The Argument for Reparations, and the Question of Justice

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CK MacLeod

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  1. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    I think an issue is what do we mean by reparations. The lay thought would be something like a direct cash payment. IIRC TNC implied that it could be done another way, via studies of slavery, racism, and funding to programs and social services.

    Interestingly this is how it was done in Israel. Israel used reparations money from the Germans to build their infrastructure. Also interestingly, the right-wing rejected reparations payments as “blood money.” So did the far left-wing possibly.

    Now whether something like programs can work in the U.S. is another issue. I think it would also meet mass resistance and racism would be part of that. White guys seem to get very defensive on the slightest mention of different outcomes based on skin color.Report

  2. Avatar Roland Dodds
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    I know very little about the argument over reparations other than some of the main points coming from each side of the debate. I am inclined to think some form of financial reparations to decedents of African slaves is actually necessary to redeem the promise of America laid out in the DoI.

    Having said that, this debate feels a lot like every other debate about race in America, where one simply must hold the “right” opinion on the issue without dissent. Once a debate enters that level of moralizing, it gets very difficult to actually consider adequate alternative moral/legal/economic responses to the issue.Report

  3. Avatar Chris
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    How is it just for a descendant to pay for the crimes of a a remote ancestor? How is it just for those whose parents or who themselves immigrated long after the end of slavery to pay the bill, if a bill is to be paid, at the same rate as those being held responsible for the sins of their actual fathers?

    This is probably obvious, but it’s worth noting that you are here not arguing against Coates’ position, but perhaps a more, let us say silagean position. Coates’ position is not that is just for people today to pay strictly for the sins of their fathers and their father’s fathers and their fathers’ fathers’ fathers, but because an injustice remains in the form of vast differences in equality of opportunity. The injustice he’s highlighting is therefore present today in the form of the benefits that you and I, say, have accrued as the results of the sins of our fathers and their fathers and their fathers’ fathers, which as a result of their source we have accrued unjustly. This is true even if your father’s father’s father wasn’t here before the Civil War; even if your father’s father’s father’s father fought in that war for the Union, even if he lost life or limb.

    Now, we could argue against that position — it may be, say, that regardless of whether the opportunities I’ve had in life were obtained justly, my responsibility, and therefore what can be asked of me, is dependent entirely on my actions and their contribution to any injustice (though conversely, would it also be dependent on my contribution to their justness?) — but when you’ve framed it the way you have in the passage I’ve quoted, you avoid this question, and therefore Coates’ position, pretty much entirely.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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      My own position (so there is no confusion) is that a systematic study of the ongoing social, economic, cultural, etc. effects of racism would be a good thing, particularly if it produced policy proposals (which would, undoubtedly, result in some redistribution of wealth, though perhaps not in the form of anything like government payment to individuals), but it is highly unlikely that a system built on class and racial disparities is going to be “fixed” by government interventions within that system.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
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      Chris: This is probably obvious, but it’s worth noting that you are here not arguing against Coates’ position, but perhaps a more, let us say silagean position.

      The questions you highlight are examples of questions that are asked, not representations of my argument.

      I won’t characterize the position as “silagean,” because I do not know what “silagean” means, and neither does my friend Google. Best it can do is refer me to “silage”: “grass or other green fodder compacted and stored in airtight conditions, typically in a silo, without first being dried, and used as animal feed in the winter.”Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
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      Chris: Coates’ position is not that is just for people today to pay strictly for the sins of their fathers and their father’s fathers and their fathers’ fathers’ fathers, but because an injustice remains in the form of vast differences in equality of opportunity. The injustice he’s highlighting is therefore present today in the form of the benefits that you and I, say, have accrued as the results of the sins of our fathers and their fathers and their fathers’ fathers, which as a result of their source we have accrued unjustly.

      The implicit presumption seems to be that all “benefits” – every good thing in all of our lives (but perhaps not in Coates’ life?) – derive somehow from slavery, or cannot be separated from it… which would, if it were possible to say so, amount to the most powerful argument in favor of slavery, or any other thing judged similarly beneficent, imaginable. I think that since we will not, cannot, and should not make that argument, we must either reject Coates’ argument as likewise impossible, or we are asked to commit to other impossible things – like a just and satisfactory accounting of “benefits” and corresponding “debts,” or of the rationality of “studying” such a thing in a political context. The argument in relation to present injustice or inequities at that point detaches from slavery in the sense that it is not a reparations for slavery argument at all. It is a reparations for present injustice or inequities argument mean to receive rhetorical propulsion from an argument on (racialized) collective guilt that runs counter to other very basic American or liberal-democratic precepts.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
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        Not just slavery, as Coates makes pretty clear: there are many benefits, in the form of opportunity — via housing, education, access to various parts of the economy (e.g., credit) — that both historical and existing racism have denied, to some extent (up to completely) black people in America. This is why Coates’ position is that we should study exactly what these effects are, that is, what disparities in opportunity existing today have resulted and continue to result from racism and racist institutions (including slavery and segregation). He is quite explicit about this, even in the short passage you quote (which goes up until the 1960s), but at length in his reparations essay.

        If it turns out, through careful study, that no such effects exist, which is to say that we cannot trace existing disparities in opportunity to historical and existing racism, then your position makes sense. However, if existing disparities can be traced to slavery and the aftereffects of slavery, then it is in a very real sense reparations for slavery that he is calling for.Report

        • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
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          Why do “the effects” need to be traced across the generations to slavery, and not simply addressed in their own right as inequities? Why is this a “reparations” argument and not simply an argument for “social justice” – or a “reparations” for redlining and Jim Crow, etc., argument? That seems to me to be the Sanders position – next to an opportunity at every point to seem unforgivably to minimize injustices.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
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            I suppose if you want to call it “social justice,” you can. It is in fact a social justice argument. It is framed as reparations because these particular disparities can (likely) be traced to slavery and the racist institutions that resulted from its dissolution, and because the name will resonate and highlight that legacy, providing symbolic value.

            I suppose if you want to do exactly the same thing that Coates does, but just don’t want to highlight that connection, or feel that doing so undermines the moral argument (I’m not sure it does, but we haven’t really gotten into those weeds), then I suppose that’s fine in the end. The people you’ll have to argue with will be the ones who find the symbolic value important, I imagine.Report

            • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
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              says:

              Right, I guess – as I said:

              a reparations for present injustice or inequities argument mean to receive rhetorical propulsion from an argument on (racialized) collective guilt that runs counter to other very basic American or liberal-democratic precepts.

              So, again, pursuing the argument as a “reparations” argument at all, whether reparations specifically for slavery, or reparations for a legacy of slavery, or reparations for injustice rhetorically highlighted by the history of slavery and its aftermath, etc., is that it requires us to “re-racialize” the social justice argument – to in one way or another divide citizens from citizens in racial groups, for the purpose of giving to one racially defined group at the expense of one or more other racially defined groups. It is, in short, a commitment to race-based policy, even if only in the form (initially?) of a “study.” As with the familiar questions against “quotas and set-asides,” we cannot embrace it without letting go of other commitments that the liberal-democratic concept requires us to treat as “self-evident.”Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
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                In what way does it run counter, and how does “social justice” manage to avoid this?Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
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                says:

                I’m not sure that “social justice” as defined on the Left can avoid the problem – that it doesn’t proceed from a social-political concept different from or at some point incommensurable to the American concept, and indispensable underlying precepts, of constitutional self-governance (or “The American Science of Politics” as Grant Wood puts it), as re-constituted and advanced in the “Union” cause and literally “constituted” in the 14th Amendment. You might say it traps us in “pluribus” rather than moving us toward “unum.”

                Regarding the first part of your question, I’m not sure what you’re unclear about. It seems to be a very basic, continually re-arising problem attached to the form of equality announced in the Declaration of Independence vs the existence of “real inequality” – or the difference between commitment to formal equality of “opportunity” (or equality before the law) rather than to equality in “results.”

                I should be clear that I do not consider the contradiction as resolved or resolvable one-sidedly on the side of an American “libertarian” view (the liberty interest as nominal Libertarians attempt to defend it). I’d consider that as “un-American” – in various ways, including as simply impractical – as a final decision one-sidedly in favor of the alternatives, which I’ll refrain from labeling for now. I just consider the Left alternative argument put forward as a racialized “reparations” argument as far outside a sustainable or desirable, or practical, balance.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to CK MacLeod
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                It is, in short, a commitment to race-based policy, even if only in the form (initially?) of a “study.”

                I’m not sure I see how that conclusion follows from the name we use for the policy. The semantics of the term “reparations” strike me as racially neutral.

                Alsotoo, regardless of what we call it, wouldn’t pursing the idea itself constitute a commitment to race-based policy?Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                I think TNC is pretty explicit in his position that a focus on race is exactly what he’s calling for, because it is exactly the vector on which the injuries (from slavery to present) were/are concentrated.

                So if you object to categorizing anything by race, you’re going to object to anything he proposes. The question is why you have that objection. In answering, please also let me know whether you disagree with this for the same reason (and why).Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to nevermoor
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                nevermoor: The question is why you have that objection.

                Speaking for myself, because “race” is, I believe, a defective concept, as the critics of “scientific racism,” “race realism,” and every other type of racialism have been insisting for quite some time now. That a concept is defective or unscientific doesn’t mean that we cannot make use of it anyway: If it’s good enough for prisoners at an American penitentiary, perhaps it should be good enough for us. It certainly seemed useful to very large numbers of people as a rough and ready basis for a wide range of decisions, for generations! We might, however, wish to consider the trade-offs of encouraging the setting of racial factions against each other in an open-ended political process.

                The comparison to “reparations and redress for Japanese-American victims of internment,” as per your link, does indeed seem instructive. The judgment did not offer reparations to all past and present victims of anti-Japanese (or anti-Asian, etc.) discrimination. Those who received payments did not do so as members of a “racial group.” The judgment that there was racism involved in the internment was in this sense irrelevant to the actual disbursement of payments to specifically identified individuals, in many cases the direct victims, whose rights as citizens were determined to have been violated.

                Coates needs to ask for a “study” precisely because no such relatively strict determinations are available – or even conceivable – in regard to reparations for a “legacy.”Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to CK MacLeod
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                Let me make sure I understand you.

                If specific people are victims of state-sanctioned harm on account of their race (which I assume we can admit is what the internment was), you’re ok with reparations to those specific people even though the reparations are then definitionally going to people of one race.

                If, however, no precise list exists of the people who are victims of state-sanctioned harm on account of their race (which is TNC’s argument; perhaps you don’t adopt it, but there certainly is no list of people who were unable to secure wealth because they were unable to purchase homes with a standard mortgage only because they are black or who lost their future because of racially-targeted police violence or racially-targeted school discipline, etc. etc.) then you are not ok with reparations because it is a “racialized ‘reparations’ argument as far outside a sustainable or desirable, or practical, balance.”

                Either I’m missing something or that seems like a useful starting place in that it converts the objection into a list-making exercise (presumably both as to individual names and as to what things qualify individuals for inclusion). And now we are studying reparations to black people.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to nevermoor
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                says:

                nevermoor: Let me make sure I understand you.

                Since your attempt to re-state my argument ignores the latter’s main elements and logic, I have to say I think you do not understand it.

                The Carter-sponsored commission concluded that the internment was unjustified, and that the best explanation for such unjustified acton was racism. We can stipulate to that judgment, and it would still be irrelevant to the determination that individuals were harmed as individuals and deserved to be offered reparations. They received compensation as citizens and resident aliens unjustly treated, not because they were members of a “race.” In that specific sense, their “race” was irrelevant. There were more Japanese-Americans (and non-citizens of Japanese origin) who were never interned (for instance the large number living in Hawaii) than who were interned, and the members of the former group (or heirs) were not considered for compensation, for obvious reasons. They may have been of the right “race,” but they were not harmed.

                In refraining from criticizing the internment decision we do not have to take the position that it represented perfect justice. Otherwise, the problem isn’t just reducible to the lack of a “precise list,” though in itself such a lack is indeed a problem. In the case of “reparations to black people,” we don’t even have a concept for working up such a list, and your phrase already points to the problem, since I presume you mean all African Americans, not all “black people” – or do you? Indeed, for many of the very same reasons that “race” is a defective concept, attempting to define the group of just recipients of reparations – “the list” – will be an impossible task. Given the length of time and intervening events (some or all of American and world history at least of the last 150 years), the difference between a practical approximation of justice in relation to the internees, and conceivable justice in relation to African Americans or “black people,” becomes a qualitative not quantitative problem, even if we cannot specify the exact moment when the change takes place (a “sorites” problem).Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                Gotcha. Fair enough.Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                So I clearly don’t understand you.

                First, reparations would not (necessarily) be about only slavery, they would be about a number of things done to “black” people in the time since. While you’re right that “black” is a vague term, it’s the term that connects best with the vector of state-sanctioned harm.

                Second, I will admit I can’t parse your Japanese internment point. Yes the people interned were individuals, and yes not all Japanese were interned. But the people who were interned were interned BECAUSE they were Japanese.

                Third, I agree the list-making would be harder here. I disagree it would be impossible to the point that thinking about how to do it is completely out-of-bounds. Which is why it sounds like we might have something. If we can identify specific people who were harmed in a congizable way by racist practices because they were “black,” we’d seem to be in the situation you approve of.

                To make it concrete, if there was a list of people whose mortgages were denied due to redlining and who therefore had to pay 3x the interest on shady borrowing mechanisms (all because they were Black), what would you support doing for them?

                (comment above was intended below to jaybird)Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to nevermoor
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                says:

                First, reparations would not (necessarily) be about only slavery, they would be about a number of things done to “black” people in the time since. While you’re right that “black” is a vague term, it’s the term that connects best with the vector of state-sanctioned harm.

                Coates begins the summary of his argument in 1619. So he seems to consider the entire history of the descendants of Africans in America to be the predicate for “the argument.” He refers to actions against the interests of African Americans at every level of state and society – although he never refers to actions in favor of the interest of African Americans – not restricted to “state-sanctioned” harm at all, unless you’re of the opinion that the state is or ought to be omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, and that every pain that befalls every living being in the universe provides a just cause of action against that state.

                Second, I will admit I can’t parse your Japanese internment point. Yes the people interned were individuals, and yes not all Japanese were interned. But the people who were interned were interned BECAUSE they were Japanese.

                I awaken one morning to discover that my neighhbor has slaughtered my ox. To make me whole, he needs to provide me with a replacement ox or ox-equivalent and pay for any other damages, including pain and suffering, since I loved my ox and my ox was my only friend. It makes no difference to me in terms of making me whole and compensating me for my anguish whether he slaughtered my ox because he hates oxen, hated my ox in particular, hated me in particular, hated people like me in particular, hated oxen of my ox’s particular type, thought he was doing me a favor, was on LSD and thought he was chopping celery, etc. That he was on LSD and thought he was chopping celery also does not make me the recipient of a celery-payment. All of that is irrelevant as far as the justice of making me ox-whole and happy as I can possibly be all things considered. Now, if a rash of crimes against oxen has produced ox-crimes legislation he may be due for other punishments, I don’t know. It’s irrelevant to me as far as making me whole and paying for my ox-anguish.

                You asked me to consider the internment settlement in relation to a reparations argument that could hardly be more broadly and vaguely stated. That the internment settlement could have been adjudicated absolutely without reference to “race,” but purely as a matter of repairing the fortunes of aggrieved individuals is one critical difference. Other than that, it seems to me that the burden is on you to explain how that settlement is helpful in regard to the Coates proposal, however we happen to be defining it at any given time.

                Third, I agree the list-making would be harder here. I disagree it would be impossible to the point that thinking about how to do it is completely out-of-bounds. Which is why it sounds like we might have something. If we can identify specific people who were harmed in a congizable way by racist practices because they were “black,” we’d seem to be in the situation you approve of.

                You’re free to give it a try, but my beginning point would be people who were harmed – period – and in a way of interest to the state, or in America the People.

                To make it concrete, if there was a list of people whose mortgages were denied due to redlining and who therefore had to pay 3x the interest on shady borrowing mechanisms (all because they were Black), what would you support doing for them?

                I’m no expert on the relevant bodies of law. It reads like a matter for the courts, civil and criminal, not for a congressional study and a re-consideration of American history going back to 1619.

                HR 40, the bill that Coates supports, doesn’t mention red-lining. It also goes back to 1619, and focuses on slavery and the legacy of slavery. https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/40/text What Coates means by the reparations argument is an argument that begins with slavery and ends with the possible effects of slavery, in relation to African Americans. Does this seem to be to you a better way to address red-lining (which apparently disproportionately harmed African Americans, but also affected members of other ethnic groups) than… addressing red-lining?Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                As to 1: I agree, he documents the degree to which America is built on the exploitation of black labor. Both in the distant past and much more recently. What I’m trying to do is see if there is common ground, recognizing it is narrower than his scope.

                As to the rest: Is there common ground that reparations might be in order when we can identify individuals who have been aggrieved by policies targeting them for their race? I clearly understand that your discomfort mounts the vaguer the categories and the less direct the harm.

                And as to your point about the bills, I understand TNC’s argument to be that all of this is the legacy of slavery. The country was born and grew up by exploiting blacks in the form of slavery. When it couldn’t do so explicitly any more, it found ways to approximate the same system. Those methods have, over a century-and-a-half, been significantly rolled back. But not completely.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to nevermoor
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                nevermoor: Is there common ground that reparations might be in order when we can identify individuals who have been aggrieved by policies targeting them for their race?

                The existence of a valid grievance of any kind, regardless of origin, implies the existence of a valid claim for recompense or repair. Isn’t that a or the fundamental precept of justice?

                Maybe the more difficult question is whether reparations on a mass societal scale can or should be given, or any benefits given, according to race, ever (a benefit or reparation to a specific group of claimants is, as we’ve also already discussed, in my view something qualitatively different). A benefit given to my neighbor because of her different race (or gender) is one denied to me because of mine. The approach requires us to divide up the body politic by race, which, see previous discussion, I consider a both retrogressive and conceptually defective operation, however well-intentioned or from one or another perspective justified it may be.

                If you care to explore TNC’s specific historical analysis, or its sources, or your interpretation, I suppose we could try, but my argument in the post was that as a political question it is, in short, impossible.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                “The existence of a valid grievance of any kind, regardless of origin, implies the existence of a valid claim for recompense or repair.”

                Why?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                I’m pretty sure that very few people would have a problem with “a debt is owed”. It’s when we get into “therefore, you are obliged to pay it” that people start piping up with the “hey, wait a minute”s.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                Kazzy: Why?

                Because the alternative would be an (impossible) world without “justice.” (The earliest scraps of written philosophy in the Western tradition, the philosophy of Anaximander, address this concept, understood as a natural process or law.)Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                But a grievance need not have a valid claim for recompense or repair to be valid itself.

                Consider if I were to slap you in the face. The slap would sting momentarily but the pain would quickly abate on its own; no “repair” would be necessary. And I’m not sure what appropriate claim you’d have to “recompense”.

                In this situation, have I not give you legitimate claim for a grievance?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                no “repair” would be necessary.

                Not even an “I’m sorry”?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Does that actually repair anything?

                Because if so, it’d be hard to argue that Black folks (among others) don’t deserve an apology for this nation’s collective treatment of them, historically and contemporarily. Which then makes their grievance valid. At least according to CK’s definition here (which is inconsistent with the formal definition).

                And, no, they haven’t been offered a formal apology. Not for slavery. Or anything else.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy
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                Kazzy,

                Does that actually repair anything?

                Have you ever demanded, expected, felt-better-for-having-gotten an apology?

                CK’s point up there is about the logic of a grievance, not the logic of a face slap.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Stillwater
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                @stillwater

                Personally? I put next to no stock in apologies. I don’t know that I’ve asked for one since I was a child. But, hey, that’s me.

                Again, CK said: ““The existence of a valid grievance of any kind, regardless of origin, implies the existence of a valid claim for recompense or repair.””

                My argument is that grievances can exist independent of a claim of recompense or repair. And that there is nothing in the definition of the word “grievance” that mentions the implication of recompense or repair. So, yea, I’m not sure what he was getting at there.

                @jaybird

                Thanks for clarifying. Glad to know we got around to apologizing for slavery a century and a half after it ended. Progress!Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                My argument is that grievances can exist independent of a claim of recompense or repair.

                Well, sure. Punition is always on the table.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                If Rand Paul is (somehow) elected, we’ll get the formal apology for Obamacare, which is like slavery.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                You won’t believe what the racists are going to start saying about Obamacare come tax time.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Stillwater

                Exactly. Of course, in some cultures, “I’m sorry” wouldn’t cut it. A duel would be considered in order (we would once have demanded “satisfaction”). In 2016 America, at least in the workplace, loss of employment, or, if you’re lucky and valued and the slappee is exceedingly nice about it, compulsory psychological counseling, would follow. If you’re the boss, you might look to settling out of court at the earliest opportunity, and try to get a non-disclosure agreement, but keeping the witnesses quiet might get expensive if practical at all.

                “Repair” and “recompense” and “paying one’s debt” or bringing the great chain of being back into balance rarely consists, or can consist, of removing the original harm or kissing the boo-boo to make it better.Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to CK MacLeod
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                I’d be interested in your take on TNC’s latest, then.

                My case for reparations was not centered on long-dead enslaved black people, but actual living African Americans who’d been wronged, well within living memory.

                He says this right under discussion of GI Bill discrimination and housing policy.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to nevermoor
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                Seems like bait-switching to me:

                Skeptic: Let’s focus on current inequities.

                TNC: The problem isn’t current inequities, it’s a long history of racism to be traced back to slavery and commonly discussed under the title of “reparations.”

                Skeptic: OK, let’s talk about the long history of racism and specifically about slavery. There are fundamental and complex difficulties posed by distance from us in time and in some respects radically shifting moral, legal, and even epistemological frameworks, and the differences between historical perspectives and political ones.

                TNC: No, no. It’s not about the long history of racism and slavery. It’s about current inequities!

                Additionally, I did not set out in the post to address reparations proposals pragmatically, but to address the question of justice and to point out inconsistencies in Coates’ thinking, beginning with one glaring inconsistency that I consider emblematic. Not very surprisingly, our pragmatically minded and for the most part politically very committed commentariat tends to focus on the list of familiar questions, re-focusing again on the most relatively pragmatic of them, rather than grapple with the moral and philosophical questions that perhaps strike them as uninterestingly abstract, but which in my view underlie the pragmatic as well as practical-political hesitations before acceptance even of TNC’s modest proposal of “starting with HR40” – (at least when he or his supporters prefer to focusing on it).Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to CK MacLeod
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                TNC: The problem isn’t current inequities, it’s a long history of racism to be traced back to slavery and commonly discussed under the title of “reparations.”

                [Citation Needed]

                I see the conversation as somewhat different. I don’t think TNC is being inconsistent precisely because what he is trying to do is not what you say it is.

                That isn’t because there’s no evidence to be found. Indeed in 2014, a YouGov and Huffington Post poll revealed (unsurprisingly) that the vast majority of white Americans—75 percent—opposed reparations in all forms. White Americans did not oppose reparations because they were flummoxed by the practicalities of making good on the debt. They opposed them because, ultimately, they didn’t think the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow were any longer that big of a deal. Seventy-eight percent of White Americans said that the legacy of slavery is either a “minor factor” or “no factor at all” in today’s wealth gap. Sixty-four percent of whites thought the same of Jim Crow.

                The task I took on with “The Case For Reparations” was to counter this thinking—to show how the damage of slavery and Jim Crow was extended and compounded by ongoing discrimination, how this continues to devastate black communities, and why a debt was owed.

                But I am trying to talk about justice. I’m even granting (for the sake of discussion) that there is no justice in giving everyone who asserts they are a descendant of slaves money. The question then is can we identify a group of victims for whom reparations would be just. It seems to me that the answer is yes, for all the same reasons that reparations for the internment were just. So from that, the conclusion is that we should be talking about how to draw the line. Which seems like EXACTLY the sort of thing a government study might help suss out.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to nevermoor
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                says:

                This.

                CK, you mischaracterize TNC’s argument, then argue with the mischaracterization. It isn’t quite a straw man, but it’s pretty damn close.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to nevermoor
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                says:

                We’re now going over the same territory for at least a second, perhaps a third or fourth time.

                The citation for the rendering of TNC’s position A would be first to “the argument” as TNC, on his own, “briefly re-states” it, as quoted int he post. The supporting citation would be the text of HR40, TNC’s minimal proposal, which, like the brief re-statement, begins with the year 1619.

                The inadequacy, in my view, of the Japanese internment settlement as basis for turning to reparations was discussed in several comments above (the quantity -> quality, sorites problem), and summarized and expanded upon in my prior comment in this sub-thread where I referred to the problems in dealing with “historical” events. The theme was also a main part of the thesis of my top post.

                In theory, a government study might “suss out” any problem at all in the universe. In this specific instance TNC via Conyers is asking for a political endorsement of a one-sided concept of “historical reparations” for a super-class of “African Americans” or what we in conventional discussion refer to as a “racial group.” One might reject this concept on principle, epistemological principle or ethical principle or connected prudential principle (bad for the nation to go at this topic in this way). If a politician, one might reject the manner in which the principles take form concretely as interests: one’s own narrow political interests and the related perceived preferences of one’s constituents not to open this particular door.

                Incidentally, the reference to the 75% of white Americans opposed to to reparations because they don’t think Jim Crow and slavery were “that big of a deal” is Coates’ gloss. Extrapolating on the basis of motivated answers to ill-considered poll questions is a dubious exercise. More to our extended discussion, Coates again takes his position A. He believes that it’s somehow important to view red-lining, as key point of analysis, not simply as an evil in itself, but as a matter of “legacy.”

                If red-lining is or was an evil in itself – a premise I for one have little difficulty in accepting – then defining a class of victims on the model of Japanese Internment, might still be a challenge, but strikes me as potentially susceptible to practical political or legal action than fairly assessing or re-assessing the residual debt owed African Americans for 250 years of enslavement and 150 years of discrimination. We might, as with the Internment settlement, acknowledge that the motivation was racism. We might specify further that the practice was (in the majority of cases) in some sense a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow – or we might not: It would be irrelevant to calculating material damages.

                The difficulty would be compounded by two additional problems – what if any prior attempts to make the victims whole or to offer virtual reparations deserve to be taken into account (on state and local levels, in the form of programs like CRA, etc.), and, furthermore, what the justification is for treating red-lining as purely a phenomenon of anti-black racism and thus a basis for reparations to African Americans exclusively, when African Americans were not historically the only victims of red-lining.

                Many Americans, not just many white Americans, look at numerous social programs and legal reforms over the last century and a half as “reparative,” under whatever name, beginning with the scanted sacrifice of the Civil War, and extended especially during the Civil Rights Era and under the Great Society, continued up to the present day in the forms of affirmative action and many other political, social, legal, and cultural initiatives. Coates’ presentation ignores or diminishes them, or, when he gets sloppy, converts them into their opposites. In that way he feeds the skepticism that it was ever worthwhile or that it will ever be enough, and the suspicion that the conversation and its seemingly reasonable stipulations are, to return approximately to the point where we began (the comment from j r), undertaken for reasons other than the ones stated.Report

              • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                The strongest part of Coates’ initial reparations article is his reporting on discrimination in home mortgages coinciding with the rise of the mortgage as a standardized financial instrument beginning in the New Deal. For that, we have good paperwork and a list of names to go off of. There’s a much stronger case to be made that reparations address a traceable harm to an identifiable class. That’s why Japanese internment payments didn’t go to non-interned Japanese-Americans and why the black farmers’ settlement, though still controversial, was able to proceed.

                Using it as a hook for which to hang reparations for 1619 onward is the problem. Whereas you can identify and limit the class for mortgage discrimination, a government granting race-based reparations invites a variety of questions that narrower settlements don’t. The reason Coates punts on the implementation problems is that we’d inevitably be arguing over whether the Treasury Department should be administering the paper bag test, the one-drop rule or cutting a check to my Nigerian dentist.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to LTL FTC
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                says:

                The reason Coates punts on the implementation problems is that we’d inevitably be arguing over whether the Treasury Department should be administering the paper bag test, the one-drop rule or cutting a check to my Nigerian dentist.

                Yes.

                When I first heard about this, I started by pointing out figuring out who has black ancestors and to what extent is, quite literally, impossible. (Because, everyone in unison this time: Race is a social construct.)

                But that was sorta based on the assumption that we would *actually* be attempting to fix past wrong. For example, we’d say ‘People get $X for a black ancestor during the 50s. They get $Y for a black ancestor during the 20s. They get $Z for a slave ancestor.’, etc, etc, add that up, and there’s the reparations amount.

                This would be, of course, completely impossible to do, but I assumed, with people just didn’t realize how hard it was.

                I have slowly come to realize that everyone in favor of reparations actually *do* understand how hard this would be, so in *their mind* the people who get the reparations are just ‘black people’, and presumably, all the same amount. (Which they really really don’t want to say aloud.)

                Which, uh, also cannot work. Unless, as you say, they start administrating some skin color testing. Thus formalizing the bogus theory of race and skin color back into law, so good job on that, people supposedly fighting racism.Report

              • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to DavidTC
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                says:

                OTOH, you’re never going to convince anyone that the logistical challenges are a real obstacle to justice, since the one-man reparations campaign isn’t really about money. This quote from Coates is instructive:

                What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage.

                A.O. Scott is certainly enjoying his Ballpark franks in tear-soaked buns.

                It’s 99% symbolism/feelings/posturing and 1% material change.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to LTL FTC
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                says:

                LTL FTC: It’s 99% symbolism/feelings/posturing and 1% material change.

                Promise of an open-ended collective self-flagellation process, to be administered by the intellectual vanguard of the identified super-class of victims… approximately as I meant to suggest at the end of the post.

                Not sure if it’s worth it at this point to put the summary differently, or to try to explain why the validity of one part of the Reparations case – its denial that victimization is “over” – does not completely overwhelm the other side holding that we are each and all responsible for our own lives (and that “the judgments of the Lord are just”).Report

              • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to CK MacLeod
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                says:

                Promise of an open-ended collective self-flagellation process, to be administered by the intellectual vanguard of the identified super-class of victims…

                Where do I sign up?

                I hate to say it since he seems to rub everyone the wrong way for one reason or another, but Freddie DeBoer has a lot of things to say about this tendency in the new-look illiberal corner of the left that seems to be on the ascendancy.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to LTL FTC
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                says:

                LTL FTC,

                If I’m not mistaken, that quotation was from the essay he wrote two years ago (The Case for Rep.). And I agreed with that sentiment even tho I perhaps misunderstood where he was going or coming from in saying it. A national reckoning on the legacy of Jim Crow and persistent endemic racism is indeed a laudable goal. But as I said elsewhere on this thread, the process of a reckoning requires buy in from the putative “criminals”. And in that sense I understood the descriptive content of black history contained in the original essay as sufficing to establish the moral argument for a “reckoning”, rather than establishing the necessity of financial reparations to victimized blacks.

                On the first view, the goal is to motivate white people to admit that they (all white people??) have engaged in the systematic plunder of black wealth to their own collective enrichment and by so doing pave a path to more equitable behavior in the future. On the second, the goal is to extract recompense from white people (or the federal gummint??) for past transgressions against blacks in an effort to re-balance the scales of unjust actions perpetrated for over 400 years.

                From TNC’s pov, it seems to me, those two things link up in that the forward looking goals resulting from a collective admission of white guilt can only manifest as more than lip-service if white people agree that they (the gummint??) should pay back all the monies owed for past transgressions. In other words, white people must actually pay a price in order for a full rehabilitation – an actual national reckoning – to take place.

                But of course – and this is my point! – that only works if white people – folks currently alive and thinking about these issues! – are persuaded by his arguments that each of them should pay a price for the past actions of other white people. I don’t see that happening, at the hoped-for scale expressed in TNC’s original position on these issues, for a bunch of reasons (one of which is nicely outlined by CK: it turns certain important concepts of justice on their head). And perhaps more importantly, at least from a political pov, is that TNC is now arguing that a failure to agree with his argument for reparations as further evidence of pernicious white supremacy. Which makes the “national reckoning” all the more unlikely.Report

              • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                …and that’s why he didn’t call for a home mortgage settlement with plaintiffs who can establish standing and class action status and defendants (or successor companies) that can be identified.

                Sure, many African-Americans could get what’s due to them after decades, but all the non-bankers out there would get a pass from the self-flagellation.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                On the first view, the goal is to motivate white people to admit that they (all white people??) have engaged in the systematic plunder of black wealth to their own collective enrichment and by so doing pave a path to more equitable behavior in the future.

                See, the thing is, *this* a reasonable goal. A very reasonable goal. Has the US actually ever even *apologized* for half of this behavior?

                And, on top of it…tally up the totals. Seriously, I want a study done. How much did each government policy hurt black people? Real numbers.

                Not so it can used for repayment, which has a lot of problems with it.

                No, it should exist so the next time racist talk about how black people refuse to pull themselves up, we have actual real figures to point out they started X thousand of dollars in the negative. Actual facts about the actual harm done…and still being done, while we’re at it.

                But instead it get linked into the reparations thing, which is really something that won’t happen.

                I dunno, maybe it’s just an attempt at moving the Overton window or something.Report

              • Avatar notme in reply to DavidTC
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                says:

                The US gov’t has already apologized for slavery. So what more does TNC want?

                http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/18/AR2009061803877.htmlReport

              • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to notme
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                says:

                So, uh, sorry about kidnapping, enslaving, and murdering hundreds of thousands of your ancestors, building a wealthy empire on their suffering, and finally liberating the survivors into such extreme poverty that wage slavery at the exact same jobs was their only option for survival. We’re cool now, right?Report

              • Avatar notme in reply to dragonfrog
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                says:

                Then what do you want? First, it was an apology. The apology was made but apparently that isn’t good enough. I guess if you want to live as a victim and keep perpetuating the cult of victimhood fine, but it gets old after a while an no one will care.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to notme
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                says:

                It’s not the oppressed who perpetuate the victimhood, it’s the oppressor.

                Reparations means concrete measures to end the oppression, and make right its ongoing consequences – the kind of thing that’s going to cost more than the word “sorry”. The kind of thing that’s reasonable to fund out of the wealth of a nation that built its wealth on a couple centuries of oppression.

                That’s all I’m saying to you for now, as I’m more interested in engaging with serious-minded people.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris
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      says:

      If we argue that a former slave would be entitled to reparations but that his descendants are not, we have embraced a 100% Death Tax.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        As I understand it, the issue is one of survivability of claims.
        As I remember it, survivability of claims in a personal injury action is a question of state law.

        In an argument which relies on abeyance, laches is fair game.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Dwyer
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    says:

    “To put the idea in Coatesian terms, the war would on this view amount to the sacrificial offering of millions of “white bodies,” including the deaths of hundreds of thousands, to be put against the maltreatment of millions of “black bodies.”

    This is a fascinating perspective and one I have never considered. Generally speaking, most people that dislike the Lost Cause ideal in the South, believe that the Civil War was about ending slavery. If that is true then your statement holds a lot of weight and should be considered. I wonder if those in favor of reparations would amend their math to math to include the cost of the Civil War for the United States.Report

    • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Mike Dwyer
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      says:

      No need to guess what TNC thinks about the war.

      One group of Americans attempted to raise a country on property in Negroes. Another group of Americans, many of them Negroes themselves, stopped them. As surely as we lack the ability to see tragedy in violently throwing off the yoke of the English, I lack the ability to see tragedy in violently throwing off the yoke of slaveholders.

      Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Dwyer
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      says:

      Generally speaking, most people that dislike the Lost Cause ideal in the South, believe that the Civil War was about ending slavery.

      I think there’s a distinction to be made here between the cause of the secessions and the cause of the war. The secessions were clearly about slavery: every contemporaneous voice and document says precisely that, and the Lost Cause argument about tariffs or other sorts of oppression by the North are lies, and not particularly convincing ones.

      But the war, that is, the Northern reaction to the secessions, was not about slavery, a least at first. It was, as Mr. Lincoln himself wrote, about preserving the Union:

      I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.

      That abolishing slavery later became seen as the best way to win the war does not mean that the entire cost of the war should be entered into the ledger under “abolition”.Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    Very nicely done, CK. I’m glad you wrote about this at length – the whole dynamic in play is puzzling on a bunch of levels and you’ve done some good diagnostics here.

    Here’s how I frame the debate at a really basic level: What exactly does TNC believe Sander’s is missing about the reparations debate? Certainly it’s not the basic facts in play since we have every reason to believe Sander’s is aware of them and no reason to think he’s either ignorant or incapable of understanding those facts. And by extension, it’s certainly not that a moral argument regarding reparations – the one TNC constructed and published! – follows from those facts. I mean, Bernie’s a smart guy who’s been around the block quite a few times, right? So Bernie gets all that.[1]

    So what’s he missing? Here I wanna say something you’re getting at up there: it seems to me that from TNC’s pov, Bernie quite obviously doesn’t “understand” the argument since he’s not embracing TNC’s conclusion. That is, understanding the argument entails agreeing with the conclusion.[2] But here’s where I think TNC goes off the rails a bit: his account of why Bernie doesn’t “get it” is because Bernie’s a white guy conceptually and emotionally divorced from the issues which animate blacks in America. And if that’s right, then African American issues really do reduce to something subjectively-experienced and not-universally share-able. And if that’s right – that TNC is busting Bernie’s chops for not embracing or adopting the (I’ll use scare quotes here!) “black experience” – then he’s guilty of precisely what he’s accusing Bernie of doing: viewing complex issues thru a racial filter.

    The politics of this little dustup are another matter, an ugly affair, and I’ll stay away from that topic except to repeat something I said the other day about this: Bernie’s policies objectively promote the interests of African Americans but (apparently!) fail to promote “African American interests”. That’s where our political discourse is at, yo!

    [1] Personally, I’m persuaded that TNC’s description of black history exposes systematic racism and economic plundering of black folks bank accounts, and those actions constitute a moral wrong. I’m unconvinced that his argument suffices for a reparations policy for many of the same reasons you’ve outlined in the OP.

    [2] I don’t think it does.Report

    • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to Stillwater
      Ignored
      says:

      So what’s he missing? Here I wanna say something you’re getting at up there: it seems to me that from TNC’s pov, Bernie quite obviously doesn’t “understand” the argument since he’s not embracing TNC’s conclusion.

      The classic argument from authority, with an oppression olympics sheen.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to LTL FTC
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        says:

        Well, another explanation is that he’s in the bag for Hillary…

        Presumably, TNC is attacking Bernie on this topic and not Hillary because he’s regarded (by TNC) as a revolutionary candidate proposing revolutionary policies, one of which is institution of a reparations policy to end white supremacy, a policy which Bernie hasn’t adopted, ergo, Bernie is either not really a “revolutionary” candidate or he’s an apologist for white supremacy.Report

        • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          He did touch on Hillary in the second article. You’re right that he’s calling out Bernie on his radical credentials.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          Imagine if someone criticized Bernie because he was in the pocket of Wall Street. Imagine them not really mentioning Clinton other than talking about how Clinton wants to do a handful of the things that Bernie wants to do to reign in Wall Street.

          Would you find that criticism somewhat confusing?

          I sure would. I’d find it confusing as heck.Report

          • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            Agree or disagree with TNC, I’m flummoxed by the claim that he’s being illogical.

            Hillary is positioning herself as the champion of practical trench-warfare politics.

            Bernie is positioning himself as the champion of idealistic policy who is unconcerned with practicality, and has attacked Hillary for her focus.

            TNC is just saying “wait a second, why does your ‘idealistic policy’ stop short of the ideals I care about, on the ground they are ‘impractical.’ Aren’t you the guy who should be able to champion them?” The idea that this criticism must be leveled at both candidates or else he is in the bag for Clinton can only come from a position of illogical partisanship.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            When did Bernie say that he wants to be the king of Wall Street?Report

        • Avatar pillsy in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          Stillwater:
          Well, another explanation is that he’s in the bag for Hillary…

          I don’t think that’s right, given what he just wrote about her recent debate answer on Reconstruction.Report

  6. Avatar North
    Ignored
    says:

    An interesting bit of musing on your part. Good job. A thought or two:

    -Even if we granted the “classic political-theological accounting” which holds that the civil war was atonement for the slavery that preceded it that would still leave the majority of Coates’ listed grievances on the national “ledger” since Jim Crow, Red lining et all were post-civil war phenomena.

    -Coates answers, or perhaps elides, most of your criticisms by advocating not for a specific form of reparations (though he sure does sound otherwise I grant) but by advocating for their formal congressional study. Maybe this could uncharitably be cast as Motte and bailey argumentation but I do think he has a solid point in that the act of exploring the matter and considering the possibility is not, in itself, a particularly expensive or problematic proposition.Report

    • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to North
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      says:

      How do you think Coates would respond if Congress set up a commission to study reparations and they came back against it?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to LTL FTC
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        says:

        That’s a good question, actually. What do you think he’d do?

        In his original reparations paper his only advocacy was for Congress to a) pick up a bill to b) investigate the history/evaluate potential solutions, and not that congress should necessarily appropriate propriations for reparations. His more recent rhetoric makes me think he may have changed his mind about that a bit, tho.Report

        • Avatar notme in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          I think he would claim that the rejection of reparations is proof that Congress and America by extension is racist.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          I agree that his phrasing and tone suggest that he thinks there’s an answer and he knows what that answer should be.Report

        • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          I don’t know exactly what he’d say, but it will probably include lot of re-hashing his initial argument to the detriment of the sort of nuts and bolts problems a commission would spend a great deal of time grappling with. As has been rightly pointed out, the commission is a dodge.

          Commission: “We would find it very difficult to determine who is eligible”
          TNC: “Centuries of plunder!”
          Commission: “A one-time payoff will not permanently raise incomes and may just be captured by increases in rents in black neighborhoods”
          TNC: “Centuries of plunder!”

          et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

          But this will work in TNC’s favor, since he’s adopted a fatalist streak a mile wide. This analysis in Dissent explains it:

          Herein lies the danger. Forget telling his son it will be okay. Coates cannot even tell him that it may be okay. “The struggle is really all I have for you,” he tells his son, “because it is the only portion of this world under your control.” What a strange form of control. Black folks may control their place in the battle, but never with the possibility that they, and in turn the country to which they belong, may win.

          I get this is why white progressives love him: they can make very public spectacles of how much his writing has opened their eyes (“essential, like water or air“), without actually having to do anything.

          The rest of the commentariat will behave predictably. Point at the white people on the commission and use the argument from authority to disqualify their opinions. Point at the black people who voted against reparations and call them Uncle Toms, house slaves or Don Lemons. Rinse and repeat.Report

          • Avatar nevermoor in reply to LTL FTC
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            says:

            So… let’s not do it because it might not satisfy everyone, and THOSE GUYS are the jerks who refuse to do anything?

            Strong argument.Report

            • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to nevermoor
              Ignored
              says:

              I’m not clear on who you’re summarizing. Is it me, Coates, the commission or TNC-praising white progressives?Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to LTL FTC
                Ignored
                says:

                You.

                Your comment appears to dismiss the concept of studying reparations because TNC would not like the outcome (though who knows what the outcome would be or how he/anyone else would react). It then criticizes “white progressives” for loving him only because it means we don’t need to actually do anything.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to nevermoor
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                says:

                Remember this the next time someone says “I don’t think the ACA was a good solution to healthcare costs” and you reply “oh YEAH, well what’s YOUR solution then?!”Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                Huh? TNC is calling for a solution. Unlike the “repeal and maybe someday we’ll replace it with something but we won’t tell you what” caucus.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                …and then they reply, “Here are a few ideas which might be better; I think the government should fund a committee which investigates whether they would address the problem and make recommendations accordingly.”

                That would, at least, provide a lot more than I’ve usually seen.Report

              • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to nevermoor
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                says:

                I dismiss the concept of studying reparations because the result is in fact predictable. Polling shows support is very, very low. At least some of those people must know of the existence of Jim Crow. Even 41% of African-Americans polled essentially said, “no, please don’t cut me a check.” That’s astounding

                I assume that TNC will be unconvinced by the committee’s results because he has so far hand-waved away all practical considerations from critics. There’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t do the same when it comes from a committee. This is because I view TNC’s endorsement of a study as a rhetorical trick to avoid the difficult questions about how reparations would actually work.

                I don’t think these assumptions are unsupportable. Contra your previous comment, that’s not an issue of making the perfect the enemy of the good. The easy half of the reparations question is, “can you write 10,000 words about how America has done bad things to black people both before and after the Civil War?” The hard part is “how do you identify the class of people to be compensated without extremely invasive and pseudoscientific methods?” and “where will this leave everyone in a decade?”Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to LTL FTC
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                says:

                It’s a hard question, yes. Of course it is. And I don’t think anyone has a detailed answer (certainly not me).

                So let’s think about it in a formal and potentially actionable way. That’s literally his ask. Maybe all that comes of it is what you dub the “easy part” (though I doubt that would be so easy to have done officially). Maybe something else comes of it. Let’s find out. It’s the least we can do.Report

              • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to nevermoor
                Ignored
                says:

                In that case, why don’t we have a very very serious, chin-stroking congressional committee to investigate inventing a perpetual motion machine? I can certainly make the case that our current sources of energy are inadequate for our future needs and damage the environment.

                Let’s find out. It’s the least we can do.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to nevermoor
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                says:

                So let’s think about it in a formal and potentially actionable way. That’s literally his ask.

                It’d be one thing if he was simply presenting what he thought was compelling evidence for further consideration. But at this point he’s not. He’s equating a refusal to consider the issue further as decisive evidence of white supremacy.

                Reparations is not one possible tool against white supremacy. It is the indispensable tool against white supremacy.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to LTL FTC
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        says:

        I suspect it’d depend on the nuts and bolts of the analysis.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North
      Ignored
      says:

      A National Commission on Slavery and Its Effects on Modern America would be a good thing. The United Kingdom has Royal Commissions to study things and make proposals on various economic and social problems. My only concern is preventing quacks and racists from getting on the National Commission.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to North
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      says:

      North: that would still leave the majority of Coates’ listed grievances on the national “ledger” since Jim Crow, Red lining et all were post-civil war phenomena.

      See above: https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2016/01/26/the-argument-for-reparations-and-the-question-of-justice/#comment-1111353Report

      • Avatar North in reply to CK MacLeod
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        says:

        Well the whole matter is complicated heavily by Coates’ own coyness (or perhaps sensible reticience) at detailing what exactly he things would be just.Report

        • Avatar InMD in reply to North
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          says:

          This coyness as you delicately put it is why I think it’s so hard for people outside of Coates’ fan base to take his arguments seriously. I haven’t read him consistently for about 18 months, and maybe this is no longer true, but he has always seemed very reluctant to get in the weeds or engage outside of his own defined terms. I think his reparations essay is a great example of the former with something like his ‘civil war was not tragic’ series being the most prominent example of the latter.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    I didn’t read the article as it being about Bernie.

    I read the article as it being about Clinton.

    Sort of a “okay, Bernie is technically very good on this issue but he’s not perfect and since he’s not perfect we’re haggling and since we’re haggling: Clinton.”Report

  8. Avatar pillsy
    Ignored
    says:

    Those problem are often put as questions: How is it just for a descendant to pay for the crimes of a a remote ancestor?

    The most obvious answer is, I believe, the correct one: it isn’t.

    However, I think this is a much less serious problem than most people who object to reparations[1] believe. Reparations, even in its crudest form, argues that the United States, which is a nation state that has a continuity of existence beyond the life span of any individual, owes the descendents of slaves a debt based on past wrongs that the United States committed directly or enabled. The idea that the US is liable for debts incurred by past governments, despite the fact that many people currently alive had no input into them[2], is not a particularly exotic one, and is essential to the government functioning at all.

    This also applies to corporate entities that exist now and existed then. The idea that a firm has an existence independent of the lifetimes of its owners, managers or employees is fundamental to the functioning of our economy, as is the idea that current owners of that corporation may find their stake become drastically less valuable due to circumstances beyond their control.

    I think there are a lot of problems with Coates’ position, specifically in regard to Sanders, and of course the fact that I believe one common objection to reparations is not valid doesn’t actually mean I support any given program of reparations[3]. Nonetheless, I think it’s interesting that the perhaps the most common objection to any concept of reparations seems to be arguing that the question should be treated as a special case.

    [1] Or even support reparations!

    [2] Why should I be responsible for the trillions of dollars of government debt racked up before I was born? If the answer is just that that debt was racked up on behalf of less distant ancestors, we’re really just negotiating price.

    [3] In his long Atlantic piece from a couple years back, Coates laid out a few possible forms a program of reparations might take, so I think it’s important to be very clear what we’re talking about. That’s one of my major objections to his response to Sanders.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to pillsy
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      says:

      But official public debt from a nation-state (or an entity that is trying to act like one) is a contractual arrangement with specific terms of repayment and interest that both parties agree to at the time the loan is made, and furthermore, that contract itself is tradable to third parties for other consideration.Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Kolohe
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        says:

        I’m not sure I see the relevance. Either way, people are being held responsible for decisions that they had no say in, ones that may have been made before they were born, or their parents were born, or before their parents came into the country, or whatever. The fact that the debt it’s all laid out in terms of a contract doesn’t seem to change the key point.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to pillsy
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          says:

          Debt, in the financial sense, is not created ex nihilo out of a (wholly) poltical process. That makes it different from taxes, which are.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to Kolohe
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            says:

            Um, I hate to be so blunt, but so what? I’m really not seeing what the relevance of this line of argument is at all.

            The precise details of the political process which produced government debt doesn’t change the fundamental fact that contemporary Americans are, through their government, responsible for past obligations that were incurred in ways that they had no input into. All of the debts we’re discussing here, no matter how they were created, would ultimately have to be paid by taxes. Any decision to pay or not pay those debts is ultimately political (as demonstrated by the fairly recent debt ceiling debacle).Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to pillsy
              Ignored
              says:

              “Um, I hate to be so blunt, but so what?”

              Remember how this thread started? “so what” is that debt doesn’t have a moral component; and it does have objective measures of its magnitude and repayment. It’s kind of hard to put a price tag on oppression (although TNC did make an attempt by saying “everything”).Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                “so what” is that debt doesn’t have a moral component; and it does have objective measures of its magnitude and repayment.

                I don’t really see how this makes anything better for the people (i.e., us) who are expected to pay it off (i.e., pay taxes) regardless of the fact that we didn’t have any say in the processes that incurred the debt in the first place. The amount we’re on the hook for is beyond our control either way.

                (Also, it’s not like we don’t have precedent and tradition for the idea that one can be owed a debt based on the fact that one was wronged.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy
                Ignored
                says:

                If you owe the bank $100,000 and you can’t pay it back, you have a problem.

                If you owe the bank $100,000,000 and you can’t pay it back, the bank has a problem.

                If you owe the bank $100,000,000,000 and you can’t pay it back, the government has a problem.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Yeah, and given one line of argument that TNC entertains, we’re facing a debt even bigger than $100 billion!

                I actually am skeptical of a lot arguments in favor of reparations, and the more I think about it, the more legitmate I think Sanders’ appeal to politica is. I just think the specific line of argument I’m trying to refute is a weird bust.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to pillsy
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                says:

                …you’re the one who presented the argument in the first place!Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                Nope. I’m replying specifically to an objection that CK Reynolds presented:

                Those problem are often put as questions: How is it just for a descendant to pay for the crimes of a a remote ancestor?Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to pillsy
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      says:

      Nicely put. The claim that the state cannot be liable for abuse if the victims (or direct perpetrators) are dead would be considered sophistry in any other context.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to pillsy
      Ignored
      says:

      @pillsy
      However, I think this is a much less serious problem than most people who object to reparations[1] believe. Reparations, even in its crudest form, argues that the United States, which is a nation state that has a continuity of existence beyond the life span of any individual, owes the descendents of slaves a debt based on past wrongs that the United States committed directly or enabled. The idea that the US is liable for debts incurred by past governments, despite the fact that many people currently alive had no input into them[2], is not a particularly exotic one, and is essential to the government functioning at all.

      Yeah, this is really is a somewhat dumb objection.

      If the US government harmed people in some manner that the government later decides was immoral, the US government has a duty to make them whole. There might be a reasonable argument that it doesn’t owe their *descendants* that money (Although it’s not a very good argument.), but the idea it is ‘punishing’ the descendants of the people who did the harm is based in the absurd bogus argument that a lot of people on the right and left have internalized, that the government has no right to collect taxes.

      Uh, no, it does have the right to collect taxes. Taxes are not punishment.

      I object to reparations for two reasons…one, it is nearly impossible to calculate out any sort of harm done in the real sense, so essentially it would come down to just giving money to people based on their skin color, and two, I can’t actually figure out how this was help long-term unless it was a *lot* of money, like a million dollars, and it can’t possibly happen if it’s a lot of money. And three, it would cut actually *stopping* racism off at the knees, and probably actually make things worse.(1)

      I *don’t* object for the dumbass reason that you mentioned, which the right seems to *love*.

      1) Although I think a study into about how much, on average, black people have been harmed by various government policies over the centuries would be a *really good* idea, because whatever that huge number is, it would be a really good counterpoint to nonsensical bullshit about how black people aren’t trying to pull themselves out of poverty.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    “How is it just for a descendant to pay for the crimes of a a remote ancestor?”

    Is it any more just for a descendant to benefit from the wealth-buliding acts of a remote ancestor?Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      This doesn’t really work as a counter, because of the word “crimes”. Wealth and possessions are transferable, criminal guilt is not.

      I can give you my twenty dollars I got; but I can’t give you my murder one conviction I got.

      EDITED: though it does work better if we are talking about “criminal-gotten gains” – in this reading, my money I got from a theoretical slave-owning ancestor is the equivalent of fenced goods that I have no legal right to.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Glyph
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        says:

        What you included in your edit matters.

        But your initial response assumes that possessions ought to be inheritable and guilt not. While most people accept that assumption, I think we need to do some leg work to show it correct rather than just assume it. I have seen strong arguments opposed to the idea of the inheritability of possessions.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy
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          says:

          I think you’re going to have to do far less work to “prove” that possessions aren’t (fully) inheritable (after all, we already have estate tax), than you will “proving” that criminal guilt CAN be inherited, as this fundamentally goes against hundreds or thousands of years of precedent in our English-derived legal system.

          That’s why I’d recommend removing the word “guilt” and “crime” entirely from the discussion if possible; see if we can reframe it in terms of “debts owed”, which ARE transferable. This also turns the rhetorical heat down.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Glyph
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            says:

            “…hundreds or thousands of years of precedent in our English-derived legal system.”

            But that’s kind of the point… we’re asking the descedants of African slaves who only find themselves existing under “hundreds or thousands of years” of “English-derived legal” precedent precisely because they were brought over here as slaves under that very same English-derived legal system.

            Assume we start from square one… with zero precedent… why say, “This land can be handed down but the debt accrued* as a function of the criminal act of enslavement cannot be”?

            * I do like this framing better but of course getting people to agree to it just turns the heat back up.Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy
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              says:

              Maybe I’m dreaming to think it’s possible to entirely-separate the criminal aspect from the civil/debt aspect – after all, even civil torts can indirectly-imply a measure of “guilt” (like OJ being found “not guilty” of criminal murder, but still held unanimously “liable” in the wrongful-death suit).

              But basically, it’s pretty well-accepted that “debt” can be carried forward, while “guilt” dies with the actual perpetrator. When my dad dies, it’s possible that some of his debts and liabilities will become mine; but the punishment for any crimes he’s committed, goes to the grave with him.

              I’m not saying this is perfect either (and I don’t mean to imply that crimes WEREN’T committed under slavery/Jim Crow etc.); but in the world we have, it seems like an easier rhetorical sell.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Glyph
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            says:

            So if my father stole your land I should be able to inherit it?

            The real question is not about guilt. As you say, guilt is indeed personal.

            It’s about how we determine the legitimacy of property claims. It’s pretty easy to document the provenance of acumulated wealth, and nearly all of it has threads of moral injustice.

            So how do we assess rightful possession? Who are the stakeholders who get to opine?

            Most importantly, what are we trying to accomplish? Punishment, restoration, or rapprochement and comity?Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chip Daniels
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              says:

              So if my father stole your land I should be able to inherit it?

              Please see my very first comment in this thread, specifically the part that reads “EDITED”.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels
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              says:

              Chip,

              So how do we assess rightful possession? Who are the stakeholders who get to opine? Most importantly, what are we trying to accomplish? Punishment, restoration, or rapprochement and comity?

              Personally, I think that’s the right approach to take on this issue and my best guess (as well as the principle of charity) compel me say that TNC started from this point as well. That is, he began his exploration of the topic with these factors in mind – identifying stakeholders and various transgressions, applying certain (probably pretty banal) concepts of justice to those events, exploring various remedies consistent with those basic principles, etc etc. The result, for him at least, is where he’s at right now, equating a rejection of his proposed solution with further evidence of white supremacy. (No, really. That’s where he’s at on this.)

              But two things you brought up get close to where TNC loses me. The first is the “who gets to opine on these topics?” question, and TNC seems to have backed himself into a corner where only people who agree with his pro-reparations argument have the moral standing to do so. And the reasoning is sorta Janus-faced here, in that what constitutes “his argument” changes depending on the context. One face is to merely take the argument seriously; the other is to take the conclusion seriously. One allows for legitimate debate (ie., opining against!) of an open-ended discussion; the other disallows disagreement.

              Which leads to a second point you bring up: what are we trying to accomplish by imposing a reparations policy. When framed this way, the reparations question becomes very open-ended and subject to valid differences of opinion, seems to me. And TNC’s stated purpose – that reparations are necessary to end white supremacy – seems pretty easy to refudiate, at least prima facie: government reimbursing blacks for lost wages and wealth that resulted from white supremacy won’t compel a change in the culture which gave rise to that theft. In fact, it’s quite likely to have the opposite effect. So if the goal is to end white supremacy, I think it’s bordering on incoherent.

              That leaves open – to us anyway if not TNC – that the goal is to repay a debt incurred by past injustices. But it seems that claim requires a more fine-grained approach than viewing the contestants as two distinct races of people.

              Could it be punition? Well this is America, after all….

              Most likely I think TNC believes the moral field on which whites and blacks currently play can be leveled in the present only if past transgressions are rectified. And there is some intuitive appeal to that idea. And *that* part of the debate really should be open, since I (for one!) don’t think the two things are causally related.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I’m actually cool on the subject of reparations, if they are unaccompanied by a consensus on the questions above and point towards a greater bonding of national brotherhood.

                Which why Obama was such a transformational figure. Rather than speak in zero sum terms of guilt he crafted a vision where white people could join the cause.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Yes, me too, actually. Or at least, I’m not opposed in principle. This is a case where the devil will certainly be in the details, ya know?

                Put it this way: if the goal of reparations is to engage in a national healing event, then it’s an example of restorative justice, which requires “buy in” from the criminal. In this case, a collective admission of guilt by whites accompanied by their willingness to rehabilitate themselves and change their ways would be revealed by their agreement to pay reparations to blacks. If that’s the model, then it reverses TNC’s logic on the issue since white people voluntarily agreeing to a reparations policy is sufficient for a collective admission of guilt (and presumably rehabilitation), but not necessary for ending white supremacy.

                Back in the day, that’s what I thought TNC was getting on about, actually. Now, not so much.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      I think the more telling and relevant argument is, “How is it just for a descendent to suffer because their ancestors (often not so remote) were victims of crimes?”

      If the effects of those crimes really are still being felt today, someone is paying for them.Report

  10. Avatar Michael Cain
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    says:

    …and thanks, by the way, to those of you who have been playing along with the new Linkage feature.

    Since you bring changes up… I really dislike the new behavior of the Posts in Play boxes up at the top of the State of the Discussion page. Having things jump around so much just because the mouse cursor inadvertently passes over one or more of those boxes is obnoxious.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      (

      Michael Cain: Having things jump around so much just because the mouse cursor inadvertently passes over one or more of those boxes is obnoxious.

      Thought people’d like to be able to read the whole title when hovering – plus Linkage tends to produce more long titles… One alternative would be to make the PiP “Legend” boxes taller, or let them be uneven in size… I’ll experiment with these and other alternatives… and put up a post one day soliciting feedback… woulda done so already but there has been some complicating behind the scenes discussion about the feature…)Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to CK MacLeod
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        says:

        Seeing the whole title is useful. What I’d do, if I were doing it, is have the software wait a beat before doing the expansion, if the cursor continued hovering, so that simply moving across the boxes while headed somewhere else didn’t cause things to “flicker”.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      Along those lines, is there a way to denote a “Linkage” post in the title or something?Report

  11. Avatar Doctor Jay
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    says:

    I think Coates engaged in some rhetorical things that are a bit misleading in that piece. He conflates reparations for slavery with reparations for other actions of our government which had the effect of excluding or even confiscating wealth of black americans.

    While it may not be just for descendants to pay for the sins of their distant ancestors, in the case where the same government, still in existence, has done things now acknowledged to be wrong, and from which some of its citizens have disproportionately benefited, it seems to me altogether just for that government and those people, to try to right that wrong.

    I do not think this logic applies to slavery itself, though. The Crown of England would necessarily be party to payment, as would colonial governments that no longer exist. Neither is it easy or practical to figure out exactly which people are descended from slaves and in what measure. Records were generally not kept.

    As to the price in blood paid, I think Lincoln summed it up well:

    Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

    I read Lincoln as saying, “No, the blood we’ve shed probably isn’t enough to pay it all back.” I hesitate to contradict Lincoln.

    So, I support reparations for all the other things Coates categorizes: “everything from land-theft, to red-lining, to disenfranchisement, to convict-lease labor, to lynching” They can be managed, the victims identified, the wrongs calculated and the debt paid. This would bring us some closure.Report

  12. Avatar Will H.
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    says:

    And the American Indian says:

    Reparations? For blacks?
    You have got to be fucking kidding me.
    Ship them the fuck out.

    Of course, were the word to come down that it was acceptable, I would be quite happy to clear each and every home in Northwestern Georgia, black and white alike, with a shotgun at the door, saying, “Get the fuck out.”

    Who are these blacks to say that they too should enrich themselves by the exploitation of the American Indian?

    If parity is any guide, then reparations for blacks should include some of the harshest land, and they must accept it, or all other reparations are forfeited.
    Then, they must leave everyone and everything they know to travel out in the middle of nowhere to occupy this unwanted land, or they must forfeit all claims to reparations entirely.
    Let them find what jobs they can make for themselves at such a place.
    Let them provide for themselves their own services and utilities.
    Let government programs round up almost half of their children to ship them off to “schools.”
    Let them be left with nothing.

    Their reparations properly consist of a ticket back to Africa, and nothing more, to restore them to the state they would have been in had their ancestors never left the place.

    Were Coates as serious a thinker a he would consider himself, he would leave off the issue of reparations.
    The fact of the matter is that this is derived from the view prominent among blacks that blacks comprise the exclusive minority in this nation.
    If you look at what reparations were given to the Mexican nationals at the acquisition of Mexican territory, why would the blacks be due more?
    Or are we looking at reparations for Mexicans as well, for taking their land?Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Will H.
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      says:

      My first reaction was repugnance at the tone, language, and content of the above comment, but it reminded me of something that I think is necessary to the discussion, and that was, somewhat inadvertently, left out when we published this post: a paragraph on “other claims.” I’ve restored it in the form of a single sentence at the end of the middle section, as one of “the usual questions.”

      The treatment is inadequate, of course. I’ll just say that In my view the question of a Native American claim further underlines the unlikelihood at least, if not the inconceivability, of a truly satisfactory outcome to the discussion pursued on Coates’ terms.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to CK MacLeod
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        says:

        …I mean, it was either inadvertent, or it wasn’t. Let’s get real here.

        ;o)Report

        • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          @michael-drew It was inadvertent in that it was part of an improvised reaction to a mistake, so intentional in one sense, but not in another. I don’t think you really want to know the whole story, do you? There was no behind the scenes “controversy” (I’d been hoping for more, actually!), just a bit of a slip between cup and collective lip, all my fault in the end.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to CK MacLeod
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            says:

            Well if there had been such controversy, then yes, I’d absolutely want to know!;) The plural subject of “published” and the odd “somewhat inadvertently” formulation did raise the possibility in my mind, but I confess I didn’t have particularly high hopes.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to CK MacLeod
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        says:

        True, the tone and language are not ordinary fare, and I do appreciate your reservation of judgment long enough to hear the message stated rather than tuning out.

        The fact of the matter is that quite a lot of it has been building for awhile.
        This is exacerbated by a string of guest lecturers (at least one of whom, I’m sure, will get an earful).

        Maybe I just don’t like black people. (I would have hoped I noticed it before I turned 50 . . . )

        Whether or not I do, it may be more practical to state that up-front anyway.

        The notion of reparations is misguided on so many levels.Report

    • Avatar notme in reply to Will H.
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      says:

      Clearly everyone needs reparations, the chinese immigrants, the irish immigrants, the indians, mexicans and lastly women b/c they’ve been treated badly by a male dominated society. Is there anyone we’ve left out?Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to notme
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        says:

        I believe the inescapable conclusion is that there are quite a number of things which are beneath my concern.
        In fact, to even suggest that it might possibly be appropriate for me to remotely consider the plight of blacks, women, homosexuals, etc. is an infringement on my rational self-determination, as their goals are clearly so divergent from my own that to permit them into my consciousness necessarily robs me of critical advancement of my own self-interests via opportunity costs.

        Without regard as to whether racism is rational or not, anti-racism appears to be very irrational.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Will H.
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      says:

      This is, actually, kind of nonsensical, and not properly responsive to TNC’s case for reparations. Some of that is his fault, because he doesn’t devote enough attention in his writing to what scope of reparations should be considered, beyond a bill to form a committee to study the question and make recommendations. Such a committee wouldn’t seem to entail anything like what you’re describing.

      He also mentions the possibility of extensive race-neutral anti-poverty program[1], which also wouldn’t entail anything like the expulsion of everyone who isn’t of Native American descent.

      Finally, he mentions the possibility of making direct cash payments to bring the per capita income for black people up to the per capita income of the country. This is, I think, the sort of thing that people think of when they hear “reparations”, and there are many problems with it, including deciding who might be eligible for payment, extreme political challenges, and expense. I think it would cost something like $500 billion a year to accomplish this, and TNC suggest that it would appropriate to make these payments for ten years.

      Still, even that doesn’t come anywhere close to what you describe. There are 3-5 million people of Native Americans descent in the US[2], depending on how you answer the question of who qualifies. Even assuming their average per capita income is zero, we’re talking maybe $200 billion dollars a year. It’s, again, an eye-wateringly huge amount, but it’s hardly “confiscate everything from everybody”.

      I really think the problem here isn’t that TNC isn’t thinking seriously about this, but rather people not reading what he’s written about it with sufficient charity.

      [1] One of the most persistent problems with race-neutral anti-poverty programs is that they get attacked and then stigmatized as “reparations” to black people. TNC actually spends a fair amount of time reflecting on this in his original essay on the subject.

      [2] If Wikipedia is anything to go by.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to pillsy
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        says:

        [1] One of the most persistent problems with race-neutral anti-poverty programs is that they get attacked and then stigmatized as “reparations” to black people. TNC actually spends a fair amount of time reflecting on this in his original essay on the subject.

        My head had just exploded.

        Here’s a crazy idea: As, indeed, one of the most persistent problems with race-neutral anti-poverty programs is that they get attacked and then stigmatized as “reparations” to black people…so perhaps don’t try to promote the concept in *essays about reparations*.

        Jesus H. Christ.Report

        • Avatar pillsy in reply to DavidTC
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          says:

          My sense is that TNC believes something along the lines of, “Might as well be hung for a sheep as a goat.”

          Still, this is where I think his argument about the necessity of reparations–which has indeed gotten more strident over the last couple years–really falls apart. Maybe we really do need reparations, but we’ve haven’t tried all the alternatives yet. We haven’t even come close.Report

        • Avatar pillsy in reply to DavidTC
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          says:

          Thinking about it more, here’s a counter-argument. I don’t really believe it, but I think it’s worth “steelmanning” TNC’s position, to use the silly “Rationalist Community” term:

          One of the persistent obstacles to enacting social programs, at least ones that would actually benefit African Americans, is that they are dubbed “reparations” by political opponents and that stigmatization is sufficiently powerful as to cause them to be blocked, repealed, cut, et c. It happened with the ACA[1], it happened with AFDC, it happened with the pluperfectly ridiculous controversy over “Obamacare”, and so on.

          While that weapon is available to opponents of anti-poverty programs, it will be impossible to use them to actually, finally ameliorate the lingering effects of hundreds of years of racism[2], even if they do so without making any explicit reference to race. Instead of endlessly (and evidently fruitlessly) trying to make the political case that these programs aren’t reparations, it is better to just batter through that obstacle by making the case that reparations are necessary, even though they may well ultimately take the form of transfer programs that don’t actually single out members of any particular class (beyond, perhaps, “poor people of any race”).

          Contrary to what you’ve been contending elsewhere in the thread, there really is an approach to reparations that does not depend on the Treasury Department administrating paper-bag tests. It only requires reversing the current, very negative political valence of the word “reparations” and the idea behind it.

          [1] And then the SCOTUS re-wrote the law in a way that kept the Medicaid expansion from benefiting the a disproportionately black group of otherwise eligible persons in the South.

          [2] This won’t do poor people of any races a hell of a lot of good, truth be told.Report

          • Avatar LTL FTC in reply to pillsy
            Ignored
            says:

            This sounds like the Sanders-ization of “reparations” as a word.

            If socialism is anathema and routinely used as an all-purpose insult against center-left policy, then run unabashedly under the socialist moniker and … we’ll see what happens.Report

  13. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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    says:

    To me, the strength of Coates’s original essay was that it challenged us–or at least me–to redefine what was meant by “reparations.” His point that those seeking court damages against the purveyors of exploitative housing contracts could be thought of as seeking reparations was just something I hadn’t thought of. Another strength was that his essay focused largely on post-slavery, and even post WWII, developments as actions calling for “reparations.” It’s been a while since I’ve read the essay, but I think he went out of his way to say that it wasn’t just slavery. Coates in that essay is insisting on seeing things historically: things happened because people continued to make conscious decisions through the decades.

    The weakness of his “since 1619….” retort to Sanders (in addition to the fact that Sanders knows slavery existed and Coates knows Sanders knows that) is that it goes against his (Coates’s) own historicism. Slavery wasn’t a single phenomenon that began in 1619 and ended in 1865. I believe he’s read enough of the history of slavery (if I recall, he at one point was reading, and blogging about, Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom) to know that from the 1610s through the 1670s, slavery in English America wasn’t a well-settled institution and being black wasn’t the near absolute barrier to being free and prosperous that it would later become. A similar argument could be made about Jim Crow. The post-Reconstruction era was incredibly violent and oppressive, but the actual Jim Crow laws that gave the already de facto violence and segregation a legal sanction did not take hold for the most part and with some exceptions until the 1890s.

    That probably sounds like pedantry and some of it is–and at the end of the day we see a centuries long pattern of violence and disfranchisement against blacks. An internet retort like Coates’s probably doesn’t deserve to be analyzed as hypercritically as I have. But Coates knows better. Any reckoning that more than rhetorically begins with “since 1619…” is going to ignore the more recent problems that Coates so ably recounted in his essay and make everything seem a problem caused by some early modern Englishmen.Report

  14. Avatar trizzlor
    Ignored
    says:

    It seems like every iteration of this discussion at OT has focused on two basic arguments against Coates: (a) argument against “the sins of the father” – the victims and perpetrators are dead, therefore recourse is unjust; and (b) argument from “too hard” – identifying victims (or their offspring) would be too difficult and therefore not providing recourse is just. Imagine if these arguments were raised in any other context:

    * Say we are debating whether the state owes the family of Freddie Gray, and the argument appears – “it would be unjust to compensate Gray’s descendants because Gray is dead”; or “it would be unjust to force taxpayers to compensate Gray’s descendants because they did not participate in this death”. What would think of this defense of the state?

    * Say we are debating a class action indictment against Wal Mart for sexual discrimination, and the argument goes “it’s hard to identify the individual victims, therefore it is unjust to penalize Wal Mart”; or “it will probably cost a lot of money, so it is unjust to take *any* money from Wal Mart”; or “some women who were not direct victims may still be compensated, therefore it is unjust to compensate anyone”; or “the recourse is inherently sex-based, therefore it is unjust”. What would we think of this defense of the corporation?

    Would we treat these as serious arguments, identifying real or potentially real flaws in the agitating claim? Or would we find that the person making such claims has simply come to a prima facie conclusion regarding the case and is now groping about for any possible defense of said conclusion. What is it about reparations (where the main proposal on the table is to fund a *study*) that tends to draw out, over and over, the same simplistic arguments?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to trizzlor
      Ignored
      says:

      There is the moral argument. There is the pragmatic argument.

      The “should we do this?”
      The “can we do this?”

      If it turns out that “should” is not settled (but might be settleable in theory) and “can” pretty much is settled (insofar as it’s not particularly politically feasible), the most interesting place to argue would be the “should” area.

      But we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s not a consensus.

      We had an interesting discussion about this a million years ago, if you feel like revisiting that at all.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        I agreed with you then as I do now, let’s pass HR40 and see what happens.

        The chain of arguments I see here is: “this is hard to do therefore we can’t do it” -> “we can’t do it therefore we shouldn’t even study it” -> “oh and we shouldn’t even feel bad about not studying it because any compensation would be unjust to whites, who have already suffered so much (e.g. Civil War losses)”.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        I thought (though may no longer think) that we’d be able to reach consensus on some sort of subset that’s closer to the japanese internment example than to “anyone who identifies as black”Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to trizzlor
      Ignored
      says:

      Excellent points, @trizzlor .Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to trizzlor
      Ignored
      says:

      * Say we are debating a class action indictment against Wal Mart for sexual discrimination, and the argument goes “it’s hard to identify the individual victims, therefore it is unjust to penalize Wal Mart”; or “it will probably cost a lot of money, so it is unjust to take *any* money from Wal Mart”; or “some women who were not direct victims may still be compensated, therefore it is unjust to compensate anyone”; or “the recourse is inherently sex-based, therefore it is unjust”. What would we think of this defense of the corporation?

      Um, no.

      The problem is not that, 100 years ago, some black people probably had fine lives with reasonable opportunities, while other black people had all their property stolen and fled town ahead of a lynch mob. We can *average* that. We can even just sorta ignore the fact we probably shouldn’t give much money to people like Obama, whose black ancestors did not really live in the US at any point in history. (Well, unless ironically his *mother’s* family had some black ancestors in it that he doesn’t know about.) We can deal with that.

      So the problem is not *how much* they were discriminated against, it would work if that was just some calculated average value, that you get $X dollar for each black ancestor or something scaled by time.

      But there is one giant elephant in the room. It’s *easy* to figure out the gender of people (Well, generally.), and it’s reasonable to assume that systematic discrimination against a specific gender harmed people of that gender *even if we can’t point to a specific instance* of them being hurt.

      But, uh, we do all remember that race is made up and that the skin color of people is not *actually* related to how many of their ancestors came from Africa, right? Skin color, like hair color, is not some sort of linear thing that is a perfect blend of the parents? And we also remember that *Africans* actually *start* at different skin tones depending on where they lived in Africa, so that wouldn’t even work anyway.

      We’re not talking gender, we’re not even talking *current* skin color, which would already be a crappy test. We’re talking about the skin color of *generations back*. How the hell do we figure that out?

      We cannot, on average, determine who people’s ancestors are! We have to actual locate who had black ancestors and to what amount! (Unless the idea is to literally distribute reparations among the entire population.)

      EDIT: tl;dr – The problem is not we don’t know how much to pay each individual woman who worked for WalMart, the problem is that we have absolutely no idea which people worked for WalMart.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DavidTC
        Ignored
        says:

        Let’s talk about this in the context of justice. On one side we have a great injustice: the defendant has been convicted but has not compensated the victims or their families. On the other side we have the potential for many small injustices: individuals who were not actually victims or relatives of victims may receive compensation from the defendant for which they do not have a just claim. At some point, the small potential injustices may outweigh the large injustice. If I could demonstrate that 100% of women worked for Wal Mart, then there’s no problem with requiring Wal Mart to pay out all women; what about 99%? 95%? 50%? At some point we say it’s no longer just, or maybe we say that Wal Mart should contribute to some anti-discrimination fund instead of pay out individuals. We can try to include other factors to make the numbers work – maybe 100% of women in the south worked for Wal Mart, so they can definitely be paid out; or maybe 100% of women who have lived in the US since before 1964 worked for Wal Mart, etc. I’m sure you get the idea. The point is, if Wal Mart wants to *justly* claim that they can’t pay *anyone* out, they have to demonstrate due diligence in looking at all of these factors. Do you think the US government has demonstrated due diligence in looking at the issue of reparations?

        Because here’s the conversation I’m hearing:

        Victim’s family: Wal Mart hasn’t made an effort to calculate a settlement.

        Wal Mart: All the Waltons who were around when the crime was committed are dead, so the corporation is no longer on the hook. Also, here’s a written apology.

        Victim’s family: No, the corporation is still liable for the damages.

        Wal Mart: Okay, we looked into it and it would end up bankrupting us so sorry but no go. How about we just spend a month every year talking about the awful things we did to you with regret?

        Victim’s family: Well, you can do installments, or pay in goods, or maybe a heavy discount?

        Wal Mart: Okaaay, we checked … again … and it looks like the records from that time are pretty bad, plus a lot of victims are really “victims” – if you catch my drift. It wouldn’t be fair for them to get some of the settlement, right? So regretfully, no.

        Victim’s family: How about funding a study so you can get sense of how many victims there are, how hard they are to classify, what the total burden is, etc. Even if it doesn’t lead to a settlement it would be important to us a symbolic step.

        Wal Mart: Uuuggh, *this* again? No, we won’t do a study. You do one study and then everyone wants a study done, and then everyone wants a piece of the Wal Mart pie. Besides, we just polled the board-members and 84% said the crime isn’t a big deal anymore. So no one wants a study, got it?

        Wal Mart: Also, did we mention that all the Waltons who were around back then are dead, so we’re not technically on the hook anyway.

        Report

        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to trizzlor
          Ignored
          says:

          On the other side we have the potential for many small injustices: individuals who were not actually victims or relatives of victims may receive compensation from the defendant for which they do not have a just claim.

          Jesus Christ, did you not actually *read* my comment?

          The problem is not ‘Some people might not have gotten hurt’. I was *really* clear the problem isn’t that.

          The problem is, essentially, ‘We have absolutely no records of who, in the entire population, worked at Walmart.’. No usable records. At all. We’ll have to piece them together. Oh, and while we’re at it…this discrimination actually happened over the past 150 years, and we’re applying it retroactively, so a good portion of the population has no idea *themselves* if any of their ancestors worked at Walmart.

          That is a…*somewhat larger problem*. Infinitely larger.

          So here’s the scenario. Reparations starts. I show up in line. I am a guy who looks really white.

          What, *exactly*, happens at that point? I mean, I free l admit *I* am white, but this is about my ancestors. Do you assume I have no black ancestors because I’m white? Well, I say my family history says my great-grandmother was a black woman who managed to pass for white, and she married a white man, and, no, I don’t have any evidence of that or photos of her parents.

          You are acting like there is some small error bar, where maybe 5% of people might accidentally get included despite their ancestors not living in the US. Yes, those people exist. But the real problem is that genetic skin color does not work at all like people pretend it does, and you can’t figure out someone’s ancestry by looking at them! (Hint: There is a reason why people keep saying race is entirely made up.)

          There are plenty of black ancestries that really *did* produce someone who ‘passed’, and that person *really did* marry a white person and their descendants are white. And (obvious) interracial marriage exists also, and been accepted for at least two generations in many places, and there are plenty of ‘interracial’ children of that who are white…and many who do not.

          There was that rather famous picture of the two twins with the interracial parents, and one looks black, and will probably grow up to identify as black, and one white, who will probably grow up to identify as white. If reparations happen when they’re adults, does only the black one get any money?

          That is clearly stupid, and not what reparations are supposed to be. They are supposed to be for *past wrongs*, not for current skin color.

          So now the government has to, officially, decide what race people’s ancestors are. That is not actually even possible with current records, so basically we’d really be down to deciding what race their living/photographed ancestors were.

          But we might be able to decide based on living people and photo, and just ignore any possible racism before that point. (Although if the entire point is to do this for *history*, the farther back would seem more important.)

          So what are we doing here? A paper bag test?

          Your move, reparations committee. Try not to sound *really really* racist when trying to decide who has black ancestors, and also be sure to figure out how to actually *scale* it to the entire population of the US.

          Race is a goddamn social construct, and without a fucking time machine, we cannot *actually* look at anyone and say what social construct their ancestors were or were not subject to. Which is normally fine and we just sorta assume and don’t worry too much if we’re wrong…but when you back it up with *actual money*, you get *people lying*. Um, duh.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to DavidTC
            Ignored
            says:

            Oh, and I just thought of something else:

            There are black children that were adopted by white parents, and vs versa. The entire premise of reparations being that we are fixing *historic* wrongs that were passed down through generations, doesn’t that actually mean that said black children don’t get reparations, as their parents monetary situation was *not* the result of decades of discrimination. However, said white children *should* get reparations, because their starting place in life *was* effected?

            Goofy situation, I know, but it shows up screwy the premise is.Report

          • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DavidTC
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            says:

            Well, we could start with every individual born in the US prior to 1964 and had “Negro” listed in the race box on their birth certificate, and therefore were not treated as equal citizens by the state. If that person is dead, any immediate descendants that can produce such a birth certificate or equivalent documentation. That doesn’t seem as hard as you make it out to be. You’re a smart guy, why is it the first, best classification you could come up with was the paper bag test? Is it possible that your intent wasn’t to honestly and critically evaluate this issue but to start from edge cases and them claim the whole enterprise is doomed?Report

            • Avatar DavidTC in reply to trizzlor
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              says:

              Heh. So, instead of the paper bag test being administered by the government, you’d rather use the paper bag test…administered when they were born, by the hospital?

              Well, I’m sure *that’s* less racist. Probably? Somehow?

              And where to *start* is pretty easy. But obviously, that *can’t* be the end.

              For one thing, not very much of the population was born before 1964, so I’m assuming you mean it was marked Negro on their *parents* or *grandparents* birth certificate…and good luck tracking *those* down if the people are dead.

              Assuming they ever existed. A lot of older black people *never had birth certificates*. Duh. It’s a pretty big problem with Voter ID laws.

              So right away you’re already running into trouble.

              Perhaps more importantly, as I keep pointing out, throughout American history, people have generally *stopped being black* as soon as society allowed it, which means there are legitimately a lot of white people with black ancestors. Even white people with *only* black ancestors.

              Now, perhaps it is not your intent to give reparations to those people…which makes a mockery of the entire point of reparations. If the idea is that *generations* of discrimination have caused harm, a generation or two without discrimination cannot fix that…because, uh, if that was true, we *already had that*, in theory.

              Of course, you still haven’t answered the question whether or not this is supposed to be *divisible*. Is it dependent on the percentage of black ancestors, or is there some threshold you cross, and you get it all, otherwise none?

              And if the idea is to just give black people money because they are discriminated against currently, well, whatever. That’s not reparations.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, I’m sure *that’s* less racist. Probably? Somehow?

                It’s less racist because it was the criterion used by the government to limit these people’s rights. I’m not sure how this could be any simpler. The government said that certain people were not granted equal protection. This was contingent on whether the consecutive letters NEGRO were listed on their birth certificate. What those letters mean or how they got there is immaterial to the fact that such people were aggrieved by the state and deserve redress.

                Is your argument that, while many victims can *easily* be documented, there are many more that cannot … and therefore it is just that neither class is compensated? Perhaps you can flesh that out more because I’m not following it. Returning to my original point, is it typical for class-action suits to be dismissed on such grounds?Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to trizzlor
                Ignored
                says:

                This was contingent on whether the consecutive letters NEGRO were listed on their birth certificate.

                This is, quite literally, a lie. I’ve put up with it until now, but it is basically a flat out lie, but you keep trying to make some point of it, so I thought I would call it out.

                Discrimination never had a single thing to do with the text on a birth certificate. At all.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                Here is one definition from Georgia’s Jim Crow laws:

                No person, any of whose ancestors has been duly registered with the Sate Bureau of Vital Statistics as a colored person or person of color, shall be deemed a white person

                Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to trizzlor
                Ignored
                says:

                Heh, you just accidentally shot yourself in the foot. Because that was the law in Georgia…and other states had different laws. I had forgotten that. Now people have to figure out where their ancestors *lived* to figure out if the state classified them as white or black.

                Wow, way to make things *even harder* to figure out if reparations were owed.

                Of course, that law is nonsense. People did not wear their parent’s birth certificate on their face at all times.

                People were discriminated against based solely on skin color, and the only purpose of that law was to figure out ‘the truth’ if they were thought to be black but claimed to be white.

                Except, nope. No one could fricking track down birth certificates in the Jim Crow south.

                Not that that would even work. As I pointed out in my other comment, if the mother was white, and the father black…the father was extremely unlikely to show up at the hospital, and the mother would almost always *try* to get them to put down white on the birth certificate. (Whether the doctor went along with it was another matter.)

                And, yes, this did happen. So some obvious black people actually *did* have a birth certificate that identified them as white. I’m sure at least a few of them tried carrying it around.

                I’m…suspecting it did not help. Maybe, just maybe, they ended up before a fair judge who dismissed the case based on that (At which point the police gave them an hour to get out of town), but it sure as hell wouldn’t somehow allow them to sit at the lunch counter without getting arrested.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, I’m sure *that’s* less racist. Probably? Somehow?

                I keep coming back to this. Are you seriously implying that taking the race-based classification the government used to victimize citizens and using it to compensate them for their victimization is somehow morally equivalent? I mean, that seems to be the subtext for this whole post but I assumed it was just a debating tactic. Do you honestly believe this? Let’s say the German government used Nazi records to identify Holocaust victims and compensate them. Do you think that’s still racist? Probably? Somehow?Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to trizzlor
                Ignored
                says:

                Are you seriously implying that taking the race-based classification the government used to victimize citizens and using it to compensate them for their victimization is somehow morally equivalent?

                That is not what the government used to victimize citizens. Not a *single American slave that ever lived* had the words ‘Negro’ on their birth certificate. (Take a wild guess why.)

                You have apparently missed the point that reparations are supposed to be about *centuries of past wrongs*, and have decided that you just want to glance through the poorly organized records of fifty years ago, and pretend *that’s* the same thing.

                If you want to just pay all black people who exist currently some money, you go right ahead and make that argument.

                Just don’t pretend it’s about past wrong done to ancestors that you apparently have *literally no intention* of worrying about if they happened to white people also.

                And, yeah…that is a bit racist, claiming it’s about all sorts of things, but actually it’s just about skin color.

                And as I said…you *really are* going to need some sort of actual skin color test at some point, like it or not. There are plenty of people who consider themselves black, and even have black skin and a black father, that got labeled ‘white’ on their birth cert because their mother was white, the father was not there at the time, and the mother thought they might be able to pass…and it turns out they couldn’t. Are you going to exclude those people?

                You know, I’m tired of pointing out flaws in rules in a system you literally have not even thought of the rules of yet. Why don’t you tell me exactly *who*, exactly, would be eligible for reparations? Like, in an ideal world where we magically know *everything*, who qualifies and who doesn’t?

                EDIT: …and also the proportions for any possible reductions for mixed-race people, if what you are designing has that?Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                We can start with Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which required registration of non-whites. In fact, we can start with Ms. Dorothy Johns:

                In September 1924, James Conner and Dorothy Johns applied for a marriage license in Rockbridge County. The clerk, A. T. Shields, determined that Connor was white but that Johns, in addition to being part white, was also part Indian and African American. Citing the Racial Integrity Act, he refused to issue a license and Johns immediately sued in the Circuit Court of Rockbridge County. Testifying before Judge Henry W. Holt, Walter Plecker presented birth records showing Johns’s “colored” ancestry in Amherst County, and Silas Coleman, a resident of Amherst County, provided anecdotal corroboration.

                Perhaps you can outline for me how she or her immediate descendants do not have a claim to reparations? Is 1924 too ancient and the records are too poor by some arbitrary standard? Or maybe it’s too recent since reparations are supposed to be about *centuries* of past law by some other arbitrary standard? You and CK should really sort out which standard to use here. Or maybe Ms. Johns doesn’t deserve it because some white couple somewhere got caught in the same case, and it wouldn’t be fair to them that someone black gets something that someone white can’t get. Or perhaps it’s the other way around: all sorts of white Dorothy Johns are going to spring out of the ground claiming they were the ones that wanted to marry that James Conner, and demanding their welfare check – and that’s not fair to the black folk. Or maybe it’s the states. State law is *really* ~confusing~ and they had all kinds of definitions of race. We can’t be compensating someone in Virginia lest all the Georgian’s start squawking about their fair share.

                You’ve really done the African American community proud here, David, making sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted. Ms. Johns will just have to wait a couple more years while you get the kinks sorted out. And then we’ll get that HR40 passed through Congress in a jiffy and have all the studies going too – one in every state – and I’m sure she’ll be counted just like everyone else. I’m off to bed myself, but you can certainly rest easy tonight having made sure justice was served.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to trizzlor
                Ignored
                says:

                Or perhaps it’s the other way around: all sorts of white Dorothy Johns are going to spring out of the ground claiming they were the ones that wanted to marry that James Conner, and demanding their welfare check – and that’s not fair to the black folk.

                Wow, you really are the king of pointing out flaws in your own argument.

                No, I wouldn’t worry about the claims to people who said they wanted to marry James Conner. However, I feel I should point out that case *did have a ‘white person’ harmed by it*, the aforementioned James Conner! Um, duh. (Conner argued he was *not* white, but Native American, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference, he wouldn’t get reparations either way.)

                You really are making the argument that Dorothy Johns and her descendants should get paid for being forbidden to marry the person she wanted to, by law but James Conner and *his* descendants gets nothing despite the exact same literally happening to them? (And can I just point out you just invented *gay* reparations?)

                Previously we were talking about reparations to fix long-standing *economic* wrongdoing, and it’s a bit hard to see what economic wrongdoing was done by prohibiting interracial marriage. By adding that in, you just opened up a new and stupider can of worms.

                And now we’re at the point that I *immediately* agreed with you about, but you keep going back to and argue about, namely that people should not have to prove their ancestors were specifically harmed. I’ve already completely ceded the argument there….if someone has a black ancestor in 1924, we assume they were hurt $x by government policies. We do not require any harm be shown. I’m totally on board with that.

                Now, the *actual* questions show up: Is this per-ancestor? I.e., someone with one black great-grandparent gets $x, whereas someone with eight black great-grandparents gets 8*$x? (Or, in your WalMart analogy…we might assume all female workers were equally and proportionally harmed, but do we pay the seasonal cashier who only ever worked 3 months for WalMart the same amount of damages as the career store manager? Of course not, that would be insane. One of those lost maybe a few hundred dollars, the other probably lost a hundred thousand.)

                Do they get this money even if their grandparent was able to ‘pass’ as white, and the entire family has been white since then? If so, we’re going to have calculate it for each generation.

                Also, how exactly are we going to have people prove this…I’d have trouble proving three of four sets of my great-grandparents even existed.

                So, again, I ask you:

                What is the *legal definition* of people who should get reparations in your universe? Not ‘Here is a single example’. A summary of the people eligible, like ‘Medicare is for people over 65’.

                But you can’t answer, because you can’t even figure out a *summary* of what you actually want to do, probably because whenever you think about the problem you realize the summary is either going to be ‘Give everyone alive with dark skin some money’, or it’s going to be something that no one is going to be able to figure out.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                We’re going to around in circles, so I’ll say two things and no more things unless you feel some breakthrough has occurred:

                First, *every single one of your arguments* has been about other people who are hypothetical victims and do not get redress under the birth certificate criteria . Those hypothetical victims have included: James Conner, adopted blacks, blacks who passed, blacks who have no family records, whites who were mislabeled as blacks. I grant you that all of these are potential victims for whom we have not yet identified a path to reparations. What I dispute is that the presence of such hypothetical victims necessarily means that identifiable victims do not get paid out. The argument “we can’t pay all the victims therefore we will not pay at all” has no support in any ethical or legal framework that I am aware of. Perhaps you can logically explain to me how this argument is supported in either ethics or law, but up until this point you have merely restated it with increasing force.

                Second, I don’t find this type of conversation to be very productive:

                DavidTC: “The problem is, essentially, ‘We have absolutely no records of who, in the entire population, worked at Walmart.’. No usable records. At all.”

                trizzlor: Here is an example of one record we can use to identify victims.

                DavidTC: “Discrimination never had a single thing to do with the text on a birth certificate. At all.”

                trizzlor: Here is an example of a law that relies on the text on a birth certificate.

                DavidTC: “Except, nope. No one could fricking track down birth certificates in the Jim Crow south.”

                trizzlor: Here is an example of a specific individual whose birth certificate was tracked down and used to deny them rights.

                DavidTC: “Previously we were talking about reparations to fix long-standing *economic* wrongdoing, and it’s a bit hard to see what economic wrongdoing was done by prohibiting interracial marriage. By adding that in, you just opened up a new and stupider can of worms.”

                Feel free to point out where I have mischaracterized your position or taken your words out of context. As I said from the outset, what you are doing here is selecting arguments to match your conclusion: when, at long last, we have identified a specific victim class and even a specific example of a member from this victim class, you’ve simply chosen to re-define what reparations means to exclude this victim and then continued talking about other victims who wouldn’t get redress (see first point above).Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to trizzlor
                Ignored
                says:

                What I dispute is that the presence of such hypothetical victims necessarily means that identifiable victims do not get paid out.

                You have repeatedly refused to identify *any* victims beyond ‘People who had their birth certificates marked in a certain way’ and ‘This one women’.

                Which makes your reparations not about slavery, not about slavery-in-all-but-name sharecropping after the civil war, not about the lynch mobs and lawlessness from the 1890s-1910s.

                You’ve basically just made it about segregation.

                The argument “we can’t pay all the victims therefore we will not pay at all” has no support in any ethical or legal framework that I am aware of.

                Because you are *spending the tax money of other victims*.

                This isn’t ‘Walmart’ being harmed. This is collecting money from a group of people, and distributing it to people *in* that group because the group decided to harm them.

                Before you do that, you really need to make sure the people you are taking it from are *not* the people harmed by the group.Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                The argument “[the state] can’t pay all the victims therefore [the state] will not pay at all” has no support in any ethical or legal framework that I am aware of.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to trizzlor
                Ignored
                says:

                So your theory is, if there are a group of 100 people who have decided, by majority vote, to steal everything that 20 of their members have, and do so..

                …and later only 10 of those victims can be identified…

                …the courts should fine the remaining 90 of them a few thousand dollars each and have them hand it over?

                Because as long as you’re helping some victims a bit, what does it matter that you’re also taking more money from the supposed victims you’re trying to help?Report

              • Avatar trizzlor in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s not my theory, it is the way our legal system works. There can be class action lawsuits against the state where not all victims are identifiable. This is a situation where – by definition – some of the victims will be paying (a very small amount) to some of the other victims. This, however, is not grounds for dismissal of the suit nor is it grounds for the state to do nothing. And – as I said in the beginning – the state has not even shown due diligence in studying how difficult it would be to identify a substantial majority of the victims.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                Because as long as you’re helping some victims a bit, what does it matter that you’re also taking more money from the supposed victims you’re trying to help?

                The ones most harmed–or at least most suffering from persistent harm–are going to be the least affected, due to the progressive nature of the (federal) income tax system.

                Persistent harm is really the key, I think. It’s not just that people were harmed in the past, it’s that the harm has persisted across generations because so many of the opportunities that have come along for people to pull themselves out of poverty, often with the direct assistance of the government, those people and their descendants have been deliberately excluded. The case isn’t built on the wrongs of slavery or the wrongs of Jim Crow or the wrongs of discriminatory anti-poverty programs… it’s built in to all of them working in series.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to DavidTC
        Ignored
        says:

        This is why I’ve tried to drill down to specifiable groups (which TNC also mentions). For some reason, that seems to be going nowhere.Report

  15. Avatar Sandi Saunders
    Ignored
    says:

    I found this post from a link on another site and frankly sir, as we say in the South, you are as full of –it as a Christmas turkey.Report

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