Friday, May 23, 2014

Dear White Folks, Reparations for Black Americans are Not a 'Lottery': What are Some of the Worst Comments You Have Seen in Response to Coates' New Essay?

I am still working through my thoughts on Ta-Nehisi Coates' new piece on slavery reparations.

Ta-Nehisi Coates will be on Melissa Harris-Perry's TV program this weekend. I am curious to see how he parses a long essay into a set of television talking-points. Melissa Harris-Perry is a great interviewer--and an expert on the material covered by "The Case for Reparations"--so the conversation should be very educational for the viewers of the show.

As I wrote here, I am fascinated by the comments that The Case for Reparations has generated over at the Atlantic and the other much less moderated sites across the Internet (speaking of which, one of the moderators of Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog was kind enough to chime in here).

If one needs any more confirmation that white supremacy remains a real social force in American life simply read the comments in response to Coates' The Case for Reparations.

The Internet is one part of what is termed "the backstage" of modern American racism. It is a space for people to act out publicly what their (semi)private thoughts actually are. Now, take the next step. Those bigots are your neighbors, friends, colleagues, and perhaps even your family members. Meditate on that fact.

For white folks, the above is a thought experiment. For people of color, it is a matter of life and death.

Most of the comments in response to Coates' new essay are standard, white racist, "color blind" talking-points. Consequently, they are uninteresting, merely a reveal of the White Right's intellectual bankruptcy in post civil rights America.

However, there is one emerging meme in the comments against Coates' essay that merits some attention. Contrary to what some racists would suggest--be they active or passive, intentional or accidental, or just drunk on white privilege and the white racial frame--slavery reparations (or for the myriad of other state sponsored crimes against black people in America) are not a "lottery".

Reparations, of any form, are an act of acknowledgement that a crime has occurred, and said victim should be made whole both materially and financially, as well as through the moral gesture of an apology.

A lottery is a random win. A lottery is fun. The crime against humanity that was centuries of white on black chattel slavery across the Black Atlantic, more than one hundred years of Racial Apartheid in the United States under Jim and Jane Crow, and then decades more, into the present, of continued institutional white supremacy, is not fun or entertaining for African-Americans or other people of color.

It is more than glib. Using the word "lottery" to describe slavery reparations is an act of violence through language against black folks' humanity. When the justice claims of black Americans are reduced to the randomness of a game and the monies that can come with winning it, white racists and their allies are mocking and dancing on the graves of the recent dead, the long-dead, and those in the present whose life chances continue to be negatively impacted by white supremacy.

There is mounting empirical research which suggests that white people do not feel empathy towards people of color. And maybe that is the point? If you do not feel any sense of empathy or shared humanity with black people then why would a person not spit in the face of their lived experiences by reducing their justice claims to a "lottery"?

Do share if you would. What are some of the most obnoxious and racist comments you have encountered online in response to Coates' new essay on reparations for the crimes committed against African-Americans? What are some of the smarter and more insightful comments, either pro or con, that you have read?


Myshkin the Idiot said...

I could do this all day. From a great NPR piece called "How To Tell Who Hasn't Read The New 'Atlantic' Cover Story"

Deflecting collective responsibilities to rectify injustices: "The most important point to make here is that two wrongs don't make a right. Even if you think it's dozens, hundreds, or millions of wrongs, adding on another won't make it right.
"If you want a better future you have to make it for yourself, you can't take it by force from another."

Callousness: "Haven't read it and don't need to. A legal concept in three words tells me everything: Statute of Limitations."

Classic Jeffersonian vindictiveness: "A more accurate title for the article would be The Case For Retaliation."

Ignorant racist: "By all means implement reparations so we can eliminate one more excuse as to why a segment of our population feels they cannot be successful in our society."

Double racist: "Native Americans owned slaves. Maybe they can just give victims a cut of the casino profits."

And of course, white slavery: "Someone publishes an article to return slavery as an institution. You think you need to accommodate the ludicrous detritus that will pass as a composition of reasons before you hate the thought?"

None of these people read the article, nor the piece about people commenting on the article without reading it, quite hilarious.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

a good piece came from Jamelle Bouie through Slate
Reparations are Owed: Here are a few ways to pay the bill

"here’s a lot to recommend when it comes to cash benefits. For starters, it empowers individuals, families, and communities. They know what they need, and we should trust them to figure out their own interests over the long term. Yes, a cash scheme could never be fully fair, but that’s not the point; what we want is to heal injury and balance accounts, and on that score, it could work."

"the other end is the policy approach. Instead of cash, the federal government would implement an agenda to tackle racial inequality at its roots. This agenda would focus on major areas of concern: housing, criminal justice, education, and income inequality. As for the policies themselves, they don’t require a ton of imagination. To break the ghettos and reduce the hyper-segregation of black life, the federal government would aggressively enforce the Fair Housing Act, with attacks on housing and lending discrimination, and punishment for communities that exclude low-income residents with exclusionary zoning.

What’s more, it would provide vouchers for those who want to move, subsidized mortgages for those who want to own, and huge investments in transportation infrastructure, to break urban and rural isolation and connect low-income blacks to jobs in wealthier, whiter areas.

On the education front, state governments could end education budgets based on local property taxes—which disadvantage poor communities and disproportionately hurt blacks—and the federal government could invest in school reconstruction, modernization, and vouchers—for parents who want their children in private schools—in addition to higher education subsidies for black Americans. These “in-kind” benefits have the virtue of freeing up disposable income, thus acting as de facto cash payments.

It almost goes without saying that this move for policy reparations would include an end to the war on drugs, an end to mass incarceration, and a national re-evaluation of police procedures to reduce racial profiling. And, looking forward, it could include progressive “baby bonds”—federally managed investment accounts with modest annual growth rates."

chauncey devega said...

At a certain point don't they all sound like they were written by the same Right-wing talking point think tank? A bunch of monkeys in a room banging away on keyboards until something is produced.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

it's like having a conversation on the topic with one my folks. every one of these one-liners will come out within a couple minutes, then there's nothing left to be said.

Me: continuing with historically relevant information

My pops: "no, no, no, no"


Lucy Kemnitzer said...

I want to just say that reparations are obvious in this case. All of the wealth of the US is intricately and solidly tied to slavery, and the harm of slavery is devastating and ongoing. If you profit from deliberately harming another person, if you profit from robbing that person of material wealth, the means of acquiring it, of their health, their family, and their life: you owe reparations. It's that simple. Any argument against it is specious.

I'd say it should be funded by increased taxes, including special fees on corporations and private wealth with especially salient origins in the slave trade and slave industries. And those fees should be really high. And raparations should consist of both outright grants of money and investment in public amenities in black communities -- housing, schools, parks, hospitals, libraries, communications, sewage systems, renewable energy.

I'd also like to point out that such reparations would go a long way towards rescuing the entire generation of young people who have been thrown under the bus by these same wealth-hogging old capitalists, by putting this hoarded wealth into the hands of people who will spend it on real goods and services.

Reparations is right on every measure, moral, legal, economic. Which is really the reason it's not getting much play. There's a large faction of movers and shakers in this country who really don't want things to get better.

jemand2 said...

I'm reminded sadly of this:

Enough powerful forces were threatened by *who knows what* that was contained in documents dating back to 1840, that they were able to, just last year, burn boxes and boxes and boxes worth of information right after it came to light. Who knows how many places have destroyed such cache's of information before historians knew of them at all, or knew their worth.

All that to say, yes, fees should be very high, especially on wealth sources especially tied to slavery, but fees for attempting to destroy documents as happened in Franklin County have to be extremely high too, and we don't even know who was behind that. Any system of reparations which assumes that there exists modern wealth which is *less* touched by the shadow of slavery than other wealth, is going to result in immense effort put forth to destroy as many historical documents as possible.

ChuckieJesus said...

There seems to be a thread of, "What form exactly shall reparations take?" As if the possibility of asking for cold, hard cash is out of the question, or would make the descendants of slaves gauche for saying, "Well, hell yes."

Because, look. What else do white people understand?

Also, there's another question: who pays? Shall all Americans get taxed, because it's probably the most egalitarian and least invasive way of getting reparations accomplished? Or what? Just tax white people? Do we start getting into forensics, following trails of inherited wealth? Because all roads lead upwards. Those who hold the money can probably be held accountable for all the nefarious means by which they've gained it, including slavery.

I remember reading somewhere the Benedict Cumberbatch was the heir of wealth specifically gained from the slave trade. Do we sue him, or his estate? I think these are ok questions to ask.

The one heartening thing I've seen in the comments sections? Even the folks against reparations seem to be open to the idea that this is real history that happened, and that this is real, calculable damage done to African slavery descendants.

I think what really scares them is having to cop to any kind of culpability. Because probably nobody in that comments section feels they could withstand being held accountable in any way, least of all financially.

I wonder how Germans deal with their Nazi past? I don't think I've read much about it. I haven't heard of them denying what happened to the same degree that some white Americans like to deny the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, and structural racism. But I could be wrong.

Improbable Joe said...

Reparations suck. Affirmative action isn't great. Abortion rights are completely unfair to the men who helped make the pregnancy happen.

And life isn't fair. So the people who have the most? They can get over life being slightly less unfair in their favor.

wawoo said...

On a personal note, I live close to Rosewood and have passed by probably 200 or so times over the past 40 years. I have a business acqaintance who lives in Rosewood and whose family augmented their property holdings from the property of dispossessed African-Americans. His view is that what happened at Rosewood was bad but that it was a long time ago and none of his living family had anything to do with it and therefore they,, his family and the other white families who acquire property, owe nothing to the descendents of those who were dispossessed.
Meanwhile he and many more of his conservative, White American brothers and sisters think absolutely Jews of European origin whose families may never have ever been in Israel, their ancestors most likely having been converts from central Turkey 1200 or so years ago, absolutely have a claim on all of present day Israel including the West Bank and more. Even if at best those Europen Jews ancestors left Palestine/Israel 1900 years ago.
Also Piketty's "Capital In the 21st Century" broadly ties into Coates powerfully reasoned essay in that African-Americans economic and social circumstance are proof of the effects of negative compounding over many generations.

Brian Joyner said...

A long time ago, friends and I talked about how reparations might play out in actuality. After laughing hysterically how that would never happen, we came up with the Black Card (tm). Every African descended person who could trace his/her connection to the wrong end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade would get either a full ride to the college of their choice (dependent upon admission), start-up captial and training for a new venture, or a 20% down-payment on a home, with a home value up to $500K, with a mortgage at the lowest available rate. No statue of limitations, but you pick one. This idea has flaws, but it would provide an avenue toward wealth creation--education, entrepreneur, real estate.

Money is a part of this whole equation, but reflection and reconciliation of our history is critical. Honestly, I think the hush money is more likely--it's been done before ($20K to surviving Japanese Americans from WWII internment, Indian Trust Funds), because admitting the fallacy of the American narrative may be too much for this nation to take.

SabrinaBee said...

I think, these shrieking commenters don't get that Mr. Coates' point was not necessarily financial reparations but, that this country has to begin to do the work of acknowledging just what years of policy has wreaked on its black citizens. Rather than simply blaming them for the outcome. Until then, we have no right to call ourselves a great nation or to export our form of "democracy" on other nations. Because, it comes from a place and was structured on the very evils, for lack of a better word, that we want to claim to right to judge others upon. Is this truly the reason we have no qualms about getting into bed with dictators? If so, it shows that we've really learned nothing as a country and sets up conditions where history can be repeated. But hen, I suppose that is really the point, to make any such admission means that we aren't all the we claim. "Patriotism a la carte" - Yes, that essay was a work of art.

SabrinaBee said...

Ha! UK recently destroyed their records, as well.

chauncey devega said...

Dude is lethal with the letters and words. Patriotism a la carte belongs on a t-shirt.

chauncey devega said...

How do they reconcile such contradictions? Is it that being black quite literally makes one a sub species who their attitudes towards is governed by a different set of rules? Boggles the mind. The white racial frame is a potent drug.

chauncey devega said...

Zing. Keep your real talk to yourself. You gonna hurt someone's feelings.

chauncey devega said...

There is an element w. the reparations argument which some economists have pointed out that is a spot on example of how white racism hurts the thinking and reasoning capacities of white folks. So damn obvious too. I guess I will have to point it out next week.

Miles_Ellison said...

I think that there are a lot of torn ACLs from all the jerking knees. People's brains shut down when the word "reparations" is uttered. There was a comment on the NPR site that said the essay was an interesting history lesson, but no case for reparations. Reading comprehension is clearly a problem with some people, but the larger problem is the unwillingness to acknowledge that anti-black racism and white supremacy is not just a bunch of crackpots wearing hoods, burning crosses, and saying offensive things. It's U.S. Government policy, and has been since the founding of this country. Coates lays out the systematic government support of racist policy in multiple areas that is indisputable to any sentient being with a minimal understanding of history.

When the debate about reparations shifts, as it often does, to people denying personal responsibility and characterizing it as a handout, it takes the attention away from the core issue: centuries of government policy that has robbed black people of wealth, freedom, and civil rights. That is what Coates was talking about. And that is what no one wants to really listen to.

rrp said...

I was on the comments for both the moderated and unmoderated posts on Coates' blog yesterday and that really jumped out at me, the generic, copy and paste quality of the attackers. Not an original idea, if you can even call them ideas, in the bunch.

chauncey devega said...

Cyber-racism is real. As we have talked about here on WARN the White Right is very well organized in this regard where they can use bots, PR firms, and other paid for hacks to "dominate" in comments sections as a way of undermining the public discourse. Folks need to wake up.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

The intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary conservatism is very real.

Michael Varian Daly said...

The Rulers laugh as The Lower Orders fight over scraps from The Ruler's table.

wawoo said...

Yes there are. An African-American woman acquaintance of mine is one of the leaders in those efforts as well as a historian of the African-American community.

joe manning said...

Yes, its only fair.

jimshannon said...

I guess i'm most surprised that many were unaware of US history with African'Americans. The right will say it's racist against them and ignore the history, but many thinking good people can also learn a lot more about the truth of our history.

chauncey devega said...

Why are you surprised? They are willfully ignorant. Access to information is cheap; denial of white supremacy as a fact of American history is a decision at this point...for both sides of the color line.

Lucy Kemnitzer said...

It's pretty hard to stomach the comment threads where this stuff happens. But you're making me think that it's important to leap in there and say stuff in those places.

chauncey devega said...

Good luck. Remember part of the strategy of the white right is to create a sense of paralysis and exhaustion. They are not interested in honest dialogue. Be mindful of your energy.

Lucy Kemnitzer said...

I figure the place to start is in some of the more public but less crowded comment threads, where a few comments might have more effect. So I don't have to ride them day and night. So I'll have to figure out which ones are like that.

Fred Ceely said...

I read Mr. Coates' article with interest, and I found it very illuminating. A lot of the info was new to me, fuel to the fire, as it were. The personal stories were horrifying, but never surprising, nothing less than we've come to expect. We know the story. The worst of it, as Mr. Coates points out, is that white folks refuse to acknowledge the reality, and continue to do so. The comments on the 'Net are sad, usually in the nature of, "but what about the murders in Chicago?" Anyone who thinks that those kinds of things are real arguments has a condition. (Pace, "The Avengers.")

Choosing to massage the issue of reparations instead of taking a firm position in favor of them was a great technique. Discussing the issues, examining the problems, and coming to terms with historical reality are all such good ideas that they will be hard to argue against, although many will try. Anyone who teaches persuasive writing should consider assigning this article.

The real lesson for me was the specificity issue. I tend to expand contentious issues to the level of generalities, like "it's not a women's issue, it's a family issue." The article persuaded me that black historical issues cannot be viewed as anything but black issues. Framing them as class issues, or anything else, just doesn't work at all. So I learned something.

I'd give the article a ninety-eight. It had a great beat, the singer is cute, it's an intellectual challenge and you can dance to it.

Craig said...

The most obnoxious statement I`ve read would be "...go read Steve (Sailer)`s takedown of TNC". Sailer`s essays are intelligent sounding enough for racist people to think the issue has been resolved in their favor.

The Sanity Inspector said...

The lottery analogy is accurate in this respect: Many of the recipients wouldn't be able to handle the windfall. You often read about people who've won big Powerball jackpots, and are broke a few years later. They had no experience handling such sums, and so the fortune not so gradually slips away.

If a reparations ruling were to nick a quarter of my assets, say, and hand them over to one other person, for me it would sting. I'd have to delay retirement, search harder for scholarships for my children, and other such belt-tightening. But I'd probably make it back in a decade. The recipient of my allegedly ill-gotten earnings, would he or she handle that pot of money falling into their laps? Would they set about building the free, equal and empowered lives that their ancestors were denied, finally feeling that they are acknowledged stakeholders in this society? Or would they just make the realtors and Escalade dealership rich and then be right back where they started?

And if, after reparations and official apology, enough people wind up right back where they started, wouldn't the whole thing just start over again? Where is the finish line, and what's waiting for us there?

chauncey devega said...

Got to be more sane mr. sanity inspector. no one is talking about confiscating your wealth. there are many precedents under international law regarding reparations. moreover, of course we black people are sitting around dreaming of taking white people's money and buying Escalades, big rims, gold teeth, and malt liquor.

Got to be careful there--unless you were making a failed effort at comedy--with that reveal of subconscious/implicit bias.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Well, if I don't pay, then who would? I'm the putative oppressor, after all. The Chinese fund a lot of or spending, but they might not be on board with this. And no slur is intended--"a fool and his money are soon partying" is a simple truism for any group.

Arlingtonvirginia said...

Don't reparations entail believing in collective guilt? My friend's father was murdered by a black man on the LIRR. If all whites are responsible for what some did hundreds of years ago, through Jim Crow, are all blacks responsible for my friend's father's murder. Because if you open the door to collective responsibility and collective guilt, you either open it all the way or you don't. All sorts of groups faced all sorts of discrimination in this country and others. I don't blame my failings on the germans, despite them trying to exterminate my entire ethnic group. I don't expect them to give me things either. I certainly don't hold germans today responsible for what people in the past did.