The Reparations Debate Reaches Capitol Hill

Congress is considering a bill that would establish a commission to examine the issue of reparations for slavery.;

A House committee held hearings yesterday on a topic that is likely to prove to be controversial, the issue of whether or not African-Americans are entitled to reparations for slavery some 150 years after it was eradicated and 50 years after the Federal Government stepped in to break up the stranglehold of Jim Crow, segregation, and racial bias in the south and elsewhere in the United States:

WASHINGTON — Frail but sharp at 88, the Rev. Doris Sherman woke up at 4 a.m. on Wednesday to travel here from Philadelphia for an event that, even after the nation elected its first black president, she never thought she would see: a meeting in the capital of the United States on reparations for African-Americans.

Dressed all in white, the color of the suffragist movement — it was a coincidence, she said — Ms. Sherman, who is black, reflected on the unfulfilled Civil War-era promise to former slaves of “40 acres and a mule.” As a schoolteacher for 30 years before entering the ministry, she recalled so many black parents struggling to provide day care, their children “left back and left out.”

If the government did anything, she said, it should do something for the children. “We don’t want that mule now,” she said. “We don’t want that 40 acres. We are asking for remembrance. Remember the struggle. Remember the injustice and remember the now.”

Ms. Sherman was among hundreds of other mostly black spectators — so many that they filled three overflow rooms — who descended on Capitol Hill for Wednesday’s historic hearing, the first time Congress has considered a bill, H.R. 40, that would create a commission to develop proposals to address the lingering effects of slavery and consider a “national apology” for the harm it has caused.

The sometimes raucous session before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee lasted nearly three and a half hours and dug into the darkest corners of the nation’s history, exposing the bitter cultural and ideological divides in Washington and beyond. Republican lawmakers and witnesses — including Burgess Owens, the retired football star — were jeered when they argued that black people could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and that reparations might damage their psyches.

“We’ve become successful like no other because of this great opportunity to live the American dream,” Mr. Owens, who is black, told the panel. “Let’s not steal that from our kids by telling them they can’t do it.”

That the hearing took place at all was remarkable, a reflection of the shifting landscape in the Democratic Party and the wrenching national debate over racial justice in the era of President Trump. Nearly 60 House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, support the bill. And at least 11 Democratic presidential candidates — with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. a notable exception — have embraced either the concept of reparations or the bill to study it.

“We have not had a conversation about reparations on this scale or level since the Reconstruction Era,” William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy at Duke University who is writing a book on reparations, said in a telephone interview. “To be blunt, I am more optimistic than I have ever been in my life about the prospect of the enactment of a reparations program that is comprehensive and transformative.”

The first time the federal government considered reparations for black people was in 1865, when 400,000 acres of coastal land were awarded to former slaves, the result of a special order issued by the Union general, William T. Sherman. It lasted less than a year. When President Abraham Lincoln died, he was succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who rescinded Sherman’s order.

In the late 1800s, the idea of pensions for former slaves — similar to pensions for Union soldiers — took hold, championed for a time by a Nebraska congressman. But the idea fizzled in the face of strong opposition from federal agencies.

In 1989, Representative John Conyers Jr., who retired in 2017, introduced legislation to create a commission to develop proposals for reparations. He introduced it every year for nearly 30 years. It went nowhere. Even President Barack Obama opposed reparations, calling the idea impractical.

It is that bill, titled the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” and now sponsored by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, that the subcommittee has before it. It would authorize $12 million for a 13-member commission to study the effects of slavery and make recommendations to Congress.

“I just simply ask: Why not?” Ms. Jackson Lee said Wednesday. “And why not now?”

(…)

Advocates for reparations say their cause is misunderstood, and emphasize that it does not necessarily mean the government would be writing checks to black people, though Mr. Coates said he was not opposed to the idea.

Rather, they say, the government could offer various types of assistance — zero-interest loans for prospective black homeowners, free college tuition, community development plans to spur the growth of black-owned businesses in black neighborhoods — to address the social and economic fallout of slavery and racially discriminatory federal policies that have resulted in a huge wealth gap between white and black people.

“When a black woman or man is arrested, they may land in jail for how many days because they don’t have the home, the mortgage to get the bail — and cash bail is discriminatory,” Julianne Malveaux, an economist, told the subcommittee, her voice rising in anger. “I want y’all Congress people to deal with issues of economic structure.”

Wednesday’s hearing was laden with symbolism. This year is the 400th anniversary of the first documented arrival of Africans to the port of Jamestown in what was then the colony of Virginia. Wednesday, June 19, was Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. And the bill carries the designation H.R. 40, a reference to “40 acres and a mule.” past and talk constructively about how to move this nation forward.”

More from The Washington Post:

Prominent African American writers, activists and scholars on Wednesday addressed a House panel as lawmakers took their first step in a decade toward debating the role of reparations in correcting what many called “the original sin.”

The hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties was set to coincide with the observance of Juneteenth, a day commemorating the emancipation of enslaved black people in the United States.

It also came as the Democratic-led House is pressing forward with H.R. 40, a measure that would create a national commission to study the legacy of slavery and make proposals on reparations to African Americans.

But much of the debate centered on remarks made by the leader of the other chamber, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said Tuesday that the country had addressed its historic racial injustices in part through the election of President Barack Obama.

“There’s a tremendous amount of ignorance in that statement,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who is running for president, said in an interview with SiriusXM ahead of the hearing.

McConnell said Tuesday that he opposes reparations in part because “none of us currently living are responsible” for slavery.

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates responded at Wednesday’s hearing by walking through the social and political environment that grew out of slavery, a system that he called a “relentless campaign of terror — a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority Leader McConnell.”

“Majority Leader McConnell cited civil rights legislation yesterday, as well he should, because he was alive to witness the harassment, jailing and betrayal of those responsible for that legislation by a government sworn to protect them,” Coates said. “He was alive for the redlining of Chicago and the looting of black homeowners of some $4 billion. Victims of that plunder are very much alive today. I am sure they’d love a word with the majority leader.”

The hearing also included testimony from actor Danny Glover, documentary film producer and director Katrina Browne, writer Coleman Hughes and former National Football League player Burgess Owens, among others.

The House and Senate issued separate apologies for slavery about a decade ago, with the Senate acting in 2009 and the House in 2008.

An April Fox News poll asked Americans whether they favor or oppose “paying cash reparations to descendants of slaves.” A 60 percent majority was opposed while 34 percent favored paying reparations. Fifty-four percent of Democrats approved of paying reparations, while a majority of Republicans — 81 percent — opposed the idea.

Booker on Wednesday called on the country to engage in an active discussion about slavery and its implication in current-day injustices, including disparities in education and the violence that plagues many black communities.

“I look at communities like mine, and you can literally see how communities were designed to be segregated, designed based on enforcing institutional racism,” he said.

As a preliminary matter, it’s worth noting that the advocates for reparations do make several good points, at least from a historical point of view. There’s no question that the history of American slavery of people brought here involuntarily from Africa is a deplorable one, and that the 200+ years of slavery that lasted from the time the first African slaves were brought here from in the 1600s to emancipation at the end of 1865 had and arguably continues to have an impact on African-Americans even with the passage of time. The same is true of the century after the end of the Civil War during which African-Americans in the South were subject to the harsh legacy of Jim Crow and a legacy of racism and those in other parts of the country were often subject to segregation that made economic, social, and political advancement difficult if not impossible. In some ways, the racism that motivated both of those eras still lingers in parts of the country and African-Americans continue to deal with its legacy in their every day lives.

At the same time, though, the idea of reparations a century and a half after the end of slavery and half a century after the end of Jim Crow is a controversial one in which there are good arguments against the idea. On the practical side, there is the fact that none of the people who benefited from or practiced slavery are alive today and the people who benefited from or enforced Jim Crow are either dead at this point or very, very old. If anyone is responsible for the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow it is those people, which leaves open the question of why Americans alive today should be held responsible for their mistakes. As a general rule, our society has rejected the idea of inherited or collective guilt, and yet that is exactly what the argument for reparations is all about, the idea that Americans and specifically Americans who are not African-American should be made to pay for in some way the sins of people who are long dead.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that there are tens of millions of Americans who can trace their ancestry back to people who came to the United States after the Civil War and after slavery was abolished. In my cases, my maternal and paternal Great-Grandparents didn’t arrive in this country until the late 1870s and 1880s. They ended up settling in Northeastern Pennsylvania, which became home to many. waves of European immigrants thanks to jobs related to the coal mining industry that dominated the area at the time. Many other Americans are descendants of people who arrived here as recently as the 1920s or earlier. Why should they be held responsible for things that occurred before their ancestors arrived here, and before they were born, is an entirely legitimate question.

Further extending that argument, it’s sadly true that African-Americans aren’t the only ones who have been victims of discrimination and racism at some point in American history. The same has been true of Latinos, Asians, and immigrant groups that have faced their own issues as part of their efforts to become assimilated into American society. In addition to those immigrant groups, one can also point to Native Americans, who arguably have as good a claim as African-Americans to compensation for the manner in which their ancestors were treated and the manner in which it continues to impact their lives. Given that, why should anyone from these groups be held responsible for what happened hundreds of years in the past?

The final complication, of course, is the question of what form reparations would take. In the minds of some people, it would be a “simple” matter of writing a check, but that doesn’t really answer the question. How much money is “enough” to compensate for the claims at issue here, for example? Who would be entitled to these checks? Would it only include people who can trace their lineage back to slavery itself? What about people who are, at least nominally “African-American,” but who have no connection to slavery at all either because their ancestors were not held as slaves or because they or their ancestors are immigrants from Africa or elsewhere who came here after slavery and Jim Crow were abolished?

Others suggest that reparations don’t necessarily have to include checks. Instead, they make reference to social programs and business promotion ideas that would give African-Americans the opportunity to lift themselves up. Several of these ideas have already been tried, though, under both Republican and Democratic Administrations. The other issue is how such programs could be designed to ensure that they benefit the people who actually need help rather than lining the pockets of lobbyists and hucksters like Al Sharpton and other so-called “activists.”

As I said, this is a complicated issue and I don’t necessarily have an answer for all these questions, but there would obviously have to be some sort of societal consensus on these issues before anything meaningful could be done. Trying to ram something through at this point, before there is such a consensus, is only likely to increase resentments on all sides of the issue.

Toward that end, the bill that the House Judiciary Committee is considering does not propose a reparations plan, it simply would establish a commision to study the idea and make recommendations to Congress. Perhaps that would be a step toward trying to build a national consensus on the issue, but I am afraid it would be more likely to increase resentment at a time when, thanks to current President, racial and other resentments seem to be getting worse rather than better.

In any case, even if the bill passes the House, it clearly isn’t going to go anywhere after that. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made his feelings on the issue clear, and that means the bill will die in the Senate. Nonetheless, this is likely to come up again, especially during the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, so perhaps we ought to begin talking about it.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Congress, Race and Politics, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. SKI says:

    First, no discussion of Reparations should be undertaken without seriously grappling with TNC’s 2014 masterpiece: The Case for Reparations

    Second, let me take issue, or at least quibble, with this:

    If anyone is responsible for the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow it is those people, which leaves open the question of why Americans alive today should be held responsible for their mistakes. As a general rule, our society has rejected the idea of inherited or collective guilt, and yet that is exactly what the argument for reparations is all about, the idea that Americans and specifically Americans who are not African-American should be made to pay for in some way the sins of people who are long dead.

    It wasn’t individuals who were evil, though they were that, that perpetuated slavery and Jim Crow. It was systems. American systems.

    And it wasn’t just individual slave-owners who benefited. It was everyone who used societal spending to access GI benefits (or Medicare or Fannie Mae loans or…) that were opportunities denied to blacks. It was white society. Society is more than a collection of individuals.

    So no, we shouldn’t go around and tax every white person their individual share to try to ameliorate the demonstrable impact of those institutions but we, as a society, should try to make it right. Because, as a country, we were responsible.

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  2. michael reynolds says:

    This is a stupid idea. It’s a stupid idea that could get Trump re-elected.

    The short list of peoples screwed by the US Government over the last couple of centuries:

    Indians (genocide, slaughter)
    African-Americans (slavery, Jim Crow, medical experimentation and neutering)
    Women (denied the vote, denied property rights)
    Irish immigrants (No Irish need apply)
    Chinese immigrants (Slavery by another name, property restrictions)
    Japanese immigrants (Manzanar, dispossession, racist propaganda)
    The mentally ill (turfed without treatment, medical experimentation)

    The past cannot be fixed.

    As a political matter it is catastrophic. A reparations pay-out would be the end of liberal concern for black issues. But it wouldn’t much matter since Republicans would be running the country. This isn’t even as easy as black vs. white. Does anyone think recent Asian or Hispanic immigrants want to pay taxes for a sin that not only did they not commit, but neither did their ancestors? This could break the POC coalition.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb.

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  3. JKB says:

    Well, we certainly have entities that benefited from slavery still around today. Perhaps even a few families. The Democratic Party was certainly not only a beneficiary of slavery, but an active proponent of slavery, the KKK, segregation (let’s not forget Wilson’s segregation of the federal workforce throwing Blacks out of jobs), Jim Crow, etc. Then there are Harvard (America’s oldest corporation formed while slavery was still in Massachusetts, Yale, actually initially funded by profits slavery and the slave trade from Africa, Georgetown, and other universities. Surely, those schools will want to do right to amend their historical stain?

    Hey, Stanford might want to give up some of their cash to amend for their founder’s abuse and exploitation of Asian immigrants.

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  4. Modulo Myself says:

    There was a study released several weeks ago which stated that African-American families lost 3 to 4 billion in Chicago due to predatory housing contracts, so the idea that this was slavery or Jim Crow is quite wrong. White america ripped off black people because it could. Read an account of African-American GIs who returned after WW2. They were screwed out of jobs, housing, benefits–anything and everything from the golden age for white people, they were screwed out of.

    That said, white America has no story to tell, no narrative that explains what happened to black people in this country. Reparations are necessary, but white people are clueless.

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  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This is far too complex a problem for the racists in the Republican Party to deal with.
    Best wait for a while and see if the collective IQ of that party might improve.

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  6. SKI says:

    @michael reynolds: Did you bother to actually read TNC’s article?

    Also, political inconvenience doesn’t make an idea dumb. It may make it impractical but it doesn’t make it less moral or righteous.

    I’m not convinced repatriations is the right approach or even possible but I am 100% sure that blithely dismissing it without grappling with the realities is dumb, dumb, dumb.

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  7. SKI says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The past cannot be fixed.

    “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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  8. Jay L Gischer says:

    @michael reynolds: Far be it from me to reject your response. I understand it. And yet, I wonder, have you read TNC’s piece, cited above?

    I don’t think reparations for slavery itself are possible. For one thing, one of the main perpetrators of slavery was the British Crown. It was an institution that the United States inherited. True, they endorsed it as part of the compromise that created the country. Our hands aren’t clean. But the notion of reparations is a notion of justice. It’s the idea that maybe we can calculate the harm we’ve done and make amends.

    Coates writes at length about the harm done to black families by housing policy in recent history – the last 50 years or so. I think we could calculate this harm and make amends for this. This would be a significant undertaking, but it would not be a “we hand out money to people who are black because they are black” No, it is “we make whole people who have been harmed by the policies of the government”.

    Of course, there are those who think the point of politics is to help their friends and harm their enemies. There’s a lot of those people out there, and they probably won’t ever support anything like this.

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  9. michael reynolds says:

    @SKI:
    Yes, I read the sainted TNC. It’s still a stupid idea. Do this and overnight black people will start hemorrhaging support and gaining resentment. White identity groups will have a free pass. Hispanics and Asians will decouple from the POC identity. End result: African-Americans will be politically friendless, the Democrats will move to the center and all social justice efforts and attempts to improve the safety net for all Americans will be stymied.

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  10. Gustopher says:

    @JKB:

    Well, we certainly have entities that benefited from slavery still around today. Perhaps even a few families.

    Quite true. The aristocracy of the south was left in place, and that wealth continues.

    The Democratic Party was certainly not only a beneficiary of slavery, but an active proponent of slavery, the KKK, segregation (let’s not forget Wilson’s segregation of the federal workforce throwing Blacks out of jobs), Jim Crow, etc.

    Also true. But the Republican Party has been the more recent beneficiary of white backlash to the civil rights movement — a movement that it helped champion before turning on a dime.

    Hey, Stanford might want to give up some of their cash to amend for their founder’s abuse and exploitation of Asian immigrants.

    Maybe.

    I don’t think reparations will happen, or even maybe should happen. But we do need to honestly confront the legacy of slavery and racism in our society, and understanding the cost it still has now is an important part of that.

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  11. michael reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    Eloquence does not trump logic or political calculation.

    ‘Making people whole’ is nonsense. It means nothing.

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  12. Gustopher says:

    More important than reparations is looking at why, 150 years after slavery, and 50 years after Jim Crow, African Americans are lagging behind white folks economically. Things should be a lot better by now.

    A lack of opportunities, racism and a general lack of social mobility in America.

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  13. SKI says:

    @michael reynolds:

    ‘Making people whole’ is nonsense. It means nothing.

    It is the foundation of our legal system.
    Recompense to victims is also at the heart of most systems of morality.

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  14. SKI says:

    @michael reynolds: What are tomorrow’s lottery numbers?

    On a more serious note, there are indeed risks and politics and they would have to be carefully considered and weighed in creating any program – and there is nothing that says the program would have to be, or should be, cash payments.

    Like I said above, I’m not sure the risks and problems could or should be overcome but your blithe and glib conviction that it is stupid and wrong is simplistic and not thought out at all. You dismiss the possibility without bothering to try to understand or engage with it. And that is indeed “dumb, dumb, dumb.”

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  15. SKI says:

    @Gustopher: Thne suggestion is that such a look, which is indeed required, would leed to the inexorable conclusion that we have a responsibility to address the situation to repair it.. Repair it … hmm… sounds like reparations.

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  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    The foundation of most wealth in this country is inter-generational transfer. The median household wealth in the US is $134k for a white household, but only $11k for a black household.

    That massive gap is economic cost of slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow. Even if present day black households were not direct victims, they’re still bearing the financial burden of it and deserve to be made whole.

    The fact we took so long to do something about it isn’t an excuse for continuing to not do something about it.

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  17. DrDaveT says:

    @JKB:

    Well, we certainly have entities that benefited from slavery still around today. Perhaps even a few families.

    Not to mention every single living white US resident…

    Oh wait — that’s not what you meant?

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  18. DrDaveT says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    But the notion of reparations is a notion of justice. It’s the idea that maybe we can calculate the harm we’ve done and make amends.

    THIS. The fact that McConnell and others can only think of this as being about punishment and blame indicates both how little they understand the arguments and how stunted their moral faculties are.

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  19. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that reparations are a bad idea that founders on practical issues, some of which have been touched on above. That said I think that we are badly in need of programs targeted at the black urban poor whatever pretext is used to justify them.

    It has been mentioned above that not all whites have benefited equally but what has not been mentioned is that some whites were more injured as a consequence of slavery than others. Doug dove into geneaology so I will as well. Of my great-great-grandfathers four fought for the Union in the Civil War, at least two were abolitionists. Of those four two died at very young ages of the privations they experienced during the war. That blighted my family for generations. It wasn’t until my generation that we had actually recovered. None of those Union veteran’s families received a penny in pensions or other benefits. Neither I nor any of my ancestors owned slaves, participated in the slave trade, attended a school that was built with slave labor or benefited from money made in the slave trade, or benefited from housing discrimination, recently or in the distant past. To whatever extent we have benefited from whiteness it was extremely indirectly.

    In contrast four of the last five presidents benefited much more directly from slavery. The Bush fortune was in part built on the slave trade. They also have ties to Yale University which benefited from the slave trade as did Harvard. Barack Obama’s family included slave owners. Bill Clinton’s ancestors fought to defend slavery. My point is that there are degrees.

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  20. Console says:

    @michael reynolds:

    TNC’s point isn’t his eloquence. It’s that you can’t even get white people to own up to shit that was happening 30 years ago. There is a psychological barrier to allowing basic justice for black people in this country in all manner of its institutions. The reparations article is nuanced demonstration of that. As such, I think Coates would agree with your political prognostications.

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  21. DrDaveT says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    It has been mentioned above that not all whites have benefited equally

    I am struggling to understand why anyone thinks this is relevant to the question of reparations for harm done to enslaved people and their descendants, or to black people in general in the US.

    To whatever extent we have benefited from whiteness it was extremely indirectly.

    ‘Indirect’ is not the same as ‘insignificant’. Every single day of my life has been much easier than it would have been had I African-American features and complexion, even letting other things be equal.

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  22. SKI says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I am struggling to understand why anyone thinks this is relevant to the question of reparations for harm done to enslaved people and their descendants, or to black people in general in the US.

    Perhaps it is because they can’t help but think about it from their own perspective – a perspective that views blacks as something different and “other”.

    The reality is that any program is complex and complicated and is only going to get more so as we move further and further into an inter-racial or post-racial world. That complexity, however, contra our friend Micheal, is not a reason not to study the issue to understand what happened and what might be done (which is all the proposed bills seek to do).

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  23. Sleeping Dog says:

    In the run up to the 2000 presidential election, the question of reparations came up. At the time I was regularly dining at the bar of a local restaurant and among the regulars was an African-American fellow, over the months we had struck up conversations on a variety of subjects and one evening it was reparations.

    I expressed to my acquaintance, that while not opposed to the concept of reparations, I wasn’t convinced. He went through the arguments for and I raised many of the points Doug has in his piece against, which my interlocutor agreed were valid. In the end, he hadn’t convinced me though I had a far better understanding of the issue. But we both stumbled on the question of what form reparations would take. I pointed out that any financial compensation would as likely be squandered as used as a benefit. A point that he sadly agreed with.

    Recently the NYT took a stab at what reparations would cost, and the amount is huge, if they are to be financially meaningful. The reality is that the shape reparations will take will be a truth and reconciliation commission and the equivalent of the GI Bill for education and a VHA equivalent for housing.

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  24. Monala says:

    Japanese-Americans started receiving reparations for their internment in 1988, nearly 40 years after WWII ended. And while Jewish survivors of the Holocaust started receiving reparations from Germany in the 1950s, both France and the US started providing Holocaust reparations in 2014, nearly 70 years after the end of WWII. For those no longer living, a portion went to their heirs.

    Millions and millions of African-Americans who suffered under Jim Crow and segregation are still alive today, and for those who weren’t, virtually all have living relatives who were. We’re not talking about ancient history.

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  25. Modulo Myself says:

    @SKI:

    Michael’s not wrong. America’s never had a truth and reconciliation committee for race. It’s had confederate statues and propaganda about the South and reconciliation for white people and Dr. King giving a speech about looking past skin-color. Coates is upfront–he just read a bunch of books. Most Americans don’t read books. They live on op-eds and television. The idea that having historians explain the existence of white flight and red-lining to a bunch of people who were there at that time but chose not to register its existence or how it benefited them is going to be divisive. Nobody who lived in Chicago or Detroit wants to be told that they know nothing about their lives. I mean, it might be true. But that’s what will happen.

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  26. Monala says:

    @michael reynolds: should we not remember what Jews suffered during the Holocaust because other groups were killed by the Nazis, or because other groups have been victims of genocide in other places?

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  27. DrDaveT says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    But we both stumbled on the question of what form reparations would take.

    I’m a bit bemused by the fact that nobody on either side of the debate has yet mentioned Affirmative Action, which was quite explicitly intended as functional reparations to help close the gap caused by the historical harms. I suspect that’s a purely political omission — Affirmative Action is extremely unpopular in general, and a catalyst for ignition among wingnuts. Which is a serious barrier to doing something both meaningful and substantive, because reverse discrimination might be the most economically viable pathway to reparations that genuinely mitigate some of the harm.

    (I would expect the GOP mouthpieces to bring up Affirmative Action as “we already made reparations; we can stop now”…)

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  28. Jay L Gischer says:

    @michael reynolds: As I use it, “making people whole” is a term of art in finance and tort law. Not a fantasy.

    Just saying.

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  29. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Michael’s not wrong. America’s never had a truth and reconciliation committee for race. It’s had confederate statues and propaganda about the South and reconciliation for white people and Dr. King giving a speech about looking past skin-color.

    I’m not sure America has ever had a truth and reconciliation committee for anything at all. I think that the process would be super painful, and also of significant value to pretty much everyone. I have no idea how to carry this forward politically, but it’s something that I think would be good. I think we would be better off talking (and doing a lot of listening) about this stuff than burying it.

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  30. grumpy realist says:

    Random thoughts:

    1. McConnell’s comment is doubly ridiculous considering that the, um, African part of President Obama’s skin colour is from his father, an immigrant from Kenya. Not related to an African-American-with-slave-ancestors at all.

    2. What is this supposed to do? Are we dealing with slavery, and where the descendants of slaves ended up, financially? Or are we worried about the fact that the U.S. is still not a colour-blind society and trying to deal with that? Entirely different points.

    3. I agree with Michael–I think that unfortunately at this point in time this has a high probability of totally backfiring–we’ve got enough dumb aggressive white idiots with chips on their shoulder upset that “the white race” (whatever THAT is) is “becoming a minority” in the US, and they’re going to use anything about “reparations” to hype the hysteria. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump jumps on this and uses it to gin up his supporters. And given the Republican Party’s total lack of integrity when it comes to minorities and voting rights, I have no doubt that there are quite a number of Republican politicians who will be eager to jump on the same bandwagon.

    4. This may end up as a case where African-Americans pushing for reparations will discover they win the battle and lose the war. Imagine that Congress decides to pay out $100 B, $200 B, whatever. Let’s say it goes out as checks to every American individual who can prove descent from a slave. After that, it’s going to be very very difficult to get Congress–or any politician–to listen to any complaints whatsoever about the economic status of black people. The knee-jerk reaction will be “you already got paid off, shaddup already!”

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  31. Monala says:

    @grumpy realist: as a practical matter, reparations probably is a losing proposition for Democrats.

    However, one the big reasons why our country is so f*cked up right now and Trump appeals to far too many Americans is because we’ve never actually had a reckoning for slavery and Jim Crow. If we continue to put it off, we will continue to have the same self-defeating and self-destructive politics, even if a Democrat defeats Trump in 2020.

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  32. grumpy realist says:

    @Monala: Somehow I don’t see how a reparations committee is going to keep Trump appealing to “far too many Americans”. The reason it’s so hard to have a reckoning for slavery and Jim Crow is I suspect a lot of Americans, white and otherwise, can’t see how they should be dragged into this. Especially those of us who are damn sure that our families only made it here after the 1900s.

    There have been mentions of “making people whole.” Well, yes….but you are running up against several things. First, legally if you don’t know who the defendant is in a community you can’t just bring a tort against everyone who might fit into the class of the defendant and get a judgment against all of them. Class action suits don’t work that way–they’re the opposite. Second–we don’t have this idea of bringing the parents’ debts/crimes against the children/descendants. Third–taking the iniquities from individual injustices to being those of an unjust system that everyone who participates in happens to be a criminal for just isn’t going to gain that much of an audience. It’s like saying that I, who bought my first piece of property in 2007, happen to be guilty of all the red-lining done back in the 1950s and 1960s. That’s not going to stick. Our legal system isn’t set up that way.

    Trying to get people to feel group guiltiness is a mug’s game.

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  33. Monala says:

    @grumpy realist: I think you’re making my point. Your family arrived after 1900, so they had nothing to do with slavery. However, there’s a good chance they benefited from redlining, New Deal policies that deliberately excluded blacks, and post-WWII economic and educational policies that deliberately excluded blacks.

    The fact that you, a non-racist white person, don’t realize that and think that this discussion has nothing to do with you and your family is because we’ve never actually had a reckoning for these issues.

    What it should mean in terms of practical policies and outcomes is not something I know the answer to. But we should at least be able to talk about it.

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  34. An Interested Party says:

    America’s never had a truth and reconciliation committee for race. It’s had confederate statues and propaganda about the South and reconciliation for white people and Dr. King giving a speech about looking past skin-color.

    Hell, we can’t even get some people to admit that those statues celebrate racist traitors, it is hardly surprising that so many people are opposed to even talking about reparations…and it certainly doesn’t help that, as this thread illustrates, there are divisions among people who actually want to help the disadvantaged in this country while there seems no division among the people who don’t…

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  35. Monala says:

    @grumpy realist: and one more thing: acknowledgement and understanding are not the same thing as feeling guilty.

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  36. SenyorDave says:

    What Coates did in his book on reparations was to expose the fact that even into the 1960’s there were governmental policies at the federal level that economically discriminated against blacks. This isn’t only about slavery. There is no way this will pass and there probably isn’t a mechanism that would work, but to dismiss this entirely as whining is absurd.
    I think you could make a damn good case that Jim Crow states should be ponying up some serious money for specific harm done to blacks regarding lack of access to a quality education. Virginia did have some reparations money available to people who were affected by the school shutdown in Prince Edward County in the 1950’s. In that case the county’s public schools were closed after Brown v BOE for five years in a campaign called Massive Resistance, and funds were diverted to provide for vouchers to white students to be used for all-white private schools.

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  37. An Interested Party says:

    In that case the county’s public schools were closed after Brown v BOE for five years in a campaign called Massive Resistance, and funds were diverted to provide for vouchers to white students to be used for all-white private schools.

    History repeats itself…

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  38. An Interested Party says:

    Speaking of history repeating itself, from The Case for Reparations:

    One hundred years later, the idea of slaves and poor whites joining forces would shock the senses, but in the early days of the English colonies, the two groups had much in common. English visitors to Virginia found that its masters “abuse their servantes with intollerable oppression and hard usage.” White servants were flogged, tricked into serving beyond their contracts, and traded in much the same manner as slaves.

    This “hard usage” originated in a simple fact of the New World—land was boundless but cheap labor was limited. As life spans increased in the colony, the Virginia planters found in the enslaved Africans an even more efficient source of cheap labor. Whereas indentured servants were still legal subjects of the English crown and thus entitled to certain protections, African slaves entered the colonies as aliens. Exempted from the protections of the crown, they became early America’s indispensable working class—fit for maximum exploitation, capable of only minimal resistance.

    The links to current income equality, cheap labor, and the Walmart economy are unmistakable…just as racism is a thread that runs through the entire history of our country, so too is inequality and the economic exploitation of whole groups of people for the benefit of a few…

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  39. Jim Brown 32 says:

    This “debate” is nothing but political theater to energize black interest in the early campaign season. Yes, we really need a commission established to study the issue and submit a report. It’s been studied a multitude of times by numerous organizations. Stunts like this are why people tune out politicians. Do something or stop wasting people’s time.

    I sat next to a white guys on a plane who was reading a TNC books. White liberals certainly hang on every world he says like it’s gospel. He have to have a day job if he had to sell books to black people. When it comes to black empowerment, Farakahn runs laps around him. Yes, I know that statement gets some dander up, but black people know there are 2 Farakahns…the one that pisses the white media off on purpose. And the one that talks to black people when no whites or white media is around. I don’t have a problem with TNC laying a guilt trip on white people because frankly I don’t care. But white guilt ain’t gonna lift my people. The Farakahn that speaks to blacks only doesn’t talk about what white people need to do…he talks should about what we need to be doing.

    Begging the white man to “make us whole” is a Slave’ s mentality. TNC and other black liberal activists like him perpetuate slave thinking amongst my more liberal skin folks and stoke white liberal paternalism that we need to be save through their politics.

    For the life of me, I can’t understand why white liberals continue to think of achievement gaps for blacks against a backdrop of fixing black urban poverty. NEWS FLASH: Most black people a) are not poor b) do not live in urban spaces. Half of us live in the South so economically speaking…that’s already a drag on our overall statistics. The South is less prosperous than the other regions of the country…simple math.

    The answer to this is simple. A vestige of slavery and Jim Crow is our aptitude to expand on our success in Sports and Entertainment. We need better representation across the the cultural pillars is society…medical, laws, academia, technology, finance, etc. We can do it…we’ve dominated every industry we’ve aspired too… It’s hard however to aspire to anything no one in the family

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  40. DrDaveT says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    there are 2 Farakahns…the one that pisses the white media off on purpose. And the one that talks to black people when no whites or white media is around.

    Similarly, there are two white liberal reactions to black culture — the one that admits that lasting harm was (deliberately) done to black Americans by whites, and the one that wishes (along with e.g. John McWhorter) that the resulting black culture were not so self-destructively anti-intellectual.

    There is no contradiction here, just as there is no contradiction between the two Farrakhans. It’s possible to admit the merits of both, and to act accordingly.

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  41. DrDaveT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Trying to get people to feel group guiltiness is a mug’s game.

    It’s not about guilt. It’s about harm. You don’t have to admit to being guilty to admit that harm was done, and needs to be recompensed.

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  42. Jim Brown 32 says:

    ….or anyone else’s family has EVER done. Here is what Reparations would look like: And Federal program to bring 10,000 Black MDs into the field over the next 10 years. SAN grants for Blacks owned Finance companies, Fellowships foe Black engineers, etc.
    I won’t be holding my breath….in the meantime myself and other black men like me are working very hard molding our youths aspirations so the realize there are more opportunities available than the things their parents and grandparents did. This is the only outcome that can lead to some sort of parity. We are simply not diffused across the economy. Most of that is because of slavery/ Jim crow….some of that is our own lack of imagination and misplaced aspiration. My generation mostly sold out for professional sports and music….imagine if we sold out to be doctors and hedge fund managers. That’s the cultural shift that needs to take place

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  43. grumpy realist says:

    @Jim Brown 32: There’s been a lot of discussion about “stereotype threat” (meaning people, when under stress and reminded of the stereotypes they’re supposed to conform to, can fall into acting out those stereotypes.) Is there any way that you think this reflex can be worked against? (Role-playing is the only thing that comes to my mind.) Also, you’ve also mentioned the sports and entertainment world as being considered the areas to try to succeed in, rather than medical/laws/academia/technology. Do you think that is changing and how can that be encouraged? I have to say my own experience seems to be that the individuals I’ve known in science have for the most part been immigrants, either from Africa or the U.K. (The ones that weren’t were classmates at M.I.T. and we’re all, um, somewhat unusual there.)

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  44. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @DrDaveT: I would add that the method through which harm was done was specifically through the discouragement of intellectual development. Hurt people…hurt themselves and other people. Wishing away the cultural anti-intellectualism of the black community would be like wishing away the wetness of water.

    The under 25 generation, however, has no such stigma on being smart, well read, well spoken…. Most of them aren’t interested in sports or entertaining white audiences. They will be a force to be reckoned with in the economy and culture.

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  45. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @grumpy realist: Yes, early 20 something black children are far less interested in sports, music, movies as a future aspiration. Those creatively inclined for the arts are pursing the behind the camera specialties and production.

    Engineering and Technology remain a stubborn problem because of the math and coding skills that have to baselined early in childhood development. I went to Catholic school for 1-6 grade. I never had a problem with math after that until College calculus 3.

    Black children need to be exposed to the principles of coding before age 10. That’s tough if coding is only a gifted program at your school and none of the adults in your life know that python– in the context of computers…has nothing to do with snakes

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  46. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @grumpy realist: I’ve read the research into threat stereotypes and it’s one of the reasons I hold people like TNC, Micheal Eric Dyson, etc in the light that I do.

    I’ll give you an example, part of my family originated from New Orleans, the old family lore goes that one of our ancestors was a General in King Louis ?? court in France in the 18th century (this btw turned out to be turn when they did commercial DNA tests). My Grandfather and siblings grew up hearing that they were descended from aristocracy and not slaves. Another part of my family is from Alabama…they definitely came from slaves and white oppression is an underlying theme in that family. BOTH FAMILIES WERE OPPESSED BY JIM CROW….the New Orleans family probably worse. However, one family carried themselves as temporarily staggered champions…the other as victims.

    Both families are making progress each generation.. but guess which family has more members making progress at greater clips? Sure, this is anecdotal but it’s my experience.

    We need to teach our children about slavery but from a standpoint that doesn’t leave them feeling personally aggrieved. I’ve evolved to believe that akin to putting a mill stone around their necks. I won’t even watch slave movies now…except for Django Unchained. I may have even smoked a cigarette after it was over.

    If we want to sidestep threat stereotype…we need to be mindful of the narratives we seed into the head of our children. The greatest generation of black Americans were during reconstruction. Their success post slavery was so astounding that the paramilitary KKK needed to be formed and unleashed to stop them. Those don’t sound like victims to me…those are champions. We need our black children to understand the FULL legacy they’ve inherited. NYC,MED, and company only give you part of our legacy.

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  47. SC_Birdflyte says:

    I heard Jim Clyburn on NPR a couple of days ago discussing the case for reparations, and he brought up an excellent point: it isn’t about money, it’s about removing institutional barriers that keep POC down. Talking about it as a monetary matter is a sure-fire loser.

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  48. grumpy realist says:

    @Jim Brown 32: Thank you very much for your full answers to my question. I think you’re saying something along the same lines I’ve been for years: learn from your past, but self-pity is a corrosive drug that will keep you from achieving your goals. That goes for people who are pitying themselves due to sex, race, age, or whatever. (Don’t get me started on self-proclaimed feminists who think that science and engineering are masculinist plots. Grrr.)

    I have a friend (rapidly getting to be ex-friend at this point) who has gone down the Trump rabbit hole and now every conversation with him will contain at least one long whine about how it’s impossible for an ageing white man to get ahead. I keep wondering how much his present difficulties are real and how much are due to his attitude and the chip on his shoulder. (Reminds me of that wonderful Depressories poster: “the one common factor in all your failed relationships is you.”)

    ….this obviously isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have programs to try to hike entrepreneurship or doctors among AAs–I especially liked your idea of a program to get 10,000 new doctors out. (Actually here in Chicago I’ve been seeing several AA women showing up at the high-tech incubator events for women, so I think once we get more high-visible success stories out, you’re going to see more movement into the high tech area.)

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  49. michael reynolds says:

    I reached a point in my early 20’s IIRC where I realized I had a choice. I could decide to see life as fundamentally tragic, and go around feeling screwed and used and victimized. (I could always play the Jew card, we’ve been as fcked by history as anyone.) Or, I could decide to see life as fundamentally comedy. That would mean going through life with a layer of cynicism over my idealism, a ready smirk and an outsider’s perspective.

    I could be sullen and resentful, or I could be angry and amused. I’m not saying everyone has that specific choice, but that’s where I was at, and I realized there was absolutely nothing to be gained by being resentful. What an impotent emotion. Whereas I could be reasonably content being amused. Amused is fun. Resentful eats you from the inside.

    One thing I take away from @Jim Brown32 above is a point I’ve tried to make with less success: black people are not surprised there’s racism. They already figured that out. It’s like discovering anti-semitism – we Hebrews aren’t just being made aware of it. We were raised on it. So a lot of well-meaning, well-motivated non-black, non-Jew, non-trans, whatever, action ends up being patronizing and self-involved. I can’t speak for black people, but over here on the Jew side we don’t really care about how non-Jews expiate their guilt, we have simple requests: stop hating Jews. Ok, turns out it’s just one request. Other than that, who gives a sht about your guilt?

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  50. Jay L Gischer says:

    I just wanted to say that while I think that it’s probably best for a person to focus on the things they can change, and accept the things they can’t change, I don’t know that I want be comfortable, as a white man, saying that to a black man, or a Jewish man or a woman, and so on. Maybe once there is a very strong relationship in place. Maybe.

    One of my guiding stars is this quote from James Baldwin:

    When the white man learns to love himself, there will be no race problem.

    We white men are not going to learn to love ourselves by running away from talking about the terrible stuff white people did to black people. That’s going to leave us stuck. The healing cycle is “confess, then repent”. Not “pretend nothing happened” or “lecture people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. It might help black people, but it will, in fact, help everyone to have this discussion.

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  51. Tyrell says:

    @michael reynolds: I certainly agree with this. Once the door is opened, all kinds of groups will apply for their “reparations”.
    How would they decide who gets the money? What would be the criteria? How much would they get? How far down the descendant line would they go?
    Many of the people pushing for this would probably be shocked and surprised at some of the people who would wind up qualifying. You shake a family tree and no telling who will fall out.

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