Tough Questions for Democrats on Reparations

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The Democrats have some tough questions to answer on reparations for slavery. The first one is: Are they really serious about advocating reparations? Why ask this first? Because the issue which was once mostly viewed as a fringe issue touted by a motley mix of black separatists, zealots and crackpots and that respected mainstream civil rights leaders shunned, has now been slammed onto the nation’s public-policy plate by Democratic presidential contenders Corey Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Julian Castro,

They say they back the old John Conyers bill, reintroduced by Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee to set up a committee to study the feasibility of reparations payments. Meanwhile, they offer their plans which entails some form of reparations be it tax credits, more funding for education, child and health care for blacks. Also, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez says reparations is an issue worthy of discussion. And former president Obama who early on flatly opposed the idea has come around and now sees it as meriting a look.

If Democrats really embrace the idea, then the next question is: how hard are they willing to push the issue on the campaign trail? To be blunt, or they willing to talk reparations in whatever form they advocate to rural, blue collar, less educated white voters in the must win swing states? These are the voters who did much to put Trump in the Oval Office in 2016. The general consensus is that a good number of them must be torn away from Trump if a Democrat is to have any hope of ousting him in 2020.

This is dicey at best. Every poll that has been taken on reparations for slavery has repeatedly shown that the overwhelming majority of whites oppose it. They don’t want corporations, and definitely not the government, to pay up.

Reparations advocates have grabbed at every argument in the book to try and dent the wall of public resistance. They offer assurances that black millionaires, corporate presidents, superstar athletes and entertainers won’t get a dime of reparations money, that it will go to programs to aid the black poor and that it won’t guilt-trip all whites. They point out that Japanese Americans and Holocaust survivors have gotten reparations.

These arguments still fall on deaf ears. The reparations movement can’t shake the public tag that it is a movement exclusively of, by and for blacks. Polls that show that the majority of blacks back reparations simply deepen the suspicion that it’s still nothing but a cash grab by blacks for blacks for the past horror of slavery that whites who oppose reparations vehemently insist was decades ago and something they had nothing to do with.

Democratic presidential contender, Bernie Sanders, was initially worried that reparations could be a potential mine field for Democrats. He said he didn’t back reparations. But then he pivoted and jumped on the feasibility study bandwagon. This is a tepid compromise and sounds like a face-saving ploy banking that the issue will fade into obscurity when the presidential campaign season really heats up.

But what if it doesn’t? One Democratic presidential contender, Beto O’Brien, was roughly and very publicly called out on the issue at one of his campaign stops. He, like Sanders, initially frowned on the idea. However, under verbal assault by a questioner, he relented and said it was an idea that had some merit.

The GOP is already loading up its arsenal of hit attacks on the Democrats in the dozen or so states that it has targeted as the states that will determine who sits in the White House. They’ll paint the Democrats as far out loons, who want to press all kinds of wild socialist tinged ideas in health care, climate control, green energy, education, and so on. They’ll almost certainly add reparations support to the supposed screwball list of measures that a Democrat would press on the nation if Trump is booted out. The question then is if Democrats stay on record to make reparations a legitimate public policy talking point how much of a political risk is there? This means avoiding at all costs the appearance that reparations seem like a frivolous issue that is politically divisive and racially polarizing.

The reparations movement does not possess the inherent racial egalitarianism of the civil rights movement. It is ensnared by its racial isolationism. The focus is solely to compensate the descendants of black slaves and whipsaw whites for modern-day racism. Yet. Democrats still can make a compelling argument that it is in the interest of government and business to pump more funds into specific projects, such as AIDS/HIV education and prevention, remedial education, job skills and training, drug and alcohol counseling and rehabilitation, computer access and literacy training. Such projects would boost the black poor, not gut public revenues and, most important, not finger all whites as culpable for slavery.

Democrats have made their bed with the reparations issue. The question is when the GOP and Trump rattle that bed will they continue to lay in it? That’s the toughest question of all for Democrats.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Why Black Lives Do Matter  (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.




3 thoughts on “Tough Questions for Democrats on Reparations”

  1. Reparations, if understood to mean cash payments or some other benefits such as free college, guarenteed minimum income and health care exclusively to descendants of African slaves who are currently classified as African American. That is certainly polarizing. It would certainly get a lot more traction with blacks than non-blacks.

    Why does the idea of stronger government enforcement of civil rights laws in employment, housing, banking, education and other not get raised. Civil Rights are for everyone and since the rights of blacks are violated more intensively on account of “race” or ethnicity than than non-blacks. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other civil rights legislation have weak enforcement provisions.

    There are whites with a great grand parent or two who were slaves but are mainly of European descent, maybe or maybe not descendants of slave holders as well. How much African blood is required to be considered African American? And is documentation needed that at least some of that African blood flowed in the veins of someone enslaved in the United States after or perhaps before 1776? This will be a boon to DNA ancestry test companies and family tree researchers. Is one drop of slave blood enough, a pint or two? If reparations is an inheritable debt owed by virtue of having slaves as ancesters, can the current racial classification of heir be the basis for granting or not granting the benefit? Does someone with a pint of slave blood get the same share as someone with just a drop? The fact that all slaves and all but maybe all but a very few of their immediate descendants are dead, figuring out who is owed what and how much could lead to an enormous amount of litigation if the stakes are high enough.

    Or is the main point of reparations to acknowledge that most if not all of those who are classified as African American face discrimination and secondary effects of past and present discrimination that was mandated after slavery was formally abolished and not vigorously enough suppressed when racial discrimination was briefly prohibited after the Civil War and again after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Those who overtly discriminated on the basis of race in employment, housing and other fields were not greatly hindered from continuing to discriminate so long as they could plausibly deny or hide the discriminatory behavior. Race discrimination provides benefits to employers, such as lower wages to marginalized people of color and some whites. Blacks were excluded from skilled trades by law and continued to be excluded from skilled trades professions by non-compliance or “minimal compliance” with civil rights laws. The housing market and K-12 public schools are highly segregated by non-compliance and minimal compliance with civil rights laws. Public K-12 schools are racially segregated and grossly unequal in term of expose of pupil to inexperienced teachers, newly hired teachers, watered down curriculum, and psych drugs used as chemical restraints, to name a few disparities.

    Where there is an injury, there should be a remedy. If systemic discrimination is the core issue, then, logically, a big part of the remedy would be designed to stop or suppress the discrimination. That is where civil rights enforcement by the government would be an appropriate remedy. Civil rights enforcement wouldn’t be an exclusive benefit to blacks, nor is it a zero sum game where what is gained by blacks comes at the expense of all whites or non-blacks. Race discrimination in employment is a method for cutting payroll costs, of marginalizing certain defined groups to keep wages as low as possible. Landlords will perhaps see black tenants as bad risks because of higher poverty rates, limited job and housing opportunities. Whatever the rationale, it happens. Inferior conditions of learning for a majority of blacks in public schools and exclusion from social networks that can provide access to good jobs.

    High rates of poverty, less access to health care and other things tied into poverty is another injury that can be address by anti-poverty measures, such as a higher minimum wage, guaranteed minimum income, medicare for all, eliminating tuition for public universities, community colleges and trades, etc. There won’t be much buy in from non-blacks if the aforementioned anti-poverty policies are exclusively for blacks. “Colorblind” remedies for poverty would disproportionately benefit blacks.

    Another effects of past and present race discrimination is a less inherited wealth passed along from generation to generation, and a disproportionately small group of millionaires and billionaires. Maybe more black billionaires and millionares could be produced with a lottery scheme, say with a trillion dollars to be distributed to 20,000 lottery winners. Of course, rich people will want to have the money come from people who are not rich. Or, this could take the form of business develop funds and government contract reserved for black businesses, a “race preference” model. Who is going to be brought together in a political alliance to make this happen?

    Those responsible have names and addresses. They are legislators who write the laws and policies, and those in the chain of command, from the corporate CEO to the administers and managers. Where there is a motive to violate civil rights laws, such as higher profits, lower payroll costs, you are going to see violations of the law unless there are also enforcement provisions that furnish a stronger motive to comply with the law. Those who are highly compensated and integrated into positions of power, regardless of race and gender have a motive to not rock the boat. Integrating more black people into positions of power will not have a huge effect on the policies and practices with a disparate impact on black people looking for entry level jobs.

  2. #ADOCS #DOS descendant OF chattel slavery, will get #REPARATION any mention of Jew-ish #REPARATION & JAPANESE #REPARATION and #REPARATIONS to INDIAN (RESERVATIONS/LAND, Continued Gov. Payment, NO TAXES, Schooling), will Happen for DESCENDANTS of CHATTEL SLAVERY.

    #REPARATIONS; It’s come at the Right Time and those who will work out the DETAILS, must be some of our best Credentialed BLACK SCHOLARS, Black leadership, not vested in GATE-KEEPING, in Congress, or In the BLACK-FACED TALKING HEADS/Contributors/Black faced news show Host (which are of limited number”, thanks be to the “Most High”.

    In the BIG 6 Media’s and certainly not, not “crack pots, or fringe and that includes the Biggest Roadblocks to EDUCATION the American people, the “GATEKEEPERS”, who have been in leadership for the LAST 50 YEARS, and never made it plain and getting and bringing the people alone on the Democratic side of Rep. John CONYERS HR. 40. The GROWING GRASS ROOTS demand it.

    No more 5 decades of #GATEKEEPING, by these Charlatans, we want leadership, that knows our HISTORY in the World an in the AMERICAS, to make the CASE for #REPARATIONS for DESCENDANTS of CHATTEL SLAVERY.

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