The Atlantic: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Bernie Sanders and Reparations

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CK MacLeod

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  1. Avatar notme
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    says:

    Or the alternative is that Bernie does understand the argument and doesn’t think that it is worth addressing bc it is BS.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    it is interesting how TNC went from “let’s talk about reparations” to saying reparations are the only way to combat white supremacy. The problem with the latter approach is that it is pretty much destroying dissent and I dislike that approach. He is also giving HRC a pass interestingly.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw
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      He doesn’t say that it is the only way to combat white supremacy. He says it is indispensable, sure, but I imagine that, for all your love of dissent, there are policies and positions that you believe are indispensable in combating poverty and racism and such as well.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris
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        I’ll say again, it would be nice if he would put a dollar amount (either total, per capita, and/or per annuity), so I know what my bill is and pay it off.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Kolohe
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          I came away from his original essay with a pretty strong impression that he didn’t mean lump cash sums, because it wouldn’t address the structural issues. So he’s not going to give you a dollar amount, and can’t give you one. Instead, it’s a policy issue, which would likely include a substantial redistribution of wealth, though in a variety of forms.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Chris
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            including

            making massive investments in rebuilding our cities, in creating millions of decent paying jobs, in making public colleges and universities tuition-free, basically targeting our federal resources to the areas where it is needed the most and where it is needed the most is in impoverished communities

            ?Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Kolohe
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              Sure, Sanders-esque stuff, and others more targets to specific issues in black communities. There is in fact a really long article, by a guy named Ta-Nehisi Coates, about this TNC person’s take on reparations. You might find some relevant information there. For instance, a strong focus on housing and neighborhoods, because one of the main ways black people have been excluded from economic, educational, and even social resources is by excluding them from certain neighborhoods through various means.Report

            • Avatar notme in reply to Kolohe
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              says:

              TNC clearly forgot an Oscar quota.Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe
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              …making massive investments in rebuilding our cities, in creating millions of decent paying jobs…

              I would live in dread of discovering, after some amount of massive investment, that what the beneficiaries really wanted was a nice house in the ‘burbs, an SUV and a Prius, and solid white-collar jobs in the campus-style office park a 15-20 minute drive away.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Chris
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            Coates’ original essay elided the question by basically saying “It wouldn’t cost us anything significatn to take the proposition seriously and actually investigate what reparations would involve, what they’d cost and how they could be done.” I think that was a defensible position for Coates in his original piece but it undermines his indignation a bit now because the reparations we’re discussing are very nebulous.

            That said I’m surprised Bernie didn’t punt on the matter by saying something like “we’d need to know more about what reparations would entail before we could reach a decision on the matter”. IIRC that’s what HRC did.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      Kevin Drum thinks TNC’s argument is odd because TNC seemed reticent about reparations in his article about reparations. His proposals were more along in the lines of having a commission to study slavery rather than anything more concrete.

      Interesting factoid, the Black Panthers used German reparations to Israel for the Holocaust as an argument for reparations. What is interesting about this is that the more radical position in Israel was to be anti-reparations for the Holocaust because it was seen as acceptable blood money. Menachem Begin and the Israeli Right rejected the idea of reparations for the Holocaust entirely. Accepting reparations was seen as a moderate and pragmatic position.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        TNC seemed reticent about reparations in his article about reparations.

        In a long article detailing the case for reparations which concluded that reparations constitute the most important policy discussion for dealing with white supremacy, not only because it would discuss solutions (in the various possible forms of reparations), but because it would force us to discuss the actual causes and effects of systemic racism, the message some people got was that he was “reticent about reparations?”Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris
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          Reparations defined as cash payments. Drum’s point is that that is what is conventionally understood by reparations, and that TNC is sort of changing the conversation by changing what they consist of. (Not that it’s wrong to do that, but that TNC is indeed reticent to reach a bottom line on the question of reparations understood as they were broadly understood roughly right up until the publication of TNC’s piece).Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Michael Drew
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            I haven’t read the Drum piece, but is it in reference to his criticism of Sanders? Because if that is the point of a post on TNC’s criticism of Sanders, it is an utterly silly post.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris
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              Well, the post is on TNC’s criticism of Sanders for not supporting reparations.

              Not sure what you’re saying is silly exactly, but Drum’s point is that if you ask someone like Sanders about reparations, he’s going to be thinking of cash payments to blacks (and not whites), and that TNC himself was reticent about that idea in his article.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris
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              says:

              …Incidentally, Drum goes on to say that if traditional reparations came to the point of enactment, for himself he’d be okay with it happening, and makes some points meant to refute typical objections to cash reparations based on claims of impracticability.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Chris
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          says:

          He was reticient on what form those reparations would actually look like. I think he was very right to say so since it’s a big complicated question and would require some serious examination but it weakens his position vis a vis Bernie’s answer a lot.

          That said, it is not going to help Bernie with his absolutely terrible minority support and as long as his minority support remains where it’s at he’s not going to get far even if he runs the tables in Iowa and New Hampshire.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to North
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            I still don’t understand how it weakens his criticism of Sanders. If Sanders is saying we can’t even talk about reparations because they’re highly impractical due to political realities on the ground, and TNC’s main criticism is that even the act of talking about reparations is critical, then saying, “TNC doesn’t favor a particular type of reparations” doesn’t even address, much less weaken, his criticism of Sanders.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Chris
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              I think it weakens it because either Sanders is either talking about “reparations” in the common parliance which (right or wrong) is taken to mean handing out a chunk of cash to African Americans in which case Sanders is probably right that you’ll never get it to fly*; or if Sanders is talking merely of having a conversation about reparations as Coates advocates, well that’s rather nebulous stuff and as a politician running for a concrete office and talking about concrete policy goals he’s not in dangerous territory by calling it too undefined to consider at this time.

              But I would agree with you that Sander’s response was tin eared on the subject. Some standard issue political nostrums about considering the matter and exploring it’s parameters before reaching a final decision could have served him very well in this.

              *I grant, though, that it’s a strange response coming from the man who’s response to “you’ll have no shot at enacting that” is “Come the revolution the barriers will be swept away”. Why is it that Bernie’s revolution can’t sweep away the barriers to the question of reparations?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to North
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                One of the articles I read on Sanders today* was by Jamil Smith, whom I don’t really read but saw Michael Drew mention as a critic of Sanders on Twitter, so I Googled. In it, Smith makes the point that one of Sanders’ problems is that he’s just not very good with questions he wasn’t prepared to answer. He makes it in reference to Sanders’ calling Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Fund part of the “political establishment,” but it works well here too. Pretty much everyone who might be considered Sanders’ base, along with many who he might want to convince to vote for him (moderates, including moderate Democrats) is aware of TNC’s reparations essay, and while they may not have read it, the context of any question about reparations among progressives/liberals in 2016 is going to include that essay. If Sanders had given it a few seconds of thought, he probably would have, if not referenced it, at least used the idea of reparations-as-a-conversation as a launching point, and could have scored some points with some voters without losing any with others.

                *Not gonna lie, I have by and large not paid attention to either the Republican or Democratic primary races, except all of the Trump stuff that keeps showing up on Twitter. I won’t be voting for HRC in either election, of course, but I’m not particularly inclined to vote for Sanders either, so I’m probably going to pay only enough attention to this entire presidential election cycle to know whether I need to start thinking about hitting up friends for a job in Vancouver.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Chris
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                says:

                I agree with you on the first part. As to the second, I’m bullish on the Dems odds so you probably don’t need to contemplate flight to Vancouver.Report

  3. Avatar Lurker
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    Yeah, the argument for reparations is strong and deserves serious discussions. It has persuaded me. The question is how do you make the details work and how do you get some legislation done in a country that is still deeply racist. People might go for things like federally funded college funds, subsidized business loans, subsidized home loans, along with some extra social security funds for elderlyfAfrican Americans, more affirmative action hiring in government jobs, all for people who can prove they meet such and such criteria: economic need, longish term African American ancestry, etc. But people will only vote for a small reparations package when a large one is just.Report

  4. Avatar pillsy
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    My problem with both TNC’s argument and Sanders’ response is that “reparations”, unlike single-payer healthcare or even a vague trillion-dollar jobs program, isn’t a policy proposal at all. Certainly TNC himself didn’t present it as one himself in “The Case for Reparations”, which mostly focused on a bill to study the question, and then laid out a few different ideas of what reparations has meant in the past, from large cash payments to descendants of slaves to a race-neutral program that sounds like it’s not so different from what Sanders wants to offer:

    Scholars have long discussed methods by which America might make reparations to those on whose labor and exclusion the country was built. In the 1970s, the Yale Law professor Boris Bittker argued in The Case for Black Reparations that a rough price tag for reparations could be determined by multiplying the number of African Americans in the population by the difference in white and black per capita income. That number—$34 billion in 1973, when Bittker wrote his book—could be added to a reparations program each year for a decade or two. Today Charles Ogletree, the Harvard Law School professor, argues for something broader: a program of job training and public works that takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races.

    I’m not sure what TNC was asking Sanders to support–just Conyers’ perpetually stalled bill?–and what Sanders was rejecting.Report

  5. Avatar Will Truman
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    John McWhorter’s criticism on the piece:

    Wouldn’t the response after reparations happened, among certain people, be, “Now, they better not think they can just pay us off” — or more tactfully, “Reparations is a beginning, not an end”? Why not just work on doing the things these very people would insist still hadn’t been done — police reform, fixing schools, ending the drug war — especially since, again, reparations have already happened?

    In other words, Coates’ analysis of black history is not truth, but one proposition among many, and by no means so self-evident or empirically impregnable that anyone deserves to be beaten over the head as morally obtuse for not agreeing with it.

    Report

  6. Avatar j r
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    As others in this thread have alluded, TNC’s original piece and his collected body of work on this issue does an incredibly good job of cataloging the history of white supremacy and its specific effects on the current distribution of wealth. That, however, is not the same thing as proving the case for reparations. Diagnosing a problem and recommending a solution are inextricably linked, but they are not the same thing.

    The claim that reparations are “indispensable” to the process of racial justice is still just an assertion unless we can actually demonstrate that they can be implemented and that, once implemented, they have efficacy. That’s just how policy works. You cannot reason your way into deciding what is and what is not good policy, no matter how strong your historical or rhetorical evidence. It has to work.

    I say this as someone who has fairly radical ideas on economic development and poverty eradication. For instance, I fully supported replacing our current welfare programs with an universal basic income supplemented by conditional cash transfers. I’d love to see our current housing programs changed to something like the Singapore model that gives people an ownership stake (and I literally mean give as opposed to pushing people into high interest rate loans). And I wouldn’t mind seeing some kind of large, and perhaps government-funded, not-for-profit financial organization that existed to fund SMEs and maybe offer student and other consumer loans at cost.

    Show me a way to transfer productive assets to the poor and working class that is sustainable and that achieves measurable and successful outcomes and I will likely support it. Show me that reparations fits into that mold and I’ll likely support them, but we are not there yet. And it seems a bit disingenuous of TNC to put the onus on other people to develop his idea and to gig them for not.Report

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