The Case for Class
February 3, 2016 10:15 AM   Subscribe

An Open Letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Liberals Who Love Him "I was once a Coates fan", writes Cedric Johnson in Jacobin. Johnson criticizes Coates for his black nationalism at the expense of class based identification.
posted by MisantropicPainforest (127 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
You could ask Adolph Reed about him too.
posted by grobstein at 10:19 AM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


A very nice (and quite neutral) take on the reparations thing in particular was Jamelle Bouie in Slate
posted by grobstein at 10:20 AM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


You could ask Adolph Reed about him too.

Doug Henwood's Behind the News did (transcript)
posted by RogerB at 10:28 AM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


I dunno, I am a little skeptical of the hostility that is expressed by older male activists - whether Black or white - toward young Black activists (as in Adolph Reed's characterization of Marissa Johnson as a "holy roller" when he uses no parallel characterization for anyone else in group he describes). Especially when so many of those young Black activists are female and/or queer. I've seen this one before, and while it may suit Henwood and Reed to characterize anyone not in line with their particular politics as "careerist", well, as far as I can tell they have careers, and an awful lot of this marxercizing is in the service of making those careers.

I'm perfectly willing to be convinced that Coates is wrong about reparations, or wrong about class, but what I have noticed is that this type of in-left argument tends to go back and forth between de facto centering of white straight men under the name of "class" and the privileging of economically successful women, queers and people of color under the name of "identity" - as far as I can tell, it's two sides duking it out over power, and I can either sign up with the "class" side and shut about about my gender and sexuality, or sign up with the identity side and shut up about being a secretary. I'm not especially confident that affluent male academics of any stripe have my interests at heart.
posted by Frowner at 10:39 AM on February 3, 2016 [132 favorites]


Isn't this a "Porque no los dos" situation? Or does fighting for socialist, anticapitalist policies preclude doing so in a manner that acknowledges the structural and economic realities of racism?
posted by muddgirl at 10:40 AM on February 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


"Careerist" is a gross insult to use about anyone. What exactly is the class background of people have the luxury of not worrying about making a living?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:45 AM on February 3, 2016 [54 favorites]


In its present incarnation, the reparations argument is better understood as a more reactionary, civil society version of the “rising tide lifts all boats” sensibility — a sensibility that Coates rejects. This version of race uplift supposes a black businessman who competes for government contracts and keeps a summer home and a single mother of three who relies on the Section 8 voucher program and itinerant minimum-wage employment to make ends meet share the same political interests by virtue of their common heritage and the experience of living in a racist society.

and

Social exclusion and labor exploitation are different problems, but they are never disconnected under capitalism. And both processes work to the advantage of capital. Segmented labor markets, ethnic rivalry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and informalization all work against solidarity. Whether we are talking about antebellum slaves, immigrant strikebreakers, or undocumented migrant workers, it is clear that exclusion is often deployed to advance exploitation on terms that are most favorable to investor class interests.

these are my two takeaways from his argument, that and he supports Sanders, and feels that Blacks support Clinton for historical reasons rather than out or their own best interests (as outlined in the article).
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:46 AM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm perfectly willing to be convinced that Coates is wrong about reparations, or wrong about class,

The thing I like about Coates over almost all the other intellectuals in this sphere is that he is also perfectly willing to be convinced that Coates is wrong.
posted by srboisvert at 10:49 AM on February 3, 2016 [81 favorites]


"I was once a Coates fan..." My god. How many years ago did Coates burst on the scene?
posted by Postroad at 10:52 AM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why a particular set of vocal Sanders supporters seem to continue to think that if they just explain condescendingly enough how blacks' real interests lie with the class struggle, the suddenly enlightened black vote will swing to Sanders. I don't think they're doing Sanders any favors. If you don't take a person's own analysis of their problems seriously, how can you convince them you take their interests seriously?
posted by praemunire at 10:52 AM on February 3, 2016 [81 favorites]


The thing I like about Coates over almost all the other intellectuals in this sphere is that he is also perfectly willing to be convinced that Coates is wrong.

The interview he gave about his newfound wealth and prestige in This American Life's "Status Update" episode certainly shows him to be alternately fairly blunt, conflicted, and somewhat guilty about his class identification, that's for sure. He definitely does not come across as some gleeful cavier-guzzling turncoat.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:53 AM on February 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


I found this a helpful read. I've been mulling reparations since reading Coates' piece on Sanders the other day. I'm a white person who has always tended to be against the idea of reparations for pragmatic reasons such as are raised in the article: how are they distributed, who decides, how much will they really help? After reading Coates, I found myself considering whether my resistance has been ill-informed. Is pragmatism necessarily the right metric for deciding about support? Might there be a meaningful symbolic power in reparations? Am I simply wrong, as I have been before? Is this one of those times when my own flawed and possibly biased judgment should be set aside in favor of supporting people who have a greater understanding and greater stake in the issue?

Thanks to grobstein for the Jamelle Boule link, which I appreciated as well.

One thing I've been thinking is that I'm far from the only one who thinks reparations are impractical and politically impossible. But there's something meaningful, I think, in admitting that reparations are owed. And also, perhaps, in doing something inadequate in lieu of doing something effective and perfect.

Still mulling. I appreciate the additional material to mull with.
posted by not that girl at 10:53 AM on February 3, 2016 [17 favorites]


it's two sides duking it out over power, and I can either sign up with the "class" side and shut about about my gender and sexuality, or sign up with the identity side and shut up about being a secretary

A weakness I've noticed with privilege analysis is its difficulty in handling socio-economic advantage. Too often it gets clumsily refactored as race or gender. It is neither of those but contributes to the various levels of privilege identities have within society. It's contributory to a lot of Not All... arguments. Class is a dimension of identity that's not captured well by privilege, because it's hard to pin it down it for an individual. This is in opposition to things like gender or visible/discernible racial constructs which can be much easier to identify.

To do "class" right, it makes most sense to talk about aggregates, communities and broad outcomes, and those tend to be less accessible to privilege analysis because the categories aren't always well defined. Many identities bridge classes, either strongly or weakly, having more or less social or economic currency as a result. Black doesn't always mean poor; white doesn't always mean rich. So not all...

I don't know that there's a good answer to this yet. But there is some conflict between analyzing social constructs with regards to identities, as opposed to class, and vice versa.
posted by bonehead at 10:55 AM on February 3, 2016 [16 favorites]


I understand where this kind of criticism is coming from, but I think it's missing the forest for the trees.

Coates' call to study reparations isn't being made out of an expectation that reparations would actually be made, just that starting to study it is a necessary prerequisite to even understanding the scale of the crime - which did not stop when slavery ended, did not stop in the 60s, still has not stopped. Understanding is a prerequisite to even approaching some kind of equality.

I think Coates is right, but he's also said that he does not think it will happen. Coates is intimately aware of the present political environment. He also thinks it's instructive that the response is "I don't even think we want to look at this right now. I don't think we can look at this right now."

Refusing even to study equates to saying, "We are not interested in true equality and we will not be." Coates's writing has consistently talked about disappointment - hoping for more from Obama, hoping for more from Sanders. In his article, he didn't grill Clinton because he wasn't expecting more from them.

On the other side of the fence, I actually totally understand where Clinton and Sanders are coming from. A large swathe of the country will not vote for them under any circumstances, and they can argue that right now it's more important to eke out a win and protect the marginal gains of the last eight years.

I can think that Sanders is correct in what he says and that Coates is right.

Yeah, reparations are not likely, but would it kill us to spend a few million just to study the idea? We spend millions (billions, etc.) on far worse things. A preliminary study could probably be done for less than a million.

Amusingly enough, I think the criticism Coates is getting from his colleagues on his own publication is actually more valid and realistic than Johnson's article or Reed's screed. But then, articles on the Jacobin can be tone deaf and ideologically pure to a fault. I have never thought Sanders was unrealistic - he's aiming for something far, far short of Norway-style socialism, but the Jacobin tends to be far more hardcore than Sanders.
posted by Strudel at 10:57 AM on February 3, 2016 [33 favorites]


Isn't this a "Porque no los dos" situation? Or does fighting for socialist, anticapitalist policies preclude doing so in a manner that acknowledges the structural and economic realities of racism?

When there is an election going on and Coates criticises socialists' BFF candidate, no. For all of the denials of Bernie Bros, Coates has been retreated them after he wrote the Sander's reparations piece.

these are my two takeaways from his argument, that and he supports Sanders, and feels that Blacks support Clinton for historical reasons rather than out or their own best interests (as outlined in the article).

Which is an odd charge to lay on Coates, when he criticised Clinton shortly after Sanders.

This version of race uplift supposes a black businessman who competes for government contracts and keeps a summer home and a single mother of three who relies on the Section 8 voucher program and itinerant minimum-wage employment to make ends meet share the same political interests by virtue of their common heritage and the experience of living in a racist society.

They do share political interests. In his book Between the World and Me he describes a friend of his, Prince Jones. Much like his name, Prince was a regal figure, middle class, and on his way to being one of those black businessmen who compete for government contracts. Until he got pulled over and shot by the police.

It's not all about class.
posted by zabuni at 10:57 AM on February 3, 2016 [54 favorites]


I don't understand why a particular set of vocal Sanders supporters seem to continue to think that if they just explain condescendingly enough how blacks' real interests lie with the class struggle, the suddenly enlightened black vote will swing to Sanders.

I'm not sure what you're talking about - this article is by a Black professor of African American Studies, not a white Sanders supporter.
posted by dialetheia at 10:58 AM on February 3, 2016 [14 favorites]


I thought this was a fairly good essay, but ultimately unconvincing. For one thing, I think it's hard to write this kind of critique that is so rooted in support of a particular presidential candidate, and not have it come off as serving that purpose first and foremost. Coates hasn't been motivated by Sanders, and whether he is right or wrong about his positions, Sanders has very little chance of making the kinds of changes Cedric Johnson wants.

This, ultimately, falls into a long line of discussion about how African Americans can best serve their interests. Typically, the divide is characterized as the difference between the liberal inclusion of Dubois and the separatist Nationalism of Garvey. There is a similar distinction being made here, although the terms are somewhat different, and I find it amusing that Johnson manages to tar Coates as both liberal and nationalist. Those positions have been mostly mutually exclusive in an understanding of the strategies employed for achieving African American freedom.

But what is ultimately unconvincing here to me is that Johnson doesn't really seem to address racism as currently operative. He makes some nods to providing other policy based reasons for, say, white flight (although he doesn't say why that doesn't constitute the kind of structural racism he dismisses because...I couldn't figure that out), but he doesn't address why things right now, today, are worse for poor Blacks than they are for poor Whites in re something like incarceration. He then turns to things like public sector employment, arguing that it was a non-racially based way to even the playing field, while also saying that it created the Black middle class and that the public sector is now being dismantled. If "education reform" isn't structural racism at work, I'm not sure what is.
posted by OmieWise at 11:01 AM on February 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure what you're talking about - this article is by a Black professor of African American Studies, not a white Sanders supporter.\

But he is one of those people who, when faced with systemic racism, try to steer right back into Marxist class based rhetoric. Here's another example from Cedric Johnson:

The truth is that cops intensively patrol and surveil particular neighborhoods within America’s cities. Blacks and Latinos bear the brunt of this form of policing, which was set in motion by the so-called “War on Drugs.” This has gone on for decades now. Arguments that it amounts to ethnic cleansing or that it is directed against black people have a certain emotive and rhetorical force. However, ultimately they misdiagnose the problem. According to a Justice Department report on arrest-related deaths between 2003 and 2009, including cases where people were killed in car accidents during police pursuits and those who committed suicide during an arrest, blacks are overrepresented (as are Latinos), but they are not in the majority.1 When I present such information to my liberal anti-racist friends and students, they have little to offer in response other than “Yes, of course, whites are the majority of the population, so you would expect their numbers to be higher.” But why don’t those deaths figure into the conversation? Isn’t it possible to condemn police violence against blacks while simultaneously demanding justice for all victims? What do these victims—black, white, Latino, male and female—have in common? Why do so many Americans view the current crisis strictly in terms of anti-black racism, when we have evidence that suggests we are facing a more complex and more daunting problem, one that cannot be addressed with yesteryear’s analysis and slogans? We need a more dialectical appreciation of historical progress: How have the defeats and victories of earlier anti-racist struggles produced new social contradictions, altering the conditions we now confront? Additionally, when we look at those who carried out the killing of Freddie Gray, three of the six police officers involved were black. In the case of Eric Garner, a Latino officer choked him to death. So, the fact of integrated police forces needs to be considered. These individuals are not motivated by racial animus. Rather, their behavior reflects a mode of policing that targets the working class, the unemployed, and those who live in areas where the informal economy is dominant. On the national level, even in rural areas, small towns, and places where blacks do not live in large numbers, the same dynamics are at play with whites and Latinos. This is the dominant means for managing social inequality in an era of obsolescence and pervasive economic insecurity.

The Marxist's common refrain: "It's about claaaaassssss".
posted by zabuni at 11:04 AM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


It’s been fascinating to follow Coates on twitter in the past few weeks, because he retweets a lot of the people telling him how stupid and naive and corrupt he is about reparations (a lot of THIS IS PROOF YOU WORK FOR SHILLARY-talk), which, in the aggregate, shows that they are forming yet another BernieBros mob who believe that “the person who judiciously criticizes the stance of my friend is my enemy.”

The idea that you can disagree with/criticize a candidate who you might end up voting for anyway seems absolutely foreign to so many people.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:04 AM on February 3, 2016 [36 favorites]


Jamelle Bouie in Slate

Link, thanks for that, encapsulates my thinking on this race vs class (embodied by Bernie vs Coates) foment o' the moment.

Yes: Criticizing radical political action while ignoring the dominant centrist leaders who will benefit from the infighting is unproductive and short-sighted
Yes: Giving up on social justice issues can and should garnish criticism from those who have the most to lose
Yes: No critic in good faith should shut up
Yes: Smart people can disagree about a range of issues while working together towards a common goal
Yes: Politely challenging someone's public words and actions is necessary
Yes: As is listening to the response and not just sarcastically RTing or slapping back with a hashtag
Yes: Allies can give up too much and have a lopsided relationship
Yes: Enemies can both lose to a 3rd enemy
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:04 AM on February 3, 2016 [10 favorites]


The claim that social democracy and socialism are always and everywhere at odds with racial progress is simply false. It is not supported by the actual history of progressive struggles and the substantive ways they transformed black life.

I have never seen Coates or anyone else make this argument. Coates has pretty consistently argued that both race- and class-based remedies are necessary to rectify race- and class-based oppression, and that simply addressing one or the other won't fix both.

On a broader point, I really don't think the Bernie supporters who respond to any criticism of Bernie with accusations that the critic is obviously a shill for Hillary is helpful to their cause. Coates has criticized Clinton before, and he even invoked her positions in the follow-up article about Bernie as a distasteful stance ("A left radicalism that makes Clintonism its standard for anti-racism—fully knowing it could never do such a thing in the realm of labor, for instance—has embraced evasion."), but that apparently isn't enough.
posted by protocoach at 11:07 AM on February 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


It is worth being skeptical of claims that economic class will unify both whites and blacks, simply because over the course of American history, it hasn't happened. Coates is radically altering the discourse because he is one of the few elite writers who has come out and said that America's culture is essentially about segregating and oppressing blacks. When policies are pursued that are intended to rectify class- and labor-based inequities, the policies just coincidentally end up excluding blacks and leaving them behind. Johnson seems to claim that these issues were mostly resolved by the 60s and social gains including whites and blacks would have been realized if not for a neoliberal assault on making social gains.

But here I think that Coates has the upper hand: the turning back of the social welfare state and deunionization came about right at the same time that blacks were beginning to finally benefit from these things. That wasn't a coincidence, either.

Class solidarity across nationalities doesn't function politically. All politics is local.
posted by deanc at 11:13 AM on February 3, 2016 [36 favorites]


But he is one of those people who, when faced with systemic racism, try to steer right back into Marxist class based rhetoric.

A retreat I can somewhat understand, for at least two reasons:

1) Addressing class imbalance feels at least potentially tractable, whether or not it actually is.
2) Class critique in America focuses so much on the obscenely wealthy that most American socialists can imagine a form of radical wealth redistribution that does not actually harm their own relative privilege.

So, you know, it's rational to want to talk about class instead of race.

But it sure as Hell ain't right to elide over questions of racial justice, especially since so many of our class problems in this country amount to "we can't have nice things, because those people might use them".

As for the assumption that Clinton has this mass of black supporters... Yeah, seems to me there are a lot of black people who remember 2008. Black people as a voting bloc may not be making moon eyes at Sanders like white progressive are, but it's naive to assume that's because they're just so in love with HRC.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:13 AM on February 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


While I'm certainly not supporting Clinton (and I totally agree that folks who plan to vote for her out of the conviction that she actively cares about racial justice rather than for pragmatic reasons are coming from an odd place), I guess I end up feeling that racial injustice in the US is more foundational even than class, and that if you have to pick one to attack first, race seems like the one to pick. Not that I think this kind of "picking" is desirable!

I grasp that, as Reed says, it's a bit difficult to tell the white, aging, unemployed steelworker that racial justice has to be an economic priority - but it's also difficult to tell queer people, or women, or people of color that as a group their concerns need to take a back seat to class concerns. "It's hard to tell someone who is genuinely suffering that their suffering isn't going to be relieved in the immediate future" is pretty much the consequence of making anything a political priority.

I found the history of reparations discourse in the Jacobin article really interesting, though.

But none of this seems totally persuasive to me. "Race is a bad category because it doesn't deal with class" is just "class is a bad category because it doesn't deal with race" only backwards. Both are categories that don't capture everything, and neither explains the other completely.

I guess at the bottom of the "class first" argument is the idea that money is the measure of all things and that giving people money gives them power in a fairly simple way. So naturally you'd prioritize giving money to as many people as possible as widely as possible, on the theory that if everyone is roughly economically equal, they will automatically be roughly power-equal. But I don't think this is born out by US history.

It seems like there's a variety of political options (short of the famous full communism) to make things significantly better for many people, but what there isn't is a way to tackle all problems simultaneously and with equal effectiveness. I tend to think that if we could have a really big push for racial justice in this country, it would have more knock-on benefits for poor and working class white people than a real big push for economic justice would have knock-on benefits for people of color. I base this on the way that public sector employment (where there's at least some opportunity both for color blind and gender blind hiring and for, separately, women and POC to set up their own networks) has benefited working people generally, while nominally class oriented jobs and housing stuff often seems to benefit white working people the most.

I would also say that in this country, we have rhetoric about deserving white working people. We don't really have rhetoric of deserving people of color. I think that we've already got an economic system where our understanding of class-based reforms/radical change/etc is geared to white people - even though people of color do benefit from "color blind" economic justice initiatives.
posted by Frowner at 11:13 AM on February 3, 2016 [36 favorites]


The Marxist's common refrain: "It's about claaaaassssss".

I don't see him making that argument in that quote at all. I see him saying that both are important drivers, that racism and classism intersect with each other and shouldn't be pitted against each other like that. I read his argument as saying we need to grapple with both at once to approach such complex and systemic problems.

Every time we have the race vs. class argument, I despair at how successful the Southern Strategy has been.
posted by dialetheia at 11:18 AM on February 3, 2016 [19 favorites]


Isn’t it possible to condemn police violence against blacks while simultaneously demanding justice for all victims?

Wow! Johnson just out and out #AllLivesMatter'd the movement to reduce police violence against black and Latino communities.
posted by deanc at 11:18 AM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


The problem with working class solidarity is that large portions of the white working class are the most racist people in America. They aren't going to sign on for solidarity with black people or latinos who bring to the movement problems in need of solving that go beyond the class struggle. As a practical matter, more inroads on reducing the culture of racism may be necessary before any truly nationally strong socialist coalition can form in America. It's unreasonable to expect minorities to not speak up about their unique challenges and fight only on class terms to help bring racist whites into the movement, even if it could materially benefit them to do so in some ways.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:18 AM on February 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


If you're mentioning slavery, you really didn't bother to get to the second paragraph of Coates' reparations argument. His piece was primarily discussing redlining, though obviously that was only one of possible wrongs that could be corrected via reparations.

My biggest takeaway was that racism cannot be conflated with class because progressive programs are fundamentally paternal. They are imbued with the values of society. While a core value is racism, even good intentioned liberal white racism, that will creep into any well meaning program.

Redlining was a side effect of trying to help folks become home owners and create wealth. It was intending to undercut class barriers, and for a bunch of white folks, it probably did. It runs counter to the idea that the New Deal helped the black community, because it shows how easily class politics can ignore them.
posted by politikitty at 11:18 AM on February 3, 2016 [16 favorites]


But he is one of those people who, when faced with systemic racism, try to steer right back into Marxist class based rhetoric.

Yep. And this is a predominantly--though not exclusively--white group.
posted by praemunire at 11:19 AM on February 3, 2016


But none of this seems totally persuasive to me. "Race is a bad category because it doesn't deal with class

On the eve of the Russian revolution, in a time when communism seemed like a real possibility all over Europe, you didn't see the working classes across Europe banding together to fight a class struggle. Rather, you saw French and Germans banding together across all classes to annihilate each other.
posted by deanc at 11:23 AM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Wow! Johnson just out and out #AllLivesMatter'd the movement to reduce police violence against black and Latino communities.

Awww c'mon, that's not what's happening here. Johnson is pointing out salient similarities between policing in poor communities of color and poor communities in general, most likely in the hopes that activists can think of ways to form more broad, effective coalitions against police violence.

These discussions are always so hard for me, because they so quickly devolve (and I acknowledge this applies to both "sides," which I'm even hesitant to define in a strict dichotomy between race-oriented and class-oriented politics) into these ad hominem accusations of bad faith, rather than opportunities for all involved to sharpen their analyses and incorporate new perspectives into their politics and organizing. And I say this is a young, activisty black dude.
posted by black_lizard at 11:24 AM on February 3, 2016 [31 favorites]


Both are categories that don't capture everything, and neither explains the other completely.

Absolutely true in my view, and one reason to be thoughtful about any analysis that ignores either.

It's complicated by the lower-middle-upper class designations, which don't work great in the US anyway. I think the urban/suburban/rural class split is a better fit.
posted by bonehead at 11:29 AM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I favor reparations but I don't understand how we are expecting to address anyone's concerns without first addressing the crisis of class that is depriving everyone of their resources and influence.

Do we somehow transfer authority to POC and the LGBTQ community and let them devise solutions? How can we transfer that authority when the existing class structure remains immutable? If we leave the powers that be as they are, isn't it safe to assume that nothing will happen besides their further entrenchment at the expense of everyone else, and the integrity of the political process, and the cultures of hope that we are attempting to cultivate, and so on...?
posted by an animate objects at 11:30 AM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


From that Adolph Reed interview:

Yeah, well, a friend, whom I won’t out, observed to me a while ago that one of the things that really irks him (and he’s a professor) about Coates is the way that white liberals gush over him and my informant said that it reminds him of the way that upper middle class liberals fawn over the maid’s son who has gone to college and “made something of himself”.

haha damn
posted by edeezy at 11:36 AM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Crabbukets like that can be accessed by either racial or class-based analyses: a lower class (urban) maid's son, improperly self-made into an upper-middle (suburban) academic, or a black man putting on airs that he's white?

Neither fully captures the problem, do they? That's why this class vs race fight is worthless.
posted by bonehead at 11:43 AM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow, that Adolph Reed interview is just incredibly mean spirited.
posted by OmieWise at 11:44 AM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have a LOT of thoughts on this, reparations, TNC, and class intersectionality--and I do think that TNC is really weak on class. (And Cedric Johnson is awesome: Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics is a great book about the institutionalization of radical political movements.)

HOWEVER: what I want to ask is: what's the deal with Adolph Reed? I've read a lot of his older writings and learned a lot from them about the material reality of race, but I generally feel like he's become the go-to-guy for white Marxist bros to cite when they want a person of color who agrees with them on ignoring race completely. A lot of his recent writings about racial justice seem either nonsensical and clueless, or just mean-spirited and ungenerous: for example, saying that all race politics is neoliberalism, terms like "structural racism" are meaningless, BLM is purely a cathartic exercise in personal expression, Black Power was just cultural politics, etc. And I heard that Doug Henwood show a week ago and was amazing at what he was saying about TNC, as exemplified in the passage that edeezy quoted. So what's the deal!??!
posted by johnasdf at 11:45 AM on February 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


Bree Newsome, the amazing woman who climbed the flagpole and took down the Confederate flag in North Carolina, often has insightful commentary about the intersection of class and race in her twitter feed. She's one of my favorite people to follow on twitter and one of my role models.
posted by dialetheia at 11:45 AM on February 3, 2016 [19 favorites]


You don't need to study reparations to understand the magnitude of the crime. you have to do some serious reading and looking about you.
posted by Postroad at 11:49 AM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Not to explain away the very substantive disagreement here at all, but just for additional context (especially re: Adolph Reed's animosity) - there has been a long-standing argument between Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West, Adolph Reed, and Glen Ford about how or whether to criticize Obama, and I think some of that animosity has spilled over into this current disagreement. Some of the background is in this article, with some background on West and Coates here. Cornel West has been stumping for Sanders for the last month or so.
posted by dialetheia at 11:51 AM on February 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


johnasdf, thanks for the reminder to get back to Johnson's book! Copped and started it a few months ago, and it's been sitting on my shelf unread for too long. I also increasingly feel the same about Adolph Reed and had him in mind when making my last comment. Huge bummer.
posted by black_lizard at 11:51 AM on February 3, 2016


as far as I can tell they have careers, and an awful lot of this marxercizing is in the service of making those careers

Not that I would ever want to argue with a MetaFilter thread that is, as always, an education for me in how liberal antisocialists see the world, but this is a genuinely bizarre claim. One of these people is a tenured professor saying things that would almost certainly have major bad career repercussions for anyone without tenure, and the other does his writing and radio work as, basically, avocations while making his living elsewhere.
posted by RogerB at 11:53 AM on February 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think it's possible to think that Coates is probably right on reparations and think that his arguments sabotage the Democratic party. Which Coates might agree with.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:53 AM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Sabotage? That's laying it on a bit thick.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:05 PM on February 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


OK, well, I don't think the discussion helps any. But discussions of that sort of thing aren't intended for any sort of unity of political thought.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:08 PM on February 3, 2016


Not that I would ever want to argue with a MetaFilter thread that is, as always, an education for me in how liberal antisocialists see the world, but this is a genuinely bizarre claim. One of these people is a tenured professor saying things that would almost certainly have major bad career repercussions for anyone without tenure, and the other does his writing and radio work as, basically, avocations while making his living elsewhere.

Yeah, but the way Reed and Henwood talk about other activists (if you're "good" (sufficiently anticapitalist) you get killed like MLK; other people are just in it for the bucks) is, to me, a bizarre misreading of how intellectual life works. In general, activists and intellectuals are "in it" to make a living, become known and advance their beliefs; if they're lucky, they get a decent gig where they can do those things all at once, but if they have to piece it out into separate gigs, they do so. Henwood and Reed presumably want to pay the rent, to advance their beliefs and to advance their reputations as smart people with worthwhile things to say - I think those are all very ordinary, legit, human goals that most people would share. The mean little asides about activists who don't agree with them not being pure enough are really bothersome, when no one is "pure" in that way and certainly neither Henwood nor Reed is.
posted by Frowner at 12:22 PM on February 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


fwiw...
-Reparations and Bernie Sanders: Another View
-Race Without Class: the “Bougie” Sensibility of Ta-Nehisi Coates

for more perspective, i guess one way to view the current 'political reality' -- art of the possible -- of the situation is taking a look at obama's current agenda: "the financial crisis in Puerto Rico, ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, providing money for an initiative to fight cancer, confronting a resurgence of heroin addiction and overhauling the nation's criminal justice system." like that's what the white house thinks it can work with congress on this year!

also btw...
Tyler Cowen's conversation with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar :P
posted by kliuless at 12:41 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


In general, activists and intellectuals are "in it" to make a living, become known and advance their beliefs; if they're lucky, they get a decent gig where they can do those things all at once

So the goalposts are moving back to just reasserting as a premise that there simply is no alternative to individualist careerism — no one genuinely believes in principles like altruism or solidarity, people only avow such principles as a means for personal advancement — okay, fine, if that's your worldview it's your worldview, but critique of careerism isn't "mean" (ie impermissibly personal) to people who disagree with that premise. Indeed if, like Henwood and Reed, you think the spectrum of opinion among American left-liberals has been deeply compromised in recent decades by a worldview shaped by their individual (and hence individualist) need for employment in the nonprofit-media-academic complex, that premise itself looks like the distinctive worldview of a small fraction of self-promotional-by-necessity intellectuals writ large; this is exactly what Reed is referring to when he talks about the politics of the professional-managerial class as distinct from, indeed opposed to, the politics of solidarity.
posted by RogerB at 12:43 PM on February 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


So the goalposts are moving back to just reasserting as a premise that there simply is no alternative to individualist careerism — no one genuinely believes in principles like altruism or solidarity, people only avow such principles as a means for personal advancement — okay, fine, if that's your worldview it's your worldview

I don't think that's even close to what Frowner was saying.
posted by edeezy at 12:52 PM on February 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


But it's just a happy coincidence that the careerists are always the ones who disagree with the one naming them. I am a radical, you are a compromised liberal, he is a careerist - that's how it goes.

So the goalposts are moving back to just reasserting as a premise that there simply is no alternative to individualist careerism — no one genuinely believes in principles like altruism or solidarity, people only avow such principles as a means for personal advancement

Nope, that's not what I said. What I said is that it's not honest to pretend that one is motivated only by altruism and solidarity, or that people on one's side are never motivated by anything but the purest of commitment. Again, I've spent the last twenty-five years pretty intimately acquainted with radicals, including many marxists, and the people who will fuck you over without shame are the ones who are convinced that nothing drives them except altruism and solidarity. Part of being a decent person is the process of recognizing and controlling for your own psychology rather than projecting it onto the people you disagree with.
posted by Frowner at 12:54 PM on February 3, 2016 [30 favorites]


This is an aside, but...

On the eve of the Russian revolution, in a time when communism seemed like a real possibility all over Europe, you didn't see the working classes across Europe banding together to fight a class struggle. Rather, you saw French and Germans banding together across all classes to annihilate each other.

A most beautiful person, Rosa Luxemburg, would strongly disagree with this oversimplification...and she ended up in a canal with her head bashed in because of the strength of her beliefs.

With regard to the "divide and conquer" tactic of pitting class against race, I say "phooey." Both are structural, difficult problems and both must be part of organizing strategies that purport to make this a better nation. The truth of this is born out by socialists who populated the Civil Rights movement as well as by MLK who was slowly gravitating towards economic causes when he was murdered.
posted by CincyBlues at 1:05 PM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think one of the things I dislike most about the current situation is the way that everyone is writing with a weather eye on the presidential race, or at least that's the assumption. Have doubts about Bernie Sanders? Well, you're an enemy of socialism and probably like Hilary! Have doubts about Hilary? Well, you must be a Bernie Bro! Also, I will write negatively about your otherwise unrelated ideas because I disagree with you about Obama, but I will never say that this is why.

I tell you what - if Sanders wins (and I'm happy enough to vote for him) and we get substantial socialist reform, or we get at least some kind of forced crisis that moves us toward change, I will be only too delighted. If we have a revolution and end up with full communism (and, like, no show trials, etc), I won't gripe. But the reduction of everything - among leftists! - to crypto-stanning for one's candidate really gets me down
posted by Frowner at 1:07 PM on February 3, 2016 [14 favorites]


Part of being a decent person is the process of recognizing and controlling for your own psychology rather than projecting it onto the people you disagree with.

Apropos of everything, this is just a great sentence!
posted by OmieWise at 1:11 PM on February 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


Why help poor people? Do they deserve it? Is it merely the humane thing to do? Jesus/Mohammed/Buddha told us to? Will society as a whole benefit from their security and empowerment? Any or all of these could be correct, but there are no incontrovertible arguments in their favor. There is no consensus for any particular rationale among those who support doing so. We are merely agreed that helping the poor is desirable, and go from there.

Coates has laid down a solid case that helping African-Americans is just. He doesn't think reparations as such will ever happen, but he intends to be damned sure that the debt is acknowledged. He wants to ensure that its spectre hangs over every arena where the plight of the disadvantaged is discussed and addressed.

Racism and classism are entirely different phenomena that often have some similar-looking results. In the case of classism, treating the symptoms thoroughly enough could actually cure the disease. Our history quite convincingly shows that no such thing happens in the case of racism, and that is why it must be addressed separately and by different means.
posted by sensate at 1:15 PM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


You can definitely take a class-only approach— if you live in 1950s Europe.

It doesn't work in the US, because race is such a fundamental issue. Bouie's article is good on this. If you attempt to push a race-blind redistributive policy, it will become racialized. Welfare and food stamps and Medicaid are need-based, but they are relentlessly attacked by the right, because they're perceived to help blacks more.

Obamacare has nothing to do with race, right? Universal health care, as the name indicates, benefits everyone. But due to the political realities in this country, the implementation was racialized. The program depends on Medicaid expansion, which is left to the states; most Southern states refused it. Lo and behold, those states turn out to have the largest black populations.

Johnson mentions the war on drugs as a factor in police brutality. And it is! But the war on drugs is also highly racialized. E.g. you get the same sentence for possessing 1 gram of crack (used more by blacks) as for 18 grams of powder cocaine (used more by whites).

I don't see any reason we can't progress (or at least fight) on both class and race. And I don't think Coates is standing in the way of this either. I've never read a word from him that suggests that we shouldn't have class-based programs. A lot of criticism of Coates comes down to "he doesn't write enough about my hobbyhorses."
posted by zompist at 1:19 PM on February 3, 2016 [12 favorites]


I really enjoyed the essay, in part because it put into words things that I have had a hard time expressing properly. For me, the true crux of the article came towards the end:

Too many well-meaning whites mistook their guilt and pleasure of self-flagellation for genuine unity with blacks and authentic antiracist political commitment — in other words, solidarity.

That problem of replacing politics with public therapy endures to this day, and it flourishes in a context where social media linkages surrogate other historical forms of social interchange and collective action. Antiracist liberalism thrives in a context where the performance of self-loathing, outrage, and concern are easily traded public currency, instead of the more socially costly politics of public sacrifice and the redistribution of societal resources.


Making real, concrete change on the ground is hard work - and I often feel that more energy is spent on the left fighting for rhetorical correctness, or in pointing out the motes in everyone else's eyes, than fighting for policies that will manifest actually change in people's living conditions.

I didn't detect much animosity at all. I saw a well reasoned argument that fighting for social democracy might be more useful, in concrete terms, than more arguments about privilege, reparations, and the like.
posted by kanewai at 1:21 PM on February 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


My biggest takeaway was that racism cannot be conflated with class because progressive programs are fundamentally paternal.

Well, yeah. The huge jobs/training/education/etc program that Sanders wants instead of reparations, boils down to a bunch of paternal elites deciding what resources the black community- sorry, make that "every community" needs. Rather than the simpler expedient of giving black people money, and letting them decide what they need.

The history of such government aid programs gives me absolutely no confidence that Sander's program would be anything other than as racist as previous programs. The only arguments I've seen have been "This time it will be different", and "But we solved the racism problem already". I predict that if Sanders economic program were to be enacted, a whole bunch of requirements, qualifications and limitations- none of them racially based, we swear- would be put in, that would- absolutely coincidentally- disenfranchise the black community.

For all this, I prefer reparations to Sander's government programs. Give the trillion dollars out in cash, and let the people decide how to use it themselves.
posted by happyroach at 1:31 PM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Rather than the simpler expedient of giving black people money, and letting them decide what they need.

Well, you seem to be vilifying that approach, but how would you even go about "giving black people money"?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:33 PM on February 3, 2016


For all this, I prefer reparations to Sander's government programs.

I still don't understand why we have to choose one or the other, though. He's not making the case that his agenda substitutes for reparations, is he? He's saying what he thinks can be done at the federal level to help impoverished communities, not saying this is better than or as good as reparations would be.
posted by dialetheia at 1:34 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


You can definitely take a class-only approach— if you live in 1950s Europe.

No, you can't, not even there or then. The failures today of European social democracy and the welfare state has a lot to do with its inability to reckon with colonialism and slavery.
posted by dustyasymptotes at 1:43 PM on February 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


Making real, concrete change on the ground is hard work - and I often feel that more energy is spent on the left fighting for rhetorical correctness, or in pointing out the motes in everyone else's eyes, than fighting for policies that will manifest actually change in people's living conditions.

Don't you find this to be true of a lot of the essays critical of Coates' arguments? Coates is wrong because he isn't talking about poor white men. He's wrong because he's critical of a candidate I like. He's wrong because he's popular. He's wrong because he lives in Paris and likes good food. etc. etc. etc.

I'm sure Coates critics are out there working hard and diligently on the political and social change that they desire, but the same can be said of his supporters. Coates is a working journalist, so writing is the way he fights for change.
posted by muddgirl at 1:44 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Part of being a decent person is the process of recognizing and controlling for your own psychology rather than projecting it onto the people you disagree with.

Weirdly, this was once considered a core conservative imperative, before "conservative" became synonymous with "batshit crazy unhinged." I know your comment was made in the context of progressive internecine conflict, but the sentiment is pretty much a cornerstone of civil society and cuts across ideological differences.

As someone who sympathizes with a lot of progressive positions but finds himself in disagreement over the means to ends (or whether an end even exists), I wonder a lot about the kind of psychological profile that emerges in individuals who choose to reduce the world to neat categories of conflict and oppression and how that clashes with the messy reality of human sympathies and interpersonal relationships.
posted by echocollate at 1:49 PM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


'Judean People's Front'. We're the People's Front of Judea!
posted by j_curiouser at 1:56 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Don't you find this to be true of a lot of the essays critical of Coates' arguments? Coates is wrong because he isn't talking about poor white men. He's wrong because he's critical of a candidate I like. He's wrong because he's popular. He's wrong because he lives in Paris and likes good food. etc. etc. etc.

I did not find this in any way shape or form true about this essay, and I didn't mean to imply that I was criticizing Coates per se. I like his writings and analysis, and I agree with people above who write that this isn't an either/or situation. We need multiple perspectives.

I was aiming more, for example, at those who discount the proposed policies of Clinton and Sanders as not being properly ideologically focused enough.
posted by kanewai at 1:58 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I can see how the author, as a Marxist or socialist black person, probably received Coates' criticism of Sanders. It would have been a measure of WTF??, in the sense of how could (e.g.,) black interests be incompatible with social-democrat radicalism, if the author has already been occupying that point of thought?

It sucks that so much of this public discourse is so adversarial. What the research project should be is to synthesize the two problems of runaway capitalism and modern racism. If only academics spent more time writing for understanding and seeing connections, instead of arguing so much. If the issue is how they are compatible and/or intersectional, then we need more of those studies and writings. It's gonna take books worth of effort on the part of many thinkers. But it's always the political exigencies that result in these difficult conversations (more like, series of miscommunications) that I worry will push these intellectuals apart, instead of promoting better mind sharing.
posted by polymodus at 2:00 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


This seems like a practical bridge to start with.
posted by Unioncat at 2:04 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Give the trillion dollars out in cash, and let the people decide how to use it themselves.

It will flow right through their hands and back into the pockets of the rich. Because the causes of poverty in America are structural. The structures are different for African American poverty, sure, but we still have to take that into account if we want reparations to have any serious effect.

As for the idea that it's worth doing for the symbolism - all that the symbolism means is that conservatives will be able to point to it and say, "See? We're square now. We paid the debt. We don't have to do a fucking thing about race in this country anymore." Honestly, I suspect most conservatives would consider buying that for a trillion dollars to be a steal.
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:22 PM on February 3, 2016 [12 favorites]


Give the trillion dollars out in cash, and let the people decide how to use it themselves.

I mean, this is absolutely a real question - give it out to individuals? On what basis? Give it out to foundations? Again, how to prioritize? Put it into college scholarships? What does that do for the many, many working class kids who are really never going to look at college? Put it into jobs programs? What and how? Who gets how much? Who would oversee this program? Who counts as "the people" and how will they decide?

OTOH, that seems to be why Coates suggests studying the possibilities, right?

The Jacobin article has some good stuff about how reparations were framed in the sixties, as bigger, more concrete political initiatives.

See, this is what gets me: the problems people are talking about are hard, and the customary response is to say "you could solve this if only you didn't make this ideological error", when it's obvious that's baloney-sausage. Reparations given to "the people"? That's tricky. What if we had jobs programs instead, because that would be easier to administer in an even-handed way. But what if we have jobs programs and they end up like previous ones and favor white people? Well, we could have jobs programs that affirmatively hire Black people.....except we can't do that anymore. What if we gave grants to a lot of different programs that were aimed at supporting Black communities? But then the biggest nonprofits with the most readiness to handle large programs are mainly white-dominated, and huge influxes of money can be really destructive to small organizations. But what if we just gave everyone money directly, like all the data says is most effective? But then....Etc, etc.

Sure, sometimes someone does that whole "my paradigm shift will blow your mind" thing, and that's helpful, but in general it's more like the choice between various drawbacks. I can see why a sincere person with good values around race would suggest the Sanders route. I can see why a sincere person with good values around race would be skeptical. All I can do is use a heuristic - "white-led initiatives that address racial justice frequently bog down" and hope that someone has more data about how to handle economic justice oriented projects.

Some of this probably could be worked out empirically - like, let's just say that Bernie Sanders is elected, Congress falls into the sea and is replaced by Sanders sympatheizers, etc, and we have a go-ahead for radical but not revolutionary change. One could, in theory, try several different things. But then, we don't live in a society where that's possible.
posted by Frowner at 2:38 PM on February 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


No, you can't, not even there or then. The failures today of European social democracy and the welfare state has a lot to do with its inability to reckon with colonialism and slavery.

this is a cute soundbite but is totally unsupportable
posted by p3on at 2:43 PM on February 3, 2016


HOWEVER: what I want to ask is: what's the deal with Adolph Reed?

I think a better question might be what is the deal with your reading of Adolph Reed, since you misstate a lot of his positions. I'll respond to some of what you said he wrote with what he actually wrote in his great essay "Antiracism: vague politics about an nearly indescribable thing".

Black Power was just cultural politics

"Black Power era and post-Black Power era struggles similarly focused on combating specific inequalities and pursuing specific goals like the effective exercise of voting rights and specific programs of redistribution."

I generally feel like he's become the go-to-guy for white Marxist bros to cite when they want a person of color who agrees with them on ignoring race completely.

"My position is—and I can’t count the number of times I’ve said this bluntly, yet to no avail, in response to those in blissful thrall of the comforting Manicheanism—that of course racism persists, in all the disparate, often unrelated kinds of social relations and “attitudes” that are characteristically lumped together under that rubric, but from the standpoint of trying to figure out how to combat even what most of us would agree is racial inequality and injustice, that acknowledgement and $2.25 will get me a ride on the subway. It doesn’t lend itself to any particular action except more taxonomic argument about what counts as racism."

terms like "structural racism" are meaningless

"Ironically, as the basis for a politics, antiracism seems to reflect, several generations downstream, the victory of the postwar psychologists in depoliticizing the critique of racial injustice by shifting its focus from the social structures that generate and reproduce racial inequality to an ultimately individual, and ahistorical, domain of “prejudice” or “intolerance.”"

It's a shame to see Reed get conscripted into the "class" camp of the "race vs class" flamewar in this thread since his very point is that that framing is a muddleheaded (and, indeed, right-wing) way to start thinking about these issues.

To return to your original question, though: Adolph Reed gets cited on race because he is very knoledgeable about the subject and an amazing and pointed writer. Marxists like him because he is a Marxist. Does the fact that he is black matter? Yeah, it probably makes it harder for those who are tempted to dismiss a non-black talking about black issues out of hand to marginalize his ideas.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 2:45 PM on February 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


Well, yeah. The huge jobs/training/education/etc program that Sanders wants instead of reparations, boils down to a bunch of paternal elites deciding what resources the black community- sorry, make that "every community" needs. Rather than the simpler expedient of giving black people money, and letting them decide what they need.

Money is apparently the resource you've decided the black community needs.

If you give a black person money and they decide the resource they need is a job and you have high levels of unemployment, how have you helped them get what they've decided they need?
posted by layceepee at 2:57 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, you seem to be vilifying that approach, but how would you even go about "giving black people money"?

How do we give them money now? How world s give jobs/education/etc program be managed?

And what's the actual concern here? That we would give "the wrong people" reparations money? Because "Don't give the wrong people money" seems to be the current basis of our social system.

It will flow right through their hands and back into the pockets of the rich.

Do you really realize how patronizing that sounds? That you're saying, in effect, people can't be trusted with the money, therefore we'll set up government programs to help them, without actually giving them control"?

This is exactly what is meant by progressive programs are fundamentally paternal.. Whether it's s plantation master talking about how the blacks are childlike in mentality, or a Marxist muttering about the system, once you scrape off the ideological verbiage. It's stl the same message: the black community must be taken care of, because it can't take care of itself.
posted by happyroach at 3:24 PM on February 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


And what's the actual concern here? That we would give "the wrong people" reparations money?

The concerns, IMHO are a) how do you decide who to give money to? b) how much money? and c) where is this money coming from? Because if this money is coming from taxes, you're going to start a race war.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:31 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ultimately, Coates’s views about class and race — and this nation’s complex and tortured historical development — are well-meaning and at times poetic, but wrongheaded. The reparations argument is rooted in black nationalist politics, which traditionally elides class and neglects the way that race-first politics are often the means for advancing discrete, bourgeois class interests.

This isn't a great analysis of Coates's position. Coates clearly acknowledge problems of class exist; it's just that he's saying you can't see everything through a class paradigm, right?
posted by angrycat at 3:31 PM on February 3, 2016


It will flow right through their hands and back into the pockets of the rich.

Here's an example to look at: structured settlements, whereby a person (usually as a result of injury) gets an annuity from the entity that injured him. There is a whole cottage industry grown up around giving these people--often very vulnerable due to the circumstances that got them the annuity--pennies on the dollar for those settlements, in the most deceptive possible way. It's heartbreaking. Structured settlements are obviously private, rather than government, transfers of wealth, but the situation illustrates what can happen if you are careless about putting money into the hands of financially unsophisticated or otherwise vulnerable people.

On a broader scale, look at the vast and apparently unending scandal of for-profit colleges battening on the student loan money made available by the feds to low-income (among other) students and offering little to nothing in return. I think any such program would have to be handled extremely carefully to make sure it didn't just end up a trough for a coalition of bottom-feeders and more sophisticated jerks to feed on.
posted by praemunire at 3:37 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


People take structured settlements and payday loans because they're living paycheck to paycheck and need money in their hands right now or they'll get evicted. But if we're talking about the most naive form of reparations, i.e. the government just giving out a lump sump of X dollars to every black person in America, then that complaint doesn't really apply.

A more reasonable objection is check-cashing. Because the obvious way to disburse a sum of money to a large number of individuals is to cut each of them a check. The IRS does a form of this every year when it sends out tax refunds, so it's an obvious choice for paying out reparations. But any black person without a checking account -- which almost by definition will be the subset of black people in most dire need of receiving reparations -- has little choice but to use a predatory check-cashing service to get their money.

But, here's the thing. Yes, a lot of the reparations money would end up in the hands of vile people who are already preying on poor, black people. But said black people, despite losing some of what's owed them, will still be better off than they were without the reparations check. This is a classic enemy-of-the-good scenario.

And that's just the most naive form of reparations. If you want to take it even slightly further, you could say, "Hey, we need a way to disburse this money, let's set up some form of banking system in these communities that don't have access to banking apart from payday loans and check-cashers". Maybe that looks like postal banking, maybe it looks like something else. Maybe it's as simple as regulating the payday loan/check-cashing industries to make them less predatory. Whatever your choice, now you're doing something that actually serves poor, black people in a way that's actually empowering and also has a knock-on effect that benefits non-black poor people as well. And you don't have to engage in this paternalistic navel-gazing about "oh, but we need to make sure those people spend their check on stuff that's good for them".

I mean, it's kind of obvious that "studying reparations" includes studying the question of how to actually deliver said reparations to people, and in fact I'm pretty sure Coates' original reparations articles addressed this point.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:17 PM on February 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


I guess that I don't understand how all of Bernie's programs are going to address the needs of the most disadvantaged Americans. For instance, the cornerstone of his education policy seems to be free college tuition. It's the second item on his Issues page, and there is no other mention of education there. There's nothing about K-12 at all. And free college tuition is a great proposal that would be really helpful to a lot of students. But it will probably not be helpful to kids who attend Chicago Excel Academy, where 97% of the students are black, 97% are from low-income households, 4% of students meet or exceed expectations on state-wide standardized tests, and the average composite ACT score is a 13. A student with an ACT score of 13 is going to have a hard time getting into any four-year college, let alone being successful there. (And yes, I know, we're supposed to ignore standardized tests. But a student with a 13 ACT is not good at taking tests, and there are a lot of tests in college. Trust me: that number scares me.) That student is contending with forms of educational and social neglect that cannot be remedied by free college tuition, or at least cannot be remedied solely by free college tuition.

So Bernie's education platform is a tremendous boon to working-class kids who go to decent public schools. It gives those kids wonderful advantages compared to what they have now: they can go to college and graduate debt-free, ready to get good jobs. But it does nothing for kids whose schools have failed them so completely that they are not academically prepared to go to college. Those students, in fact, fall further behind compared to working-class kids who can take advantage of the free college opportunity. So the proposal actually reinforces preexisting hierarchies within what Bernie would probably consider a unified, undifferentiated working class. And I refuse to be bullied out of acknowledging that a massively disproportionate percentage of students in terrible, terrible schools are people of color. So it seems to me that Bernie's wonderfully race-neutral class-based programs will actually reinforce, rather than challenging racial inequality. Maybe I'm missing something, and I would love for you to tell me what it is. But that's how it seems to me.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:47 PM on February 3, 2016 [15 favorites]


But said black people, despite losing some of what's owed them, will still be better off than they were without the reparations check. This is a classic enemy-of-the-good scenario.

How do you define "black person"? Do they have to prove their ancestors were slaves? Or just that they have black skin?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:59 PM on February 3, 2016


I always assumed Bernie isn't publicly talking about his plans to help out the most disadvantaged - assuming he already has plans - because Americans, as a group, are not very interested in seeing the most disadvantaged get helped.

This, by the way, includes the disadvantaged. Or have you seen any of those maps that show which states are donor states and where welfare payments are more prevalent?

And, with respect to Bernie targeting college, that's because there's more federal power to address that. K-12 school is almost entirely state or local control, and that varies even within a state!

Just to give you an example, I grew up in north Jersey, and my wife grew up in central Jersey. I grew up in a very liberal, racially mixed town in an area where each town had control over their own schools and each town's system was separate from the adjacent town. Most only had the one high school, so you went to high school with everybody else. My wife grew up in a mostly white central Jersey town, and their school system was a regional/county thing; people from multiple towns went to one of a few different high schools in the regional system based on their choice, and this resulted in her school being mostly white people. Same state, geography less than 100 miles away, dramatically different outcomes.

Federal education systems don't have a lot of funding, and little to no control over what's going on in K-12. They can mostly suggest and incentivize, but have little control over the details. They can add or take away federal funding, but actual control is down to the people on the school boards and making the state laws. Greater federal control would have to come by laws approved by congress, and witness the furor over common core standards - nothing more than standards suggested by federal authorities and taken up voluntarily by states. Nothing the federal government can impose by fiat.

However, the federal government can pay for state schools, and in fact it would cost less to make state school free for everybody than the existing federal financial aid loans. I'm pretty sure Bernie's idea here is to suggest something popular that can be done within existing frameworks, without the federal government poking its head into K-12 education. I think he'd like to do more, but this lever is more easily pulled than anything dealing with structural racism. It polls very well.

I'm not saying you're wrong, just that this is yet another example of "Change we can pull off without modifying the system too much" - a hallmark of the modern liberal democrat. As Coates wrote many, many times, the people who benefited from redlining and structural racism, people who continue to benefit whether aware of it or not, are not terribly invested in changing it. As much as people accuse Bernie of being unrealistic, I don't actually think that's true. If you didn't have so many people terrified of the idea of socialism, they'd think his ideas made a lot of sense. And that's what Coates is unhappy about. Bernie is not even really trying to fix racism; he said it was too unrealistic to try.
posted by Strudel at 5:17 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Or have you seen any of those maps that show which states are donor states and where welfare payments are more prevalent?

Have you heard of the ecological fallacy?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:36 PM on February 3, 2016


would it kill us to spend a few million just to study the idea?

What's to study? This suggestion that we "study" it strikes me as a failure of nerve, since Coates knows perfectly well that the number will be so large that it will be laughed at.
posted by jpe at 5:55 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Because if this money is coming from taxes, you're going to start a race war.

It would have to pass, and I'd submit that it simply wouldn't even come close to passing absent some unique financing plan that doesn't cost people a meaningful amount.
posted by jpe at 5:58 PM on February 3, 2016


the number will be so large that it will be laughed at

i suppose that any humor to be found in is largely a matter of perspective
posted by MysticMCJ at 6:05 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Coates clearly acknowledge problems of class exist; it's just that he's saying you can't see everything through a class paradigm, right?

Class isn't a paradigm, it's a concept in a larger "structural" theory about how capitalism, and by extension, capitalist societies work in both a political and economic sense.

Take a concrete example: Flint, Michigan. Flint is about 50% black. The water in Flint was poisoned because of the manipulations of capitalists who want to privatize the municipal water system of Detroit. Now, what would it mean to go to Flint and say we should give all the black people money in Flint because of racism? Well, black households could presumably afford to install effective water filters and drink non-poisonous water. But, where would that leave poor white households? It's hard to imagine they wouldn't be resentful. Now, you argue: "intersectionality:" give all "poor" households clean water. But that's not how society works. The reason those capitalists are able to make even clean water a market good, rather than a public good, is because the people who aren't capitalists are divided, by "race" amongst other things, and can't act in solidarity to oppose them.

So, what does it say about your politics if you go to Flint and start talking about reparations? Maybe go ask Michael Moore whether all the black people in Flint should be given some extra money? This isn't about policy, reparations aren't going to happen, this is about politics. The situation in Flint isn't some anomaly, but how capitalist society is made up of intersecting and cascading crises that put working people in precarious situations. Why would Coates "troll" Sanders on this topic?

But, if you can admire tactics, it's really masterful the way Coates was able to bait someone like Adolph Reed, who comes off like a snob in the Henwood interview; even though I think Reed's analysis is dead on.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:22 PM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Here is the text of the bill to study reparations.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:31 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


The water in Flint was poisoned because of the manipulations of capitalists who want to privatize the municipal water system of Detroit.

Flint water was going to be owned by the city. So this was a conspiracy to privatize Detroit water?
posted by jpe at 6:49 PM on February 3, 2016


Those students, in fact, fall further behind compared to working-class kids who can take advantage of the free college opportunity. So the proposal actually reinforces preexisting hierarchies within what Bernie would probably consider a unified, undifferentiated working class. And I refuse to be bullied out of acknowledging that a massively disproportionate percentage of students in terrible, terrible schools are people of color.

that's an odd argument, since charging for public education definitely reinforces preexisting hierarchies, while not charging presumably gives the rare student with a better ACT score more possibilities. also, it's hard to argue that their low ACT scores aren't largely due to poverty, rather than racism directly; even if, as you mentioned, black people are disproportionately impoverished. if you want to follow a race line, you are now implicitly arguing that while less black people would be poor, in a non-racist society, poor people would be just as badly educated.

But, there is a bigger problem which is that "free college" does very little to solve the problems of working people in the US, regardless of their race.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:55 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Flint example is a non-sequitur, because the Federal government doesn't have direct authority to say, "Hey, replace all these pipes and maybe neutralise all the corrosive shit in the river water that's causing lead from the pipes to leach into drinking water in the first place." What the Feds can do -- and apparently are doing already -- is distribute filters and clean water supplies via FEMA, but even for that they need to wait until a state of emergency is declared and the state government invites them in.

You could argue that the poor whites in this comparison don't know or care about the ways federalism ties the president's hands and will still resent their black neighbours, but honestly that's going to happen with reparations regardless of any local circumstances, and in fact it might well be even stronger in all those white flight suburbs that have good schools and clean water.

Also, ArbitraryAndCapricious' point about free college is just to demonstrate that a race-blind effort at improving class inequality will only serve to reinforce existing racial inequality. Just as we've seen with previous race-blind social programs, like the GI Bill. And I don't know where "charging for public education" comes into it. That's just a pure, unadulterated straw man.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:01 PM on February 3, 2016


The Flint example is a non-sequitur, because the Federal government doesn't have direct authority to say, "Hey, replace all these pipes and maybe neutralise all the corrosive shit in the river water that's causing lead from the pipes to leach into drinking water in the first place."

what? the point is that "reparations" will always divide people, and low income working people in particular, along racial lines and prevent the sort of social solidarity that providing "public goods" like clean water and "free education" depends upon. Why would you want to practice that sort of politics?

Also, ArbitraryAndCapricious' point about free college is just to demonstrate that a race-blind effort at improving class inequality will only serve to reinforce existing racial inequality. Just as we've seen with previous race-blind social programs, like the GI Bill. And I don't know where "charging for public education" comes into it. That's just a pure, unadulterated straw man.

Yes, well Coates (from your link) is making the same argument, as he even alludes:
ostensibly color-blind policy can disproportionately hurt people of color (for lack of a better term) or not benefit them as much as it should.
there is a huge difference between "disproportionately hurting" PoC and "not benefiting them as much as it should." Conflating the two is a purely rhetorical trick; which Coates gets away with. We currently charge quite a lot in most states for a college education from a public college.

But, here is a nice quote from Coates:
You have made it out of a poor community, but your network is rooted there and shows all the markers of exposure to poverty. Because of a history of American racism, your exposure will be higher than white people of your same income level. Perhaps you would like to build another network. That network, because of a history of racism, will likely be with other black people -- black people who, like you, are part of a network that, on average, shows greater exposure to poverty. Meanwhile, white people are building other networks that are significantly less compromised by exposure to poverty.
It's a theory of poverty which turns poverty into some sort of social or moral disease, which is "tell" about Coates's politics
posted by ennui.bz at 7:23 PM on February 3, 2016


also, re: poverty as a social and moral disease. from Adolph Reed's older essay on reparations:
The psychological argument for agitating for reparations first of all makes concessions to the improbability of success. The demand is held to be important as a means of raising consciousness among black people, whether or not it can be won. But consciousness of what? Among more populist or radical adherents this view rests on the premise -- a vestige of the nationalist/anti-imperialist radicalism that evolved from Black Power -- that mobilizing black people to fight for a better world requires first rectifying their understanding of who they are and where they come from in order to build on the principle of racial solidarity. Of course, cultivation of a general understanding of history is useful, perhaps necessary, for developing and sustaining an insurgent politics and a good thing in its own right. However, it's more than questionable that people must -- or even will -- mobilize around earlier generations' grievances to pursue current objectives.

The real point of this approach is different, as the willingness to acknowledge the cause's doubtful practicality suggests. The deeper appeal of reparations talk for its proponents is to create or stress a sense of racial peoplehood as the primary basis for political identity. As is a standard feature of the race-nationalist politics from which it originated, this movement's psychological project is grounded on beliefs that rank-and-file black people suffer from improper or defective identity and that an important task of political action is to restore correct racial consciousness, destruction or distortion of which is held to be the psychological legacy of slavery.
this is exactly where Coates is coming from; he was raised in a "black nationalist" family.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:31 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think that's a pretty uncharitable reading of that last quote, ennui.biz, or one that only makes sense/naturally follows if you're already working with more class-oriented framework? I really, really don't think it says what you're saying it says about Coates' politics - it seems to me that it's a description of how poverty and racialization work hand in hand, not some sort of prescriptive mandate.

(On preview, referring to to
You have made it out of a poor community, but your network is rooted there and shows all the markers of exposure to poverty. Because of a history of American racism, your exposure will be higher than white people of your same income level. Perhaps you would like to build another network. That network, because of a history of racism, will likely be with other black people -- black people who, like you, are part of a network that, on average, shows greater exposure to poverty. Meanwhile, white people are building other networks that are significantly less compromised by exposure to poverty.
)
posted by sagc at 7:33 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


I really, really don't think it says what you're saying it says about Coates' politics - it seems to me that it's a description of how poverty and racialization work hand in hand, not some sort of prescriptive mandate.

well, I think it says a couple of things. Coates is very good at adapting his politics for the white business-class readers of the The Atlantic. There's a reason why he's been able to stay at the gig and rise to "senior editor." He's being coy and saying something which he knows his readers (and editors) will read in a predictable way ie. the "damage" of poverty is the result of bad habits learned from "your network," while also hinting at his broader ideas wrt being a black person in the US.

There are real reasons why black socialists like Adolph Reed don't like Coates' politics that have little to do with being mean-spirited or snobby. In general, black writers who write in a socially critical mode tend to get lumped into one pot by their white readers as "progressive" or some such. I don't think I've misrepresented Coates' beliefs, although his ideas in his writing are often all over the place and he tends to go for "voice" over consistency.

He's a smart guy and a good writer, so it's worth paying close attention to where he is coming from.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:44 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


also, it's hard to argue that their low ACT scores aren't largely due to poverty, rather than racism directly; even if, as you mentioned, black people are disproportionately impoverished.
I don't think it is hard to argue that, for what it's worth. Students in high-poverty schools do much worse than poor students in economically integrated schools, and poor black children are more likely to attend economically segregated schools than poor white children are. (And we're not talking about a small number of children. 45% of black children attend high-poverty schools.) That's a legacy of, among other things, the discriminatory housing practices that Coates details. That stuff isn't just ancient grievances. It continues to matter and to affect people's opportunities.
It's a theory of poverty which turns poverty into some sort of social or moral disease, which is "tell" about Coates's politics
He's not saying that it's a social or moral disease. He's saying that when your networks are confined to poor people, that has implications for your opportunities. You don't know anyone who knows someone whose company has a great summer internship that you should apply for. You don't know people who went to a cool little liberal arts college that they can tell you happens to have better financial aid than State U. You likely don't know anyone who knows very much about college admissions or financial aid at all. You don't go over to your friend's house and meet his dad, who is a computer programmer, and who gives you some tips for how to get started and maybe lends you his old laptop since he got a new one. If you're a poor kid who knows not-poor people, those things may open doors for you. That's just true about the lived experience of people who only know poor people, whatever their race.

Now, according to your ideology, it may be very wrong for poor people to want to have the same opportunities for internships or college degrees or learning to code that other people have. But just like Christians run into problems when they try to argue from Scripture when talking to non-believers, you're going to have trouble arguing from your ideology when talking to the vast majority of people involved in the American political process.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:49 PM on February 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


ennui.biz:

Hmm. I guess I can see that reading of it, but I honestly think he's just describing why and how different groups end up with different social capital, not placing blame. I'm really not sure how you're getting that causality out of it.
posted by sagc at 7:50 PM on February 3, 2016


Coates is very good at adapting his politics for the white business-class readers of the The Atlantic. There's a reason why he's been able to stay at the gig and rise to "senior editor." He's being coy and saying something which he knows his readers (and editors) will read in a predictable way ie. the "damage" of poverty is the result of bad habits learned from "your network," while also hinting at his broader ideas wrt being a black person in the US.
I mean, this is bizarrely personal, as are all your attacks on Coates. But Reed has been very successful at playing into the sensibilities of the leftist academy, something that he may have learned from his father, who was also a leftist college professor. I believe his son is also a college professor: they've got quite the little academic dynasty going there. I'm not sure that I'm buying the idea that the Atlantic is just a den of elites, while the New School is a pure bastion of spontaneous solidarity. I don't think anyone can claim to be all that pure: we're all being paid by someone.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:58 PM on February 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


My issue with Coates isn't his politics, which are refreshingly combative, it's that he writes like a pretentious undergrad. You can guarantee at least one malapropism per Coates article, sometimes up to a full half-dozen. Just an example I noticed in the Iowa thread:

Effectively he answers the trenchant problem of white supremacy by claiming “something something socialism, and then a miracle occurs.”

Trenchant isn't a synonym for "entrenched". Makes it hard to take him seriously.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 7:58 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Honestly I tend to have significant issues with anyone that tries to reduce complex social constructions to the simplest possible narrative whether it's the old "ultimately Xism doesn't matter it's all about class" which is unfortunately commonplace among a subsection of academic Marxists (who tend to be depressingly white and male as a whole) but I also have issues with any "solution" that doesn't take social and economic constructs built around class into consideration when positing a solution to Xism.

A more nuanced approach towards race and class of course would concede that both racism and classism exist as separate but overlapping constructs that closely correlate with one another. However it is impossible to suggest that all race based issues are merely a subset of class based issues which more than one academic has attempted in vain to assure me is actually the case.

I do think there are of course structural issues in regards to the question of reparations and how such a program would be implemented even if it were politically viable. The idea as expressed by some people in this thread that social programs that attempt to lift up the victims of institutional racism are in fact tainted by institutional racism themselves (the narrative being that African Americans cannot properly govern themselves and would fall victim to the wiles of the economic elites). However this narrative which has inherent racism built into it also has the coextant narrative that the economic elites will always exploit the economically disadvantaged unless class based solutions are broadly applied.

What's even more interesting is that a not insubstantial amount of academic literature does support the idea that direct cash payments are the "optimal" form of social assistance because direct cash payments empower the recipient to best tailor their additional resources to meet their particular needs and that any social program designed to fix structural and institutional Xisms will inevitably create negative externalities.

In this regards it seem like you have the strange bedfellow that if you accept that institutional racism exists and that this was a direct outcome of generations of slavery and that an economic solution would be the optimal form of restitution then you have the weird result that economic conservatives would be most in favor of cash transfers (reparations) to the African American community rather than social programs built to mitigate the impact of structural racism.

I suspect that a really compelling book could be made that touches on all these overlapping "solutions" to racism and how they all can be found lacking because they attempt to solve the problem by focusing on a small part of the overall construct.
posted by vuron at 8:27 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


How do you define "black person"? Do they have to prove their ancestors were slaves? Or just that they have black skin?

That wasn't a problem when people (people alive today) were denied cheap home loans based on the color of their skin; it wasn't a problem when they were excluded from colleges or professions or voting booths, or when they couldn't even drive cross-country without a meticulous plan of where they could stop for gas and accommodation.

Yes, it's very possible that compensation may be directed to someone who doesn't "deserve" it, but given that these are reparations for unjustified and unwarranted cruelty, a bit of undeserved kindness is probably appropriate.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:42 PM on February 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


If the one drop rule was in place to enforce the negative consequences of racism against African Americans then it's probably fitting that any potential solution to the impacts of racism also at least start within the idea of the one drop rule.

Of course the reality is that most Americans with old enough family roots are probably going to have at least a limited amount of genetic heritage based upon African Americans so this might result in a situation where what should possibly be targeted by the most impacted population gets so broadly applied that it becomes simply a transfer payment to the majority of Americans.

So if that isn't desirable then you have to come up with a concept of impacted Americans that is somehow smaller than everyone but avoids the pitfalls of atrocity bingo where someone's economic suffering is somehow rated as more valuable than someone else's economic suffering.

And of course you should also bring up the potential need for race based reparations based upon the economic and social damages impact Native American populations because while generations of Slavery could quite possibly require structural solutions in the form of reparations and/or social programs there are other peoples that have disproportionately suffered because our government policies.
posted by vuron at 9:07 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's a theory of poverty which turns poverty into some sort of social or moral disease, which is "tell" about Coates's politics

Except it's specifically not about poverty. It's about downward mobility, particularly of the middle class. The white middle class is getting smaller because 68% of children are outearning their parents. The black middle class is getting smaller because 45% of their children end up in the bottom quintile.

At the highest quintile, downward mobility would be welcome news. Making room for more diverse new elites. But amidst a white middle class that isn't having close to the same mobility issues (even in a relatively immobile nation as the US), it creates an ugly inevitability.

Without addressing the racial component, white folks are moving up the ladder and they're doing a decent job guaranteeing they don't slide back down. The bottom quintile is the black community. Should we really be happy with that scenario just because we made the bottom quintile a nicer place to live?
posted by politikitty at 9:24 PM on February 3, 2016


the "damage" of poverty is the result of bad habits learned from "your network,"

He's not saying that, though. It's not about habits, it's about resources. He's saying if your network is disproportionately full of people in poverty, they won't have the resources to help you out if you need it. If no-one in your network can come up with $500 in an emergency, that makes you more vulnerable to the kind of catastrophes that quick access to $500 might prevent.
posted by misfish at 9:43 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


But said black people, despite losing some of what's owed them, will still be better off than they were without the reparations check.

Would that were so. Those kids with the nondischargeable student loans steadily accruing interest? They are worse off. These days, con artists don't just get the money you have--they get the interest, the fees, the penalties on top of it.

Maybe it's as simple as regulating the payday loan/check-cashing industries to make them less predatory.

So simple! I can't imagine why no one has done it before now!

And you don't have to engage in this paternalistic navel-gazing about "oh, but we need to make sure those people spend their check on stuff that's good for them".

You really should distinguish between a concern that recipients would "fritter the money away" on "frivolous" stuff and a concern that many recipients would be hustled out of the money they would have preferred to keep had they understood the nature of the deal they were entering into. The former is condescension at the very best, probably something worse. The latter reflects empirical understanding of some of the dynamics that prevent the poor (of any race) from getting ahead financially. (If you think consumer protection is, by its nature, unacceptably paternalistic, I'm puzzled as to how you identify as a leftist at all.)

This society already has a huge population of predators on the poor. Even the EITC, one of the most successful mechanisms of wealth transfer to the poor from the government, had corporations battening on its recipients for years (via "refund anticipation loans" and the like). There is unquestionably a respectable moral case for giving reparations to black Americans. There is not one for using those black Americans as a conduit to further line the pockets of unscrupulous corporations, and I'd be damned if I'd expend the huge amount of political capital needed to secure a reparations program to end up with that result.

These kinds of problems are not insuperable, but they are much more serious and complex than I've really seen supporters of a reparations program address. I wish more critics of Coates would take up this set of issues instead of arguing from, at bottom, the position that he's a victim of a variation on false consciousness.

(I suspect Reed ultimately fears that reparations will simply exacerbate the class divide within the black community, between those already positioned to use the money to effectively bolster their economic positions and those who would be at serious risk of simply being re-looted. That would be a bad outcome, strategically, for Marxists.)
posted by praemunire at 10:21 PM on February 3, 2016


Effectively he answers the trenchant problem of white supremacy by claiming “something something socialism, and then a miracle occurs.”

Trenchant isn't a synonym for "entrenched". Makes it hard to take him seriously.


But that's sort of exactly why you should. Right? Superficial "Malapropisms" of this sort are a sign that an outsider has something to contribute. The job of an intellectual is to be alert for these other voices, for the perspective they could offer. I don't want no echo chamber.
posted by polymodus at 11:07 PM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


Trenchant isn't a synonym for "entrenched". Makes it hard to take him seriously.

According to my OED, "trenchant" originally meant (literally) sharp, possessed of a cutting edge; but its meaning transferred to things like "bloody", "dangerous", "efficiently destructive" and so forth. It may be a malapropism, but it's not such a clear case as you imagine. Even if it were, it's a nice use of a word to bridge two meanings.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:26 PM on February 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


"Trenchant" also can be a variant of "distinct" or "cutting" which makes perfect sense here. That quote's use of the term doesn't strike me as a malapropism.

But to the larger question or problem the article raises, I don't think we talk enough about the moral obligation of reparations. It is distinctly separate from making up for the vagaries of capitalism (i.e. class). Supporting reparations is to say there is indeed a harm we need to make up for. To bundle it all up with class is to say we are not going to specifically "repair" that harm. So I'm definitely in the "why not both?" camp but with a strong position that it's important to specifically make up for harm and not pretend fixing one problem makes up for another. The class focus has a tendency to let us (esp white people) feel like "race doesn't matter anymore" when it most certainly does.
posted by R343L at 1:04 AM on February 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


I'm starting to think that a lot of people arguing class with Coates are doing so from a position of bad faith. I honestly can't see how you can read his reparations essay and associated blogging and decide that his goal is pandering to white elites or sabotaging a socialist candidate just to get his two cents in.

His description of the history of deliberate and specific attacks on the black middle class in the 20th century is an effective repudiation of the idea of race blind socialist policy working in America. If you continue to push for similar policies on the basis of political expediency you effectively give up on minorities.
posted by zymil at 2:15 AM on February 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


The reparation/socialism dichotomy is a false one. There's no reason why direct compensation could not be paid for individually recognisable events such as housing or educational discrimination, and a general compensation fund be set up for things like education or job creation targeting African-Americans as a class.

Also can you please do something about the racist statues kthx.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:45 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


decide that his goal is pandering to white elites or sabotaging a socialist candidate just to get his two cents in.


I don't think that is his goal. I do think his decision to criticize Bernie Sanders on reparations put his work into this grey area of "now I don't know what your motive is anymore."
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:53 AM on February 4, 2016


Seems to me his goal was to keep the discussion about reparations going somehow even though the primary is sucking all the political air out of the room.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:19 AM on February 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ugh suggesting Coates has some agenda outside of reparations makes me want to tell sanders supporters to feel themselves for privilege lumps.
posted by angrycat at 8:08 AM on February 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


Charles Blow's column in the NY Times today about White America's Broken Heart is interesting and related to this discussion:
Clinton won the support of nonwhites in Iowa 58 percent to Sanders’s 34 percent. This gap also exists — and has remained stubbornly persistent — in national polls, and in some polls is even wider. For instance, according to a January Monmouth University Poll, nationwide black and Latino support for Clinton was 71 percent as opposed to 21 percent for Sanders. At this point, this is a settled issue for nonwhite voters, and those voters are likely to be Democratic primary king- or queen-makers.
[...]
In Sanders’s speech following the Iowa caucuses, he veered from his position that this country “in many ways was created” on “racist principles,” and instead said: “What the American people understand is this country was based and is based on fairness.” Nonwhite people in this country understand that as a matter of history and heritage this simply isn’t true, but it is a hallowed ideal for white America and one that centers the America ethos.

Indeed, the current urgency about inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are coming to live an experience that many minorities in this country have long lived — structural inequity has leapt the racial barrier — and that the legacy to which they fully assumed they were heirs is increasingly beyond their grasp.

Inequality has been a feature of the African-American condition in this country since the first black feet touched this ground.

Last month, the MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes tweeted: “This campaign is starting to feel more and more like a long, national nervous breakdown.” For white America, I believe this is true.
posted by OmieWise at 8:35 AM on February 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Nobody suggested that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:36 AM on February 4, 2016


You explicitly questioned TC 's motives. Or maybe you misspoke?
posted by angrycat at 9:12 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I wasn't questioning his original motives.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:41 AM on February 4, 2016


Nobody said you were questioning his original motives. But you explicitly questioned why he would do a piece on Sanders and tie it into reparations:

I do think his decision to criticize Bernie Sanders on reparations put his work into this grey area of "now I don't know what your motive is anymore."
posted by tobascodagama at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2016


I'm seeing a lot of variations on "class and race are not mutually exclusive" and this is true in a purely intellectual sense - but I feel that one of the key dimensions here is that the debate isn't simply intellectual. It is practical. It is taking place in an environment where there are limited amounts of money, time, energy, and hands being devoted to progressive causes, and in which class-based and race-based projects - even discussions of said projects, insofar as they mobilize aforesaid limited resources for effective action - are in competition.

I don't think that any of the writers or intellectuals who have made their appearance in this thread - not Coates, not Reed, not any of the others - would disagree with the idea that class and race are different, co-existing (albeit perhaps interacting in various ways) problems in America. The issue is that if you are Coates you have seen, are seeing, or fear that you will soon be seeing, people acknowledge that truth and then all carry all the resources off to deal with the problems of class while black children continue to be shot down in the street, historical injustices continue to be added to on a daily basis, and the downward spiral of poor black communities is accepted as somehow deserved. And if you are Reed, you worry about seeing all the resources flow towards race-specific issues while the prevailing (political) economy devastates the middle and working classes, hands the political system wholly over to the one percent, locks the door on the poor and throws away the key, etc.

People in this thread seem to have raised the idea of these thinkers and writers having "skin in the game" on a personal level, which, well, I doubt anyone here has enough information to make that judgement, so I'm not even going to bother with it. But insofar as these are people who have very strong views on the problems we face and what needs to be done, in the context of competition for time, energy, money and media space I outlined above - full-throated advocacy is often the only way to ensure that your voice is heard. As I point out above, I have issues with the more simplistic, Hayek-ish "throw money out of a helicopter" versions of reparations, but Coates lives and works in an environment where you have to throw serious muscle into keeping the very idea of reparations in the public eye at all, which is necessary if you are going to have a discussion about the hows and wherefores. So being blunt and loud and cutting the even-handed bits because there are only so many words you can have in this essay, so you need to make them count, that's a reality.

This ties back into the issue of the Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter trick. In a purely intellectual environment, where we are discussing ideas qua ideas, the two are in no conceivable way mutually exclusive. It would seem bizarre even to suggest that they are, if anything the latter would seem more valuable because more inclusive. But out in the world of practice, of limited resources applied in vastly uneven ways, the latter becomes regressive, even damaging. Because, of course, until Black Lives Matter (which they don't) All Lives Matter is a lie. It's a whitewashed tomb hiding a corpse inside. So people being loudly and exclusively focused on the situation of Black Lives, even if intellectually they accept that Hispanic, White, Asian, and whatever else Lives Matter, makes sense.

Class and Race aren't mutually exclusive. But in practice, they're in competition. Because in a political reality where you need to devote massive resources to getting anything done on one of those fronts, you're not going to be able to escape a hard, and for people with "skin in the game" deeply passionate, debate over which is more critical here, and now, where black people of all economic levels and poor people of all races are fighting to survive.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:21 PM on February 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


So it seems to me that Bernie's wonderfully race-neutral class-based programs will actually reinforce, rather than challenging racial inequality. Maybe I'm missing something, and I would love for you to tell me what it is. But that's how it seems to me.

I completely agree with your analysis of the K-12 issues (and I wish there were more that the federal government could do about it - a lot of that boils down to local politics the way things are currently structured, for better or for worse). But there are also some very clear racial disparities in student loan debt which would be addressed by ensuring free public college tuition just like we do for high school education: "Black students disproportionately rely on student loans for college access; according to the Urban Institute, 42 percent of African Americans ages twenty-five to fifty-five have student loans, compared to 28 percent of whites. Black families carry a student loan debt that is 28 percent higher than that of white families" (from Bernie and the Millenials). That debt load has profound effects on the kinds of choices people can make when they leave college, and it can also have profound effects on whether people think that college education is attainable as they are progressing through the K12 system.
posted by dialetheia at 9:57 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Coates replies.
posted by zompist at 5:11 AM on February 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think he nailed it in the reply - I think his critics often failed to respond to the substance of his arguments. Nobody ever really rebuts his claims about how white supremacy is baked into the country, because the evidence for it is just too strong.
posted by Strudel at 11:27 AM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Coates' reply is very good. He brings data, and he brings rhetoric, and he justly calls out Johnson for only bringing the latter. Overall, he ends up showing that it was Johnson who was engaged in partisan action, not himself.
posted by OmieWise at 12:46 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Black America and the Class Divide
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:52 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Coates: "I will be voting for Senator Sanders. I have tried to avoid this question, but, yes, I will be voting for Senator Sanders. I try to avoid that, because I want to write as a journalist—do you know what I mean?—and separate that from my role as, I don’t know, a private citizen. But I don’t think much is accomplished by ducking the question. Yes, I will vote for Senator Sanders. My son influenced me."
posted by edeezy at 1:19 PM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


I kind of want to hear how his son influenced him!
posted by grobstein at 1:26 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


There is unquestionably a respectable moral case for giving reparations to black Americans. There is not one for using those black Americans as a conduit to further line the pockets of unscrupulous corporations, and I'd be damned if I'd expend the huge amount of political capital needed to secure a reparations program to end up with that result.

Class and Race aren't mutually exclusive. But in practice, they're in competition.

one way to maybe get at the intersection of race and class (caste?) more -- to avoid being needlessly adversarial -- from the perspective of reconciliation, reconstruction and restorative justice is to recognize:
  1. money != wealth: by one definition wealth is better equated with 'permanent income', but that doesn't mean handing over the political keys to limited economic rents from one group to another -- patrimonial capitalism -- is any 'solution'; distributing them more fairly (taking into account cumulative -- and compounding -- historical inequities) is a start, not to mention an ever more pressing moral imperative as time goes by, but the goal should still be 'euthanasia of the rentier' (even goldman sachs is now onboard ;)
  2. the origins of wealth could be less recondite and better understood (or more deliberately obscured?) than commonly perceived!
  3. If people don’t look at your data and arrive at a consensus as to what that data means in terms how we should respond – then we cannot create the new institutions we require because we cannot come to any objective agreement as to what they should do or how they should do it or whether they’re doing their job...

    So, what is to be done? The only hope is to try to contain or minimize the power and relative size and dominance of unevaluables in our lives which get to achieve their special positions of profitability through their relationship with the state. Maximize accessibility and evaluability. Which optimizes decisions. Which incentives progress in reality-tested institutions experiencing competition. Which maximizes the long-term social benefits of those decisions.
rather than reductive cultural essentialism (given the proper 'endowments') metaprocesses of evaluability -- like studying reparations -- to see whether they'd achieve the goal of improving the material well-being, prosperity and opportunities for a systematically disadvantaged and institutionally excluded underclass shouldn't be summarily dismissed, not knowing 'what works'! and, who knows, wouldn't that be valuable information to have? :P

cash transfers (reparations) to the African American community rather than social programs

this is kind of mirrored in the basic income vs. social insurance debate (which i also think is needlessly adversarial...) but i also think it reflects to what degree money can substitute for in kind public goods and services -- that are substandard in many respects for african american communities -- and whether the provision of such is overly paternalistic (uplift?); i guess one way around the latter would be to focus on capacity building -- providing people with resources, including money/capital, but also political, social and human capital -- for community development.
posted by kliuless at 11:12 AM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]




Ta-Nehisi Coates' Bernie Sanders Support Should Scare Hillary Clinton

This was a good survey, but I think it missed what I found to be the salient point of Coates' support/vote/non-endorsement: People no longer need a capital-R Reason to vote for Bernie Sanders. He's being seen as merely "the better choice", rather than The One True Voice Of Progressivism or He Who Shall Defend Us Against The One Percent or whatever. He's not a protest vote or a cult of personality or any of that. He's a guy with policy positions and experience and whatnot that people can add up and simply find more favorable than Clinton's.
posted by Etrigan at 5:43 AM on February 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Where are we talking about last night's debate? Are we doing that?
posted by angrycat at 7:10 AM on February 12, 2016


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