From a January 21 interview on Doug Henwood’s Behind the News. Please find audio here. The transcript (edited mildly for clarity) comes courtesy John Halle’s Outrages and Interludes
Doug Henwood: We’ve got Ta-Nehisi Coates citing the call for reparations and finding Sanders guilty of hostility towards reparations. What do you think of his critique?
Adolph Reed: I read the thing in The Atlantic and it’s so utterly empty and beside the point, I can’t even characterize it.
You can go down Sanders’s platform issue by issue and ask, “so how is this not a black issue?” How is a $15 minimum wage not a black issue. How is massive public works employment not a black issue. How is free public college higher education not a black issue. The criminal justice stuff and all the rest of it. So one head scratching aspect of this is what do people like Coates imagine is to be gained by calling the redistribution program racial and calling it “reparations”?
The charitable or benign interpretation of what he and others imagine the power of this rhetoric to be, is that there is something cathartic about it like Black Power. I’m thinking for instance of “say Black Lives Matter” or “say Sandra Bland’s name”. It’s like the demand to call it reparations which doesn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever. It doesn’t add anything to calls for redistribution if anything, it could undercut them. Since there’s nothing (less) solidaristic than demanding a designer type program that will redistribute only to one’s own group and claim that that group (especially when times are getting tougher and economic insecurity is deepening for everybody) it seems like it’s guaranteed not to get off the ground and seems almost like a police action.
Henwood: I’m not Ta-Nehisi Coates but I imagine he and others favoring reparations would respond by saying that it’s meant to address wounds that were specifically racial in their origin.
Reed: The logic fails on its own terms. If you grant for the sake of argument that the injuries were highly and explicitly racialized, it does not follow from that that the remedy needs to be of the same coin. And I have not seen Coates or others who make that assertion actually argue for it-i.e. give a concrete and pragmatic explanation of how (the remedy is supposed to) work. That is to say, what the response, or atonement, I suppose, for past harms would look like and what they imagine the response would actually be.
Coates makes this stuff up as he goes along: by his own account, he read Baldwin and wanted to write like Baldwin and his editor would check him and say “Look, you’re writing these passages which don’t mean anything whatsoever” since he was so focussed on wanting to write like Baldwin absent having anything in particular to say.
So the first question for me has always been how can you imagine putting together a political alliance that would be capable of prevailing on this issue. And what you get in response is a lot of “What black people deserve” because of the harms that have been done to them. I just think it’s fundamentally unserious politically.
But I’ll say this and I’ll say this as a Sanders supporter-I’ll come clean on that. The idea that Bernie Sanders becomes the target of race-line activists now, and not Hillary Clinton, is just beyond me and it smells. It smells to high heaven.
You might say, well, she’s not the one who pushed through NAFTA or signed the omnibus crime bill, or ended the federal government’s commitment to direct provision of income support or housing that her husband did. But she supported all that stuff then. My mind is blown by the understanding of politics that undergirds this perspective that people like Coates and proud TFA alum Deray McKesson and holy roller Marissa Johnson and all those others embrace. It’s fundamentally anti-left. The only thing you can say is that this is a class program. That this is a program that expresses and connects with the interests, or the world view, if not interests-although they do come together-of an aspiring or upwardly mobile stratum of the black and other colored PMC (professional managerial class) that scoffs and sneers at programs of material redistribution.
When I was working in the GI movement, when people like that would come into the meeting, I’d just ask them “So which branch of military intelligence are you assigned to?”
Henwood: This sort of stuff plays very well to guilty white liberals doesn’t it.
Reed: Yeah, well, a friend, whom I won’t out, observed to me a while ago that one of the things that really irks him (and he’s a professor) about Coates is the way that white liberals gush over him and my informant said that it reminds him of the way that upper middle class liberals fawn over the maid’s son who has gone to college and “made something of himself”.
Henwood: That’s pretty harsh.
Reed: Yeah, but there’s a lot to it because, it comes back to this question: why should anyone pay any attention to anything this guy says?
Henwood: Well he has a “literary writing style” that appeals to certain populations.
Reed: Right. I understand that and that it’s absolutely divorced from content except for this funny sort of fake Candide like thing of “I’m just astounded that white people read me.” It just all feels tawdry and evasive and cheap.
I’ve heard some people argue that it strengthens the case for affirmative action but I think it does the opposite, since reparations is really affirmative action on steroids. I can imagine going to talk to a long displaced steel worker in Western Pennsylvania whose fretting now about further increase in economic insecurity around the fracking stuff. And you’re going to explain to him or her that because of slavery they’ve got to be on the giving end of some transfer payments that will go to recompense blacks for harms done in the past.
Again, some of this stuff really feels like a moral panic and the moral panic aspect of it, it seems to me, converges on the class perspective. And the career aspirations. Don’t forget that. And that leads us where we are.
Henwood: Coates and lots of his supporters would say that what you are arguing is for a class based politics that’s blind to the injuries of race and the enduring damage of racism. What do you say to that?
Reed: I say that their race first politics is a class politics. It’s not an alternative to class politics it’s a politics of a different class. It’s not a working class politics, it’s an aspiring PMC politics that’s hinged in material terms ultimately on race relations administration as a career path. There’s a multi-billion dollar diversity industry now-it might be interesting to have Ken Warren on and talk about that since he did a three year tour as a Deputy Provost for Diversity at the University of Chicago and made deep penetrations behind the lines of the corporate diversity industry.
Henwood: One of the points you made in your Progressive piece back in 2002 was that whenever universal class based politics rears its head, the reparations call pops up. One doesn’t want to get too conspiratorial about this but what were you thinking of?
Reed: I was out of the country for a while back then and hadn’t paid much attention and the reparations thing had blown way up while I was away-there were conferences all over C-Span-Ron Karenga, Kimberly Crenshaw and Charles Ogletree. Because it’s the kind of thing that lawyers dine on. I was bemused-I couldn’t figure out what was going on. When (James) Foreman and the Black Manifesto group raised the reparations issue back in the 60s, it was connected with something like the freedom budget and what Whitney Young had described as a Marshall Plan for the ghetto, so in that sense reparations were a hook which expressed Forman’s cleverness and engagement with the soap box nationalists up in Harlem who had been talking about that stuff for a long time.
It seemed to me that clearly was a response or an alternative to the possibility that a more universally, class based redistributive agenda would gain currency. Part of the problem, and I think this is a big chunk of the appeal of reparations since 1965 and into the 1970s, is that it appeals to people whose political commitments is to maintain the centrality of a racial interpretation of every form of inequality or injustice that affects black people. So the commitment is to a race politics. And so the race politics could be challenged by what they imagine to be post-racial politics (which nobody other than them has ever talked about, anyway) and by a class politics.
What the race discourse does is it forces a racial interpretation onto any manifestation of inequality or injustice to be associated with black people on the receiving end. So in that sense, the demands aren’t even that important. The discussion of the program isn’t even that important. The real objective is to maintain the dominance of the racialist interpretive frame of reference and that goes back to my contention that this is a class program because part of the material foundation of the class has been, since the class began to take shape at the end of the 19th century, a claim to be representatives of the aspirations of and of the voice of black people writ large.
Henwood: And not to get too conspiratorial about this, but it seems like people like Fred Hampton and Martin Luther King, people who talk about non racial analyses of capitalism and cross racial alliances against it end up dead. And people like Karenga and Assante end up doing pretty well for themselves. Is that just an accident or should I be concerned about this?
Reed: Well, I’m not sure about Assante but we know that Karenga knew his way to the offices of the authorities and their phone numbers. And it’s easy to throw around charges of his being an agent because he acts like an agent-and we all know where that leads. But having said all that, that strain of nationalist-I sometimes think of it as a Duvalierist politics-has always been capable of making alliances with the most dangerous and reprehensible elements of the opposition: Garvey and the Klan, Elijah Muhammed and the Klan, Floyd McKissick and Roy Innis and other Black Power nationalists who created Black Americans for a Responsible Two Party system, or as the rest of us called it “Negros for Nixon.
And they all gave the same line: all white people are racist. It’s foolish to try to make distinctions among them based on principle and on politics, we have to be pragmatic and align ourselves with whichever ones of them are going to do something for black people and that formulation of course is an instantiation of the famous slippage between first person singular and plural that’s a characteristic of nationalist ideologies no matter where you find them.
Henwood: I remember an old slogan “Black and White Unite and Fight”: a pretty good guideline to political action?
Reed: Look, it doesn’t need to be Kumbaya. It’s practical-if you assume that the interests and the structures which generate inequality, dispossession and misery are not amenable to the petitions to the enlightened ruling class from one section of the oppressed, then the only way we’re going to be able to make anyone’s life better is to change the terms of political debate. And we can only do that on the basis of common experience and the most broadly shared experience is that of those who work for a living or are expected to work for a living. And I don’t see how we can get to any sort of a better world going through any other route. And we certainly can’t do it by hanging out, like McKesson and John Legend (in his own mind) with the Broad Foundation and Bruce Rauner and TFA and people like that.
There’s a sense in which these people are the black shock troops for neoliberalism.
Kudos to Yves and Lambert for giving column inches to Adolph Reed; it’s refreshing to hear his voice again in the national debate.
I do, however, have to give Coates credit for calling my benighted attention to the negative effect redlining had on wealth creation in the black community. I had thought of redlining as merely a vestige of segregation, without reflecting on the fact that home ownership is the main vehicle by which American families build wealth.
I only know Coates through his interview with Terry Gross; does his book develop reasonable economic estimates of the effect of redlining on the fortunes of African Amerians?
Home ownership is not a wealth building investment; if it’s perceived as such then it’s merely another shtick the powers that be use to separate rubes from their wealth.
It sure as hell isn’t if you buy a house in the ghetto, although I suppose a few make out ok buying on the gentrifiable fringe.
Yves has pointed out that homeownership ends up ultimately being a means of forced saving for households. If it builds wealth, it’s only because the fed govt throws such heavy subsidies at it.
“Yves has pointed out that homeownership ends up ultimately being a means of forced saving for households.”
I haven’t read much of Yves take on homeownership. (Particularly the wealth building aspect)
Do you happen to know of a few articles that discuss this?
Home ownership might not be a wealth building investment, but renting a house or apartment certainly isn’t either.
Needing a place to live is never an investment–as long as it’s tied up in the bogus and rickety financial system. Permanently occupying an area and building strong social bonds while improving the health of the ecosystem and food/watering producing capacity of the immediate surrounding is however a real investment that will pay dividends to to you and your descendants.
Our living strategies in America are temporary, fragile, and prone to collapse. They are also ultimately meaningless and soul-destroying. That is why this whole idea of “home ownership” and “building capital” in the current context is absurdly meaningless. It’s like trying to rehabilitate something that started out completely empty and vacuous in the first place. It’s like trying to take the number 0 and multiply it by some other number.
i love this comment jgordon
Why the misdirection? Your point is divorced from historical reality. The damage from redlining was concentrated in the decades when you had to come up with a significant down payment, and people’s lives were much less financialized. Yes, buying a home in the 50’s was probably not a sensational investment idea, but so what? Buying a home in 1960 was not the same deal as buying a home in 2005.
Damage from redlining is one thing but similar barriers are still in place. Blacks and minorities consistently pay higher interest rates than whites… throughout the 90s and 00s and today. Here’s Wells Fargo settling charges on exactly that in 2012. Here’s another study written up in 2015. Happens not only in housing but other areas like auto loans. The more financialized our lives are the more this matters.
It’s almost like the financial industry is set up to scrape as many pennies from the poor as possible, split along racial lines to make it easier to conquer the divided. Whites relied on federal subsidies to the housing market to build household wealth, Blacks and others have not had access to the same tools to the same extent. I believe in basic fairness for all… this is not fair.
It may be an investment/wealth building asset for the offspring of the homeowners, assuming they have them. When the homeowners pass away or have to be placed in senior care, they can sell the home, and pass some of the profit down to the kid/kids or one of them can move in and be saved the trouble of paying their own mortgage from the get go or spared outright; That would allow them to save money (spared from the rental market) and possibly sell at a profit down the line.
Correct. Renters and their offspring don’t have that option.
That is completely untrue. Historically, it was. You’d build up equity in your home over your working life and by the time you retired, you would own it free and clear. Home ownership was and for many people still is their major means for building wealth and their biggest asset at the time of retirement.
What screwed that up was financial products like home equity lines of credit that interfered with the forced savings of paying down the mortgage.
I disagree, and believe there’s a substantial body of evidence that shows the fallacy of your argument.
Historically, it was. You’d build up equity in your home over your working life…
Historically, a single individual earned what a dual income household earns now, and housing as a multiple of income, was far more achievable in the nebulous era of your recollected “historically”, times.
Home ownership was and for many people still is their major means for building wealth and their biggest asset at the time of retirement. Is a statement of damnation by faint praise, and the second assertion neglects to factor in that people needed to tap lines of credit to enjoy the same lifestyle “in today’s money” in an era of deflating wages.
In addition, I have never seen an accurate analysis of the interest paid on a mortgage factored in to the “wealth accumulation” that is presupposed to happen in the purchase of a costly and depreciating investment that is a house (typically 100% of the cost of the original “investment” for a 30 year mortgage). Along the lines of depreciation, I have never seen actual depreciation factored in to this alleged wealth accumulation as it pertains to the costs of maintenance, upkeep and the inevitable unforeseen one-off large expenses that come with the territory (roof, basement, tuckpointing, rot, termites, flooding etc etc etc).
That household “ownership” is one of the largest if not the largest assets in most peoples savings by the time they retire is not something to be touted, but rather, considered with a great degree of skepticism.
The answer as it almost always is, is income, Yves. Plain and simple.
Despite your effort to portray disagreement, you are actually not making an effective rebuttal and you marshall no evidence.
In fact, there are academic papers supporting my argument. See, for instance:
From the article:
Now that housing model and related economic model no longer exists, but to assert that it did not exist historically is false.
Your view is misguided and points to a larger issue that is destroying any chance at a strong and coherent society for the majority of citizens. The debate between home ownership and renting is the core issue determining a just society. Underlying your argument is the unstated acceptance of your role as consumer not citizen. By not owning a home, or having land or property of any type under your control or stewardship, you have nothing. The only thing you have is the right to participate in the society and culture, and at the present time, at least in America, common people are treated as a cash cow to be milked.
The perfect neoliberal world would consist of every aspect of life open to rent extraction. The myth that must be put to rest is the notion that corporations have the ability to create and maintain a just society. This is false. At present time, the only hope is for individuals to restore their sense of self reliance by actually becoming self reliant. Owning, or having access to land is step one in making this a reality. Why do you think the elite work so hard at taking that ability away from common people? I can’t think of a more cynical and destructive view than depriving people of a minimum of substance and at the same time place blame for inequality on the exploited.
This argument points to the social order entering a new feudalism or protecting what little that remains of our democratic ideals.
But one can also imagine a rich society like ours having affordable public housing, generous pensions, debt-free college, and other public provisions that would make “nest eggs” relatively unnecessary, for either an extended life or for inheritance purposes.
Yes, all those thing are equally important and necessary. An individuals right to a basic subsistence would be met by establishing such criteria. However, defending the value of the common good against the predatory nature of those not interested in upholding the common good- capitalists- is made more difficult without a strong ownership base or a physical controlling factor. The same holds in the workplace. If workers are not strongly organized or have a ownership position in the companies they work for, they are at the mercy of their employers.
The level of trust given to business to act in the best interest of society is what needs to change. The idea that what is best for business is best for the rest of us is has reached its sell by date to borrow a phrase. It is propaganda. Propaganda designed to subvert any attempt to equalize the inequality built into our current economic system.
Only when you own and control a resource can you even begin to determine how that resource should be allocated and managed. The looters and thieves among us probably are laughing their heads off at how easy it is for them to steal.
Yes, we can imagine a better society. I think any sane, kind, compassionate person could sit down and imagine many projects to improve the lives of millions of people. The problem is without control and ownership you have no power to make that imagining reality.
My understanding of the local movement follows these lines. Strong local communities own and control the land and environmental resources. They manage those resources to the benefit of all in that community. The sooner we all start working toward those goals- and protecting our communities form attacks by rapacious corporations the better.
An excellent article in Jacobin details both the issue of reparations and Coates selective use of Beryl Satter’s book. One quote:
“The Lawndale case powerfully illustrates the predatory behaviors of white property owners, who reaped wide profit margins from vulnerable black renters and ill-informed buyers. But had Coates widened his interpretive lens beyond Chicago’s West Side — which was settled by Southern black migrants after the Second World War — to include the city’s more well-established black South Side, a very different, and in some ways more complicated, set of political alliances and social relations would have troubled his narrative of racial conflict, where all the predators are white and all the prey are black.” https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/02/ta-nehisi-coates-case-for-reparations-bernie-sanders-racism/
Reparations? That’s nuts. My father is a (Blackfoot) American Indian. Considering all the crap they’ve had to/have to put up with from white people, do I get a cut of these reparations? I mean seriously, American Indians have been treated and are treated even crappier than black people. Are these reparations activists looking for payback for all the people whites have pissed on over the years, or are they strictly concerned with their own particular group? Well having dealt with these people before, I already know the answer to that–and I’m not sympathetic.
Anyway I think all this is beside the point. Our society and civilization is completely sick, rapacious, and depraved. Having a bigger share in the ill-gotten loot apportioned by fiat is not the way for anyone to become whole and healthy. Lasting contentment and well-being can only come by investing in the local environment (via soil building, agroforestry etc) and local community. This obsession and focus on monetary/material “wealth” to the exclusion of all else is a terrible and existential sickness in America’s soul.
And, just for the record, Reed made exactly this point forcefully back in 2000, much more forcefully than is reflected in the preceding interview.
Eggs AWK ly what I have been saying! And I am delighted to hear Reed has made that point.
I found reading the Atlantic article I got a headache. There is no flow to it, because there is no spirituality underlying it. It’s literary grandstanding. Baldwin was an artist, and when he spoke he became the art form itself.
But Coates is coming from an I wannabe position. And it helped him to turn a blind eye to things people don’t wish to talk about.
The enduring, and ever ongoing genocide in both the US and Canada needs to have the spotlight on it when talking about social justice. Or we remain part of The Problem.
It seems to me that the artist’s struggle for his integrity is a kind of metaphor – must be considered as a metaphor – for the struggle, which is universal, and daily, for all human beings on the face of this terrifying globe, to get to become human beings.
It is not your fault, it is not MY fault, that I write. I would never have come before you in the position of a complainant for doing something that I must do.
What we might get at this evening, if we are lucky, if the mic doesn’t fail, my voice holds out, if you ask me questions, is what the importance of this effort is.
It would seem to me that – this may sound – I want to suggest two propositions.
The first one is: that the poets, by which I mean all artists, are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t, statesmen don’t, priests don’t, union leaders don’t… Only the poets. That’s my first proposition.
The second proposition, is what I really want to get at tonight. And it sounds mystical, I think, in a country like ours, and at a time like this. But something awful is happening to a civilization when it ceases to produce poets, and what is more crucial, when it ceases anywhere whenever to believe in the poet that only poets can make.
People, millions of people, who you will never see, who don’t know you, never will know you, people who may try to kill you in the morning, live in a darkness, which, if you have that funny, terrible thing, which every artist can recognize and no artist can define… You are responsible to those people… to lighten their darkness, and it does not matter what happens to you.
You are being used in the way a crab is useful, the way sand certainly has some function… it is impersonal, this force that you didn’t ask for, and this destiny which you must accept, is also your responsibility, and if you survive it, if you don’t cheat, if you don’t lie, it is not only, you know, your glory, your achievement… it is almost our only hope.
Because only an artist can tell, and only artists have told, since we have heard of man, what it is like for anyone who gets this planet to survive it. What it is like to die. Or to have somebody die. What it is like to fear death. What it is like to fear. What it is like to love. What it is like to be glad.
Hymns don’t do this. Churches really cannot do it.
The trouble is that all of the artists can do it, the price that he has to pay himself, and that you the audience must also pay, is a willingness to give up everything. To realize that although you spent 27 years of hiring this house, this furniture, this position, although you spent 40 years raising this child, these children, nothing, none of it, belongs to you.
You can only have it, you can only have it by letting it go. You can only take if you are prepared to give. And giving is not an investment. It is not a day at the bargain counter. It is a total risk. Of everything. Of you. Of who you think you are. Who you think you’d like to be. Where you think you’d like to go. Everything. And this forever.
Coates is a terrific wordsmith and intellect, however, I’ve always liked Baldwin’s self depreciating “Black” humor, and I’ve always gotten a lot of soul in his writing: This is in the sense of feeling the pain of being Black in America, which I don’t feel as much of in Coates’ writing.
i wonder if there is genetic think, like family speak… i’ve got a Cherokee gg-ma from north carolina and i’ve always suspected she talks to me
Primarily Native Americans, and to a lesser extent Mexicans, had land stolen from them by force to expand the United States of America and exploit the people who were the original “landowners”. Slavery also existed and no amount of amnesia on the part of people in the U.S.A. can change that fact.
The following comment by Aldoph Reed Jr. is of primary importance. He states, “What the race discourse does is it forces a racial interpretation onto any manifestation of inequality or injustice to be associated with black people on the receiving end. So in that sense, the demands aren’t even that important. The discussion of the program isn’t even that important. The real objective is to maintain the dominance of the racialist interpretive frame of reference and that goes back to my contention that this is a class program because part of the material foundation of the class has been, since the class began to take shape at the end of the 19th century, a claim to be representatives of the aspirations of and of the voice of black people writ large.”
Issues of inequality “feel” like a race issue because certain groups of people have been exploited economically for centuries in this country. As studies have now shown, in a capitalist system, you are more likely to remain in the same socioeconomic group you were born into. By keeping it a “race” issue, the exploiters can keep people divided and looking at inequality as about “them” instead of about “us”.
JGordon, I agree with your comment, “This obsession and focus on monetary/material “wealth” to the exclusion of all else is a terrible and existential sickness in America’s soul.” The Rockefellers, Waltons, Winfrey, Gates, Kochs, and Buffets of the world should be viewed as “Money Hoarders” and certainly should not be emulated. So the question is, will the “money hoarders” rule ad infinitum, having us fighting each other instead of looking at one of the real issues, economic inequality? Will we ever see a future in which social well-being is far superior to material wealth? Will those who hoard money be ostrasized?
Will we ever see a future in which social well-being is far superior to material wealth?
I think we need to make that world for ourselves. It is unlikely that it will manifest of its own accord through currently dominant socio-economic forces. If one thinks this way, one must take the initiative and induce/continue the process.
And it turns out that that process is already underway, on a large scale in the open-source community, and on local scales in formal and informal exchanges, schools and collectives.
Realizing that we must create the world every day is the first step to change. All of us must choose what world we would like to create. The world vision of Money as Power is a simple and effective message. Is it a true vision? I think not.
Capitalism is the destroyer God. Our choice is one of accepting our role as neophytes at its alter. Or turn our back on this religious order and have the strength to wander in the wilderness searching a better world.
To ostracize is a power tool. But as long as we are stuck in a Capitalist world group, we cannot banish antisocial capitalists anywhere. We must first banish ourselves form the greed, corruption, and destructive nature that is capitalism in order to find a better world.
Agreeing completely, but there is a difference between the Native American and the African American situations, namely that Native Americans have some recognizable claim on the land of the US, and although deteriorated and deteriorating, they have a richer direct knowledge of their cultural heritage(s) than African Americans, who were taken across an ocean and more completely disconnected from their ancestor’s cultures; and any land-based reparation could conflict with such a reparation to Native Americans. The enormity and depth of these injustices is staggering.
And as others here have said, thank you Yves and Lambert for bringing the work of Adolph Reed to my attention.
Coates’ article does do that to a degree.
If you’re interested, may I recommend the book that seems to have redefined the discussion?
Black Wealth, White Wealth, by Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro, now in its second edition (2006).
The book details a wide range of official policies and sedimented patterns of racist treatment that played the biggest roles in ensuring that black Americans’ wealth has remained a tiny fraction of that of whites, including not only redlining but the government policies that accompanied and supported it, and so on.
Coates’ much superior first article in the Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations” in 2014 is a detailed look at the difficulties Blacks encounter in building wealth through home ownership. That piece draws heavily on an excellent book called Family Properties by Beryl Satter, a 2009 description of the inner city neighborhoods in Chicago where Blacks could only buy on homes on contract until the late ’60s and the efforts of. Movement called the Contract Buyers League which helped open up the mortgage market.
As for whether reparations are politically possible… I leave that to politicians and activists. As to whether they are necessary for slavery… there are many Americans of all colors who fought in the Civil War. Their descendants are still with us. If a price is to be paid for slavery maybe part of it was paid on those blood soaked fields. 900,000 dead. If there are to be reparations for slavery, I don’t know if I personally could ask that of Americans living today. But that leaves the issue of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, KKK, redlining, exclusion from the New Deal, continuing discrimination. That’s where I believe a moral case for reparations could be made.
That said Reed makes excellent points. The economy we have today is not the same one we had in the 60s. Working people of all races have lost ground for 40 years. Economic remedies are needed by everyone and would help those struggling with poverty the most. The issue of reparations is bound to be divisive. I’m not sure that fight can be won. A fight for universal economic justice seems more achievable. We should focus on what unites us. When people are less desperate it becomes easier for them to see injustice done to others.
Adolph Reed’s whistle blowing on identity politics, neoliberalism and the pathetic Democratic Party has been refreshing.
According to Reed, the left has been locked into a downward spiral, hitching its wagon to a more and more conservative Democratic Party.
“…the reinvention of the Clinton Administration as a halcyon time of progressive success. Bill Clinton’s record demonstrates, if anything, the extent of Reaganism’s victory in defining the terms of political debate and the limits of political practice. A recap of some of his administration’s greatest hits should suffice to break through the social amnesia….The nostalgic mist that obscures this record is perfumed by evocations of the Clinton prosperity. Much of that era’s apparent prosperity, however, was hollow….”
Adolph Reed, “Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals,” Harper’s, March 2014, http://harpers.org/archive/2014/03/nothing-left-2/
BAR’s Glen Ford writes that Bernie Sanders’ quest to transform the Democratic Party “from below” will be derailed in the South by Blacks:
“The Democratic Party oozes out of every orifice of Black civic society like a stinking pus, transforming every Black social structure and project into a Democratic Party asset.”
“Blacks are drawn into the jaws of the Democratic Party, not by ideological affinity, but in search of protection from the Republicans. This is an entirely different dynamic than an alignment based on thoughtful examination of political platforms. It’s not about picking a candidate or party that sees the world as most Black people do, from the left side of the spectrum, on matters of social justice and peace. Rather, the overarching objective is to choose a candidate from the Democratic wing of the Rich Man’s duopoly who is best equipped to defeat his or her Republican counterpart. Under these stilted circumstances, the Democratic candidate’s actual political positions become near-irrelevant to the Black primary voter, compared to the candidate’s perceived ability to win a national election.” – Glen Ford, “Vector of Fear: Blacks and the Democratic Party,” http://blackagendareport.com/victor_of_fear_blacks_and_dems
The destabilizing nature of the Democratic Party in the South has been manipulated many times. The dreaded ‘Southern Strategy’ has worked for the Republicans. Johnsons famous quip about losing the South for a generation comes to mind. In the urban areas of the Deep South, Democratic Party politics is ‘machine politics.’ The ‘movers and shakers’ there are usually the Black version of the Power Elites: Ministers, Political Office Holders, and Business Elites. As Mr. Reed stressed, the real foundation of the struggle is class based. Rich and semi rich people of any race live off of the ‘lower orders’ of any race. This is the original ‘equal opportunity’ formulation.
As to Glen Ford’s good article, Polls show that Hillary beats Trump by 1%. Sanders beats Trump by 19%. That pretty much says it all and does not appear to be included as part of his analysis and conclusion that blacks will vote for HRC.
Great stuff….more like this. One is reminded of the story where Oprah complained that a famous Paris department store wouldn’t let her shop after hours like other rich celebrities–complained they were racist. Shorter Oprah: how dare your race discrimination interfere with my enjoyment of class discrimination. Identity politics’ special pleading is a dead end for the left because it practices divide and conquer on the basis of self-interest–the same thing the right does. Whereas the left should always be appealing to the common good and policies that benefit society as a whole. The founding fathers, for all their warts, got this, at least rhetorically.
Agree completely. Real, serious change calls for a new narrative of universalism. If we can get that right, there is an opportunity to unite the 99% — or at least the 90%!
That just about sums it up. A variation on gay rights / abortion for the ‘left’? But maybe the whole issue could be put to rest by assigning reparations due in a last-in-first-out order with the people of Syria and Iraq at the head of the queue?
Couldn’t agree more with the following comments by Reed:
“I say that their race first politics is a class politics. Its not an alternative to class politics its a politics of a different class. Its not working class politics its an aspiring PMC (professional managerial class) politics that is hinged in material terms ultimately on race relation administration as a career path.”
What a breath of fresh air!
many others, both here on this site and on others such as counterpunch and jacobin, have criticised saunders from the left. be it on foreign policy, on israel, or even insufficient economic socialism. nobody got quite as much flak for their stance as coates does on race issues, however. it’s a bit strange. is it because coates’ race complaints are deemend invalid?
Coates gets more attention because he has such an outsized platform relative to his merits and because he’s a self-promoter and money grubber. Not to mention that there is room for valid criticism of Sanders for his foreign policy, and less so, his economic policies.
Now, hang on. That’s just like the people who blame the borrowers for liar’s loans and under-qualified students/employees for the failings of affirmative action.
I’m critical of most of Coates’s views and I don’t think he’s a very strong thinker, although his prose can be very good at times. But he’s no more a “self-promoter and money grubber” than the other writers over there (or pretty much everywhere else, for that matter). Coates has an “outsized platform” because the white men over at the Atlantic gave it to him. Why? Because it serves their interests. If it serves his, too, all the better. Then they can probably count on his loyalty.
And, actually, now that I think about it, it’s exactly like the two examples I opened with because hiring someone like Coates reinforces the idea that successful Black folk don’t deserve to be, they just got hand-outs.
I second that emotion. Some of it is backlash against Coates’s lionization — and by well-heeled liberal whites (…hearing that accusation again after all these years… a blast from the past). Some of it is painstakingly even-handed criticism (for instance, by Corey Robin and Darryl Pinckney), some not. Coates seems pretty well able to handle himself in any case. He seems to have kept his head, anyways.
Reed is a gimlet-eyed critic of our life and politics, as well as an accomplished academician. There’s a lot going on in what he says, and, I imagine, a lot that brought him to the interview. But I don’t see evidence that Reed has absorbed much if anything of what Coates has actually said about reparations. Nonetheless — and this seems evident in the audio — Reed finds Coates repulsive: “Why should anyone pay any attention to anything this guy says?”
But the strongest substantive point Reed tries to make in the interview looks like a bit of misdirection: “I say that their race first politics is a class politics. It’s not an alternative to class politics it’s a politics of a different class.”
But Coates is not arguing for a race-first or race-only analysis. He is, like one of his mentors, Barbara Fields, arguing that race cannot be collapsed into class: they are concepts from different orders — you cannot use the one to explain the other.
Reed (and Sanders, I gather) thinks that you can.
The difference between the positions is not trivial.
Yes, but since Coates spends his whole time arguing about race and never about class, you could easily get the impression that he is a “race-first” or “race-only” type of guy. The reparations debate is just one example of Coates’ race-first approach to politics.
Reed’s fifth response explains the distaste for Coates. Coates is smart enough to recognize this reality and creates the condition for throwing up road blocks to economic justice which means he’s a charlatan, a modern priest offering salvation in exchange for donations.
Exactly. Here’s a great article by John McWhorter, who explains why anti-racism is our flawed new religion.
I am a huge fan of Reed, and fully embrace his clear-eyed critique of identity politics in the age of neoliberalism. He is very right-on about Coates, as well (there’s a reason he is fawned over by The Atlantic, of all the staid, well–neoliberal–bastions).
But the personalization of the critique here. . . just a little lacking in equanimity.
You need to introduce Reed at the head, btw.
I did notice that Reed sees slavery as the basis for reparations when the story of racist policies affecting the poor living conditions based on race during the 29th century is not acknowledged. In an effort to appease the southern democrats many of the new deal reforms never reached the majority of blacks. For example agricultural worker and domestics, the major areas of employment for blacks, were exempt from many of the reforms. In other words the programs can be viewed as affirmative action programs for white only. The conditions of blacks throughout the south and also in the north were atrocious with education, electricity, medical care, decent housing, good jobs etc. all beyond the reach of most poor blacks due to policies based solely on race.
A great book on the subject that documents the horrific conditions of black in the 20th century is ” When Affirmative Action Was White” by Ira Katznelson. I try to keep informed but the depths of the 20th century’s racial policies at the national, state and local levels and the effect on the well-being of blacks is astonishing.
As a kid I was raised in a new development which was affordable with the help of FHA loans and the GI bill which were off limits to blacks. There were none in our development and that is true for many of my friends. Even under FDR there was a conscious attempt to segregate integrated neighborhoods.
For me, it is disappointing that these arguments against reparations do little to reveal the actual conditions that blacks had to endure.
Thanks for the interesting article. I am only recently becoming more familiar with Coates. I don’t have much to add, except that Sanders’ economic policies appear, to me, to be founded on the notion of class, not race, and to be a benefit to those most in need, no matter what their race, ethnicity, background, etc. I realize that it’s all a bit pie in the sky and hard to determine what will actually happen, should Sanders become our next POTUS.
I am white and hesitate to tread onto the ground of whether there should be reparations or not. Reparations have been discussed most of my life (many decades now). There have been efforts, such as Affirmative Action, put into place, which can be viewed (perhaps incorrectly) as an effort towards redress. I know redlining was a terrible thing, and I confess that it’s only recently that I’ve learned so much about it. We can quibble till the cows come home whether home ownership is good or bad, but certainly, citizens should not be barred from buying homes, if that’s their choice.
And so on… I have some concerns about where Coates is coming from, but it’s more of a personal viewpoint that I haven’t had time to research more thoroughly.
AA citizens will have to decide for themselves whom they believe will be a better POTUS at representing them and their needs.
Here is what Bruce Dixon says:
Nobody here at Black Agenda Report disagrees with the fundamental justice of the case for reparations. But it’s a just cause with a huge problem. Reparations for the descendants of slaves, the victims of historic Jim Crow and the current prison state is an immense political project. But apart from a single piece of legislation and a few lawsuits over the last 30 years, reparistas seem to take no responsibility for proposing, discussing or advancing even the sketchiest of political roadmaps to bring us to reparations.
I’m a lifelong socialist, somebody who believes political mountains can and must be moved. But when proponents of reparations don’t even try to discuss what the needed political coalitions might look like, what sectors of society we need to win over to make reparations happen, or how many years or decades all this might take, are they acting like a political movement, or like something else? What kind of political movement advances no measures, discusses no plans, takes no responsibility for advancing its own just cause? The answer is that movements don’t behave like that at all. But brands do.
Brands neither say what they mean, nor mean what they say. Brands are stories, brands are narratives contrived to get specific emotional reactions, to pull real or imagined memories, sights, smells or feelings from a target audience. To do this brands operate outside of and independent from fact and/or logic. Reparations is not a movement, it’s a brand.
If Coates is serious he’d be on Hillary’s case like white on rice instead of supporting her. I heard him on PBS’s News Hour and found his argument just as silly and disingenous as Reed portrays it. I especially like Reed’s description of Coates’ case for reparations as affirmative action on steroids. Affirmative action was also class-based politics: it made white working class and lower middle men ripe for exploitation by Republicans selling racist resentment. White upper middle and upper class men were unaffected by affirmative action.
I think it is worth retrieving some thoughts from Martin Luther King’s last book (Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?):
In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss poverty that affects white and Negro alike.
Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils: lack of education restricting job opportunities; poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiative; fragile family relationships which distorted personality development. The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes be attacked one by one. Hence a housing program to transform living conditions, improved educational facilities to furnish tools for better job opportunities, and family counseling to create better personal adjustments were designed. In combination these measures were intended to remove the causes of poverty.
While none of these remedies in itself is unsound, all have a fatal disadvantage. The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis or at similar rates of development. Housing measures have fluctuated at the whims of legislative bodies. They have been piecemeal and pygmy. Educational reforms have been even more sluggish and entangled in bureaucratic stalling and economy-dominated decisions. Family assistance stagnated in neglect and then suddenly was discovered to be the central issue on the basis of hasty and superficial studies. At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived. As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.
In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing—they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.
I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective—the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.
We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.
Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts between husband, wife and children will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth on a scale of dollars is eliminated.
This proposal is not a ‘civil rights’ program, in the sense that that term is currently used. The program would benefit all the poor, including the two-thirds of them who are white. I hope that both Negro and white will act in coalition to effect this change, because their combined strength will be necessary to overcome the fierce opposition we must realistically anticipate.
Thanks for this. MLK was an American prophet.
Great post, thank you.
MLK : perhaps the most dangerous figure in US history as far as our ruling masters are concerned.
From him there is much to learn. He towers above us all.
when the whole world jumps the shark, what does that say about the shark?
Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear,
And he shows them pearly white
Just a jack-knife has Macheath dear
And he keeps it out of sight.
time for a sea change
I had a good laugh at this. I read both the Atlantic article and a longish excerpt of his book and my gut told me that the impact of them would be in the publishing world and not public policy….here’s how you move books, guys!
My sphere . . . White Male, Lower-Middle Class, +/- 40 yrs. old. Unemployed. Marginalized.
I see a lot of connected, but also very distinct, issues at play in both the interview and the comments.
Reparations: Cannot be considered separate from race given that the foundation of the exploitation was racial. Blacks were enslaved, the product of their labor appropriated in full. This is a very simple issue. Even a basic calculation would result in an astronomical number. If you value a lifetime’s worth of stolen labor at $1, and compound interest yearly on that dollar for 200 years, the result is significant. At 4% . . . $2550.75. How about a lifetime’s value of $40 for 200 years at 3% . . . $14,774.23. And clearly, the principle, the rate of return, and the time frame are low-ball figures. The US government can certainly formulate something general in terms of valuing the staggering benefit resulting from that theft, and it has nothing to do with the injustice of the institution or need be specific to who owned what and who and who didn’t.
As for asking or suggesting that normal people foot the bill for this, that is necessary only insofar as we have a system that makes normal people pay all the bills, that allows corporations and those that control them to criminally evade taxation at any level except for the most symbolic. That’s true for everything from subsidizing workers paid less than acceptable wages through social programs, subsidizing endless warmaking which benefits only the owners of war industries, and subsidizing every petrochemical/pharmaceutical/destructive industry in this country by allowing them to, along with the above cited evasion of taxation, externalize all costs paid by society as a whole, mostly regarding resource extraction, climate change and pollution.
It is specious to compare the plight of disenfranchised steel workers, although the destruction of their industry and livelihood is equally as troubling, with the direct and forced appropriation of all of their labor. Not being able to support yourself or your family going forward is completely different than being forced, on threat of death or significant violence, from working in a mill every day and receiving less than subsistence in return.
It is disingenuous to compare the theft of Native Lands also. There is certainly a valid argument for their compensation as well. But as I pointed out above, although their lands were stolen and they were forced into deadly and brutal migrations, that is different from forced labor, and as such must be considered differently. Yes, mineral resources, land, violence, all are factors in that equation as well, and no less important or justified are those claims, but different all the same.
And redlining and other wealth extraction schemes formulated and tacitly supported via gov’t policies, all the way through bank bailouts, foreclosure based on robosigning (a luntzian phrase for forgery), dual tracking (a luntzian phrase for lying, and later, for contempt of court) and perks like derivatives having superpriority status in bankruptcy to the sanctity of contracts (the excuse used to pay AIG swaps and obligations, among others, at 100%, but conveniently forgotten with regard to the pensions of Detroit’s public sector workers) . . . all of this is criminal, immoral, and supremely destructive in every sense. But, to conflate all of it together and claim that classism and racism can’t be separated, or whatever else I hear being claimed in the service of an agenda that isn’t honest, is clearly transparent and most often self-serving.
Just my thoughts . . .
“That formulation of course is an instantiation of the famous slippage between first person singular and plural that’s a characteristic of nationalist ideologies no matter where you find them.”
Great quote. This was Obama’s strategy: use his great rhetorical skills to convince blacks (and more importantly, liberal-leaning Americans that would be sympathetic to such a message) that through his own success as a politician (ie assuming the highest office possible), all of them would benefit, that his election as president would shatter glass ceilings and enable all blacks to reach new levels of success. What people missed though was that he didn’t promise to help the collective plight of the black community nor create meaningful social change–his message merely focused on the value of him providing an example to other career-minded blacks that wanted a bigger piece of the neoliberal pie. There’s nothing wrong with inspiring young black children to be successful since, after all, this is a capitalist society in which everyone is trying to get theirs. But what’s nauseating is how much Obama is worshiped for acting in self-interest as well as the adulation he receives from the black community that would benefit much more from a Sanders presidency (than they ever did under Obama) yet supports Hillary instead.
And duly note that, back in 2008, the black establishment were among the last Democrats to abandon Hillary for Obama; they did so only once Obama had won enough delegates to make it impossible for Hillary to win the nomination anyway. In other words, the black establishment in this case put ‘electability’ even before race!