Thursday, May 22, 2014


I haven't read Ta-Nehisi Coates's "The Case for Reparations" yet, but it's hard to imagine a positive response in America to a call for new payments to any group when we now routinely default on payments we've already promised to make, such as legally required payouts to former city and state workers who are now pensioners.

But that's just an extension of what's been our national state of mind for some time -- at least since George H.W. Bush, in his 1989 inaugural address, said, "We have more will than wallet." Since then -- or, more likely, since Reagan -- we've prided ourselves on the notion that we're broke, that we can't afford to fix the roads and bridges, that we need a Simpson-Bowles commission to free us from our future Medicare and Social Security obligations, that our private businesses can't afford an increase in the minimum wage and our billionaires can't endure a tax hike.

This is now part of the American zeitgeist. Call it "national weakness conservatism" -- although it's not limited to conservatives, especially the Simpson-Bowles part.

Yes, we find money for wars and bank bailouts. Yes, we agreed to compensate the survivors of the 9/11 dead -- though a bill to compensate sick 9/11 first responders passed only because Republicans were shamed into the ending their opposition. And yes, we do compensate victims of natural disasters -- although that's often a battle, too, and I wonder what we'd do if tornadoes and hurricanes were largely a problem in blue states.

There are a lot of obvious reasons why we can't possibly have an adult conversation about reparations for African-Americans -- but our recent tendency to wallow in America's alleged poverty is a less obvious reason. We like thinking we're broke. It explains away our empathy fatigue.


Victor said...

We fought a World War on two fronts - and won both.

We developed the horrific atomic bomb - ostensibly to save lives that would have been lost if we attacked the Japanese mainland, and they fought to the last man, woman, and child, like in Okinawa.

We built infrastructure, while paying of WWII, and also growing the greatest middle class the world had ever seen!

We finally got Civil and Voting Rights for African Americans (and that's where the problem started!).

We put men on the Moon, in less than 10 years!

America was a "CAN-DO NATION!!!"

After Vietnam, Nixon, and Reagan, we became a "We Can't-Do Nation! We Can't Afford It."

Both Nixon and Reagan used race as a wedge issue, and took advantage of "Dividing and Conquering" to lower taxes on the wealthiest, place the tax burden on the middle class, and move money from the middle on up - which is pretty much destroyed today.

The brilliance of Conservatives, was/is that they used and still use race to 'divide and conquer,' and get people fearful that there might be a Race War, while they were actually waging a Class War on the middle class and the poor - and winning!

Reagan brought "Mourning in America," not "morning."

Yastreblyansky said...

Shorter: We can't possibly have an adult conversation until the number of adults in the room reaches critical mass. And I'm afraid those who believe in debt fairies aren't planning on growing up any time soon, because there's no percentage in that.

Victor said...

No PROFIT, either!

mtar925 said...

I haven't read Coates' essay yet, though I plan to. As a white male who's already sympathetic to the basic case for reparations, and purely for the sake of conversation, I wonder if Coates addresses the following questions. I invite your own answers!

1) From the value of labor that was stolen from African slaves, which if any of the following should be deducted to arrive at a fair reparation amount:
a) Union costs in fighting the Civil War;
b) Confederate costs in fighting the Civil War;
c) The cost of government aid and programs specifically targeted to African Americans disadvantaged as a result of slavery;
d) costs of enforcement of antidiscrimination legislation;
e) Increased business and personal costs incurred as a result of government mandated but privately implemented affirmative action, equal employment opportunity and similar antidiscrimination initiatives;
f) The cost of government aid and
programs not specifically targeted, but utilized disproportionately by African Americans as a result of disadvantages that can be traced back to slavery?

2) Who is eligible for reparations? Only the descendants of slaves, or also more recent immigrants whose skin color subjects them to many of the same disadvantages borne by the descendants of slaves?

3) If reparations are paid, does that close the books? No more affirmative action, no more government mandated equal opportunity measures? Things that I support today, btw.

I probably sound like an idiot, but figured I'd let it hang out there; maybe I'll learn something.

Ten Bears said...

Reparations is on par with the so-called holacaust, when people are ready to talk about the twenty-five or so million of my ancestors put to the sword in the name of the jew christian muslim mormon dog maybe I would give thought to reparations for the descenants of slaves (of which I can also trace descent).

Based on my experience I'd say somebody is blowing sunshine up somebody's ass.

No fear.

heinleiners said...

Japanese American WW2 internees got reparations. It took decades and a lot of them had already passed away but at least we tried to make it right

Joe said...

Before anybody gets carried away, Coates's idea of reparations isn't just money.

gocart mozart said...

To follow up on what Ten Bears said:

There is a legal dictum which states that "For every wrong there is a remedy." However, there is an inchoate and unnamed principle that holds that "for extraordinary wrongs, because there is no adequate compensation, there will therefore be no compensation."*

* It's my observation although I'm sure I'm not the first. I don't think it has a name, may I suggest "gocart's dictum"

gocart mozart said...

Having been nice to Ten Bears, let me just say this: Dude it's not a competition. "My people's genocide was worse than your people's genocide!" is not cool.

Ten Bears said...

And 'your people's genocide is more important than mine' is? If you're a white jew your (alleged) holacaust is holy, but if you are a dark skinned aboriginee 'oh well it happened move on'? That, is the epitome of marginalization. And five hundred years of Pavlovian conditioning.

You can't escape it.

No fear.