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"By our unpaid labor and suffering..."
May 21, 2014 7:27 PM   Subscribe

"To celebrate freedom and democracy while forgetting America’s origins in a slavery economy is patriotism à la carte." Slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation both de jure and de facto--Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Case for Reparations.
posted by ilicet (153 comments total) 90 users marked this as a favorite

 
I just got this months Atlantic in the mail and this is the cover story with Coates's name all big and huge on the cover and I got so excited I basically forgot to feed my kid.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:51 PM on May 21 [40 favorites]


Every journalism prize for anything vaguely approaching commentary over the last five years should have an asterisk and a note at the bottom of the page saying, "* -- Inexplicably, not Ta-Nehisi Coates."
posted by Etrigan at 8:27 PM on May 21 [20 favorites]


Give him the Pulitzer now.

I've talked before here about how the US did redistribution of wealth on an individual basis, whether through the FHA or the GI Bill or subsidised college tuition for Boomers or the mortgage interest deduction, and that's a big difference between the US and Europe. The implementation of that individuated redistribution turned poorer white families into middle-class white families that, over time, mostly forget the hand-up they received along the way, while African-American families remained systematically excluded from property ownership or college education or any part of the middle-class toolkit.

I don't need to say any of that any more. I just need to link to this piece, because Ta-Nehisi says it so much better than I could.
posted by holgate at 8:28 PM on May 21 [20 favorites]


Obviously it's logistically difficult. But all kinds of things are logistically difficult. Income taxes are logistically difficult. Logistically difficult things are why we have government. We don't not do something that's important just because it's logistically difficult. But logistics get cited as the easy way to say no, a lot of times. I remember people arguing at one point that we couldn't have gay marriage because they'd have to reprint all their forms. I don't think they were really concerned about printing costs then, either.
posted by Sequence at 8:43 PM on May 21 [9 favorites]


Read this. Read this. Read this. For God's sake, read this.
posted by maudlin at 8:49 PM on May 21 [8 favorites]


by whom, and to whom, should the reparations be paid, out of what fund? the middle class already has its back to the wall. while the premises of the article are sound, the conclusions are hopeless (not unlike marxism). the native americans have a big bill to submit too, and the chinese laborers who built the railroads, and the mexican farmworkers are standing behind them. a full appreciation of these arguments concludes that they're looking at white people to pay this bill, and white people lack the ability or willingness to do this, yet retain the power to stop it, so it isn't going to happen.

while rtfa, something occurred to me which will strike any reasonable person at first blush as outrageous. we made a partial reparation to the native americans by granting them a casino monopoly. organized gambling is, of course, a vice which rots out the communities of its constituency. what other vices remain, for which we can grant monopolies? sex (from prostitution to porn) and drugs (including alcohol and tobacco) came first to mind. if all liquor store owners were black, i would still buy liquor from one of them. somebody's gonna come in here and flame this, and they will probably be right.
posted by bruce at 8:56 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


by whom, and to whom, should the reparations be paid, out of what fund?

rtfa
posted by shakespeherian at 8:58 PM on May 21 [17 favorites]


shakespeherian, i did rtfa. all it proposed was a bill by michigan congressman john conyers to study the issue. study it all you want, the money isn't there.
posted by bruce at 9:04 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


by whom, and to whom, should the reparations be paid, out of what fund?

How about offering African-Americans the exact same sweet deals, on the exact same sweet terms, that were technically offered to all Americans throughout the 20th century but just so happened to be restricted in practice to white Americans?

That'd be a start.
posted by holgate at 9:06 PM on May 21 [26 favorites]


all it proposed was a bill by michigan congressman john conyers to study the issue.

If that's all you got out of this piece, I despair a little. A lot.
posted by feckless at 9:07 PM on May 21 [9 favorites]


we made a partial reparation to the native americans by granting them a casino monopoly

States were forced by lawsuits to concede that they had no power to regulate activities on sovereign lands. That's what you meant, right.
posted by rtha at 9:07 PM on May 21 [31 favorites]


That's not what reparations mean, holgate, which you probably know.
posted by Justinian at 9:13 PM on May 21


That's not what reparations mean, holgate, which you probably know.

Why shouldn't it mean that? Every mortgage at sub-market rates and every public university degree at Boomer-generation tuition rates was, in essence, a payment in kind, distributed lopsidedly.
posted by holgate at 9:28 PM on May 21 [14 favorites]


One cannot escape the question by hand-waving at the past, disavowing the acts of one’s ancestors, nor by citing a recent date of ancestral immigration. The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time. The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. To proudly claim the veteran and disown the slaveholder is patriotism à la carte. A nation outlives its generations. We were not there when Washington crossed the Delaware, but Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s rendering has meaning to us. We were not there when Woodrow Wilson took us into World War I, but we are still paying out the pensions. If Thomas Jefferson’s genius matters, then so does his taking of Sally Hemings’s body. If George Washington crossing the Delaware matters, so must his ruthless pursuit of the runagate Oney Judge.

Yeah.
posted by rtha at 9:29 PM on May 21 [11 favorites]


But as surely as the creation of the wealth gap required the cooperation of every aspect of the society, bridging it will require the same.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:31 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Perhaps after a serious discussion and debate—the kind that HR 40 proposes—we may find that the country can never fully repay African Americans. But we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion—and that is perhaps what scares us. The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper—America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:31 PM on May 21 [6 favorites]


If we, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, lack the money to pay reparations, that says a lot about how bad the damage of slavery was, no? All the more reason for them, in one form or another.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:39 PM on May 21 [9 favorites]


I think it's undeniable that the USA enriched itself at the expense of black people; and that it harmed and persecuted people of of color; and that it denied them the benefits to which they were entitled. I have no idea how meaningful reparations could be made, or whether they are politically possible, but the debt and the moral obligation to make restitution are clear.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:51 PM on May 21 [12 favorites]


When I hear people talk about how reparations can't happen because the money isn't there, this is all I'm seeing:

"America's debt is important and real! Except for when we're talking about the debt America owes to the people it literally enslaved and terrorized for centuries. That debt doesn't count."
posted by Ouverture at 9:54 PM on May 21 [35 favorites]


Maybe my favorite line is Indeed, in America there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person 10 times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife. We believe white dominance to be a fact of the inert past, a delinquent debt that can be made to disappear if only we don’t look.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:07 PM on May 21 [12 favorites]


It's an historical irony that the revolting American colonists demanded "the rights of Englishmen". They didn't want those rights for their slaves, despite the fact that slavery was already known to be illegal in England.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:15 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


There are so many lines in this that are eminently quotable, lots to think about here. But this may be my favorite:

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

I could do with that kind of spiritual renewal.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:16 PM on May 21 [8 favorites]


This. A thousand times this.

One of the great voices of our generation.

Things have not changed nearly as much as white liberals would like to believe. I only last year had a conversation with a friend who mentioned that he had to have "the talk" with his son. "The talk?" A talk about how to deal with cops so they don't kill you. My parents never had that talk. Not even in passing.

When he asked why I never worried about walking through any neighborhood, I could only respond in absolute seriousness "because I know the cops will investigate any crime against me. And so do the criminals".
posted by petrilli at 10:17 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


It's glib to just say that the idea is impossible. In 1995, the idea of gay marriage seemed impossible. In 1970, the idea of smoking bans or halving the crime rate seemed impossible. In 1940, the idea of blacks voting seemed impossible.

Doing the impossible starts with someone taking the notion seriously, as Coates has done here.

Playing with some numbers— Coates mentions a 1973 figure of $34 billion and paying that for 10 years. But that would be just $1,000 a year for each black citizen, which is not enough to change anything; I'd modestly suggest moving the decimal point over one. So, $340 billion, or a total cost of $3.4 trillion over the decade.

For comparison: the Bush tax cuts, plus the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, plus Bush's prescription drug program, totaled $4.3 trillion.

Reparations are a bargain.
posted by zompist at 11:10 PM on May 21 [24 favorites]


I wish we could get serious about remedying the inequities inherent in our society because, one way or another, America is going to pay what it owes.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:14 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


And from the article, Coates notes that Germany agreed to reparations for the Holocaust. Germany did so while having a non-trivial segment of their population think "'that the Jews themselves were partly responsible for what happened to them during the Third Reich.'"

Like fuck, if that doesn't just scream how utterly screwed America is with coming to terms with slavery, I don't know what will.
posted by Ouverture at 11:14 PM on May 21 [8 favorites]


It's a tight and subtle Lockean argument, signalled by the epigraph from Two Treatises of Government: life, liberty, property. Especially property. It starts and ends by talking about the systematic denial of property rights to African-Americans, and its core reminds us of the enrichment of large parts of white America by having African-Americans as their property.

It is an argument made in the spirit of classical liberalism, with its core assertion of the right to the fruits of one's labour and the security of one's property within the commonwealth. It is the kind of argument that an honest libertarian ought to embrace. It states plainly things that should make liberals uncomfortable -- that the New Deal and GI Bill were full of concessions to the Jim Crow South -- as well as spelling out that the US operated under conditions of legitimised terror towards African-Americans well within living memory.
posted by holgate at 11:27 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


ouverture "America's debt is important and real! Except..."

i have some information which may distress you. there's no fucking way we're gonna be able to pay all this debt. we have exploited the fortuity of printing the global reserve currency (for now) into a giant ponzi scheme, where we retain the ability to satisfy our debt in zimbabwe dollars through the sheer expedience of running our printing presses. don't you be left holding the bag.

joe in australia, i grinned at the sight of an australian chastising us for our racial injustices. your people actually hunted the aborigines as game animals. would you support a proposal that america nationalize several big banks, goldman sachs and jpmorgan chase for starters, and hand their equity over to impoverished inner-city black people? that's where all the money went during the bailout, which could have gone to universal healthcare, green energy or quality education for all. tell me why not!

rtha, there is no such thing as "sovereign lands", sovereignty over land is maintained by force of arms, what we have we hold, and yesterday's sovereign is displaced by tomorrow's better-armed sovereign, and america's sovereigns of the moment are not immune to this principle.

holgate is right to propose immediate race-neutral loan underwriting and tuition/financial aid, but justinian is also right that this is not reparations.
posted by bruce at 11:28 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Query if this would take a constitutional amendment in light of Bakke.
posted by jpe at 11:47 PM on May 21


If your reading of this article leaves you concerned with dollar amounts, maybe a re-reading is in order.

This isn't about financial reparations, it's about historical, philosophical, and emotional reparations. It's about coming to grips with the fact the we'll never figure where we are as a country, until we come to an honest accounting of how we got here. It's about not losing yet another generation to the burden of hundreds of years of whitewashed history and unrealistic expectations.

The history he tells here of systemic segregation and economic predation in Chicago does not lead to a number on a balance sheet. It leads to a place nicknamed "Chiraq" because it's a damn war zone.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:51 PM on May 21 [24 favorites]


Indeed, in America there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person 10 times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife.

Damn. Nicely put.
posted by brundlefly at 12:17 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


"would you support a proposal that america nationalize several big banks, goldman sachs and jpmorgan chase for starters, and hand their equity over to impoverished inner-city black people? that's where all the money went during the bailout, which could have gone to universal healthcare, green energy or quality education for all. tell me why not!""

Wait, are you saying all the bailout money went to "impoverished inner-city black people" or are you saying all the bailout money went to several big banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase?

If it's the former, that's not how I (or the New York Times) remember it going down.

The funny thing is that if you read the article, Ta-Nehisi Coates connects the story to even the 2008 financial crisis that you're bringing up.
posted by Ouverture at 12:19 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


your people actually hunted the aborigines as game animals.

That's not actually true. Australia has done things which were quite bad enough; making false claims wouldn't help anyone, even if it weren't a tu quoque argument.

The argument for reparations to Black Americans does not rest solely on the grounds that they are the victims of a substantial and ongoing injustice; there are also specific and quantifiable governmental injustices that were done to living people and their immediate families. E.g., the denial of mortgage insurance; the denial of equal education. I'm sympathetic to the argument that the wealth of the USA was partially founded upon slave labour, but that's a much harder thing to assess and a much more difficult burden to compensate for.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:53 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


“On Ta-Nehisi Coates”, Goldie Taylor, 22 May 2014
posted by ob1quixote at 1:06 AM on May 22


You know, I'm an atheist, but it's sure tempting to contemplate that hell exists and has as an occupant the person(s) who penned this editorial:

“They have been taught to labor,” the Chicago Tribune editorialized in 1891. “They have been taught Christian civilization, and to speak the noble English language instead of some African gibberish. The account is square with the ex‑slaves.”

Anytime anyone wrings their hands about how we will pay to make things right (the money part, anyway), remember this:

THERE IS PLENTY OF DAMN FUCKING MONEY.

It just happens to be in the pockets of the (very) rich. So please don't whine about how there is no money. As a country, considered as a whole, we're awash in it. But it's in the pockets of individuals worth billions and stupid asshole companies with trillions of combined dollars in liquid assets just sitting in accounts while they decide whether their next phone, weapon, drug or software thingy will have a 200% or 300% profit margin.

The money is out there.
posted by maxwelton at 3:48 AM on May 22 [9 favorites]


The argument that the money isn't there is a pure distraction that's used to shut down the conversation about whether or not a debt is owed. Let's calculate the debt before discussing how to pay it.
posted by burden at 5:26 AM on May 22 [17 favorites]


Ought implies can. Given that reparations are politically impossible and unconstitutional to boot, the case for setting up a federal commission to calculate it is weak. And we don't need a commission to do it, for that matter.
posted by jpe at 5:41 AM on May 22


> joe in australia, i grinned at the sight of an australian chastising us for our racial injustices.

Ain't nobody on this planet got clean hands; so what if he's from Australia? I could equally and argue (and with more relevance) that as a white American man you really shouldn't be talking negatively about reparations.

> rtha, there is no such thing as "sovereign lands", sovereignty over land is maintained by force of arms, what we have we hold, and yesterday's sovereign is displaced by tomorrow's better-armed sovereign, and america's sovereigns of the moment are not immune to this principle.

I know you're a lawyer but this is rules-lawyer bullshit. You claimed we "granted" American Indians a monopoly on casinos, and I corrected your framing. Too bad if you don't like it; doesn't change the actual facts.
posted by rtha at 5:42 AM on May 22 [11 favorites]


The dude is a modern day James Baldwin. This is great.
posted by chunking express at 5:50 AM on May 22


Every so often The Atlantic has a string of issues that don't really capture my imagination, and I consider letting my subscription lapse. Then they publish something like this. They'll be getting money from me for quite a while now.

I've also noticed Coates hasn't been writing much on his blog lately. Now I see why.
posted by TedW at 5:50 AM on May 22


I need to read the article more carefully, but as I was reading it, I was thinking that The Atlantic had written earlier about reparations, and a quick search turned up this, from 2009:

Reparations would take money from people who never owned slaves and bestow it on people who never were slaves. It would require judgments of collective guilt and collective innocence, which are problematic at best; when the collectives are defined by race and the judgments extended across generations, the whole issue becomes noxious in the extreme. Racists would find cover for reviving old arguments about slavery actually benefiting slaves; after all, if the issue is money, isn’t the average African-American today better-off than the average West African? What about African-American slaveholders; which side of the ledger do their descendants land on? And the American children of Africans who were never enslaved? Would the president of the United States get a check?

That's a quote from H. W. Brand's review of a book by Margaret MacMillan, and it appeared in Andrew Sullivan's article in 2009. And it reminds me of the ten arguments that David Horowitz made against reparations back in 2001 (as discussed on the blue), which I think was brilliantly summarized by the seven-word headline, "David Horowitz on Slavery: Where's the Gratitude?" (Reggie Dylan, here).

I don't know how this national discussion is going to develop. And if there's a discussion with Sullivan & Horowitz on one side and Coates on the other, well, you can put me down for Coates any day of the week. But this discussion will be bitter.
posted by math at 6:10 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


The thing about declaring bankruptcy is that even if you don't pay back the debts (because you honestly can't or through a manipulation of the system), you still have to admit to the debt. I think the idea that the U.S. can't pay reparations is bullshit, but even if you agree which that, the very least we should do is admit to the debt, which as a society, we are nowhere near doing.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:15 AM on May 22 [11 favorites]


I think this article really suffers from its initial focus on Ross. They mention a lot about what happened to Ross's father, but much of that seems hearsay translated through the filter of a child. They "claimed" he owed back taxes - well, did he? It doesn't seem impossible that someone who never learned to read and had no idea of how to get a lawyer may, in fact, have been unaware even of the concept of land taxes in the first place, or that they rise with the times. He says his horse was taken and his father was given $17 - did his father sell the horse?

The situation with the boiler mentioned - it seems to suggest that if loans are to a private individual, but not a bank, they're somehow different in that the person in the home is not responsible. But in fact, with most contract sales like that, they are responsible - and such loans are common with people of all colors who could not get a bank mortgage. Predatory lending, while despicable, is hardly unique to the black experience.
posted by corb at 6:27 AM on May 22


TNC is an amazing writer, and this is an amazing piece of writing. What's so great about this article is also what's problematic with it, and I'm sure TNC knows it. Say "reparations" in an article and a whole great big number of people are going to ignore it. But he doesn't really give a shit, I don't think, because those people aren't his target audience. He's trying to start a conversation, and he's using dynamite to do it. Because ultimately I don't think he's all that interested in what we typically think of as "reparations" -- direct payments. How much of the article is devoted to determining the appropriate financial recompensation due to AAs? How much financial accounting does TNC do in this article? Basically none. He's not interested in it. He's interested in laying out the case for reparations as a way to drive at something much more meaningful. He's trying to move the Overton Window. I mean, he lays it out pretty fucking simply:

Perhaps after a serious discussion and debate—the kind that HR 40 proposes—we may find that the country can never fully repay African Americans. But we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion—and that is perhaps what scares us. The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper—America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world.

Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely.


"Reparations" gets your attention, but it's that word -- "acceptance" -- that might be the toughest pill for white people to swallow.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:33 AM on May 22 [30 favorites]


Corb- you fall into a trap of assuming justice and fairness where there was none. Focusing on Ross' life in detail puts a specific face on statistics. Blacks in the south were routinely abused in myriad ways even after slavery. There is no need to doubt Ross' story of his family losing their land because it quite literally happened to many black families in similar ways. You would not doubt his story if it were merely about being called racist names as a child because you would accept that racist name calling was routine in his childhood. This and other ways of expropriating black wealth was also routine in that era.

So you ask perhaps Ross' father DID owe taxes and his lack of education prevented him from knowing. That is the same logic that asks why blacks just didn't study up to pass the poll test if they wanted to vote. The game was rigged. There was no fairness.
posted by R343L at 6:42 AM on May 22 [25 favorites]


much of that seems hearsay translated through the filter of a child.

I'm sure that Coates could just as easily have focused on the children and grandchildren of those who were lynched, or those who were driven out of sundown towns, but he didn't. He focused on property, and the small arbitrary injustices that were the warp and weft of Jim Crow.

Arbitrary confiscation under a threat of violence and the thinnest veneer of legal justification was the order of the day in the South. Redlining was the order of the day in northern cities. If you are going to treat these individual cases to lawyerly cross-examination, I'm not sure what my response is, but it probably involves forests and trees.
posted by holgate at 6:45 AM on May 22 [16 favorites]


Predatory lending, while despicable, is hardly unique to the black experience.

Could you victim-blame and minimize the actual institutional racism described in the article just a bit more? TNC lays out a ton of evidence as to how the entire system was made to be used against them. Forest, trees, etc.

On preview: jinx, holgate!
posted by zombieflanders at 6:49 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


there's no fucking way we're gonna be able to pay all this debt.

Yeah, the US doesn't have to. The US isn't a 5 person household with monthly bills. The debts simply DO NOT NEED TO BE PAID.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:55 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I'm going to RTFA now, closely, but before I do I would also like to recommend Ira Katznelson's When Affirmative Action was White.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:58 AM on May 22


Predatory lending, while despicable, is hardly unique to the black experience.

Pointing out that other people suffer does not actually decrease anyone's suffering, you realize.
posted by Etrigan at 6:58 AM on May 22 [12 favorites]


A few other problems that I would see with reparations:

The idea of reparations in the present for what ancestors have done - taking the wealth that they left in order to make up for the sins of our past - has a strong flavor of the bills of attainder (bills that decreed the property of a criminal and his family forfeit to the Crown) that so horrified our Founding Fathers that they explicitly barred them in the Constitution. It would also, as the ancestors were at the time judged guilty of no crime, be effectively an ex post facto law, many generations forward, which is also explicitly barred in the same paragraph.

Another difficulty is that for many slaveowners, as Coates writes, the wealth that they had acquired by slavery was reinvested into more slaves - wealth that they then lost with the freeing of the slaves. It is no accident that the South is so poor - they placed their wealth in humans who were then freed. As Coates quotes, “Slaves were the single largest, by far, financial asset of property in the entire American economy.” So in many cases, the wealth acquired through slavery disappeared as slavery did.

Another difficulty is how precisely to decide who has benefited and who has been harmed? Is it solely the descendants of slaves? That category will include a lot of individuals who have been considered as white for generations, thus not subject to a lot of the recent discriminations. Coates seems to endorse Bittker's recommendation -
"multiplying the number of African Americans in the population by the difference in white and black per capita income"
But that only addresses individuals who actively voluntarily identify themselves as African American on a census. It does not address all the descendants of slaves - many of whom intermarried, per Coates' article, as early as the 1600s, and who undoubtedly had at least a few individuals who became prosperous in the intervening 400 years. Thus, any calculations as to the effect of slavery would necessarily be incorrect - and any reparations made through taxes to the descendants of slaves would in many cases be taking from some descendants of slaves in order to give to other descendants of slaves.
posted by corb at 6:58 AM on May 22 [5 favorites]


I think this article really suffers from its initial focus on Ross.

And nothing in your comment refutes or even addresses the historical reality of the effects of slavery and Jim Crow and legalized terrorism perpetrated on black people in this country.
posted by rtha at 7:00 AM on May 22 [15 favorites]


And to reiterate: the United States, on all levels of government, has had for centuries a set of structures and incentives and subsidies and mechanisms to create a property-owning citizenship, where by "citizenship" I mean for the most part "white citizenship". Homesteads, land grants, access to grazing on federal land, cheap mortgages, the mortgage interest deduction, and so on. It is very much baked into the political superstructure of America.

This is one reason why you can hear GOP nincompoops mythologising the happy days when only property owners got to vote.
posted by holgate at 7:02 AM on May 22 [8 favorites]


has a strong flavor

If all anti-reparations arguments have are sensory metaphors, then you're making the case better than Coates did.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:02 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The idea of reparations in the present for what ancestors have done - taking the wealth that they left in order to make up for the sins of our past - has a strong flavor of the bills of attainder

No, it's predicated that what the ancestors have done results in a persistent disparity. Some people benefit and other people do not. Take a look at TNC's quote here:

Indeed, in America there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person 10 times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife.

But recognize that it's a flawed metaphor. Because in the metaphor, nobody's gaining by the stabbing. It would be a better metaphor if it pointed out how Africa-Americans have been bled (financially, otherwise) while white people have benefited.

The system may have been put in place by our ancestors, but we propagate it - especially when we claim we're powerless against it.

I recognize that you're talking about legal challenges but I don't want that to subtly shift over into the "not responsible for the sins of our predecessors" argument.
posted by entropone at 7:02 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I'll add to those pointing out TNC isn't concerned specifically yet with the practicalities of reparations. He is merely suggesting that for the United States to truly be as great as we romanticize it already is, we must grapple with our history in full. To do that we have to discuss what it would mean to make amends for slavery, Jim Crow, redlining and all the rest. He isn't even talking about whether we "have the money" yet because we haven't, as a society, even really accepted that it matters.
posted by R343L at 7:04 AM on May 22 [28 favorites]


Yes. Again:

The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time. The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. To proudly claim the veteran and disown the slaveholder is patriotism à la carte.
posted by rtha at 7:07 AM on May 22 [23 favorites]


it's like the plantation bed and breakfast thread from a few weeks back where someone was arguing that they didn't want to hear about slaves when they went to mount vernon - that's the whole fucking problem - people with the mindset of wanting to learn about president george washington without having to face slave owner george washington.
posted by nadawi at 7:18 AM on May 22 [21 favorites]


"Reparations" gets your attention, but it's that word -- "acceptance" -- that might be the toughest pill for white people to swallow.

If there's a word that summarizes Coates' argument, it's not really "reparations," but "repentance." (I'm thinking of the Deuteronomy quote at the top.) Americans--white Americans, actually--need to repent of the false history we've built up for ourselves, the one that minimizes the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and segregation by making it something that happened a long time ago and has no influence on who we are as a people and how we see ourselves today. We need to repent of saying things like "America is the greatest country in the world" or "America is the land of freedom and opportunity" without also mentioning that our greatness, our freedom, and our opportunity have depended on the brutalization of black people in ways both subtle and gross. Most importantly, we need to repent of the idea that there's some neat and easy solution to addressing the many inequalities between blacks and whites that slavery and segregation have wrought--from housing and education to health care and criminal justice. And perhaps, once we do all that, we can determine how best to eliminate those inequalities, whether that's through money or some other means. But the repentance needs to come first. As TNC says:

What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:33 AM on May 22 [21 favorites]


I consider myself to have been fairly aware, possibly even more aware, than most 50 something white males, just because how I was raised and educated.

But I had my eyes yanked open when I read Sundown Towns. I can't recommend it enough.
posted by dglynn at 7:35 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Coates' piece makes it clear that the exploitation of and theft from black Americans didn't stop when slavery ended. The reparations that he calls for aren't some harebrained scheme to track down descendants of slaveholders and confiscate their wealth, because the debt owed to black people is not just owed by such people.

It's also owed by the dentists in Chicago who put up the capital that allowed the contract sellers and slumlords to bust blocks and make a killing. It's owed by electricians who were members of unions that kept blacks out. It's owed by FHA bureaucrats who made it a federal policy not to back mortgages in neighborhoods where blacks lived. And it's owed by the children of those dentists, electricians, and bureaucrats who had their college tuition, bail, or meals paid for using the money that exploitation of black people allowed their parents to earn.
posted by burden at 7:37 AM on May 22 [15 favorites]


Patriotism a la carte is a great phrase.
posted by TedW at 7:38 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


I've always loved this cartoon about race relations in the United States.

It visualizes things very well.
posted by entropone at 7:43 AM on May 22 [10 favorites]


Here's a companion piece Coates wrote talking about Ross' story and what it is meant to represent:
I asked Mr. Ross why he'd come from Mississippi to Chicago. He told me he came because he was seeking "the protection of the law." I didn't understand what he meant. He told me there were no black judges, no black police, no black prosecutors in his hometown of Clarksdale. For a black man living in that town it effectively meant that there was "no law."

This was a particularly illustrative example of why it is always important to report. Talking to Ross clarified something I'd been thinking about--specifically that being black was not a matter of white people thinking you had cooties. It was something deeper and more mature. It was the branding of black people as outside of American society, outside of American law, and outside of the American social contract. And this branding was done even as black people pledged fealty to the state, paid taxes to the state, and died for the state. This was high tech robbery, plunder at the systemic level. White supremacy was not about getting black and white people to sit at the same lunch table, it was about getting white people to stop stealing shit from black people--labor, bodies, children, taxes, lives.

Liberals, intellectuals, and pundits have spent the past few years dancing around this historically demonstrable fact. I rarely hope for my writing to have any effect. But I confess that I hope this piece makes people feel a certain kind of way. I hope it makes a certain specimen of intellectual cowardice and willful historical ignorance less acceptable. More, I hope it mocks people who believe that a society can spend three and a half centuries attempting to cripple a man, 50 years offering halfhearted aid, and then wonder why he walks with a limp.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:55 AM on May 22 [17 favorites]


If there's a word that summarizes Coates' argument, it's not really "reparations," but "repentance."

I think that's the main problem with Coates' argument, is that "reparations" is such a loaded word. It means money, i.e., in the right-wing lexicon, handouts. Or, they would/will say, more handouts.

Several people in this thread have suggested that repentance, or a true moral accounting of what happened in America re: race would be more difficult than coming up with the money. But I think it would be easier, actually. The typical angry white male Fox News viewer might be more amenable to really owning up to our collective past, uncomfortable though he may find it, if he didn't feel we were also reaching a hand into his pocket at the same time.
posted by kgasmart at 7:56 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Guys, I don't know if any of you live in the South, but any attempt to do something like this would actually cause a second Civil War. Think about it: we almost had one because a black man tried to give poor people better health care.
posted by vibrotronica at 7:59 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I think that's the main problem with Coates' argument, is that "reparations" is such a loaded word. It means money, i.e., in the right-wing lexicon, handouts. Or, they would/will say, more handouts.

That's not a problem with the argument, it's a problem with the country. It is brave of him to face it head on and not start the conversation having already given in to the sensibilities of white racists and white people who ignore racism.
posted by ghharr at 8:05 AM on May 22 [30 favorites]


The typical angry white male Fox News viewer might be more amenable to really owning up to our collective past, uncomfortable though he may find it, if he didn't feel we were also reaching a hand into his pocket at the same time.

I start a lot of replies on MetaFilter with the word "Horseshit" and then erase it, because it's not really a useful beginning. That said:

Horseshit. The typical angry white male Fox News viewer isn't amenable to stopping the use of public money on Christmas displays. The typical angry white male Fox News viewer isn't amenable to stopping the use of the Confederate flag on public buildings. The typical angry white male Fox News viewer isn't amenable to stopping the use of an actual ethnic slur for the Washington professional football team. They won't admit that they're privileged in any way. The tone of Coates' argument is a goddamn red herring.
posted by Etrigan at 8:07 AM on May 22 [30 favorites]


But I think it would be easier, actually. The typical angry white male Fox News viewer might be more amenable to really owning up to our collective past, uncomfortable though he may find it, if he didn't feel we were also reaching a hand into his pocket at the same time.

Of which there isn't really any evidence. Lost Cause boosterism is still very much a key player in conservative thought, regardless of whether or not reparations is mentioned. And really, telling people that they have to compromise with the ideology of the people who still benefit from the legacy of slavery for the extremely tiny possibility of a begrudging acceptance is pretty awful.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:09 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I'm re-reading Hail, Babylon by Andrei Codrescu, and this particular sentence--in an essay about the uneasiness of the contemporary South in regards to its history/culture/tourism--stood out for me after reading the Coates article and this thread: White Southern culture is too personal and too painful to observe without the palliative lens of irony.

Coates is a damn national treasure.
posted by Kitteh at 8:09 AM on May 22


i've lived in the south for most of my life. first of all, we don't have the monopoly on racist shitbags. secondly, it wasn't just the south threatening the country over a black president pushing healthcare. if there is another civil war there is no way it'll be split on the mason dixon.

reparations being unpopular and loaded to the white supremacist patriarchy aren't actual reasons to avoid the conversation.
posted by nadawi at 8:10 AM on May 22 [8 favorites]


I should have amended that no one should single out the South for this; the entire country is culpable.


/also a Southerner

/end of derail
posted by Kitteh at 8:12 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


The typical angry white male Fox News viewer might be more amenable to really owning up to our collective past, uncomfortable though he may find it, if he didn't feel we were also reaching a hand into his pocket at the same time.

I feel this way about that, generally. The 24 hour news cycle, in which Fox news is implicated as well as all the other news sites, actively makes money by perpetuating this "On the one hand... but on the other hand" approach to topics. Now I think there are things that reasonable people can disagree on, but i also think it's okay to make policy as if certain people are actually just not going to get their way because ultimately sometimes both sides (or all sides) can't get their way.

We're not going to be able to bring everyone to all the tables, all the time. It's good to try and not just be entirely dismissive of entire cultures worth of people (feels bad, doesn't it? that's the point, the whole damned point)

the wealth acquired through slavery disappeared as slavery did.

Nope. Instutionalized racism stepped in to replace it as the thing that kept the rich people rich and as a means of wealth protection. In the many ways that people have outlined in this thread.
posted by jessamyn at 8:16 AM on May 22 [26 favorites]


I think that's the main problem with Coates' argument, is that "reparations" is such a loaded word. It means money, i.e., in the right-wing lexicon, handouts. Or, they would/will say, more handouts.

I'm wondering if TNC specifically used "reparations" to bait folks into commenting before/without reading. Wingnuts are in conniptions already.

rtha, there is no such thing as "sovereign lands", sovereignty over land is maintained by force of arms, what we have we hold, and yesterday's sovereign is displaced by tomorrow's better-armed sovereign, and america's sovereigns of the moment are not immune to this principle.

The ugly truth about humanity is that all of our existence, the good and bad, was built in part on the unwilling blood and suffering of those who came before. It's a really ugly history if one gives any thought to how the history book stories must have played out. And here we are, comfortably tapping out words on an electronic forum with such relative ease and comfort. Perhaps one of the keys to humanity's success is the ability to forget, compartmentalize, and carry on without being hobbled into catatonia over the brutality of the human condition.

It's hard enough to face such reality on that broad a level. Add the baggage of race and patriotism and national, even personal, identity, and you can bet there's going to be a lot of gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes in being reminded of the ugliness.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:17 AM on May 22 [5 favorites]


The ugly truth about humanity is that all of our existence, the good and bad, was built in part on the unwilling blood and suffering of those who came before.

This.

Someone mentioned upthread, that there is also a strong case for reparations to Native Americans, who were ethnically cleansed and in some cases outright exterminated so the U.S. could have the West.

It's hard enough to face such reality on that broad a level. Add the baggage of race and patriotism and national, even personal, identity, and you can bet there's going to be a lot of gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes in being reminded of the ugliness.


I think it may actually intensify racism. A hard sell? It's going to be an impossible sell particularly if/when there's a dollar figure attached to it. I think vibrotronica gets it right.
posted by kgasmart at 8:23 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


the wealth acquired through slavery disappeared as slavery did.

on that note, remember this thread

I certainly do
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:26 AM on May 22 [8 favorites]


you can bet there's going to be a lot of gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes in being reminded of the ugliness.

Sure, but that's not a reason to duck the conversation and continue to act like it doesn't need to happen.

I am also part of this conversation, as the descendent of white immigrants who settled in Chicago in the 1890s and benefited from a white supremacist system. I am ready and willing to have this conversation, and I am really fucking tired of hearing that we can't possibly have it because it will upset assholes.
posted by rtha at 8:32 AM on May 22 [16 favorites]


The backlash argument is a horrible argument that has time and again proved to be without merit and has done nothing but impede progress.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:32 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


and I am really fucking tired of hearing that we can't possibly have it because it will upset assholes.

Oh, that's not a reason to not have the argument. It's just a head's up, because you think you've seen assholish behavior already? Just wait.
posted by kgasmart at 8:35 AM on May 22


So? Assholes gonna asshole. Just hold up a magnifying lens so that everyone can clearly see how they asshole.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:41 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


Sure, but that's not a reason to duck the conversation and continue to act like it doesn't need to happen.

I didn't say it was. In fact, I think it's very important to continuously acknowledge the brutality inherent in every human being.

However, I also think it has to be realized that it makes for such Debbie Downer moments that most folks would happily rather just not go there at all, thank you very much. There should be absolutely no surprise if there turns out to be very little appetite for this conversation. Especially among the most well invested among us.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:44 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


When folks are all "but if we pay reparations to African-Americans, what about Native people, what about.....etc, etc" my thought is "sure, why not"? Why not figure out some sort of reparation for everyone? Why not shake things up? We fought an entire series of bullshit engagements in the Middle East justified by a bunch of lies this past decade....and we can always find the money for that. We can find money for the entire second Iraq war and we can't even start to think about reparations?

The other thing about this reparations idea - it would absolutely create jobs. Think about that - no matter how it was done, it would get money circulating in situations where there isn't money circulating now. If someone wants to give cash money individual reparations to all the people of color in my personal neighborhood - which I think is probably the least-likely form reparations would take - I will dance with glee because that money is going to circulate around here. People will buy shit. They'll fix their houses. They'll go to restaurants. They'll send their kids to arts programs. They'll invest in things. And all that - leaving aside any justice arguments - is going to be great for me, too, because it's going to have a huge ripple effect. When Coates says that white people have considered black people to be outside of the definition of "America", that's part of it - no one is thinking that if there's a giant growth in prosperity in black communities, it's going to spill over. (Let's, for the moment, assume that such a boom wouldn't be captured by corrupt white enterprise, here.)

I mean, I think it's unlikely that there will be reparations - I think even if white Americans were having a banner decade, they still wouldn't want to see their tax money going to any such thing, no matter how it was done (reminding me once again that the way capital-W whiteness comes into being from "a bunch of pinkish people" is through cruelty). So I was thinking - what if I did my own personal reparation, like committed recurring donation to the best racial justice thing I could find, whether that was an arts program or a lobbying project or a scholarship fund? While such a thing would work much better organized at the national scale, it seems like if the nation isn't going to do it that doesn't let me off the hook.

~~~~
I was very interested in that part of the article about the Israeli response to German reparations, though. I could totally get the whole "I don't want your money, I want your fucking head on a pike, it's an insult to say that money pays for what happened" feeling. It's weird and sad, in a way, to be like "oh by the way the American state [white people edition] killed and enslaved and tormented your relatives and ancestors unto the tenth generation, but here's a scholarship/some money/a housing program".
posted by Frowner at 8:44 AM on May 22 [12 favorites]


The warnings about the possible reaction of white supremacists and their abettors are direly needed, of course, below an article with a picture of a satisfied lynch mob. Thank you, O you courageous.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:46 AM on May 22 [7 favorites]


It's just a head's up, because you think you've seen assholish behavior already? Just wait.

Don't need a heads-up because I have been alive more than 10 minutes and this is not my first time at this rodeo. Someone always feels the need for a heads-up. Really, it's not necessary.
posted by rtha at 8:49 AM on May 22 [17 favorites]


bruce: "shakespeherian, i did rtfa. all it proposed was a bill by michigan congressman john conyers to study the issue. study it all you want, the money isn't there."

We have the money to bail out Wall Street and fight two goddamned wars. The money is there. Like everyone else is telling you, read the article and stop derailing the thread with your ignorance.
posted by scrump at 9:01 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


corb: "I think this article really suffers from its initial focus on Ross."

That's mighty white of you, giving the writer advice on how he should structure an essay that's going to win a Pulitzer.
posted by scrump at 9:06 AM on May 22 [8 favorites]


This piece isn't aimed at overtly racist assholes, or conservatives or Republicans for that matter. It's aimed at well-meaning liberals with shallow knowledge (or willful blindness) about the history of white supremacy and who believe that the problems facing the American black community can be solved without seriously grappling with white supremacy.

The piece doesn't criticize Nixon, Reagan, or either Bush. It does criticize Obama, Johnson, and FDR. It states:

Liberals today mostly view racism not as an active, distinct evil but as a relative of white poverty and inequality. They ignore the long tradition of this country actively punishing black success—and the elevation of that punishment, in the mid-20th century, to federal policy.

And in a follow-up blog post, Coates wrote:

[Ending] White supremacy was not about getting black and white people to sit at the same lunch table, it was about getting white people to stop stealing shit from black people--labor, bodies, children, taxes, lives.

Liberals, intellectuals, and pundits have spent the past few years dancing around this historically demonstrable fact. I rarely hope for my writing to have any effect. But I confess that I hope this piece makes people feel a certain kind of way. I hope it makes a certain specimen of intellectual cowardice and willful historical ignorance less acceptable.


I think Coates is right that the conversation about the debt owed has to start with the people who are most willing to engage in it. We'll worry about the unrepentant racists later.
posted by burden at 9:10 AM on May 22 [17 favorites]


It's always convenient to forget that the main sociological/economic indicators of those who identify as black peeked in the 1960s and 1970s, and since then have come back down. It's so often cast as a story of a horrific economic shock from horrific racism, which has never recovered. When the truth is there was a massive recovery and then a subsequent massive drop-off from the 1970s-2000, owing in large part to a breakdown in the family structure (this is not said as an indictment of moral failings, nor do I suggest or believe that, I do not know or speculate on the causal reasons this happened. But it is the catalyst to current crises in the black community far more than Jim Crow). The current generation of black adults have a lower relative quality of life than their parents, just about across the board. That is weird, but true.

Giving money out is a fools game, masquerading as a profound and progressive ethical choice. We know that handing money out never improves the long-run measures of a group. The number of observational experiments we have on that fact are staggering. It also threatens to run against myriad conflicts. The dimension of black vs. non-black certainly has a tortured history. But the most egregious victims and guilty have died, or are decrepit. There is such a large diverse group of Americans who have suffered horrific economic and tragic shocks in the past. Ranging from Japanese internment, to the immigrant who escaped to America with nothing, to destitute whites, to Vietnam vets, and the list isn't short. It's hard to see it as anything less than expropriation to take their money to give reparations to the ancestors of those who suffered. It's also delusional to imagine that it will change anything. Again, we know the socionomic indicators of blacks peeked right up into the 1970s. While it's hard to pinpoint cultural degeneration, we do see punitive and drug-war policies, which have incarcerated so many black men, as being perhaps the most damning failure of our more contemporary government.

If we want to enact meaningful change the start is in the drug war as well as urban welfare, such as housing subsidies, which massively lower the incentive for investment, thus creating ghettos over time, which results in a dearth of good jobs, and the funding of schools which is tied to the poverty surrounding them. I can't proselytize on the ethical and moral plane of the author, but unlike the author I have actually spent a few years deep in the methodological weeds of economic policy. If we want to meaningfully fix anything, we need to radically change our incarceral state, radically change education funding, and cut off the the pricing subsidies to urban environments that keeps entire neighborhoods from noticing any investment. This will have the side-effect of helping mostly black people, but also the poor whites, asians, and all races/types who are suffering from protracted decay inspired by awful drug policy, income inequality, and a slew of other current policy failures. The way blacks were treated in the early 20th century is so much worse than most people realize, but to focus on that as a policy issue is to cater more to progressive white guilt than study how to actually fix things, and then try to fix them.
posted by jjmoney at 9:11 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


That's mighty white of you

I don't think you intended any ill intentions, but I'm uncomfortable with this phrase and would appreciate you not using it in future. It's an older term, but it dates back to a time when being "white" was considered equivalent to being decent, good, and generous - the implication being that not being white makes you none of those things. As a person of color, it also carries additional negative implications to me personally.
posted by corb at 9:13 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


[Reminder: threads about slavery topics can become something more than everyone arguing with corb about the topic. We're done with this derail now, everyone can start talking about the article or go take a walk.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:17 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


It's hard enough to face such reality on that broad a level. Add the baggage of race and patriotism and national, even personal, identity, and you can bet there's going to be a lot of gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes in being reminded of the ugliness.

I think it may actually intensify racism. A hard sell? It's going to be an impossible sell particularly if/when there's a dollar figure attached to it.


Telling us that the problem isn't the racists, but rather that reminding said racists that they are in fact racist and perpetuating racism is the problem seems...counterproductive.

I think Coates is right that the conversation about the debt owed has to start with the people who are most willing to engage in it. We'll worry about the unrepentant racists later.

I think there's a good argument not to worry about them at all, really. They'll just pull the window further and further away. They don't actually want change, regardless of whether it involves money or not. It's a question of genetic, mental, and social superiority to them and what they are owed. It's the same entitlements they criticize others for having or getting.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:18 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I sometimes wish I could see the timeline where all the wealth piled by the bondsman's unrequited toil had actually been sunk, and every drop of blood drawn by the lash had been repaid with one drawn by the sword.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:19 AM on May 22


So, jjmoney, I take it that you haven't actually read the piece, because that's the only way I can understand how you could see that your statement works, seeing as he answered (and in most cases debunked) your points.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:27 AM on May 22 [9 favorites]


The aversion to even study whether or not reparations might be called for instantly reminds me of the aversion to study how many people get shot every year. In both cases I think every one knows the truth, and those who vote against it are afraid of it.
posted by DynamiteToast at 9:27 AM on May 22 [5 favorites]


Giving money out is a fools game, masquerading as a profound and progressive ethical choice. We know that handing money out never improves the long-run measures of a group.

Really? Because we handed out a ton of money to white people - as he notes in the essay - and it certainly improved their/our lives and legacy.
posted by rtha at 9:27 AM on May 22 [25 favorites]


Telling us that the problem isn't the racists, but rather that reminding said racists that they are in fact racist and perpetuating racism is the problem seems...counterproductive.

No, the problem is the racists, but it's all about whether you try to get buy in or prefer to shove progress down their throats.

If you take the approach that - screw you, you'll pay reparations and like it because you're personally responsible - it ain't gonna play in Peoria. Sure, you don't care what plays in Peoria, but Peoria does, and Peoria will elect people who reflect that view, and they'll block each and every legislative attempt to get even a study off the ground.

Liberals fail to understand how the smarmy, I'm-so-obviously-morally-superior-to-you approach alienates the very people who have to buy into the idea that reparations may be necessary. It's self-defeating, and rather than gaining allies, it actually repels possible allies. But I suppose it feels good.

Coates himself doesn't approach it that way. Actual reparations, as in money, are a miniscule aspect of his article and his argument. He wants to force people to really look at the legacy of slavery and racism, to really see it as he's seen it, maybe for the first time. And yeah, much of what he writes is specifically directed at liberals - that comes, at least in part, from an extended back-and-forth he had with Jonathan Chait.

Are the "unrepentant racists" ever going to be totally convinced? Probably not. But if the average everyday white guy comes to understand both the history and how it's privileged him, even if he doesn't feel particularly privileged; and if this makes him more amenable to the possibility of reparations - isn't that what we want?
posted by kgasmart at 9:29 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Yeah, not to pile on but "where will the money come from" is by far the least significant issue here. The money is always there, if the right people want to spend it.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 9:40 AM on May 22


Because we handed out a ton of money to white people - as he notes in the essay - and it certainly improved their/our lives and legacy.

Indeed.

And there was a study recently--I heard about it on Planet Money--where a philanthropist did some grass-roots charity work in ... erm, maybe Kenya? I think? Anyway, instead of buying people goats or funding a school or teaching them English or supporting a small-business development agency, the philanthropists just gave away cash.

And what they learned, after a year, was that the recipients of the cash were doing much better than they would have with any of those other efforts. They'd invested in themselves, they'd spent money around the community, which in turn benefited from the cash, and they were generally better off to a measure greater than the value of the cash they'd received.

There was an FPP not long ago about the economics of the guaranteed income, which I think made some pretty cogent points about the usefulness of a direct transfer of cash to those in poverty. For one thing, it removes the shame associated with a lot of social programs, and it gives the recipient decision-making power (which conservatives should be in support of, but strangely are not), and it allows the spending to be used locally in ways that support the local economy. And it removes the social cost of administering & policing those programs, which is not insignificant.
posted by suelac at 9:48 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


If you take the approach that - screw you, you'll pay reparations and like it because you're personally responsible - it ain't gonna play in Peoria. Sure, you don't care what plays in Peoria, but Peoria does, and Peoria will elect people who reflect that view, and they'll block each and every legislative attempt to get even a study off the ground.

Are you deliberately twisting the arguments of myself and pretty much everyone else participating in this conversation, or is it just a misunderstanding? Because I don't really see anyone taking this approach, least of all Coates.

Liberals fail to understand how the smarmy, I'm-so-obviously-morally-superior-to-you approach alienates the very people who have to buy into the idea that reparations may be necessary. It's self-defeating, and rather than gaining allies, it actually repels possible allies. But I suppose it feels good.

Well, sure it does, when you're strawmanning both liberals and their potential allies so glibly.

Coates himself doesn't approach it that way. Actual reparations, as in money, are a miniscule aspect of his article and his argument. He wants to force people to really look at the legacy of slavery and racism, to really see it as he's seen it, maybe for the first time.

Again, you are not the first person to make this observation in this thread.

And yeah, much of what he writes is specifically directed at liberals - that comes, at least in part, from an extended back-and-forth he had with Jonathan Chait.

Are the "unrepentant racists" ever going to be totally convinced? Probably not. But if the average everyday white guy comes to understand both the history and how it's privileged him, even if he doesn't feel particularly privileged; and if this makes him more amenable to the possibility of reparations - isn't that what we want?


It's almost as if I had posted an excerpt from Coates pointing this out upthread...
posted by zombieflanders at 9:49 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


This isn't about financial reparations, it's about historical, philosophical, and emotional reparations.

That's the problem with the article, and really the problem with Coates' writing over the last couple years (which makes me sad, because he was my favorite writer on the internet for quite a while). "Reparations" doesn't mean the same thing as "repentance", and pretending it does is either sloppiness with language or a deliberate attempt to muddle the discussion.

Coates has succumbed to Cornel West syndrome---retreating into vague spirituality because real problems are too hard, and then justifying his vague spirituality by citing those same real problems. It's a depressing display of bad faith. The situation around race and poverty is bad. It needs to be improved. Righteous maundering about spiritual renewal and discussion is as useful as bromides about bootstraps.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:23 AM on May 22


What FuzzyBastard said.

I mean - what the hell are historical, philosophical and emotional reparations? How can you possibly measure such things, much less engineer their transfer?

Leave off the contentious hook and it's an interesting bit of journalism.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:43 AM on May 22


I mean - what the hell are historical, philosophical and emotional reparations? How can you possibly measure such things, much less engineer their transfer?


As I said earlier, admitting that a debt exists as a society would be a great start. We, as in this group, may, but we, as in the U.S. institutions that shape and affect people's lives, do not. At all.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:54 AM on May 22 [9 favorites]


I mean - what the hell are historical, philosophical and emotional reparations? How can you possibly measure such things, much less engineer their transfer?

Being honest with history, for starters. Not pathologizing black culture is another good one.

The core problem that the US has with race is that we refuse to face the truth of what has happened. For a good portion of our society, the founding precepts of the nation have been nothing but cruel lies - yet we wallpaper over this because it ruins our image of the "shining city upon the hill".

He is right about the difference between repentance and reparation, but misses the point - whether or not you wish to show contrition for the past (repentance) is one thing, but we all have to acknowledge it, warts and all (reparation).
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:55 AM on May 22 [11 favorites]


Wouldn't it make more sense to do a complete wealth redistribution that is blind to race? Take everyone's money, hand it back out in equal shares.
posted by Outlawyr at 11:05 AM on May 22


You cannot separate "repentance" and "reparations". You just cannot. Even if we could get every white person in America to be ashamed of what their country is (today, not yesterday or in 1850, but today), the very first step after that is to say "here is my hand, join me up here". And that (metaphorical) hand has to contain money.

Money solves problems more quickly than anything else. As a society we have plenty of it. Sometimes the money doesn't even have to be "given out" as such, it just needs to stop being stolen from the poor, the brown of skin, women...ourselves, if people would just stop fucking "othering".

Every white who considers themselves a good person needs to wonder why they think it's OK to let the Waltons, the Jobs, the Gates, the Koches, giant corporations--all of the rentiers in our society--steal money from the rest of us, and most of all from the worst off...which in this country is always poor black people. They need to wonder why we always kneecap our social programs to largely exclude blacks.

I bet if you spent half a second soul-searching, you'd discover it's because you unconsciously believe most of the stealing happens to people who deserve it. It's what we learn, it's how we're raised, the message is there 24/7/365. It's in the very water here.

In any case, this article got me to fire off $100 to the NAACP. It's not much, but it's a start. I, too, have been complacently living with my white privilege, and I cannot do it any longer. I'm a naturalized US citizen, so in theory I can play every "but it wasn't my ancestors" card to "justify" my participation in this ongoing crime. By being a citizen, though, obligates me to help shift this burden.

I am willing to talk about this. I am willing to feel shame and guilt, to sincerely say "i'm sorry", find out how I can help and then do my best to actually follow through.
posted by maxwelton at 11:08 AM on May 22 [12 favorites]


Wouldn't it make more sense to do a complete wealth redistribution that is blind to race? Take everyone's money, hand it back out in equal shares.

You would have to redistribute everything, extending backwards to 1600: land, education, money, positions of power, corporate ownership, where people live, who their friends are, their health, everything. You cannot do that. So even if you took everyone's money, there is still a huge legacy debt unpaid, and the advantage that has accrued to the privileged will see to it that nothing really changes.

And part of this, most of this, is specifically focusing on the wrong which has been done to blacks, admitting it, and doing something about that specific wrong. Taking everyone's money is a way to avoid that reckoning entirely, and worse, perpetuating that wrong into the future. "We gave everyone equal money, and it looks like whites came out ahead anyway. Those black folks need to fix their culture!"
posted by maxwelton at 11:20 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


"Reparations" doesn't mean the same thing as "repentance", and pretending it does is either sloppiness with language or a deliberate attempt to muddle the discussion.

I don't understand how anyone who has read the article thinks that Coates believes that reparations and repentance are the same thing. And reparation doesn't mean "give people money" any more than it means "feeling contrition for past wrongs"- it means to repair. In order to repair something you have to fully assess the damage, and work to make sure the damage doesn't happen again. The fact that there are people in this thread saying "well slavery ended a long time ago!" and "there's no way we can afford to pay anyone anything!" demonstrates Coates' point to a T : many people are unable to examine the lasting effects of white supremacy on American society as a whole, and to dismiss any notion of doing so under the heading of we can't afford it anyway. Really, as a country we can't afford not to. Angry, marginalized, underemployed populations are no part of any recipe for a stable society.

People saying we can't afford to pay reparations remind me of people who don't want their taxes going to poor school districts; apparently it's never occurred to them that in their old age they will most likely be being cared for by people with lousy public school educations. That seems like a strange thing to bet on. In the same way, sweeping white Americans' complicity in the exploitation of of black Americans under the table is not even remotely sustainable, for both cultural and economic reasons.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:25 AM on May 22 [11 favorites]


How To Tell Who Hasn't Read The New 'Atlantic' Cover Story
posted by ghharr at 11:28 AM on May 22 [21 favorites]


The core problem that the US has with race is that we refuse to face the truth of what has happened.

"And by 'we', I mean everyone but me and the wise people who agree with me." Speaking of sloppy writing. And sloppy writing leads to sloppy thinking. Most Americans think slavery was really bad. Most Americans think segregation was really bad. Yes, you can find some yutzes on comment boards who don't, but you can find someone on a comment board who thinks any damn thing.

Thinking slavery was bad doesn't get you very far. Patting yourself– or in this case, the subscribers of The Atlantic– on the back for thinking it is just a way to autofellate with a big mad-on.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:32 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Liberals, intellectuals, and pundits have spent the past few years dancing around this historically demonstrable fact. I rarely hope for my writing to have any effect. But I confess that I hope this piece makes people feel a certain kind of way. I hope it makes a certain specimen of intellectual cowardice and willful historical ignorance less acceptable. More, I hope it mocks people who believe that a society can spend three-and-a-half centuries attempting to cripple a man, 50 years offering half-hearted aid, and then wonder why he walks with a limp.

Coates on his blog about this piece yesterday.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:39 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Speaking of who hasn't read the story...

If you haven't yet got that the point of Coates' article was pretty much the opposite of patting one's self on the back, I don't know when you will.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:40 AM on May 22 [11 favorites]


Patting yourself– or in this case, the subscribers of The Atlantic– on the back for thinking it is just a way to autofellate with a big mad-on.

I honestly don't understand how someone could read this from the article. It is written precisely for people who consider themselves liberals, people like subscribers of The Atlantic, who say to themselves, "yeah, slavery is terrible" and don't think any more about race. Facing the truth means going beyond that. It means acknowledging and admitting to uncomfortable realities, specifically relating to black Americans in this case, in history AND today.

Like, you're literally saying the article is doing the opposite of what it is.
posted by jess at 11:46 AM on May 22 [12 favorites]


The core problem that the US has with race is that we refuse to face the truth of what has happened.

"And by 'we', I mean everyone but me and the wise people who agree with me."

there is absolutely nothing in NoxAeternum's comment that supports your shitty reading and restating of it.
posted by nadawi at 11:47 AM on May 22 [5 favorites]


From the "How to Tell Who Hasn't Read the New 'Atlantic' Cover Story" piece linked above:

1. They talk a lot about slavery.
posted by neroli at 11:50 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


White supremacy was not about getting black and white people to sit at the same lunch table, it was about getting white people to stop stealing shit from black people—labor, bodies, children, taxes, lives.

Also from the link I put above. Seriously, if you aren't going to bother reading the whole article, at least read that post.

But also rtfa.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:53 AM on May 22


Most Americans think slavery was really bad. Most Americans think segregation was really bad.

Most Americans also think that these things are in the past, dead and buried. Most Americans also think that segregation was a primarily or even purely Southern phenomenon (which is why Coates spends a good deal of time discussing the horribly racist and segregated nature of Chicago.) And it's this ignorance that leads us to the "elegant racism" of people like John Roberts, who seek to dismantle the few tools we have on creating equality in the name of equality.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:54 AM on May 22 [11 favorites]


I haven't read every word of this very long thread, and I will admit to skipping a lot of the historical parts of TNC's article (I regard the historical facts as given, so skipped a lot of it).
My question: Accepting the past and the responsibility would be a wonderful start, but the cash is the key: has anyone come up with an acceptable figure for the total reparations, in monetary terms? Any discussion of whether this is realistic or possible should start there. I think it is possible, but I may have different figures in mind.

As a reference, the article says "West Germany ultimately agreed to pay Israel 3.45 billion deutsche marks, or more than $7 billion in today’s dollars." That sounds insulting small, to me.
posted by librosegretti at 12:11 PM on May 22


Most Americans think segregation was really bad.

The word "was" speaks louder than every other word in that sentence. Much, much louder.
posted by Etrigan at 12:14 PM on May 22 [18 favorites]


From TFA:

In the 1970s, the Yale Law professor Boris Bittker argued in The Case for Black Reparations that a rough price tag for reparations could be determined by multiplying the number of African Americans in the population by the difference in white and black per capita income. That number—$34 billion in 1973, when Bittker wrote his book—could be added to a reparations program each year for a decade or two.

posted by ghharr at 12:15 PM on May 22


Thanks Ghharr. I suspected it was in there.
Doesn't that amount (34 billion) seem like a drop in the bucket? Couldn't we find the political will for that?
posted by librosegretti at 12:18 PM on May 22


This: "What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history."

Critical paragraph, repent AND repair AND reparate! (I know it's not a real word, but it should be!)
posted by mareli at 12:22 PM on May 22


Doesn't that amount (34 billion) seem like a drop in the bucket? Couldn't we find the political will for that?

Well, $34 billion in 1973 dollars (here's the Bittker estimate) is pushing $200 billion in 2014 dollars.
posted by ghharr at 12:26 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Again, thanks. You are doing the hard parts for me...
It doesn't seem likely $200 billion would happen. That kind of cash gets spent on wars, not on helping people. The resentment against recipients would likely be strong, as well. That's no reason not to, but it would have to be taken into consideration.
posted by librosegretti at 12:32 PM on May 22


retreating into vague spirituality because real problems are too hard,

bold move of The Atlantic to release different versions of the same article! Anyway, the one I read seems to advocate a bill proposed by Conyers to study exactly the real problems at hand.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:15 PM on May 22 [15 favorites]


I try very hard to assume good faith and not to impute motives (good or bad) on those with whom I argue. Yet the contrarian voices in this thread are offering arguments that, by my reading, are all directly addressed by the article.

There is a part of my mind that wants to conclude that either (a) they didn't read it, or (b) they read it but are desperately searching for ways to undermine its argument, lest they allow themselves to be convinced of something that they've "known" for years is a radical proposal miles outside the bounds of the Overton window.

I am hoping that there is a third option.
posted by savetheclocktower at 2:20 PM on May 22 [9 favorites]


Again, thanks. You are doing the hard parts for me...

Reading a very good article in a magazine is not hard.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:11 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Where I work, we try to be up to date on the current best practices. Every now and then, something comes up that we all agree would make things better - we'd do our jobs better and the people we serve would be better served. Its fascinating to watch everyone get on board with a vocal "yes, yes, we should do this" and then immediately watch many of those same people erect every roadblock they can to not only prevent it from happening, but to prevent the discussion from even continuing.

"Yes, that would help but we don't have the space. Oh well. Let's move on to something else."

"Yes, we agree that this would be a huge improvement, but where's the money going to come from? We'll just have to keep doing things the way we do them."

"Yes, wow, this is a fantastic idea, but some of the people we serve would be put off by this, so we'd better not move forward."

Space, money and attitude are real problems, but if something might truly, genuinely make things better, shouldn't we at least talk about how we can make it happen anyways? Maybe on a different scale, or maybe find creative ways of finding the money, or maybe focus on how the proposal will improve the lives of even the people who object to it?

There's dozens of reasons why we shouldn't do the right thing, but in the end if you don't at least try to do the right thing, you're allowing the wrong thing to remain in place.

The legacy of slavery - not just slavery itself, but Jim Crow laws, financial practices that created and continue to create the neighborhood and poverty that many black Americans live in, the government policies at both the state an federal level that drove families from their homes and treated them like sources of income, that attitude of "the hunt" that Coates discusses - is with us right now.

All the roadblocks will have to be dealt with. But if we agree that an ongoing wrong has been inflicted on a whole category of people simply because of the color of their skin, let's at least try and do the right thing - and we start by trying to figure out how to make right what our country has done wrong. Heck, maybe we just start by agreeing that our country has done something wrong.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:14 PM on May 22 [11 favorites]


Before I read this article yesterday, I was all "Fuck yeah, reparations in America" Not for any racial reasons, but considering the vast amount of money the government was willing to give Wall Street, I'm all aboard giving huge amounts back to regular folks, just because.

Having now read the article and allowed its excellence to roll around in my head for a day, the issues that Coates brought are huge and incredibly complicated. But it's pretty simply if you start thinking about reparations to women, hah!

I have no brilliant insights into what Coates wrote. Simply getting to a point where most of the country would have be willing to consider there might be deeply embedded racial problem in America would take a huge amount of effort on a grand scale. It's probably unrealistic to see that happen anytime soon. We'll just have to keep pushing and pulling bit by bit to move forward.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:05 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


The point of an honest effort at repairing the damage done by the full arc of one group's attempt to exert "supremacy" by denying equal standing before the law for a group that is not the dominant majority, well, that is an admirable goal.

Repairing is not a matter of recompense, but building a new world going forward.

This article is attempting to describe an aspirational goal for an entire culture. It is a big idea that a great country could aspire to.

And the first thing I think when I hear reactions that focus on the practical, the limitations, the pedantic and the small minded, is that these statements are unAmerican, in that they are claiming that this country can't meet these lofty goals, can't begin to talk about it, or even worse, will not aspire to these goals.

When people make cheesy, lofty, cliched political speeches, full of "greatest', and "only here", and "Americans", they are summoning pieces we know to exist in what this country can be. The goal of repairing the damage done by our history with each other is appropriately difficult for this country, and we might just be the country that could do this.

And people can be practical, and pragmatic, and real politik, and all the other things that say it can't be done, but they damn sure don't get to wave the fucking flag of this country while telling me this country can't be as great as it could possibly aspire to be.
posted by dglynn at 7:29 PM on May 22 [13 favorites]


^This piece isn't aimed at overtly racist assholes, or conservatives or Republicans for that matter. It's aimed at well-meaning liberals with shallow knowledge (or willful blindness) about the history of white supremacy and who believe that the problems facing the American black community can be solved without seriously grappling with white supremacy.

Nope nope nope. Coates closed the blog piece about the article with this: "I made my argument from the perspective of housing, but I strongly suspect that reparations arguments could be made from the perspective of criminal justice, education, health care, or from any number of angles. For writers out there interested in this I can only quote the words of a brave man: Drop it now. The people are ready."

Those words are from Mukasa Dada (Willie Ricks), to Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), about the timing of introducing the slogan "Black Power" to replace the Rev Dr King's slogan "Freedom Now". Coates has much better things to do with his time than chasten white people. That piece is written to empower and motivate Black people to demand what they're due. That it shames well-meaning liberal whites for their inaction is just a side effect.
posted by gingerest at 8:52 PM on May 22 [23 favorites]


And there was a study recently--I heard about it on Planet Money--where a philanthropist did some grass-roots charity work in ... erm, maybe Kenya? I think? Anyway, instead of buying people goats or funding a school or teaching them English or supporting a small-business development agency, the philanthropists just gave away cash.

Yeah I mean the idea that giving people money directly doesn't do them any good is absurd. Its one of the most consistenly true findings in social science--that the 'best' way to improve someone's economic standing is for direct cash transfers. Just fly a helicopter over a poor area and throw bundles of cash out. Easy, efficient, and empowering. Its also universally true: Chris Blattman has done a lot of work w/ field experiments all over the world. Give people cash.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:14 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


Omnivore: Slavery and freedom
posted by homunculus at 11:08 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


It's always convenient to forget that the main sociological/economic indicators of those who identify as black peeked in the 1960s and 1970s, and since then have come back down. It's so often cast as a story of a horrific economic shock from horrific racism, which has never recovered. When the truth is there was a massive recovery and then a subsequent massive drop-off from the 1970s-2000, owing in large part to a breakdown in the family structure (this is not said as an indictment of moral failings, nor do I suggest or believe that, I do not know or speculate on the causal reasons this happened. But it is the catalyst to current crises in the black community far more than Jim Crow). The current generation of black adults have a lower relative quality of life than their parents, just about across the board. That is weird, but true.

You know what scares me? That you wrote the above, and also this:

I can't proselytize on the ethical and moral plane of the author, but unlike the author I have actually spent a few years deep in the methodological weeds of economic policy.

You spent years in the "methodological weeds of economic policy", yet you don't have the faintest idea why the black middle class faced relative decline starting sometime in the 70's and later - and you also identify the wrong causes for that decline (family structure) and to top it off you confuse the cause and the effect. Maybe you can take a minute out of your years of economic policy studies and read a relevant history 101 text that deals with these issues, or failing that, mosey on over to wikipedia, because that's all it takes to demolish your thesis:

Rise and decline of middle class blacks:

"The rise to the middle class for African Americans throughout the 1960s, however, leveled off and began to decline in the following decades due to multiple recessions that struck America throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Blacks and other lower-class groups suffered the brunt of those recessions.[14] In addition, with beliefs in "reverse racism" prevailing, aiding programs that were enacted during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to improve the state of the black community began being heavily opposed and overturned by the late 1970s and into the 1980s. There is also evidence to suggest the wealth gap has been exacerbated by the housing market bubble in 2006 and the recession that followed from late 2007 to mid-2009, which took a far greater toll on depleting minority wealth.[15]"

I quoted one paragraph, but seeing your post, I'd strongly recommend you read the whole entry.

Blacks were massively disadvantaged by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and continuing discrimination. Legislative relief helped alleviate some of that, allowing the black middle class to thrive, but then came huge economic dislocations starting in the 70's, which had a particularly devastating effect on African-Americans whose position was much more vulnerable. And why was their position much more vulnerable? Surprise, surprise, because of the legacy of Jim Crow and continuing discrimination. Imagine that a tidal wave hits a low-lying area. Those who had boats (whites) simply climbed aboard, and thus survived. But those too poor to own boats, drowned. Now you come along and marvel that the poor people were "doing so much better before [date the tidal wave hit] - what happened, I have no idea, but it couldn't be because they were poor!". Well yes, it was exactly because of that legacy that blacks were in so much of a worse position to withstand the tidal wave of economic dislocation of the 70's and forward. So you did indeed get the cause wrong. And then you drag in family structure, neatly managing to confuse cause and effect. The economic dislocation, coupled with certain social policies (welfare rules about support for married people), were the primary causes of family structure breakdown, which subsequently did indeed contribute to further poverty... in exactly the same way that Jim Crow etc., caused blacks to be devastated by economic change in the 70's and the impoverishment that resulted, well, caused further declines in black wealth. Note too, the grim reality that a lot of that economic dislocation hit poor whites as well (especially changes in the labor market), and lower-income white family structure followed suit almost catching up with the supposedly innately pathological features of low-income black family structure - but of course, blacks starting out in a much worse position, got a much worse result.
posted by VikingSword at 2:36 PM on May 23 [16 favorites]


I mean - what the hell are historical, philosophical and emotional reparations? How can you possibly measure such things, much less engineer their transfer?

I feel like not rushing to smother the conversation in its bed is probably a great start to making those reparations.
posted by palomar at 5:48 PM on May 23 [9 favorites]


How about offering African-Americans the exact same sweet deals, on the exact same sweet terms, that were technically offered to all Americans throughout the 20th century but just so happened to be restricted in practice to white Americans? [...] Every mortgage at sub-market rates and every public university degree at Boomer-generation tuition rates was, in essence, a payment in kind...

re: "Coates never gives the answer as to who gets what and how..."
Instead, his goal is to demonstrate the recent origins of racial inequality, the role of the federal government, the role of private actors, and the extent to which the nation—as a whole—is implicated.
When folks are all "but if we pay reparations to African-Americans, what about Native people, what about.....etc, etc" my thought is "sure, why not"? Why not figure out some sort of reparation for everyone?

just a few things that come to mind on a 'restorative social justice' movement :P

1. when a crime is committed, balanced and restorative justice seems like a great way to rectify the situation, but can this be scaled?
When people get into trouble with the law, they normally don’t have a chance to have a conversation with their victims. To explain what happened. Hear about the damage they caused. Say they’re sorry. But there’s a growing trend to try and make that happen, so both parties can move on.

Restorative Justice brings together the accused, the victim, supportive parties, and authorities. All at the same table in a safe space. It’s an old idea and it’s international. In fact, in New Zealand, where it was originally used by indigenous Maoris, it's a mandatory part of the criminal justice system. Here, in the U.S, these community conferences are increasingly being used in prisons, schools and as an alternative to juvenile detention...

Bradley asked him to stand up and write on a big presentation paper everything that he needed to work on. The teen’s demeanor changed; he was happy to be writing all of this out: applying for jobs; volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club; talking to kids at a middle school about crime; working with an arts project to express himself.

“What our program requires is that they go through a four part program," Bradley told me. "They fix the harm with themselves, they fix the harm with their families, they fix harm to the victim, and fix the harm with the community."

Bradley has about more than 100 cases like this one; he’s completed 40 so far. Some of them were serious assaults, burglaries, and robberies, all scheduled to meet their victims face to face...

Congress has been increasing the amount of federal money for restorative justice programs over the last several years.

Although it’s cheaper than sending a child to a detention center, restorative justice is very labor intensive. Counselors have to check in to make sure promises are kept: rooms cleaned; community services completed; jobs applications filled out. And, on the front end, if the parents, police, or victims don’t show up to the conferencing, it can send a message to the kids that it’s not that important.

This is both the fundamental strength and weakness of restorative justice: that is only works when everybody is convinced to care.
2. one aspect of rectifying economic injustice is thru education; i continue to find the finnish response inspiring:
In 1963, the Finnish Parliament made the bold decision to choose public education as its best shot at economic recovery. “I call this the Big Dream of Finnish education,” said Sahlberg, whose upcoming book, Finnish Lessons, is scheduled for release in October. “It was simply the idea that every child would have a very good public school. If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive.”

Practically speaking—and Finns are nothing if not practical—the decision meant that goal would not be allowed to dissipate into rhetoric. Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Public schools would be organized into one system of comprehensive schools, or peruskoulu, for ages 7 through 16. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions. Besides Finnish and Swedish (the country’s second official language), children would learn a third language (English is a favorite) usually beginning at age 9. Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools (grades 10 through 12). The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg. By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind...
as marc andreessen sez: "If @pmarca could solve one social problem, he would provide every child a top-quality education -- and unlock resulting potential." & "The future of govt is comparative -- the federal govt learning from states, domestic and foreign (hey, Estonia)."

3. it doesn't matter how you 'pay for' justice, a just society pays for itself:
The US is a rich country that’s beginning to resemble, for the average person, a poor one. Its infrastructure is crumbling. Its educational systems barely educate. Its healthcare is still nearly nonexistent. I can take a high-speed train across Europe in eight hours; I can barely get from DC to Boston in nine. Most troubling of all, it is poisoning its food and water supplies by continuing to pursue dirty energy, while the rest of the rich world is choosing renewable energy. The US has glaring deficits in all these public goods — education, healthcare, transport, energy, infrastructure — not to mention the other oft-unmentioned, but equally important ones: parks, community centers, social services.

So the US should invest in its common wealth. For a decade, and more. Legions of people should be employed in rebuilding its decrepit infrastructure, schools, colleges, hospitals, parks, trains. To a standard that is the envy of the world — not its laughingstock.

Why? If the US invests in the public goods it so desperately needs, the jobs that it so desperately needs will be created — and they will be jobs that (wait for it) actually create useful stuff. You know what’s useless? Designer diapers, reality TV, listicles, reverse-triple-remortgages, fast food, PowerPoint decks, and the other billion flavors of junk that we slave over only to impress people we secretly hate so we can live lives we don’t really want with money we don’t really have by doing work that sucks the joy out of our souls. You know what’s useful, to sane people? Hospitals, schools, trains, parks, classes, art, books, clean air, fresh water ... purpose, meaning, dignity. If you can’t attain that stuff, what good are five hundred aisles, channels, or megamalls?

So: invest in public goods; employ armies to build them; create millions of jobs. And they won’t be the dead-end, abusive, toxic McJobs that have come to plague the economy; they will be decent, well-paid, meaningful jobs which people will be proud to have...

Where will the money come from? Dirty secret number three: It doesn’t matter. Print it. Borrow it. Tax it from the super-rich, in whose coffers it’s merely sitting idly. It does not matter one bit. It’s a second order question. If the U.S. doesn’t invest in public goods, it will not prosper; and if it doesn’t prosper, it cannot pay off the debts it already has. Conversely, if it does invest in public goods, and creates millions of decent jobs, the source of investment will matter little; for the economy will have grown and people will be prosperous. We can debate until kingdom come whether to borrow; print; tax; and we should. But we are having a fake “debate” if we pretend that we cannot invest in society first; and then wring our hands that society is falling apart.
justice is a public good!
posted by kliuless at 8:55 PM on May 23 [8 favorites]


Nice links, as usual, kliuless. Especially that Harvard Business Review one. I rarely read the HBR anymore since I blame them for the pervasive use of the Theory X style that has done so much harm to business in this country. I might have to give them a second look.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:22 PM on May 23


“The Case for Reparations”All In with Chris Hayes, 23 May 2014
Chris speaks with The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates about the history of economic plunder and exploitation that are key features of white supremacy in America.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:25 PM on May 23


Moyers & Company: This week Bill speaks with Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic about his cover story on why America needs to reconcile with its racist past.
posted by homunculus at 4:09 PM on May 25 [3 favorites]


I think the main thing to beeat in mind is NKJemison's speech at Wiscon. The point being, reconciliation and restitution in other countries have taken place after the fighting is over. Right now the war is still very active, with constant assaults on the rights of people of color. Reforming our spending priorities is a great dream, and I hope we reach that point some day. But at this point we can't even protect our citizens against hate comes.
posted by happyroach at 4:26 PM on May 26


CJR: The Atlantic’s Coates discusses his epic reparations cover story
Coates noted that the magazine brought a lot of resources to the story, sending him out to Chicago with a film crew to do two mini documentaries and taking time to create interactive maps for the Web version of the article.

The reparations piece has broken readership records on The Atlantic’s website. When asked why, Coates said, “Racism sets people’s hair on fire,” whatever side of the political spectrum they fall on.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:47 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Bill Moyers asked innocently on his Facebook page, "Have you read Ta-Nehisi Coates epic article yet? What did you think?" The comments are a monkey-house shit-show of biblical proportions.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:32 AM on May 28


“The Economic Case for Reparations”, Imara Jones, Colorlines, 28 May 2014
posted by ob1quixote at 6:08 PM on May 28


The Real Origins of the Religious Right: They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record’s clear: It was segregation.
posted by homunculus at 9:02 PM on May 28 [4 favorites]


Interviewed by Michelle Martin for NPR.
posted by artof.mulata at 10:20 PM on May 28


Coates, On Whose Shoulders the Research Stands
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:48 PM on May 28


The Long-Term Effect of Slavery on Violent Crime: Evidence from US Counties
TomDispatch: The Reparations of History: Paid and Unpaid brings us to Greg Grandin and his recent book The Empire Of Necessity. Julie Ott talks of Slavery: The Capital That Made Capitalism and the 'industrious revolution.' David Brion Davis 'fulfills his career' with The Problem Of Slavery In The Age Of Emancipation.

more at Omnivore.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:41 AM on May 29 [2 favorites]


“Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Vox Conversation”
"It's a reminder that if you're going to go on television and you're going to talk about the murder rate in Chicago, or you're going to talk about the shape of African-American families, or you're going to stand up and lecture black men about what they need to do, never forget that you are talking to a community that has repeatedly gotten a raw deal in this country," Coates, a senior editor at the Atlantic, says. "Never forget that. Don't talk to these people like somehow the American government, over the course of its history, has been a friend to black people and the black community."
posted by ob1quixote at 12:24 PM on June 3


National Review Online: The Case Against Reparations
Ta-Nehisi Coates has done a public service with his essay “The Case for Reparations,” and the service he has done is to show that there is not much of a case for reparations. Mr. Coates’s beautifully written monograph is intelligent and sometimes moving, and the moral and political case he makes is not to be discounted lightly, but it is not a persuasive case for converting the liberal Anglo-American tradition of justice into a system of racial apportionment. Mr. Coates and those who share his views would no doubt observe that the Anglo-American practice, despite its liberal rhetoric, was a system of racial apportionment, and a brutal one at that, for centuries, with real-world consequences that continue to be large facts of American life to this day — and they would be correct. But the remedy Mr. Coates proposes would not satisfy the criterion of justice, nor is it likely that it would reduce or even substantially eliminate the very large socioeconomic differences that distinguish the black experience of American life from the white experience of it.
The Atlantic: The Case For American History
I wanted to take moment to reply to Kevin Williamson's Case Against Reparations. I wanted to do that, primarily, because his piece covers many of the most common objections to my piece, but also because I've always been an admirer of Williamson's writing, if not his ideas. Among those ideas is a kind of historical creationism which holds that "race" is a fixed thing. The problems with this approach are many, and duly apparent from the outset.

Williamson says he is opposed to "converting the liberal Anglo-American tradition of justice into a system of racial apportionment." He then observes that, in fact, that tradition, itself, has always been deeply concerned with "racial apportionment." Thus within the second paragraph, Williamson is undermining his own thesis—if the Anglo-American tradition is what he concedes it to be, no "converting" is required. We reverse polarity for a time, and then we all live happily ever after.

Or probably not. That is because Williamson's entire framing is wrong.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:36 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]


Racism Lives On Under the Cover of 'Religious Freedom'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:43 PM on June 10


Ta-Nehisi Coates interviewed by Steven Colbert June 16th about the article in the OP: , Hulu
posted by XMLicious at 2:42 AM on June 18


“With Atlantic article on reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates sees payoff for years of struggle,” Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Washington Post, 18 June 2014
“We should have a post-racist society,” he says. “But people are scared of what that might mean.”

So, then, what would it mean? Coates leans heavily back in his chair, thinks for a moment, then starts working through the logic out loud: “A post-racist society is a society where you really don’t have any white people. That’s the scary thing. . . . The idea of whiteness is tied to power. And the destruction of that power means the end of whiteness itself.”
cf. Cotes' twitter link to this article, where the replies are somehow worse than you can imagine.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:12 PM on June 18


I can imagine some terrible things, and yet I'm positive that I would want to burn humanity down if I read those replies, so I will...not. Sigh.
posted by rtha at 9:15 PM on June 18


rtha: “I can imagine some terrible things, and yet I'm positive that I would want to burn humanity down if I read those replies, so I will...not. Sigh.”
Coates retweeted a selection of the best/worst and labeled them the Reparation Blues.

Also, I misspelled Coates above. Apologies.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:05 AM on June 19


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