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The Problem With Reparations

The Problem With Reparations

Contrary to what many people would argue, the 2020 Race for the White House is the most consideration and conversation ever devoted to the subject of reparations for the American Descendents of Slavery (ADOS) in modern presidential politics. This is not to say that other institutions, groups, and individuals have not broached the subject in the recent past. It is merely a commentary on the current discourse. 

Reparations are, broadly, a very simple concept. They are restitution for harm or loss, including loss of opportunity. The forms they can take are fairly well known. Here is an article about it. 

The Real Problem

I’ve likely researched and written more about this subject than nearly anyone in independent Progressive media. There is only one problem with the subject of Reparations for Descendents of Slaves:

There is no real argument against Reparations for the Descendents of Slaves.

That is the only problem. There is no moral, political, or justice position that stands up to scrutiny. Especially, on the American Left. Not a single one. The big tell is that no one engages in good faith arguments about the horrific, continuous harms inflicted on slaves ripped from Africa and their further increase from 1619 up until today. 400 years of accrued disadvantage for a specific group. This situation was enabled and condoned by the United States government. These atrocities have been exceedingly profitable for very powerful public and private interests. This is Criminology 101- Follow the Money.

“There is no real argument against Reparations for Descendents of Slaves.”
Tweet Quote

Arguments Thus Far

I’m going to only address the counterarguments against reparations themselves. Therefore, no personal attacks or picking on particular personalities. None of those have any bearing on what is just, feasible, or moral. 

Tweet this! Reparations are an unaddressed debt owed to a particular group of American citizens.  

The vast majority of the anti-reparations talk falls under at least one of these categories:

  1. Submission to White Supremacy– Nearly all of the responses to Reparations could be placed into this category. The ones that fit here best  are a complete capitulation to White Supremacy:

    1. “Reparations will trigger a race war”
    2. “White people won’t vote for anyone that supports Reparations”
    3. Tweet this! “This is a plot to undermine Bernie Sanders”
  2. Social Position Anxiety- This group seems to be quite active. These folks often reveal themselves with statements like:

    1. Tweet this! “Reparations are cool. But, no cash.”
    2. “They only want to give Black people an advantage.”
    3. “How will it be done?”
    4. “Reparations is not radical enough.”
  3. Victim Blaming– This is a big group, as well. Many don’t even realize what they are saying or what it could mean.:

    1. “What about Black immigrants?”
    2. “What about other poor people?”
    3. “________ were victims, too.”
    4. “What about solidarity?”
    5. ”We just need to get ________ in/out of office.”
    6. Tweet this! “I’m pro-reparations. But, now is not the time.”
    7. “I like the idea of reparations. I just don’t like ________ being involved.”
  4. Unawareness About The Issue:

    Many people simply do not know the ins and outs of the Reparations issue. It has been intentionally driven out of the public discourse and our education system by very powerful forces. No shame in not knowing. The only shame is not finding out. Here’s a link: What Are Reparations?.

Additionally, many of statements blur the lines and could be placed in one category or all of them. Also, bad actors will jump between arguments just attempting to gain traction for the naysayers. 

Some of these even seem compelling, at first blush. However, in the face of 400 years of recorded, continuous exploitation and extraction with no redress for a community facing genocide, they all fall flat. 

Rebuttals Required (Good Faith)

Category 1- Submission to White Supremacy  

These folks are reacting to a lifetime of social conditioning. Obviously, that conditioning says Black people are lazy and undeserving. Putting their well-being above, or even equivalent to your own, is folly. This is meritocratic thinking that we all know doesn’t apply in America. However, it’s hard to fight this brand of “common sense.” Because it is cultural, it becomes easy to just fall into it and start rationalizing why it’s Ok. 

If a Cat 1 is willing to look at the facts and interrogate their reasoning, they will usually shift their stance to more-or-less pro-reparations. Meaning, they probably won’t become a pro-reparations hardliner. But, they won’t fight it either. I would like to see more of these folks become champions. 

Note: Category 1 is not just White people. Unfortunately, many non-White people fall into this classification. 

Category 2- Social Position Anxiety

In reality, America is a caste system. Upward social and economic mobility is ultimately a myth in the land of opportunity. In Capitalism, someone MUST be on the bottom. If Reparations happens in any significant form, ADOS will no longer be the bottom. That necessarily means someone has to drop to the bottom. Who will that be? 

Because family and individual wealth (not income) decide your social position, universal programs will largely leave the structure itself unchanged. Life will be more secure, healthier, and more comfortable. But the bottom will still be the bottom. No one wants to be the bottom. Any position BUT the bottom is OK for a lot of people. 

Category 3- Victim Blaming

Many Lefties fall into this group. People see Bernie Sanders as an imperfect, once-in-a-lifetime politician that has a chance to make real change. This is a fair characterization. However, this line of thinking leads many to defend Bernie under any and all circumstances. Even at the expense of justice. 

Reparations have been absolutely (and intentionally) radioactive in our political discourse for centuries. This puts people on the defense. Because Bernie must not be at fault in this frame, blame must be placed elsewhere. Tweet this! Black folks are always easy to blame in American culture. It’s easy to impose responsibility for Bernie’s or Progressive Movement’s success on the darkies

Posing solidarity as unworkable, if ADOS doesn’t smilingly accept inflicted poverty and degraded citizenship, is a very serious problem. Equally, galling is “What about [another marginalized group]?” Slave Descendents are expected to predicate their justice claim on others receiving restitution, shifting responsibility from government and industry to ADOS. Tweet this! There are exactly zero groups that face economic precarity because of Black people.

We are the ONLY members of this coalition expected to make this sacrifice. Even though winning the White House as a Democrat is nigh impossible without our votes. 

Tweet this! These are stunningly racist “know your place” moments for many of us. As you can easily see, this is where this group overlaps Category 1. Tweet this! This smacks of assumed inhumanity and a belief that Black people should be more readily burdened than other groups.

Category 4- Unawareness About The Issue

There was a struggle here on whether to call this ignorance. Tweet this! It’s mostly imposed by our terrible education system. Therefore, “unawareness” is a more accurate term. Some people feign ignorance to avoid the subject or start cynical circular arguments. But, mostly this group simply doesn’t know. 

If you feel you are in this group, here are a few articles:

The Last Third Rail In US Politics: American Descendants of Slavery (#ADOS)
What Are Reparations?
The Case for Our Burden: #ADOS vs. Everybody
Top 3 Factors For American Success And What It Means For Reparations

Here is a book list:

Black Wealth White Wealth
The Color of Money

After you read, you’ll have to get on-side or find another Category.


Tweet this! Most successful political arguments are built on a morality and justice foundation. Even bogus positions have been successful when you weave justice into the framing. Centuries of wealth-driven White Supremacy have rendered ADOS unworthy in the minds of many people. This is bone-deep in American culture and it affects all of us. It takes careful thought, consideration, courage, and action to change this view because the US makes it comfortable to hold these views. US culture makes it physically, socially, and economically painful to stand up and push back against the grain on race. 

If we on the Left envision a better country and world, the nexus of Racial and Economic Justice is likely the best place to start. 

Thanks for reading! Please follow me on Twitter.


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