one of Brooke’s comments above–that part of what Coates is doing is asking us to reconsider what we mean by “reparations.” That does kind of detract from a clear lesson we can draw from the piece.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      No one has the answers. As widespread, complex, and entrenched as the problems reparations would hope to redress at least in part are, without careful, rigorous, and extensive study, no one can hope to. Simply throwing money at it would be the easy way out. That Coates does not pretend to have the answer is a sign of how serious he is. That we continue to bristle at even the mention of the word reparations, making it unlikely that such study will begin in earnest anytime soon, is evidence that most of the rest of us are not.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        The problem is that without knowing the answers he’s proposing the outcomes, and pretty speculative and dubious outcomes, too. He’s suggesting a radical change in social thought. I get why he wants that, but I’m pretty dubious about the prospects of a government reparations program that creates a whole new social conscience among whites. It seems to me to partake of that romanticism about government that assumes it can really accomplish anything, it’s just a matter of will.

        I’d say we should push government to work on the legal details, but look for broader cultural avenues for changing hearts and minds. I think doing otherwise is a guaranteed recipe for failure and disappointment.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto in reply to Chris
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        says:

        I think an unspoken hope is that through a thorough accounting of the wrongs inflicted, there may come some moral figures who can push the needle in the right direction. That is, in fact, the history of how the Trade was originally abolished after all. It was ultimately information of the terrrors brought out by people ranging from James Ramsay that created the figures like William Wilberforce or a Thomas Clarkson.

        Hugely important is the intellectual and personal accounting. But for us to foster men and women of social conscience we need to talk and learn. It maybe hyperbolic but I hopeTNC’s blog and the community around it can at least start in making new Testonites.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris
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        says:

        through a thorough accounting of the wrongs inflicted, there may come some moral figures who can push the needle in the right direction

        What does this look like, though?

        I’m willing to agree that saying that it’s a cash amount to be mailed to the recipient is a strawman. Sure. Nobody is saying that reparations involves cash.

        Hanley uses the terms “a radical change in social thought” and “a whole new social conscience among whites”.

        Sure, I’m totally down with radical changes in social thought and picking up a whole new social conscience.

        If I had to give my nephews a short speech before they ran off to school about what they need to do, what would that speech contain? What should I tell them to do?Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Chris
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        says:

        I don’t know, Jaybird. None of us does. That’s I think, ultimately one of the reasons Coates had to write this article.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
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        says:

        I agree, @nob-akimoto

        This notion of someone asking questions, instead of offering armchair-general answers, is novel for Americans these days, or so it seems. Perhaps we’re so willing to solve problems with a combox filled with a combox and a 2¢ opinion we’ve forgotten how to question and contemplate much.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @nob-akimoto

        Yes, but I’m skeptical that applying the word reparations to that is conducive to the goal. What I see on this page is a lot of educated liberals nodding vigorously in agreement with his use of the term, but how are the masses of white people going to hear it? And we can bitch that they “ought” to hear it right, but bitching and $5 will get you a grande latte at Starbucks, right?

        If you want a conversation with average Americans, you’d better speak their language, right?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Fortunately, there’s no evidence in that twitter stream of the term’s stickiness. 😉Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Nob is correct. I think Coates is quite clear in the article that the process, which would require confronting some pretty ugly truths that we are currently doing a damn good job of avoiding, is where he hopes a change in consciousness would come from.

        If we have to get rid of the word reparations because it makes white people uncomfortable then a.) Let’s have that conversation, and b.) There’s your problem right there: we’re not having this conversation because it makes white people, the people who benefit the most from not having this conversation, uncomfortable.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Maybe I was wrong to identify certain words as “sticky.” Maybe a better approach would be to say that most terms are sticky, but some more so than others, and some in different ways.

        So concerning “reparations,” the question would be not whether it’s a sticky term, but in what way and to what the term sticks. Any honest reckoning would, indeed, have to recognize that most (or at least “many”) people see “reparations” as a monetary solution, so it is sticky in that way, and as such, it will be a harder sell than some other words, maybe, say, “reconciliation” or “restitution.” Still, those words might be sticky in other ways. “Reconciliation” has, to me, a connotation of “well, we’re cool now, so we don’t have to worry about it any more” and “restitution” shies more toward the material, monetary idea that “reparations” evokes, although it also might have a whiff more of a connotation of righting specific wrongsReport

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Jay, I have to admit, you’re one of the last people I’d expect to demand simple answers to difficult questions, but you’ve done it twice in these comments. The answer to your question of what it entails is that it entails a lot of careful study, sometimes painful conversations, and a willingness to accept that we, each and every one of the white people here, bear some responsibility,even if our ancestors came here after the war, because we have all benefited from the repression, marginalization, and subjugation of black Americans to some degree, simply by virtue of being born white in a country built and maintained through that.

        The point is not to tell you, a white dude, how you can talk to your kids, but to have a conversation that lays bear some of the most unpleasant truths of our society, and then figure out where we go from there.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Chris,

        The words we use matter, right? TNC wants to talk about something different than what has to date been discussed under the rubric of reparations. If he wants to shift the generally understood meaning of the term, that’s legitimate, but it’s a task in itself. And if it’s hard for people to adjust to, well, you can neer at them, but that’s not particularly helpful. Or you can recognize that you that you’ve undertaken the tough job of working directly against people’s expectations. I think your “B” is a bit too flippant, and misses that point.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        What if money turns out to be a big part of it? His one example of a concrete proposal, and his use of the example of Israel and Germany, suggests that money will be part of it (and the term is made possible the Israel comparison). Part of the question he’s asking, it seems, is if money is an answer, how is it done. But he certainly believes that money is not the whole answer. I’m not sure that means that we have to ditch the term, but it means we should be open to the conversation. But the sticky part seems to revolve more around white discomfort than conceptual issues. If I am wrong in thinking that, I will take it back, but nothing I’ve seen so far suggests I will need to.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
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        says:

        What if money turns out to be a big part of it?

        I think money would be the easy part for the group of Real Americans® @james-hanley is concerned about. The difficult part would be the acknowledgement that we didn’t get great on our own; we didn’t build that would be a bitter pill to swallow.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Chris,

        I’m responding to folks here saying TNC’s saying it’s not about money, and arguing that “money” isn’t a sticky part of the concept of reparations. If money is part of it, then those folks would be proved wrong. Your reference to his examples that did involve money suggest they’re overinterpreting him anyway. (Not that he isn’t obviously talking about more than money.)

        But I wonder if we’re not using sticky in different ways. I’m using it as it was used in a recent OP, about how words have meanings that stick to them, even when we intend to mean something else. You appear to me to be using it to talk about what makes the process sticky. Not unrelated, but not precisely the same.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Chris, I’m also one of the only people who put out one of the benefits that I received at the expense of minorities and asked how in the hell I was suppose to measure the good I got, the harm done to others, and how I ought to make amends for it.

        It’s not even that I’m demanding “simple” answers as much as a guideline for what the answer would eventually look like.

        If the answer is “it looks like a conversation”, well… okay. What does making reparations for ESL classes look like? Does it matter at all that ESL classes were ostensibly created in the first place to provide a safe space and to help these children of immigrants?

        Which makes me wonder about any large scale solution… some form of reparations, whether it be monetary (NOBODY IS ARGUING THAT IT BE MONETARY!!!!), or a government program, or a conversation is going to be really helpful for this set of people, going to be neutral for this set of people, and going to make things downright *WORSE* for that set of people. I suppose we need to take into account that we’re going to try to make those last two sets as small as possible but, golly, how good have those who end up implementing this sort of thing proven at getting that right?

        Or am I missing the point of the drunk analogy and my use of the steps 4 and up is an inappropriate conversation in its own right? So then I have to even step back from what reparations would be appropriate to what conversation about reparations would be appropriate (hell, is it appropriate for me to participate in the conversation?).Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @jaybird
        Thinking about your ESL example here’s an observation or two.

        As I understand it, reparations can be in part a call for introspection on an individual level. So, yes, there’s a dimension whereby simply dialogue and acknowledgment of a state of affairs amongst individuals is a component of the process. In addition there is a possibility for discussing a monetary compensation dimension (not the focus, both due to the preliminary stage of the dialogue, and because Ta-Nehisi Coates is calling for something much harder than writing a check).

        And also in addition, there is a point that Senator Tom Harkin made with respect to the Senate resolution apologizing for slavery, “It is important to have a collective response to a collective injustice.”* Which is to say that symbolic actions matter; actions taken on behalf of the people of the nation collectively matter in a way that reaches far beyond what you or I could do individually (or what a non-governmental actor could do). In the ESL instance, maybe it looks like introspection on the part of the institutions responsible for overseeing the program; reflections on their conduct and their failings. To me, part of the strength of Ta-Nehisi Coates argument is that it does not claim to have all the answers. “Where do we go from here?” is a question that we’re called upon to figure out together.

        As examples (and perhaps useful points of comparison) I’d point to then-Australian Prime Minister’s Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations and to UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology for Bloody Sunday. I’d say both of those stand out in my mind as more comprehensive milestones in a process when compared to what the US has done with regard to the treatment of African Americans.

        a conversation is going to be really helpful for this set of people

        So this is really difficult in part because it is a discussion about things that aren’t easily pinned down: social cohesion, whether a community feels it is treated with dignity and respect, who feels like an in-group and who feels like an out-group, Othering, etc. I’d just suggest, there isn’t some single solution or some single right answer. These are problems and sentiments that have been entrenched in US society over many lifetimes. They won’t just be cleared up in some small timescale. Which is why I used the word milestones, this proposed commission, this dialogue, this process can only be individual components of a longer process. As with any major atrocity, there is no finality in the near future.

        * Here’s the Post piece http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/18/AR2009061803877.htmlReport

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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        says:

        The answer to your question of what it entails is that it entails a lot of careful study, sometimes painful conversations, and a willingness to accept that we, each and every one of the white people here, bear some responsibility,even if our ancestors came here after the war, because we have all benefited from the repression, marginalization, and subjugation of black Americans to some degree, simply by virtue of being born white in a country built and maintained through that.

        I see this claim made a lot, but it strikes me as very unlikely to be true. Modern economies are built on industry, not agriculture. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the region in which slavery persisted the longest remains the poorest. Moreover, many if not all of the benefits from slavery that accrued to white Americans generally are likely to have been cancelled out by the Civil War. This isn’t the sort of claim you can just casually throw out there and expect to have it taken at face value.

        The idea that whites generally continue to this day to benefit from racism strikes me as equally dubious. You can point to a small minority of white people who may have gotten promotions that they would not have otherwise and say that they benefit from racism, but we are all hurt by living in an economy where a large subset of the population is not able to produce at its full potential.

        This is especially implausible if we accept the claim that all of the excess social pathology that occurs in the black population is due to racism. This imposes tremendous costs on society generally in the form of crime control, welfare programs, and lost productivity, that almost certainly outweigh the aforementioned benefits to specific white individuals.

        All of which is to say that racism is a negative-sum game, not zero-sum. “White people benefit from racism” is not a corollary of “black people are harmed by racism.”

        Tyler Cowen recently had a good post on this issue with respect to slavery specifically.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @brandon-berg

        did you read it?

        Coates does not build his case for studying reparations on slavery, he builds it on what happened after slavery. What he’s suggesting — the wealth transfers that benefitted whites at the expense of African Americans — happened after the Civil War.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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        says:

        I’m responding to Chris, not Coates. And my comment discusses both slavery and what has happened since.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Brandon,

        That’s a good comment. What you’re challenging in Chris’ comment is the idea that white people collectively have benefited from oppressing black people, and I think you make a good (albeit theoretical) argument that from a purely economic perspective, one I take to rely on an objective measure of cost/benefit, that’s not the case. That is, if I’m understanding it correctly, your argument is that oppressing a race or class of people may realize relative economic gains for the oppressors, but in absolute terms the oppressors collectively are still worse off than if they didn’t engage in those productivity-reducing actions.

        I guess that that’s true insofar as one accepts the type of model you’re invoking here (and I have no beef with invoking it as one of many explanatory tools), so here’s the question I’d propose back to you: does Coates’ (or Chris’s) argument go thru if we restrict our analysis of the economic impact of race relations in the US to the relative gains/losses resulting from actions that on a relative basis result in outcomes benefitting one race as against the other?

        I mean, as you say in your comment, economic oppression of the type we’re talking about here – one that’s based on racism and one which you haven’t challenged as existing in the US – is not zero sum but a net-negative one. It seems to me that that fact (insofar as it is one) still admits of an analysis whereby differential gains/losses can be ascribed to the two participants in play here (collections of individuals identified by their race).Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Or: it seems to me you’re making an argument against the economic rationality (in some sense of those words) of engaging in race based oppression, but you’re not denying that such race based oppression has and continues to exist. So in that sense, you haven’t really responded to Chris’ and Coates’ primary arguments.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @stillwater Yes, I think it’s pretty clear that racism has made whites better off relative to blacks, but only because it has made blacks worse off, not necessarily because it’s made us better off.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Too bad we’ve never invented time travel. I’d love to see one of you guys trying to explain to Genghis Khan that collecting tribute from half the known world made his Mongols poorer than if they’d done something positive-sum, like open a chain of yurt shops.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Brandon, in addition to the fact that you clearly haven’t read the Coates article, you are also clearly ignorant of the economic history of slavery (it’s what this country’s wealth and in some ways political system were built on) and the economics of segregation and discrimination, of which there is a pretty large literature. Hell, given your example of discrimination (getting a job), you clearly haven’t even grasped the myriad ways in which racism operates in the market. In the end, you’re the one just throwing out doctrine in the hopes that your co-ideologues will accept it without question and those who disagree will be cowed by your “knowledge.”

        Seriously, I’m not sure you even known what points your addressing, because you haven’t bothered to think about these things. But I don’t expect me saying so, or anyone saying so, to change that. If you haven’t bothered by now, you probably never will. And you’re part of the problem, then, that Coates is asking us to address.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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        says:

        It’s not a question of whether plunder is ever profitable for the plunderers. Slavery seems to have worked out pretty well for consumers of cotton and other slave-produced goods at the time. Not so much for the generation that fought the Civil War, though.

        Rather, the question is whether slavery conferred any permanent benefits upon white Americans, such that those of us alive today are better off than we would have been without slavery. All that plunder doesn’t seem to have done present-day Mongolians much good.

        And then there’s the question of post-slavery racism, which in general hasn’t been so much plunder as hurting black people by refusing to engage in mutually profitable trade with them. There’s not a lot of profit in that.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
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        says:

        And then there’s the question of post-slavery racism, which in general hasn’t been so much plunder as hurting black people by refusing to engage in mutually profitable trade with them. There’s not a lot of profit in that.

        Contract housing sales in red-lined neighborhoods was highly profitable for the contract holders and theft for the black people trying to purchase those homes and without access to any other from of financing.

        It was plunder hurting black people by refusing to engage in mutually profitable trade.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        First, slavery built the system, so to the extent that we benefit from being in this system, it continues to benefit us. Second, we’re not just talking about slavery.

        And then there’s the question of post-slavery racism, which in general hasn’t been so much plunder as hurting black people by refusing to engage in mutually profitable trade with them. There’s not a lot of profit in that.

        No! That’s not all it is. Read the fucking article, Jesus H. Christ. Or read some actual literature on the economics of racism in this country. Seriously, the willful ignorance of empirical reality in favor of principle is infuriating. You are smart, dude, clearly, but being smart doesn’t mean you can just intuit the world. I look forward to the day that you realize that.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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        says:

        My last comment was in response to Mike.

        Chris:
        If you can point to a serious economic analysis supporting your claim that modern-day white Americans generally benefit from racism, I’d be interested in seeing it. But no, I’m not going to be convinced by your assertions of superiority.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Yes, I’ve read the article. It does not make, nor as far as I can tell does it even attempt to make, the case that white people in general benefit from racism today, or that slavery was a boon to white people in general. For example, it says that slavery brought in tens of millions of dollars to antebellum America. The Civil War is estimated to have cost about a billion dollars in Federal expenditures alone, and that cost is likely dwarfed by the destruction of property, lost productivity, and loss of life.

        Your claim that the economy was built on slavery is a bit vague. Do you mean that the modern economy as we know it now would not exist if it hadn’t been for slavery? This seems unlikely. Is the relevant counterfactual that Africans were never imported to the Americas, or that the black population was roughly the same, but worked as free labor? In terms of the effects on long-term economic growth, does the shifting of resources from slaves to consumers of the products produced by slaves make a big difference?

        Yes, I know it’s about more than slavery. Every comment I’ve made in this thread acknowledges that, including one I made almost exclusively for the purpose of pointing out that I had discussed post-slavery issues in another comment. Coates’ article makes reference to some post-slavery plunder (e.g. in the housing market), but there’s no attempt to put a real dollar figure on it and compare it to the costs white Americans have paid for racism. My sense is that the former is small compared to the latter, but again, I’d be interested in seeing a serious economic analysis of the topic (disregard this if someone has posted one; I haven’t refreshed in a while).

        Moreover, the benefits of the plunder seem likely to be confined to those who actually perpetrated it (and their shareholders), rather than spreading to white Americans generally. And the majority of the harms documented in Coates’ article seem to have been perpetrated out of sheer spite rather than for profit.

        Yes, I’m aware that you can’t intuit everything, which is why my original comment was full of phrases like “unlikely to be true” and not “transparently bullshit.” I’m perfectly willing to consider evidence that my intuition is wrong, but I’m not going to accept your claims at face value when the economics seem way off to me.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @mike-schilling

        Theft or plunder does not raise average prosperity. It can raise the well being of the plunderer if successful and superior to other productive endeavors which were not pursued. This is not a minor “if.” It’s a whopper.

        The cost of plunder/theft is as follows. First there is the lost productivity (opportunity cost) which occurs because plunderers chose theft rather than production. Second is the cost of defense which producers invest to protect against plunder, again including opportunity cost. Third are the costs of the struggle and the damage to lives and property on both sides. This is often catastrophic. Finally, and In the long run most importantly, is the lower incentives of wealth accumulation and reinvestment due to the threat of plunder. Any reduction in net growth rates over generations becomes immense via compounding.*

        The net result of Mongol invasions was death, rape, and destruction of most for the net gain of a few surviving elites. Eurasia continued for centuries with virtually no improvement in living standards. Average living standards were at the subsistence level. They played zero sum games rather than positive sum ones.

        @north

        On the topic of racism, I do not for a second believe one racial class gained by the exploitation of another class. A few exploitative elites gained. These individuals should have been prosecuted. The average person in America was on net harmed by the inefficiencies and zero sum struggles inflicted into the economy. The pie was made smaller than it otherwise would have been.

        I will even go so far as to suggest the unions workers, who were among the strongest proponents of racism and the racist tactics of cartels and minimum wages and such were not net beneficiaries over the long haul. In the end, coercion beggars us all for the gains of a few.**

        *the same four destructors of value also occur (in modified form) in many political struggles. Any time there is a zero sum struggle, this dynamic tends to play out.

        ** speaking of which, if a commission studied racism and determined that on net unions were net beneficiaries, would you support a reparations tax on all surviving and retired union workers to right the scales? I didn’t think so.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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        says:

        For example, it says that slavery brought in tens of millions of dollars to antebellum America.

        I meant to delete this from my comment. I did a sanity check and realized that it could not possibly have been the total profits from slavery. I’m not quite sure what he meant by that sentence. Perhaps he was referring specifically to the sale of slaves imported from Africa.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Not claiming general superiority. Just claiming to have read the article.

        Anyway, head to google scholar and look up labor/job segregation, the literature surrounding Black Wealth/White Wealth, stuff like this, and this (along with the classic Reich paper just titled “The Economics of Racism”) which will argue that white working class is hurt, in terms of wealth, by racial inequality.

        However, the issue isn’t simply overall wealth: it is access to credit, access to employment, access to housing, access to neighborhoods, access to education, access to plenty of other resources. Hell, to some extent being white just makes the shit you own more valuable than it would be if you were black. If you’d read the Coates article, for example (or just listened to Chris Rock), you’d known that income creates different levels of access for black and white people. Black people get to participate in the economy, they just don’t get to save, or accumulate wealth, like white people do. This has all sorts of consequences beyond simply not being able to get credit or buy a home in certain neighborhoods. And it essentially creates an economic benefit of being white. It may mean that our ceiling is not as high as it could be if we included everyone in a perfectly race-neutral system not buoyed by the state at all levels, but that’s not the system we’re talking about.

        And again, benefit #1 is that our economy, our system of government even, would not be what they are today if it weren’t for slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Oops, sorry North. I clicked the wrong name. My bad. I will gladly pay reparations for any damage caused.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        And again, benefit #1 is that our economy, our system of government even, would not be what they are today if it weren’t for slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.

        Explain?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        First, slavery built the system, so to the extent that we benefit from being in this system, it continues to benefit us.

        I know we’re talking about more than slavery, but your claim here has a hidden assumption, which is that slavery was economically superior to the alternatives. If it was not, then we all were harmed by the system.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @james-hanley , that’s one of the points Coates is trying to make in his essay: the early economic and political success of the United States was dependent, in part (in large part) on the exports of the South, while the political and economic success of white Americans was in part a result of the fact that they were not needed for much of the cheap labor producing those exports. Compare England and the U.S. over the same period: England’s industrial revolution (fueled by cotton planted and harvested by slaves, along with other materials from the cheap labor forces of colonies) was dependent, in part, on a cheap white labor supply provided by a system that essentially created a permanent underclass through social and political means. That is, there was a system that essentially entrenched the middle class and aristocracy, by giving those two groups access to political and economic resources while allowing almost no mobility to the working class by denying such access systematically. In the U.S., the cheap labor driving the late 18th and early 19th century economy came primarily from slave labor in the South and, increasingly as industrialization and urbanization progressed, immigrants in the North, making it unnecessary to create a permanent caste system reliant on restricting political and economic freedoms.

        And we see the legacy of these differences today: while economic mobility in the U.S. is pretty shitty at the moment, it’s still far better than that in the UK, which is still feeling the effects of the semi-formal caste system that survived into the 20th century.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @james-hanley , it’s been a while since I read much on the subject, but from what I remember there were some arguments, not necessarily universally accepted, that slavery was economically inefficient by the time of the Civil War, but I don’t recall any argument that it was so until very late in its history (after 1840 or so, maybe?).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @chris

        “…making it unnecessary to create a permanent caste system reliant on restricting political and economic freedoms.”

        I assume you are talking specifically about this happening amongst whites, yes? I mean, slavery was a pretty permanent caste system reliant on restriction political and economic freedoms.

        If I’m understanding you correctly, the structures and systems at the time required some group to be relegated to the bottom and kept there. Because the US could force African slaves into that group, whites were able to avoid it. This was not the case in Britain where whites did have to occupy the bottom rung (which was markedly different than the bottom rung in the states).Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @james-hanley “I know we’re talking about more than slavery, but your claim here has a hidden assumption, which is that slavery was economically superior to the alternatives.”

        Not to put too fine a point on it, but: duh. Assuming, of course, that you measured the success of a system in purely economic terms *and* from the vantage point of only the people who benefited rather than being victims of slavery, of course it’s “economically superior.” That’s like saying if you’re only taking a factory owner and his upper management’s situation into account, paying that owner’s laborers half of minimum wage is “economically superior” to an owner that pays minimum wage.

        “If it was not, then we all were harmed by the system.”

        I would argue this is a false dichotomy. We can (and do) live in a society where we are all harmed by racism *and* where certain segments benefit economically from it just the same.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Color me dubious, Chris. That theory suggests that slavery was necessary to escape England’s fate, ignoring other structural differences between the the two.

        It also appears to just look at the obvious things that happened in the U.S, and ignore what is not so readily seen, the opportunity costs that were paid.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Tod,
        I honestly don’t know if you’re agreeing or disagreeing with me.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        says:

        “Tod,
        I honestly don’t know if you’re agreeing or disagreeing with me.”

        Our Tod works in mysterious ways.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @james-hanley , if you haven’t already, check out this documentary:

        http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/about/

        @kazzy ,yes, that’s what I was trying to say: the slaves (and later, in parts of the country, immigrants) comprised the under class that helped drive the production that fueled and grew the economy. Coates raises this point in his essay as well.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris
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        says:

        I think I’m agreeing and disagreeing with everyone.

        I think the argument I’m seeing in these threads that non-slaves — or, in times since, people who get the economic benefits of redlining, job hiring, voter suppression, etc. — received no benefit whatsoever from all of these policies that damaged others is ludicrous.

        I also think that the argument that our society as a whole is worse off for these policies is self-evident.

        I’m not sure I get the threads here that try to pit one of these statements agains the other.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @tod-kelly

        I’m not sure your comment is accounting for opportunity costs, either.

        And one thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet is the opposition to slavery that was based on the claim that paid white labor couldn’t compete with it.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @chris

        Which question is that documentary supposed to answer?

        If all you’re saying is that slavery deeply affected our social and economic system, sure, nobody’s argued any differently.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @james-hanley , it presents research, and stories, of the role of slavery in the creation and building of the U.S. and its economy.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Restating Tod, subject to his correction.

        Rent seeking activity tends to benefit those privileged (say union members or deceptive loan issuers), at the expense of society at large. Average prosperity is decreased, but individuals gain.

        We are dealing with the the basic problem of sociobiology as illustrated by the prisoners dilemma. Short term exploitation, defection or free riding lead to short term gains for those defecting on cooperation, though at the expense longer term to the size of the cooperative pie.

        Thus it is actually in theory possible that everyone loses long term, even the exploiters, defectors, free riders –who become “relative winners” in a losing game. As an example, I do not believe union members gained on net from their actions. I do not believe the gains were enough to offset the long term negative effects of their cartel.

        For the record, I do believe some were absolute gainers. They should have been held accountable. Now it is way too late.Report

      • Avatar James Hanleu in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Chris, I think we’re focusing on different things, different elements, and a conversation is going to go round in circles. I don’t have the energy for that today.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Jeez, @james-hanley , can’t even spell your own damn name… :-p

        I will say that your last comment seems as good a place as any to leave this be for now.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Tod,

        We can (and do) live in a society where we are all harmed by racism *and* where certain segments benefit economically from it just the same.

        Yeah, that’s right. Err, I agree. For the most part. (“All” seems too strong a word.)

        I’m not sure I get the threads here that try to pit one of these statements agains the other.

        I don’t either, actually. The two claims are talking about different things within different contexts, it seems to me. It’s entirely possible for a person to engage in racist behaviors that not only benefit that person economically full stop but benefit him more than the alternatives (not only in terms of subjective determinations but from an objective pov as well) and that total economic benefit would have been greater (tho not for certain individuals!) had slavery and other racist actions never had occurred.

        I don’t think anyone on this thread is arguing that racist practices are desireable, just that engaging in those practices is economically beneficial for certain people. Namely, the people whohave and continue to benefit from engaging in them.

        My earlier comment way upthread was intended to cleave those two things apart. It doesn’t seem a difficult distinction to make, actually.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Still, right, it’s possible that within the society we have, white people benefit from being white, in relative opportunity and access, say, while the society itself, and as a result everyone with in it, is harmed by systematic and pervasive racism. From a purely economic, market-based perspective, the current system is undoubtedly sub-optimal, but we’re not dealing in the absolute maximum possible at this stage in the development of the economy, but in the current state, which has evolved with racism as fact of the matter and, to the extent that markets are effective, maximizes wealth and standards of living within the world that it finds itself. And in so doing, it benefits white people, because that’s what the conditions point it toward doing.

        I mentioned (I think) the Reich article earlier; it can be found here. It argues that racism hurts white labor, because it fractures the labor class, resulting in less solidarity and collective action on the part of labor, which in turn results in (an empirically observed) increase in inequality among white people, with rich white people getting richer and working class white people stagnating or increasing wealth at a much slower rate. It is possible for this to be the case — and the data suggests that it is — even if white labor benefits from racism in other ways.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Not bailing on this, but there’s a lot to read and I’m short on time for the next couple of days.

        I’m not 100% sure, but I still get the sense that some people in this thread are conflating making white people relatively better off by holding down black people with making white people absolutely better off.

        To give an extreme example, white people would be relatively much better off if we could just keep black people out of the labor force altogether. But we’d be worse off absolutely because we’d have to spend more to support them through the welfare state, and because we wouldn’t get the benefits of trade with them.

        I’m also skeptical of this story:
        England’s industrial revolution (fueled by cotton planted and harvested by slaves, along with other materials from the cheap labor forces of colonies) was dependent, in part, on a cheap white labor supply provided by a system that essentially created a permanent underclass through social and political means.

        I’m not quite sure what the theory behind the claim that capitalism requires an underclass or cheap labor is. It doesn’t make any economic sense to me. I mean, I get that investors benefit from having access to cheap labor, but that doesn’t mean the whole system is going to come crashing down if they don’t get it.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Brandon, first, this is something people should make clear, because it would probably result in some conversations not getting dragged out purposefully: I know I, and I suspect most people, never think that people who don’t respond to comments have just bailed or are defeat or whatever. There is life, and there are blogs, and sometimes life gets in the way of blogs.

        Anyway, I think the problem is that the people who are talking about benefits for white people are talking about relative benefits, and the people who are criticizing them are talking about absolute benefits. We had that conversation down below, I think.

        Also, the theory that capitalism, particularly early industrial capitalism, requires a mostly permanent underclass is pretty standard Marxist fare, easily observable in the industrial revolution. That includes here, where increasing industrialization in the couple decades before the war created a mostly white, in large part immigrant underclass in the north, working in factories. It’s also evidence post-war throughout the country. It’s evident at the same time in Europe where restlessness among workers became dangerous to the very existence of several states (and ultimately toppled one big one). It’s evident today in the sweatshops of less developed countries. People don’t work under the industrial conditions of the late 19th century or in the sweatshops of today unless they’re made desperate by the economic conditions and such conditions become preferable to the death or severe deprivation that is the only alternative. Or if you enslave them.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Chris,

        Setting aside Marx (a better sociologist than economist), I don’t think your examples demonstrate a “permanent” underclass.

        I know I, and I suspect most people, never think that people who don’t respond to comments have just bailed or are defeat or whatever.

        Bah, I always assume that. I mean, am I supposed to assume that people just got sick and tired of my badgering?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        says:

        @james-hanley , there used to be a guy here who not only assumed that the other person not responding meant victory, but who frequently recalled old conversations in which one of his interlocutors had left for one reason or another, and touted his victories. I can’t remember his name, but I think it started with T, and I remember him wearing big sunglasses.

        Anyway, England is a pretty good example of a permanent underclass, as is American chattel slavery. There is mobility, of course, in any economic system (hell, look at Thomas Cromwell), but there are limits on that mobility that ensure that there are always enough people to do the grunt work. The possibility of mobility, however slim (and in the American South and 19th century Britain the possibilities were slim, as they are in much of the underdeveloped world today), is why I always qualify “permanent underclass” with something like “mostly” or “semi-“.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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        says:

        Brandon,

        Following up on what Chris said, and personally speaking here, I would never interpret your failure to respond to a comment critical of your line of thought as evidence that your argument has been defeated. To believe that a thoughtful person’s views can be defeated by a single, blog-length, criticism – short, sharp, shot – shows a lack of thoughtfulness itself.Report

  15. Avatar Mike Dwyer
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    says:

    I have been skimming the Coates piece and while I am sure I missed some of the important points, I think I have a general understanding of what he is trying to say. My problem is this: the root cause of these problems happened a long time ago. If the US government had issued some kind of compensation to every former slave in the years after the Civil War then maybe, just maybe, we could claim some kind of formal closure, but they didn’t do that and as we know racism was formalized in hundreds of laws over the last 150 years.

    With all of that said, the actual problem is how you unpack all of those laws. Because they were often crafted as to be deliberately benign in words, even if harmful in application, those lawmakers successfully created enough ambiguity to give proponents room to argue. If some federal commission was put together today they would be doomed to fail because it’s so hard to track actual direct harm from some of these laws, especially when the people who suffered are long gone. If we just looked at laws currently in place it becomes even harder because, as several people pointed out above, social programs like welfare and Section 8 will be pointed to as the counter-balance. To muddy the waters even more you have all sorts of other ethnic groups that can claim harm. American Indians, WWII-era Japanese, even whites of non-English descent (indentured servitude was alive and well in the colonies). It all becomes an exercise in futility when you look at the issue on a scale of one and a half centuries or more.

    What I am unclear on is just what the black community would like to see happen. If Uncle Sam isn’t writing a check, what else could be done? Could we eliminate existing laws that are discriminatory, create more robust social programs to help minorities and ultimately appease folks like Coates? Or is a simple admission of guilt at every level of government enough? Maybe it’s unfair but I feel like someone needs to better frame just what a reasonable solution would look like and then move from there. Otherwise it becomes some kind of test of contrition and it’s hard for the government to pass that test when they don’t know what the answers are supposed to look like.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Mike Dwyer
      Ignored
      says:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Liberties_Act_of_1988

      Sorry this is the proper link.

      Note that it was the right-wing demigod Ronald Reagan who signed it into law….Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        says:

        Side note:
        The voting record on that bill goes a long way to answering the question lots of R’s seem to have which is: “Why don’t asians like us?”Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        says:

        @nobakimoto

        I’m not sure how I see that as a guide to answer @mike-dwyer ‘s uncertainty (although once he has a chance to read the piece more thoroughly, he’ll find that Coates shares many of his own questions).

        As I understand, the cases represented in the wikipedia article, they were all directed at repudiating one “event” (the internment, and its enshrinement as good law in Korematsu) and compensating the survivors, on the fiction that anything could compensate for what was done to them (and I imagine that the compensation that was eventually granted fell far short of even the monetary damages, let alone the personal and psychological trauma and lost months/years of freedom). It would be a harder thing to seek redress for the prior 30 or so years of racism represented by the anti-Japanese/Chinese education law and TR’s “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

        And the difficulty is compounded by the relatively more complicated experience of black Americans, more complicated because the history of slavery and systematic oppression has lasted longer and is in some ways more systematic than the type of animus that was used against Japanese Americans. (All the while, I realize that comparing who is treated worse is a fool’s errand. Sometimes wrong is wrong and we just have to leave it at that.)

        Finally, I like your comment elsewhere in response to James about hoping to restart a conversation (if I’m not mangling here what you intended to say). The type of thing Coates is calling for–beyond the HR 40 study–is a slow, painful process of introspection. And as you (and Coates) point out, it’s so hard we don’t have all the answers.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Nob Akimoto
        Ignored
        says:

        Sorry, I was responding to the previous link you had. Still, I think my point holds.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Nob Akimoto
        Ignored
        says:

        No worries.

        I screwed up the link the first time.

        My point was more that “what about….” is kind of silly when it’s been shown it can be done. The Civil Rights Act of 1988 may not match anything like the stature of the 1964 bill, but it’s important in a different way.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Nob Akimoto
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        says:

        Note that it was the right-wing demigod Ronald Reagan who signed it into law….

        And the left-wing demigod Franklin Roosevelt who made it necessary.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Mike Dwyer
      Ignored
      says:

      Mike,
      I’d like to see us address the Wealth Gap.
      Whether that’s by Uncle Sam giving money to create “Free Loan Societies”
      Or by demolishing laws that keep the poor poor, I don’t care.
      (love to hear other people’s solutions).Report

  16. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
    Ignored
    says:

    Coates published a blog post after his reparation article: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations-an-intellectual-autopsy/371125/ In that post, he tries to explain how he came from an “anti” reparations position to a “pro” reparations position. Kind of as an aside, he discusses the differences between how academics like, say, historians, and non-specialists like pundits or members of the public approach the issue of systemic and ongoing discrimination:

    The final thing that happened was I became convinced that an unfortunate swath of popular writers/pundits/intellectuals are deeply ignorant of American history. For the past two years, I’ve been lucky enough to directly interact with a number of historians, anthropologists, economists, and sociologists in the academy….The difference in tenor between those conversations and the ones I have in the broader world, are disturbing. What is considered to be a “blue period” on this blog, is considered to be a survey course among academics. Which is not to say everyone, or even mostly everyone, agrees with me in the academy. It is to say that I’ve yet to engage a historian or sociologist who’s requested that I not be such a downer.

    My takeaway is that the long listing of wrongs Coates identifies in his “reparations” article–and it’s less a listing than a recounting of a few, specific, examples that put a face to such trends as, say, redlining and contract sales of houses–is probably well-recognized by some people, but truly a revelation to others. So, explaining what some people might not even now realize is part of his “case” for some sort of restoration or restitution–or “reparations”–even if what that is, is not particularly well-defined.Report

  17. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
    Ignored
    says:

    Excellent suggestion, @tod-kelly. Thank you.

    He is right that such a study needs to happen. I doubt a cash payout would do any good, but anything we could do to improve the equality of opportunity to black communities, to bring it to parity with any other community, should be on the table. The study could help to identify those regulations/policies that were racist & whose effects are still felt, as well as any such regs/policies that still are on the books. That would be a god place to start.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
      Ignored
      says:

      I’ll add that while I knew about a lot of the social segregation that went on even through the civil rights era, I had no idea just how badly the laws were that allowed & codified all manner of predation. I think that right there was sufficient to at least make me want a more complete & official accounting of the wrongs.Report

  18. Avatar LWA
    Ignored
    says:

    Given that the proposal for universal single payer health care took decades to discuss, and ultimately became the ACA, I would expect reparations to do the same, and end up being oh, I don’t know, maybe affirmative action, coupled with robust anti-poverty programs or something.

    Still a good idea.Report

  19. Avatar Roger
    Ignored
    says:

    Thinking out loud, how would one arrive at an objective value which anybody agreed to?

    It makes no sense to look at incomes or wealth in the US of blacks vs comparisons of similar individuals in other places (such as country of origin). Indeed doing so could even result in a negative number. So this path is a non starter.

    It makes no sense to offer an objective number (let’s say a half a million), as everyone would accept it and then just complain it isn’t big enough. The only way this works is if the acceptance comes with conditions. For example give a state (let’s say we carve out an unpopulated part of New Mexico) or reservation to a black state and offer reparations to anyone agreeing to leave the US and become a citizen of the new state. This strikes me as extremely distasteful. It is like paying people to leave.

    It makes no sense to look at lifetime expected income differences and hand over the difference to blacks. This path neglects that there are similar differences between all ethnic groups, and assumes away any potential difference other than racism. This actually just leads to blacks being a privileged minority (vs Asians, Hispanics and especially native Americans). The immediate next step would be to demand the same thing for every other identifiable group.

    I have no idea how we compensate people of mixed ancestry and mixed families. It becomes absurd. Hell, I would be a net beneficiary (most members of my immediate family are either Hispanic, black or both). Nothing like marrying into reparations wealth.

    My conclusion is that this is a terrible idea which has the effect of stimulating in group-out group, zero sum thinking. It distracts from the positive sum game of aiming people today at creating value and wealth (with rules that demand fairness, and penalize current unfairness) and diverts them to a massive beggar thy neighbor zero sum wrestling match over the spoils of other people’s efforts.

    If Wells Fargo discriminated illegally within the statute of limitations, then they should pay a fine and compensate those harmed. This is a productive use of the law. Trying to figure out the historic net harm (gross harm less gross benefits) of societal membership grouped by racial ancestry is the kind of idea which if pursued to conclusion leads to complete and total societal disintegration.

    Please reread my last sentence.

    In summary. I am not just saying this is a bad idea. I am saying this is a terrible thing to discuss on a wide scale. If it becomes part of the political landscape and the cultural zeitgeist it will lead us to really bad places.

    This way be dragons.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Roger
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      says:

      Aaaand people continue to not read it but offer an opinion anyway. Reminds me of when we read “Rhinoceros” in 11th grade English.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Roger
      Ignored
      says:

      @roger
      Frankly, the dollars and cents aspect, who is cutting a check to whom and for how much, is not the point. Suppose there are no checks at all.

      I understand this is hard to talk about this topic without concrete proposals. People seem to want to demand the text of a commission report, and critique it, before establishing a commission to examine the issue. Can I suggest that maybe the commission would arrive at conclusions similar to those you, @roger, @mike-dwyer, and @brooke have suggested regarding putting dollar figures on reparations, citing precisely the difficulties you outlined: how to deal with multi-racial ethnicities, what about immigrants, how do we situate this in terms of other injustices perpetrated by the United States, etc.

      So instead, as @tod-kelly suggested upthread, “let me challenge you in this thread to consider and suggest non-monetary outcomes of HR 40 that might make a positive difference — not to square the balance sheet of the past so much as right the ship today.” Tod suggests a way we might strengthen voting rights.

      I could offer, maybe the US needs a national Human Rights Commission in place of the more limited US Commission on Civil Rights – a commission with a broader remit to examine and advise on some of the actively problematic human rights concerns across many communities (African Americans, Native Americans, women, etc.) – also a commission that more clearly parallels international counterparts (the US could more clearly meet the standards set forth by the Paris Principles on human rights institutions).

      I don’t know if it is just being hung up on the word reparations, and maybe if some other word was on offer it would clear away some of the confusion. A national commission on critical self-reflection, on introspection, on reconciliation, on social cohesion… whatever you want to term it. The fundamental idea that Coates is pointing to is an outstanding issue in the minds, and more importantly the lived experiences, of millions of Americans. And the dollar figure supposedly ascribed is not the crucial aspect. Let’s say money is problematic, ok. Got it. Now assume it set aside and talk about what can happen money aside.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Creon Critic
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        says:

        I don’t know if it is just being hung up on the word reparations, and maybe if some other word was on offer it would clear away some of the confusion.

        I think you do know that it would.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Creon Critic
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        says:

        Excellent comment, Creon.

        I am sorry to say that I also do not trust the commission would be any less political. Interest groups would infest it and use it to spin narratives of redistribution and blame. It would be a giant circus of interest groups seeking privilege, rents and regulatory favoritism in the name of non favoritism.

        Since writing my original comment, I have already stumbled upon inflammatory rebuttals to Coates elsewhere on the web (see the hate piece at Taki). This topic is toxic, and I fear those pursuing it with valiant motives should reconsider. Those pursuing it for political tribalism would of course disagree, as it is exactly what they want to solidify the bases and generate animosity and hate in the zero sum game of most politics and race baiting.

        I do not believe we need a commission to tell us to treat people more fairly.

        I cannot say it any better than HERE BE DRAGONS.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Creon Critic
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        says:

        I think I would argue that a discussion of reparations — as the term is understood — is still necessary, as would (I believe) Coates.

        We continue to live in a country where it’s pretty popular (maybe even a significant majority) who believe that, slavery aside, the descendants of slaves were given something by virtue of having been born in America; that with their wilding, crack dens and fatherless ghettos, it is somehow they who owe us. God knows most of out public policy that bothers to deal with blacks at all is based on this assumption.

        I agree with Coates when he says he suspects we are likely to find that the actual financial damages done to blacks in this country will be so large as to never allow for a practical reimbursement. But even so, having a national understanding of what we have taken needs to happen.

        Otherwise there is no reason to elect that housing practices will ever change, or that various bodies — including our courts — will someday come to any other conclusion than targeting black neighborhoods for voter suppression is somehow about “justice.”Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Creon Critic
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        says:

        @roger
        Ok, so you get at another nit I have to pick with you, @jaybird, and @james-hanley . Why on earth should we let the big, important discussions of the American demos be driven by what one can say to one’s nephew (presumably a child), or a conversation at a bar, or what an embittered person thinks, or the most toxic responses. Political discourse is a big thing and will have all sorts of corners where simplifications will distort, where it may be very difficult to explain the ins and outs to a child, and where people animated by animus will attempt to drive things into a ditch. That is a given whatever discussion we’re having. There are trolls out there. I accept that.

        Why should that stop us from have the difficult discussions? The complicated discussions? The discussions on the level where we make fine distinctions, distinctions along the lines of including the whole of the definition of reparations (symbolic and non-monetary aspects)? Why should you or I, or Jaybird, or James Hanley have our discussion driven to the lowest common denominator because someone in a bar might misinterpret what we say? Or because some groups driven by bitterness, animus, whatever, will say nasty things?

        Also, where are there not dragons in political discussion? Is there some dragon-free corner of American politics I’m unfamiliar with? Any significant discussion is going to implicate difficult stuff, gun control, women’s rights, gay rights, inequality, etc. They all have the potential for toxic, tribalistic, or just plain foolish contributions. I don’t see why that should stop us, individually or collectively, from having this difficult discussion. Part of the positives of this site is that it is a place where there’s less of the poo throwing and more of the ‘well, what does Rousseau make of this’ level of discussion.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Creon Critic
        Ignored
        says:

        @roger
        It would be a giant circus of interest groups seeking privilege, rents and regulatory favoritism in the name of non favoritism.

        Haven’t you just described democracy? Not in flattering terms, but still.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Creon Critic
        Ignored
        says:

        I beg to differ, @tod-kelly and @creon-critic

        You guys are assuming that this commission is a force for good. You assume a commission called “improving the relations between races” will do exactly what it’s name implies. This is EXACTLY the mistake classical liberals constantly accuse progressives of.

        First, my short reply. Are you also all for a political commission on IQ by race or standard deviation distribution of IQ by gender? Nothing good can come for this unless we assume up front that the consensus agrees with our benevolent assumptions to begin with. Don’t go there. This does not imply that social scientists and psychologists can’t or won’t do research. Moving this discussion into the political zeitgeist is PURE CANCER. Do not do it.

        Now my longer answer. Once again you assume the commission comes back with the answer you want to hear (Tod said as much).

        You also assume moral transgressions can be rectified via non moral means (the normal moral heuristic is vengeance and revenge, for the record).

        You assume this whole topic does not play into the hands of the race baiters on both sides of the debate. You might as well call the commission the black panther / KKK fund raiser commission.

        You assume that the commission can’t possibly come back and point out that current generation minorities are on net advantaged by membership in the USA. If they did come to this finding (God forbid) I am pretty sure you would not accept it without vitriol. The same goes for those who assume the opposite position by the way.

        This topic — in the political arena and general zeitgeist — is pure cancer. It will do no good. Do not go there.

        Yes, social scientists and economists should continue to study whatever they want to. These topics too.

        Assuming one is a utilitarian, or remotely interested in the prosperity of the human race, I suggest we leave this as far from politics as possible.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Creon Critic
        Ignored
        says:

        Yes, Creon, I have described the downside to democracy. That is why classical liberals want to use politics minimally.

        I know you guys roll your eyes when I speak of zero sum games. But the worst thing we can do is try to solve problems handled best by one domain in another. Politics is good at solving a narrow range of solutions (even LWA agrees with the narrow part). It is often a zero sum, win/lose game though. Be very careful of what you try to solve in politics.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Creon Critic
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        says:

        and@James Hanley. Why on earth should we let the big, important discussions of the American demos be driven by what one can say to one’s nephew (presumably a child), or a conversation at a bar, or what an embittered person thinks, or the most toxic responses

        Not that I ever said anything of the sort.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Creon Critic
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley
        I was criticizing this (the other elements of the list belonged to the other commenters mentioned, Jaybird said the nephew thing, Roger the toxic discussions),

        Walk down to the local bar and ask folks what they think reparations for blacks means.

        Honestly, I think a person has to be pretty out of touch with the general public to think reparations isn’t sticky with the concept of money. You’re thinking like an educated liberal who cares about the issue, not thinking about how average white Americans will hear the term.

        Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Creon Critic
        Ignored
        says:

        @creon-critic

        That was in response to Zic saying the term reparations isn’t sticky, and nothing more. Your interpretation of what I was saying isn’t even in the ballpark.

        I will say, though, that since TNC seems to want a process that really changes how Americans see the issue, being peeved about having to use language average Americans can grok seems to be a poor strategy. They may be dumb fucking asshats, but they would seem to be key to the success of what TNC wants to happen.

        But that’s not what my bar comment was about.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Creon Critic
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley

        I have zero desire to get into any sort of argument with you here, none at all; but in good faith, I must correct this:
        That was in response to Zic saying the term reparations isn’t sticky, and nothing more.

        Yes, it was your response to me, and for those who don’t know, the conversation was overflow from another post where I took poor James to task for the way he used the word coercion (Democracy is coercive post). While I agreed that democracy can be coercive, I told him that ‘coercive’ is loaded with baggage and allowed a lot of people to read things into it, so didn’t communicate clearly. He lamented my not taking Coates to task similarly over his use of reparations.

        I responded:

        Well, he does seem to have created a great deal of miscommunication, particularly for of those who didn’t read the piece and see reparations = money, no?

        which was agreement — Coates caused miscommunication with a sticky word amongst headline-only readers. I agreed, James.

        Next the bar-quote trigger, Reparations, as a concept, involve analyzing and quantifying wrongs and assigning them some sort of value to repair the wrong. Coates use of the word is the first step in that sequence.

        I see a vast difference here with my critique of your use of coercion. In fact, I’d argue that coercion, in the sense it’s normally construed, often leads to the need for reparations. Your argument, in this context, would be that the reparations themselves present a form of coercion. Which either seems to dilute the potential force of the meaning of coercion or potentially suggests reparations is simply coercing more injustice — which is how I suspect it might be taken by the folk who often suggest democracy is coercive.

        The last sentence there, which is agreeing with you yet again, perhaps in the mindset of dudes at the bar — the word reparations is loaded. I do not know if Coates use of it was good or bad; if he helped his cause initiating the process of a reckoning or harmed it with the perceived threat of white people having to pay a bunch of money to brown people.

        So I want to be clear; I agreed that ‘reparations’ is sticky, and did so twice. I don’t know if this was a beneficial use of a sticky word or a harmful one; I think that remains to be seen.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Creon Critic
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        says:

        I assure you, if we come up with an answer that we cannot explain to children then we have come up with a useless answer. And that’s a fact.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Creon Critic
        Ignored
        says:

        It seems like a close relative to “Won’t somebody please think of the children.” Similarly unconvincing to me.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Creon Critic
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        says:

        Given the breadth, depth, and ubiquity of the problem in our society, if it is entirely explainable to us it will be useless.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Creon Critic
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m not saying “won’t someone think of the children?” as much as “how long do we want this to last?”

        If the answer is “a news cycle”, well. Carry on.

        Agreeing that we should get a committee together and they should look at things seems a perfect response.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Creon Critic
        Ignored
        says:

        Roger,
        The cancer is already there, I hear it in our polity, at the ol’ battleaxe taking a metaphorical blade to the guidance counselor who said to gifted black students “I’m not sure you could get into college. Look at a technical school…”Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Creon Critic
        Ignored
        says:

        @roger
        I want to explain why I’m not convinced by your cancer/toxic discussion line of reasoning. In short, societies facing much more difficult circumstances have faced up to these issues using similar mechanisms and been better for it. Sometimes using precisely these means, a state-established national commission, as a tool to acknowledge and atone for past wrongdoing. My primary exhibit is post conflict reconstruction, peacebuilding, and reconciliation scenarios of recent history. Now, these are not fairytale success stories, but they’ve been successful enough to contribute to the well-being of the societies in which they occurred.

        So for instance take post-apartheid South Africa. A country without some of the advantages of the US, specifically being underdeveloped. The transition from apartheid to an ANC government could have been marked by violence towards the white community, expropriation of white-controlled wealth, and a wholesale expression of a lust for revenge. (And I don’t mean by pointing to South Africa to say these transitions always go well, post-independence Zimbabwe is an instance where the newly empowered black majority later did exact revenge and seize lands formerly controlled by whites.) Now, in that South African context of huge wealth disparities, post-apartheid South Africa formed a commission that was a crucial part of a (admittedly incomplete) national healing process. It wasn’t a solution for South Africa, and it wouldn’t be in the US; there is no single solution, no silver bullet, no one course of action that will make everything better. The whole enterprise, recovering from a legacy of atrocities, is a work in progress (and as I mentioned earlier it involves things that are extremely difficult to pin down like dignity, social cohesion, and fostering environments of mutal respect).

        The US, which ultimately failed at Reconstruction the first go around, has an opportunity to do some soul searching through HR 40 (or something resembling it). Also I’d emphasize a point made upthread, a national commission is not the only way to do this. This sort of introspection can and will take many forms. In terms of acknowledgement of the past, the impending (2015) opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture is one method, in the 2000’s the Senate and House both passing state apologies for slavery, Mississippi ratifying the 13th Amendment (partway in 1995 finally in 2013), individual higher education institutions reporting on their complicity in and benefits gained from slavery (e.g. Brown University Committee on Slavery and Justice’s report), etc. These kinds of interventions can take many forms. I think TNC and Rep. Conyers are correct in saying that a national commission is one worthwhile means to pursue that path.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Creon Critic
        Ignored
        says:

        Thanks for a well argued reply, Creon.

        You are assuming the outcome. Let’s have a commission which looks at harms and excludes benefits so we can further our political agenda. A real commission would look at the issue holistically, including cultural differences — pro and con, institutional biases — pro and con, biological and cognitive differences within populations — pro and con. It would also look at the net effects of blacks on whites — such as net crime and violence rates.

        As a side note, it would also look at the role of unions and minimum wage legislation and regulatory barriers to employment. The results may not be pretty if you assume the racial benevolence of these practices.

        Nothing good will come out of this being argued via a political commission. Either the commission is stacked with people who already agree with your recommendation, in which case it is a sham, or it will be so politically and culturally divisive and toxic that it sets societal harmony back several more generations.

        My final word on the topic will be quite concise.

        The best way to ensure the continued victimization of a man is to convince him that he is indeed a victim.

        I will not promote a mindset of victimization within my family, and do not support peddling it to others either.Report

  20. Avatar Tod Kelly
    Ignored
    says:

    I should probably do a separate post, but one of the interesting things I’m noting in this discussion is that there’s quite a bit of blanket-statement dismissals of Coates’s piece for reasons such as that it would be hard, it wouldn’t change everything exactly the way we might hope, there would be unintended consequences, he doesn’t have a detailed enough plan, we’d never find a perfect solution, etc.

    And I find that interesting because everyone using these various reasons to be critical of his essay and for advocating non-action on this issue are people who pretty regularly advocate for all kinds of difficult, imperfect, landscape-changing, sweeping changes of the fundamental status quo of our current government, economy and social structure.

    Change the monetary system, privatize public education, reverse 2+ centuries of precedent regarding how SCOTUS determines what is and isn’t Constitutional, eliminate the majority of the departments of the federal government — even declaring the US Constitution as failure and redoing from scratch is a pretty popular Big Idea advocated by readers and writers here because it’s not perfect now, so we’ll just dive in and figure it out later.

    It gives some weight, I think, to Coates’s argument that the reasons we refuse to discuss seriously this says more about existential issues than it is about practical ones.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Tod Kelly
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      says:

      See my rebuttal above. Wrong domain.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Tod Kelly
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      says:

      I think I agree with this.

      My initial impulse was that people would go toward the dollar value; looking at the social values is discomforting; we are required to examine and take responsibility for actions that we perceive as appropriate.

      Ironically, I think much of the discussions about climate change also fit this framework.

      There are still a lot of people who want to blame the economic collapse on borrowers — a great many of them African Americans — who borrowed irresponsibly; yet the Wells Fargo suit shows the truth; there was massive theft. Quoting Coates,

      Plunder in the past made plunder in the present efficient. The banks of America understood this. In 2005, Wells Fargo promoted a series of Wealth Building Strategies seminars. Dubbing itself “the nation’s leading originator of home loans to ethnic minority customers,” the bank enrolled black public figures in an ostensible effort to educate blacks on building “generational wealth.” But the “wealth building” seminars were a front for wealth theft. In 2010, the Justice Department filed a discrimination suit against Wells Fargo alleging that the bank had shunted blacks into predatory loans regardless of their creditworthiness. This was not magic or coincidence or misfortune. It was racism reifying itself. According to The New York Times, affidavits found loan officers referring to their black customers as “mud people” and to their subprime products as “ghetto loans.”

      “We just went right after them,” Beth Jacobson, a former Wells Fargo loan officer, told The Times. “Wells Fargo mortgage had an emerging-markets unit that specifically targeted black churches because it figured church leaders had a lot of influence and could convince congregants to take out subprime loans.”

      In 2011, Bank of America agreed to pay $355 million to settle charges of discrimination against its Countrywide unit. The following year, Wells Fargo settled its discrimination suit for more than $175 million. But the damage had been done. In 2009, half the properties in Baltimore whose owners had been granted loans by Wells Fargo between 2005 and 2008 were vacant; 71 percent of these properties were in predominantly black neighborhoods.

      Did you know that Wells Fargo was forced to accept TARP money? Or so says former CEO?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2MV6CpGCwU&feature=youtu.be

      This whole talk is a piece of work; filled with points that are presented from a peculiar perspective, one rather defined by Coates piece. Richard Kovacevich says his bank was forced to take TARP money, they didn’t need it, and didn’t want it, and repaid it as soon as they possibly could. He blames the crisis on regulators not doing their jobs, on Congress forcing his bank to give loans to unworthy creditors, and never really gets to the part, a year before, where his own company paid millions because of the racially biased way borrowers were led into sub-prime loans.

      But what’s even more interesting to me is the spin used to define this; the loans collapsed the economy. This is flat out falsehood. The bets, in the form of synthetic derivatives, placed on those loans collapsed the economy. It was a massive wealth transfer from the most marginal middle-class families to the people who bet against them being successful. Not to mention the rest of us in the 99%.Report

  21. Avatar j r
    Ignored
    says:

    Count me in as one of those people who accept the moral case for reparations, but object to the consideration of any actual monetary reparation plan. I see a lot of responses that argue something along the lines that any balking at considering reparations is just a failure of the imagination and I have to push back on that.

    Here is the thing. We don’t have to use our imaginations to consider reparations. Reparations would function as a form of windfall (and that is a description of how the money is delivered and not a judgment about whether people deserve it or not) and we have lots of actual experience to draw from when thinking about windfalls. We can look at what happens at the individual level when people win the lottery or receive a court settlement, or when athletes, musicians or actors hit it big at a young age. And we can look at what happens at the macro level to a country when they discover oil or some other commodity resource. Almost none of these situations end well, so I’m not convinced that monetary reparations would accomplish anything positive and may in fact only serve to make things worse.Report

  22. Avatar Kolohe
    Ignored
    says:

    @chris just to pick at nits (or re-pick, as some already picked) from a subthread above (that imo, got too unwieldy to properly reply)

    that’s one of the points Coates is trying to make in his essay: the early economic and political success of the United States was dependent, in part (in large part) on the exports of the South, political and economic success of white Americans was in part a result of the fact that they were not needed for much of the cheap labor producing those exports.

    I read Coates’ argument – for antebellum history – as The South’s economic and political success being dependent on slave labor, but not the US as a whole. And, if not, I don’t think Coates is correct about that. In brief, an American history without the introduction of the African slave trade (to which you have to go all the way back to the Dutch at Jamestown) would have been not only eminently possible, but more prosperous (the unavoidably tragic event in American history was the subjugation of the aboriginal peoples).

    The South’s wealth was indeed built on the backs of African-decended slave labor, and that wealth mainly flowed into the pockets of the wealthy aristocracy, though the non-slave owning Yeoman benefitted too. The Federal government and economy didn’t benefit nearly as much, though, contrary to what you are saying above. Exports revenues didn’t flow back into federal coffers (as the Constitution famously prohibited export tariffs).

    Moreover, the North and South were for all practical purposes, two different economic systems. Attempts to integrate the economy (e.g. the American System) were mostly rejected by Southern politicians, due to the latent Jacksonian influence on Democratic politics.

    Getting the government on sound fiscal ground in the late 18th and early 19th century (which enabled the economic and political success of the nascent nation) was the result of selling land. All the competing claims of the various states generally west of the Appalachians were declared federal territory, part of no state, in return for the feds taking up all the colonial and revolutionary debt.

    Some of this land, yes, would lead to the states of Alabama and Mississippi, where slave owner power was the worst (and, coupled with Manifest destiny, eventually lead to the Mexican war), but this land also consisted of the territory of the Northwest Ordnance, where slavery was prohibited preemptively.

    on the comparison to England:

    That is, there was a system that essentially entrenched the middle class and aristocracy, by giving those two groups access to political and economic resources while allowing almost no mobility to the working class by denying such access systematically.

    The thing is, something like that happens in every country in every time period where industrialization takes place. You have some nudge toward industrialization that creates a ‘capitalist’ class and the start of a middle class, but that same nudge pushes people off the farm and out of rural areas and into the cities. Eventually, you have large (and polluted) cities with a large ‘working class’ labor force (that is often under significant downward wage pressure as new folks show up every day), a visible cadre of ‘the rich’, but also a tenuously building middle class (where the politics happens).

    It happened in (for instance) France and Germany in the middle 19th century, in the (northern) US in the late 19th century, and in China in the late 20th/early 21st century.

    The UK just got there first.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      First, the cotton industry wasn’t simply a Southern industry. It’s true that the South’s economy was almost entirely built on cotton and a few other agricultural exports, but the financial and shipping industries, which were concentrated in the Northeast, were also largely dependent on cotton and the slave trade.

      It’s true that over the 19th century the North’s economy began to separate from the South’s, but it took some time, and for much of that time the national economy itself was propped up by cotton, and tobacco before that, planted, maintained, harvested, and bundled by slaves.

      And the fact that an underclass would have developed, which was sort of my point anyway, doesn’t take away from the fact that slaves served as ours for decades while we were supplying cotton to the British textile industry.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        Yes. The north’s industrial development was built on the cheap price of southern cotton, and it was cheap because the growers didn’t have to pay for the hourly labor, they instead purchased the laborers.

        To this, also, is the significant value of the slave market itself. It’s a bubble graph leading up to the Civil War, you can see it in one of Coates earlier pieces:
        http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/no-lincoln-could-not-have-bought-the-slaves/277073/Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        the financial and shipping industries, which were concentrated in the Northeast, were also largely dependent on cotton and the slave trade.

        It’s true that cotton was by far the most valuable export, but you make it sound as though the northern economy was entirely dependent on the existence of slavery. To begin, absent slavery, cotton would still have required shipping, so it’s not as though the absence of slavery would have been any soft of crippling blow. It was the product that was vital to the shippers, not the means of producing it.

        Further, there was a whole lot more going on in the northern economy. Nearly all the country’s manufacturing base was there–vital to their winning the war, as we all know, but overlooked whenever we start talking about the slave economy and the north.

        The same is true of textile manufacturing, which was done largely in the north. They needed cotton, as it came to supplant wool as a desire fabric, but they didn’t need it to be produced by slave labor.

        Further, northern agriculture was actually more valuable overall than southern agriculture. Because it produced primarily foodstuffs, it didn’t export as much, but that has nothing to do with its actual value, and it gets almost entirely overlooked in these discussions.

        Immigration also happened primarily in the north, because free labor couldn’t compete well with slave labor in the south. This influx of willing labor was important to the north’s growth. It kept labor fairly cheap, but not cheap enough to forgo investment in capital goods that increased efficiency. It also provided a continually expanding domestic market for agricultural products and consumer goods.

        The postbellum economic history of the two regions tells us a lot, as well. The north continued to outpace the south–for more than a century after the war–despite the end of slavery. Clearly it was not that dependent on slavery.

        None of this is to say the north wasn’t implicated in slavery. It did make profits off the products produced by slaves, but it would have made profits off those products if produced by wage labor and capital equipment as well. But “dependent” on slavery is a tendentious claim at best.

        I’m reminded of a grad school colleague who insisted that capitalists didn’t care what type of countries they did business in, or even preferred authoritarian countries. His evidence? They in fact did business there. But I’ve known a good number of people involved in international business, and I’ve yet to meet one (I’m sure rare ones exist) who preferred to do business in authoritarian countries; they did so when other factors outweighed the costs of doing so.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        James,
        Is slavery easier in America or in an authoritarian regime?
        When the foremen are deliberately killing “troublemakers” through “accidents”… does it matter? (and, if so, how?)Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        James, if I didn’t say it, I meant to say that over the course of the 19th century, the Northern and Southern economies diverged more and more, to the point that by the time of the war, the North’s economy, while still entangled with the South’s in some ways, was largely separate from it. But even there the money that went into building that economy came, at least in part, from money made through tobacco, rice, cotton, and the slave trade.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        Just to be clear, the concept of a ‘national’ economy was more or less an alien notion until technological change prompted Gibbons v Ogden, and more even practically, not until the railroads really started to get going in the 1840’s (and then almost only in the North, as the South didn’t hardly interconnect their systems).

        So it wasn’t really a matter of the North’s economy ‘separating’ from the south, but rather the Northern states (and specially, Ohio/Penn/Ny) creating what would be now known as ‘synergy’.

        Overall, I think your timing casualty suffers. Pre-1830s America was overwhelming (70-90%) an agricultural economy, split starkly into slave and free. The triangle trade (which was never as big in post-revolutionary America as it was in the mid-18th century) was formally abolished in 1808. Cotton production in the US and consumption in the UK ramped up throughout the 19th century, both peaking well after the US civil war. The transatlantic trade was erratic until the development of the steamship, and banking in the US was erratic until the development of Republicans. A good chunk of that northern merchant wealth (wealth that was, incidentally, noted by Fredrick Douglas to contrast significantly with Baltimore’s) was based on oil – but in that era, the recently dead whale kind instead of the long dead dinosaur kind.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        even there the money that went into building that economy came, at least in part, from money made through tobacco, rice, cotton, and the slave trade.

        Again, money coming from tobacco, rice and cotton as products does not equate to dependence on the means of production. The overlooking of that distinction is what makes your argument tendentious.

        I made no argument that they didn’t make money off slave products. And in the case of shipping, that they made money directly off of slavery.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        Again, money coming from tobacco, rice and cotton as products does not equate to dependence on the means of production. The overlooking of that distinction is what makes your argument tendentious.

        There would have been no industry without cotton subsidized by slave labor. We were competing with the English cotton industry, based in India. The only reason the US market could undercut English prices and gain hold of the market is because of the cheap price of cotton, and the cotton was cheap because the growers didn’t pay for labor. Had cotton labor been paid, US cotton would have been unaffordable since there was a labor shortage without slaves.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        “Had cotton labor been paid, US cotton would have been unaffordable since there was a labor shortage without slaves.”

        Though possibly not; Indian production throughout the 19th century was sabotaged via the economic and political machinations of the Raj and the East India Company.

        One should remember the causality and path dependence of chattel slavery in the South. The post-gin economic viability of cotton helped to create the worldwide demand which led the South to vastly increase its supply of land under cotton cultivation and the supply of slaves to pick it. If, somehow, slavery would have been shed in the 1776 revolution and/or 1787 Constitution, or if London were still master of the American continent below the Mason Dixon at the turn of the 19th century (this being a lot more likely), the economic and social history of the American south would have been a lot different.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @zic,

        I don’t buy your argument.

        First, Northern industry was not wholly about cotton. They also produced woolens, leather goods, guns, and increasingly, machinery. To say there would have been “no” northern industry without cotton is a vast overstatement.

        Second, U.S. cotton exports continued to grow after slavery was abolished. Granted the freed slaves were not paid what free labor might have been, but when you factor in shipping costs, its very doubtful that a marginal increase in agricultural labor costs would prove decisively uncompetitive.

        Third, the U.S. produced 80% of the world’s cotton. Even if production costs had been higher, there’s only a very limited shift to Indian cotton available at that point (and Indian cotton was not the whole of that remainder 20%). Further, Indian cotton was viewed as inferior, and so not a good substitute for American cotton.

        Indian cotton was of such inferior character that is was employed mainly for mixing with American cottons in manufacture of the coarsest fabrics.

        The more likely consequence of having to have paid market rates for European immigrant labor to produce American cotton is that Indian cotton could have increased in price, earning greater producer surplus.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        My word.

        Try this for a good look at the development of industry in the North East.

        http://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-roots-of-american-industrialization-1790-1860/

        And please, explain to me why so much of this history is devoted to cotton? And remember: cotton is a picky crop; it won’t grow lots of places. It certainly won’t grow in the North East. Or England. It needs the climate and soils of India, where it’s native, and the South. Wouldn’t even grow well in Missouri, did you know that?

        The north might have developed the industry to process cotton from a non-slave south; but it didn’t. The mansions in Newport RI were built by men who made themselves rich on the cotton economy, and that economy existed because it could undercut the price for India and Egypt due to slave labor. That’s what happened; any counterfactuals that might have been were not.

        (And cotton was a second industrial revolution, if you will, wool and cotton can not be processed on the same equipment. Wool is to the Model T as cotton is to the ’57 Chevy.)Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        But that the North got cotton from the Slave South wasn’t the fault of the North. (particularly as large portions of its political system was working towards emancipation from the beginning – otherwise nobody would have had agida over Missouri’s statehood).

        I mean, saying the North wouldn’t have industrialized without slavery is like saying that McD’s and Wally World will indeed be destroyed with higher wage requirements.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @kolohe

        Do you have any notion of the difference between woolen mills and cotton mills? The refinements that drove the industrial revolution as we know it in the US came because of the opportunity for profit associated with cotton (plus the cheap labor of women).

        That is what happened. What else might have happened is unknown, we can only guess.

        Now what we’re discussing here is if slave labor enriched non-slave owning northerners. And it did. Beyond any shadow of a doubt. The counterfactuals you and James are spewing may or may not have potentially been true, but they freakin’ were not the history, and in this particular topic, the actual history matters, you know?

        In 1860, cotton was 60% of US trade. One commodity was over half the value of what we traded; and that value was picked by hand by slaves.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        The counterfactuals you and James are spewing may or may not have potentially been true, but they freakin’ were not the history, and in this particular topic, the actual history matters, you know?

        Heh, I’ve given you plenty of actual history and you just ignore the inconvenient bits.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        @james-hanley

        You’ve said there was plenty else going on; yet that was 40%. Take away 60% of any economy, and it hampers the ‘plenty else going on’ bit.

        And the question isn’t, “would the North have been as economically vibrant without slavery,” it’s “did slavey enrich the North?”

        And it did.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        James, I am not arguing that the U.S. couldn’t have developed a strong economy without slavery. I mean that it didn’t, and that the economy it developed benefited, and in its structure depended, on slavery. If slavery hadn’t existed, you’d have seen an agrarian economy in the South more similar to the one in the North, with smaller farms, but different crops (still cotton, tobacco, rice, etc.), and a smaller trade, less capital up front, and so on. Hell, the slavery-based tobacco economy, particularly in Virginia and North Carolina, was in large part what led England to put the resources into the colonies that it initially did.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        And the question isn’t, “would the North have been as economically vibrant without slavery,” it’s “did slavey enrich the North?”

        Yeah. The two questions pertain to different domains of inquiry. The first is theoretical, the second empirical.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        The other logical inference is that it is insufficient for this reparations conversation to be merely an American dialogue; we need to get Great Britain, and probably Canada, involved in it as well.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        K,

        Why do you think so? Suppose I’ve participated in bullying little Smedley on the playground and taking his mil money. The logic governing my individual act of reparation to him isn’t contingent on the actions of the other bullies. I mean, I might scream about the hypocrisy of it all if the other bullies aren’t also required to make amends, but whether they do or not – from one pov – are irrelevant, it seems to me. I’m either guilty of bad behavior or not.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        Still, it was kinda misthreaded (or, rather, the antecedent comment was)

        If we take as a given that the antebellum North was complicit actor in the subjugation of African Americans – or, better stated, the antebellum North through both action and inaction, reaped the spoils of that subjugation (a case both Chris and zic have solidly and persuasively made)

        Then the idea of this piece, that reparations are a mindset that grapples with the plant of history in all its tendrils, flowers, and thorns, and comes to terms with that history – without any pre-emptive pruning. Well, then it logically follows that since the British Empire also benefited in the same way as the antebellum North – the very first point Chris made, actually – and it thus follows that the same reckoning needs to include them too.

        Or else, all is severable. That is the sins of the antebellum south are separate from the sins of the antebellum north which in turn are separate from the sins of the late 19th early 20th century north and south (which are separate from each other), and separate from the post-New Deal America and yet again separate from the post-Great Society and suburbanized America.

        But of course, the whole point of TNCs piece is that these sins weave one complete fabric. So it seems kinda arbitrary (and counter to the point) to me to stitch the seams of that garment at the national border.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        You’ve said there was plenty else going on; yet that was 40%. Take away 60% of any economy, and it hampers the ‘plenty else going on’ bit.

        oh, my, those numbers are just not right. You’re confusing percent of exports with percent of economy. Cotton was important, but it was not a majority of the U.S. economy. When you start fudging numbers this badly, I I get pretty mistrustful.

        And the question isn’t, “would the North have been as economically vibrant without slavery,” it’s “did slavey enrich the North?”

        I don’t think you get to unilaterally determine the question. Because I’m arguing that an equally important questions is whether slavery actually constrained the economic growth of the U.S. When considering how enriched someone was, you have to also consider the opportunity costs.

        I’m also arguing that the north would have gotten rich without slavery, that it wasn’t slavery per se that enriched them, but the product. I think that distinction matters, and I don’t think either you or Chris gets it. It’s not as conducive to moral outrage, of course, so it’s not as rewarding to contemplate.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        chris,
        . I mean that it didn’t, and that the economy it developed benefited, and in its structure depended, on slavery. If slavery hadn’t existed, you’d have seen an agrarian economy in the South more similar to the one in the North, with smaller farms, but different crops (still cotton, tobacco, rice, etc.),

        I think you’re overlooking the role of the cotton gin.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        What I mean by emphasizing the second question is that the first question, did the north profit from a southern economy built on slavery, is obviously answered yes, but it’s just the first level question. There’s a lot more that can be asked, ways to dig deeper. But you seem to be insisting that the first level is all that matters, that it answers all the relevant questions. I disagree, and the position seems ideologically driven to me.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        K,

        and it thus follows that the same reckoning needs to include them too.

        Or else, all is severable.

        Sure, from a moral pov and wrt to those specific moral properties. On the supposition that the case for reparations is justified and goes thru then all the beneficiaries involved are morally culpable. But mere the inability to extract monies (or whatever) from Britain or Canada is irrelevant to whether the US ought to pay. That’s the point of the Smedley example, actually. I take it you’re viewing this as a conditional such that if it’s ridiculous to think we can compel Britain to make amends then it makes no sense to think that the US ought to make amends. In that sense, I think they are severable. Smedley thinks so too. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        James,

        But you seem to be insisting that the first level is all that matters, that it answers all the relevant questions. I disagree, and the position seems ideologically driven to me.

        I think I need an explanation of why you think you’re deeper view has any bearing on the shallower view here. I’m having a really hard time understanding why getting clear on the total opportunity cost and resulting losses flowing from slavery and other racist practices has any bearing on the question of the relative gains and losses experienced by individuals based on their race.

        They just seem like two very different things to me.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        Well you know Still, there are people up and down this thread and the OP and the entire internet saying that the Coates’ piece was not about the money.

        Coates’ lists only three concrete policy proposals in his piece
        1) to get people to support (or to re-support after pulling support) a bill authorizing a commission – which, everyone knows is normally the place where policy proposals go to out to pasture – hence the (correct) implication that it is the height of unreasonableness to not even support such a commission

        2) citing (Harvard Professor) Dr. Ogletree’s proposal of “a program of job training and public works that takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races.” (which is something Coates’ inveighs against in parts of the rest of the piece, insofar that ‘class based’ remedies hide the unique problems of the African-American experience and so ‘includes poor of all races’ is a loophole that would defeat the very purpose of targeted reparations)

        and 3) cites the work of a Yale professor that actually puts a dollar amount computed by “multiplying the number of African Americans in the population by the difference in white and black per capita income.”

        So in a piece that literally has one sentence about the money: it *is* about the money? Really?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        Stillwater,

        Because opportunity costs are real.

        Because I think people are stopping at the superficial level because it’s ideologically convenient.

        Because I think there’s more to the story.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        K,

        I have to admit that comment made me bristle a bit. And I don’t usually get like that with you or your comments. TO be clear, I followed your example and your logic to show where I disagree with you about what’s severable and what’s not. Your claim is that “the logic” requires unseverability. I disagree and my examples were clearly intended to address that part of your comment.

        Short of accepting that explanation, are you accusing me of deliberately lying about the purpose of Coates’ piece in this thread? What the hell are you accusing me of?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
        Ignored
        says:

        The cotton gin is the reason slavery lasted as long as it did, because it made slavery immensely profitable. It’s my understanding that post-revolution the institution was teetering on the economic, cultural, and political edge because the exports that it had been supporting, particularly tobacco, became less profitable. The cotton gin made it possible to replace tobacco with cotton, and cotton was worth much, much more.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      The thing is zic, that’s seems to me to be moving the goalposts from TNC overarching thesis (in the subject Atlantic piece and other writings) – namely that US society is built on a foundation of white supremacy and much of the wealth – even among the middle class – is built on that same foundation.

      Now, this is trivially easy to demonstrate in the slave-owning south, and TNC makes a persuasive case that the broad post-New Deal post WW2 middle class prosperity has a helluva asterisk.

      But it becomes strained when we push that same blame onto the antebellum North, as it was just a slice of industrialists getting the spoils (of which cotton profits were a slice of a slice), and they were in the business of exploiting *everyone* (especially, as you say, women)

      Or are all we in America today commensurately to blame for the environmental degradation (and human rights abuses) in China (for instance) due to the common American consumer culture and state of trade between our nations?Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Kolohe
        Ignored
        says:

        But it becomes strained when we push that same blame onto the antebellum North, as it was just a slice of industrialists getting the spoils (of which cotton profits were a slice of a slice), and they were in the business of exploiting *everyone* (especially, as you say, women)

        And, finally, New England? As Ronald Bailey shows, cotton fed the textile revolution in the United States. “In 1860, for example, New England had 52 percent of the manufacturing establishments and 75 percent of the 5.14 million spindles in operation,” he explains. The same goes for looms. In fact, Massachusetts “alone had 30 percent of all spindles, and Rhode Island another 18 percent.” Most impressively of all, “New England mills consumed 283.7 million pounds of cotton, or 67 percent of the 422.6 million pounds of cotton used by U.S. mills in 1860.” In other words, on the eve of the Civil War, New England’s economy, so fundamentally dependent upon the textile industry, was inextricably intertwined, as Bailey puts it, “to the labor of black people working as slaves in the U.S. South.”

        source: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/why-was-cotton-king/</Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Kolohe
        Ignored
        says:

        And the paragraph that proceeds the blockquotes above addresses England:

        What did cotton production and slavery have to do with Great Britain? The figures are astonishing. As Dattel explains: “Britain, the most powerful nation in the world, relied on slave-produced American cotton for over 80 per cent of its essential industrial raw material. English textile mills accounted for 40 percent of Britain’s exports. One-fifth of Britain’s twenty-two million people were directly or indirectly involved with cotton textiles.”

        Report

  23. Avatar Burt Likko
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ve refrained from participating in this post until I actually took the time to read Coates’ article.

    He is not necessarily calling for monetary reparations, although he pretty clearly thinks that this is something that needs to be within the realm of the discussion. His real call is for social, economic, and legal reform of society so that going forward it will be fair to black people. He makes a strong case that socially, economically, and legally, things are not fair for blacks now, and that the best we can say of society today is that the racism that has plagued us throughout our history has been driven to the level of the sub rosa — but only just barely.

    The practical example he uses as the spine of his article — the “land contract purchases” in North Lawndale, IL — shows both the strengths and the problems with the pace of reform that Coates is so understandably impatient to see made real. The promise of equality before the law made in the Federal Housing Act was betrayed by a loophole in Title III of that law, which allows banks to deny credit to either people looking to live in neighborhoods where values were declining or stagnant (meaning, in practical reality, neighborhoods where black people lived), or to individual transactions that would have a detrimental effect on values in the neighborhoods as a whole (meaning, in practical reality, when a black person wanted to buy a house in a white neighborhood). The result being that the massive appreciation in land values that occurred in post-war suburbia was reserved for whites. The available alternative — contract land purchases — were both cynically created and administered using unfairly exploitative practices, and the law has largely taken the attitude of “the law won’t protect you from making a bad deal as long as the written contract’s terms were disclosed in advance and are being enforced to the letter of the agreement” and thus left many black contract land purchasers out in the cold.

    Knowing a little something about real estate and business law, I can see where remedies might be crafted, where there are modifications to the law that can be made. But I’m also quite capable of seeing the law personified (as Athena, say) and holding her hands up to say, “I didn’t do anything wrong here; I performed exactly as I was crafted and exactly in fulfillment of the principles upon which the words of my statutes were based.”

    Knowing a little something about real estate transactions, I can see mortgage brokers, bankers, and most of all the contract purchasers (personified as, say, Saturn) and saying “We did what the law allowed us; we did what was normal and appropriate for the marketplace at the time; we told no lies and are guilty of nothing more than enforcing our own contractual rights, freely bargained-for. It’s not our fault that the buyers were unsophisticated enough to not understand the contracts, or that they had bad credit and couldn’t qualify for regular mortgages or that they had hard economic times and fell into default.”

    Knowing a little something about what it is to educate people, I can see the educational system (personified as, say, Apollo) saying “You’re blaming the educational system of the 1930’s for a bad deal these people made in the 1950’s? The educational system since then has changed anyway! Hel-lo, Brown v. Board of Education! Education has done its part to reform!”

    And then I can see Concordia noting with trembling that the only gods in the pantheon with darker coloration are Mars and Pluto drumming their hands impatiently. And once again, Justicia weeps unnoticed and unregarded off in a corner by herself while the rest of them point fingers at one another.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      He is not necessarily calling for monetary reparations, although he pretty clearly thinks that this is something that needs to be within the realm of the discussion. His real call is for social, economic, and legal reform of society so that going forward it will be fair to black people

      And if there’s one problem I had with the piece it’s that.

      Not that those aren’t important goals, but rather, duh, they are the most important goals. But that’s what nobody has ever called (to my knowledge) “reparations”. That what everyone calls “social justice” – if not simply “common [fishin] decency”

      Normally, a writer is not responsible for their headlines, but in this case, I’m fairly certain that Coates was an integrally involved in the selection of the headline.

      (and that’s also not to say that a comprehensive listing and airing of the grievances is not necessary and proper, especially in this day and age when too many people think a lot of stuff is in the past).Report

    • Avatar notme in reply to Burt Likko
      Ignored
      says:

      I must note a correction. You mean Justitia or Lustitia not Justicia.Report

  24. Avatar notme
    Ignored
    says:

    Tod:

    What kind of reparations would you support? I really can’t figure out if TNC wants reparations or some kind of a reconciliation commission and an apology. I’ll be more than happy to support an apology. At the same time we can apologize to every group that has suffered some sort of discrimination throughout American history such as the Irish, Chinese, Italians, Jews etc.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to notme
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      says:

      @notme This is a really excellent question, and one that I’m struggling to answer.

      I’m doing a separate post, so by tomorrow or Thursday I’ll have something with more meat on it for everyone to pick apart, but even then I know I’m going to be sadly incomplete.Report

  25. Avatar Kolohe
    Ignored
    says:

    @stillwater (to unthread)

    I’m not accusing you of anything. This particular discussion and digression was based on assessing the culpability of various historical factions and organizations (in the most nebulous senses of both words), and I have conceded that those arguing *for* the culpability of certain factions and organizations have a point. But given that point, those factions extend beyond (current) political boundaries, (as first stated by the people I was arguing against) and thus those exo-American players are necessarily part of the ‘truth and reconciliation’ process.

    Because all of this discussion was in the context of the Coates’ piece (and many other writings which echo the same theme) where the main thing – overwhelmingly the main thing – *is* about the moral point of view. About social justice (another nebulous term, but one that is actually applicable when dealing with the litany of wrongs foisted upon the African American experience).

    And not very much at all about the money or who needs to pay it or who can pay it or who can it be collected from.

    So that’s why I seemed dismissive of two sentence analogy of playground bullies in the context of a 16,000-word (correct?) article and a now near 300 comment thread.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      So that’s why I seemed dismissive of two sentence analogy of playground bullies in the context of a 16,000-word (correct?) article and a now near 300 comment thread.

      Good to know K. I guess I should have been even more dismissive of your single sentence critique of the logical entailments flowing from the moral dimensions of an issue Coates’ invested 16,000 words articulating.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        Huh? 4 paragraphs + 5 that followed is a single sentence?

        Are you not seeing all the posts?Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        This is what I’m getting at with the logic that ‘reparations’ doesn’t stop and can’t stop at Fort Kent Hunt or San Ysidro, given the premise of what it means.

        which is that reparations aren’t about extracting lost wealth or imposing retribution but about an admission, a reconciliation, an acceptance of reality and all relief that accompanies coming to terms with a willful, self-interested lie

        That guy was onto something. Wonder what happened to him.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        This sentence:

        The other logical inference is that it is insufficient for this reparations conversation to be merely an American dialogue; we need to get Great Britain, and probably Canada, involved in it as well.

        But look, what upset me wasn’t the content of your arguments but that you appeared to play a “gotcha” on me by focusing on the examples I used rather than than the argument those examples were embedded in, arguments responding to your claim of unseverability.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        Kolohe,

        I mean this seriously: what are you accusing me of? I like you and respect your views and have always enjoyed your comments, but it sure seems like you have something to say to me that hasn’t been said.

        Should we take this further, let it go, hash it out?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        K,

        I already said that if the moral argument for reparations goes thru, then all the beneficiaries are morally culpable according to the specified moral properties. I also said that the reparative process doesn’t require the inclusion of every actor to be undertaken and can be engaged in by as few as only one. You tell me where those claims are inconsistent with anything I wrote in the upthread comment.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        “Why do you think so? Suppose I’ve participated in bullying little Smedley on the playground and taking his mil money.”

        “The logic governing my individual act of reparation to him isn’t contingent on the actions of the other bullies”

        The problem is, “America” is by no means a unitary force nor actor on this subject. Sure we can talk about it in the singular, and of course, the US Government only has sovereignty over American lands and thus only can do anything about and for American citizens (and residents)

        My point is saying “you’re culpable and part of this conversation, while you over there are also culpable but are not part of this conversation” puts a very mixed group of very mixed culpability in the first you and just ignores the second you.

        Which defeats the whole point of ‘admission, reconciliation and acceptance of reality. Because they are *universal*.

        Yes practicalities, (which is why we don’t worry too much about dancing in Tehran or them executing bankers). But especially with fellow G-7 democracies, they don’t necessarily need to be excluded at all.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        ” also said that the reparative process doesn’t require the inclusion of every actor to be undertaken and can be engaged in by as few as only one. ”

        Separately from whatever’s been said above, that doesn’t seem right to me either. Even in the classic Christian doctrine, contrition requires two parities (God and the penitent, with intermediaries depending on the sub-doctrine).

        It doesn’t really do any good either for justice or for practical solutions going forward if there is not a fairly large buy-in to both ‘Truth’ and ‘Reconciliation’ from at least of plurality of factions/actors.Report

  26. Avatar paradoctor
    Ignored
    says:

    Reparations would be a logistics nightmare. Who pays what to whom? Do you pro-rate by ancestral oppressiveness? For instance, do descendants of immigrants after slavery pay less, and recent immigrants less still? Is there a discount if great-grandpa fought in the Union Army? Or if Dad marched with MLK? What of mixed-race people? Do Sally Heming’s descendants pay reparations to themselves? What of people without known geneologies? Do we do genetic testing? But genetically, race doesn’t exist!

    And suppose we manage to create a racial classification scheme. It would be racist, by definition. Inevitably, one day a gang of white supremacists would bribe and steal their way into high office, and use that classification scheme to reverse the flow of money.Report

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