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The case for reparations

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In a different thread posters mentioned the excellent article "The case for Reparations" by Coates. Here, I urge everyone to read it. While there are points were folks are going to disagree, the overall article is excellent and provide important perspective. It is far more than only an argument, but rather an exquisite mix of historic and sociological characterization of a group interspersed with  individual accounts. A summary would not do it proper justice, so again, I suggest folks to read it in whole. While not specifically this article, many of the contents and studies described within the article have over the years changed my mind on many things (including affirmative actions).

 

 

 

Done? Good. Then I would like to provide a quote that seems to be at the essence of it 

Quote

What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.

The key issue here is not slavery in itself, but also the consequences of the time after that, Jim Crow, racist (intentional or not) policies and policing, economic sanctions (such as redlining) which resulted in black folks facing entirely different socioeconomic situations, even if they have the same income level as their peers. It is also about the acknowledgement of these injustices, too often they are brushed aside by focusing on the abolition of slavery or that everything was in the past. The effects are here and now and while there is increasing recognition of this fact (now by some of the US presidential candidates) it still faces severe backlash, especially from the right. This includes measures that try to directly address these issues (if imperfectly) such as affirmative action, that are seen as unfair to non-minorities (and often implying that black folks are given an unfair advantage).

In many ways similar arguments, though with a different historic and sociological background could be made for the situation of indigenous people, who currently also suffer the consequences of historic actions and they too are often blamed for their current situation while all the mechanisms leading to that situation are often misunderstood or ignored. So for those interested, I think this is a good place to discuss the case for reparations or perhaps more generally, a reckoning between how a nations sees itself morally and how its action have affected folks in a targeted way (even if unintentionally).

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Posted (edited)

This week, Coates did an interview with the New Yorker magazine. See here: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/03/ta-nehisi-coates-race-politics-2020-elections.html

He further reinforced his core point like this:

Quote

When I say I am for reparations, I’m saying that I am for the idea that this country and its major institutions has had an extractive relationship with black people for much of our history; that this fact explains basically all of the socioeconomic gap between black and white America, and thus, the way to close that gap is to pay it back. In terms of political candidates, and how this should be talked about, and how this should be dealt with, it seems like it would be a very easy solution. It’s actually the policy recommendation that I gave in the piece, and that is to support HR 40. That’s the bill that says you form a commission. You study what damage was done from slavery, and the legacy of slavery, and then you try to figure out the best ways to remedy it. It’s pretty simple. I think that’s Nancy Pelosi’s position at this point.

There’s a whole line of thinking that says the recommendation for a study is somehow like a cop-out or weak. I don’t really understand why that would be the case. Look, if you have a sickness, you have an illness, you probably start with diagnosis. The first step is to get some idea of what actually happened. We’ve never really done that. 

So, in short, he supports a House bill from Conyers to study the issue and make recommendations on policy responses. This is what Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro are specifically supporting as Democratic primary candidates right now, too.

Here's the House bill: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/40

Quote

This bill establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks not speaking to this topic in good faith and many people describing this as something it's not (which we'll surely also see here in this thread at some point). Coates sums it up well here:

Quote

Because the point of reparations is to destroy white supremacy, not displace its emphasis. Not integrate black people into its most acquisitive functions. It’s to question and assault the entire paradigm. But that is why it makes me really nervous when I see leftists saying, “We should abandon the whole project altogether.” Because I feel like the way to counter that is to get into the debate. Okay, so you don’t like reparations being talked about strictly in terms of capitalism and market. Well, let’s think about it in another way. Let’s think about cooperatives. Let’s think about something more transformative. Let’s ask, you know, should I be in line in the same way that somebody that has been living in the projects for generations should be in line? You understand what I’m saying? Let’s ask how we deal with class within the African-American community. But we can’t have a debate if people leave the room.

We can't have a debate if people leave the room...

Edited by iNow

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Life can be hard for everyone. Despite white families having advantages being white in itself is no guarantee of success. Few people tangibly feel the advantages of race in their daily grind. A white male out of work truck driver with a new born at home and bills due doesn't feel benefited by the nation's ongoing history of racism or sexism. There are states in the U.S. like MT, WY, UT, ID, NE, ME, and etc which are so overwhelming white that many have next to no interaction with others groups of people at all. Relative to the life they live I can see why many of them don't see or feel privileged regardless of whether or not they are. I think everyone experience life from their own eyes and ears outward.  

White flight, mortgage manipulation, and the various other inequities which have continued to hurt black families require reform to resolve and but not reimbursement. The debt can never be repaid. Forgiveness among all must fill that void. I think reparations would further divide communities. I view equality as the goal, fairness moving forward. Equal opportunity for all. Many mistakenly feel we are already there. It will take tremendous work just to get current inequalities acknowledged. 

While I feel reparations are justified in theory I don't think it is practical as a policy. As mentioned forgiveness is sometimes the best/only available remedy to conflict. For example sometimes when my wife and I argue neither of us are sorry or feel like apologizing but we still have to find a way to forgive and move own. 

 

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2 hours ago, Ten oz said:

...require reform to resolve and but not reimbursement.

Do you see this conversation as primarily about direct payments ("reimbursement" to use your word)?

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31 minutes ago, iNow said:

Do you see this conversation as primarily about direct payments ("reimbursement" to use your word)?

No, this conversation is not primarily about payments. Reparations in general though is about some form of payment/reimbursement of sorts. 

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Beyond just us here on this forum, I see this topic breaking down roughly like this:

1 - People tend to agree there's been historical differences in treatment and opportunity based on race

2 - The idea of studying this history is mostly not threatening and unopposed, though there is some opposition at the margins

3 - Using the findings of those studies to propose potential remediations triggers a bigger cleave in the otherwise consistent support above (opposition becomes stronger and much more common at this step)

4 - Support plummets even deeper when suggesting we should implement any remdiations, so many instead argue that we should stop talking entirely and end our journey at step #2

5 - Coates is advocating we move beyond #2, and focus more energy on #3+...

Does anyone disagree or have more to add?

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"Remediation" clearly can mean many things. I believe that point 4 (or maybe 4a) should include the fact that most people won't object to remediation that ensures equality going forward, but may object to remediation that makes up for past wrongs. For example, I don't think that generally anyone minds if admissions to universities are color blind, but might object if blacks receive preferential admission treatment.

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Posted (edited)

It's about justice and why perspective should be ignored when deliberating...  cross posting

Edited by dimreepr

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No one is against studying history, and learning from our collective mistakes.
But history is 15 to 20 thousand years ( at least ), and, by our very nature we have perpetrated plenty of injustice, as seen through modern eyes.
( I am of Italian ancestry; should I be responsible for injustice/atrocities perpetrated by the Roman Empire ? )

Debate is fine, and so is moving beyond step #2, but where exactly do you see it going from there ?

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3 minutes ago, MigL said:

Debate is fine, and so is moving beyond step #2, but where exactly do you see it going from there ?

Agreed that is the main point. If our goal is to ensure equality moving forward as opposed to some sort of reimbursement for past wrongs, we are much more likely to be successful.

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13 minutes ago, zapatos said:

most people won't object to remediation that ensures equality going forward, but may object to remediation that makes up for past wrongs.

Exactly, but if we don't correct for past mistakes, then the starting point for today's equality is not equal.

Said another way, if we both are allowed to run the race at 5mph, then we're equal... but if we're going the same speed and you start 10 miles in front of me, then we're equal in name only.

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6 minutes ago, MigL said:

No one is against studying history, and learning from our collective mistakes.
But history is 15 to 20 thousand years ( at least ), and, by our very nature we have perpetrated plenty of injustice, as seen through modern eyes.
( I am of Italian ancestry; should I be responsible for injustice/atrocities perpetrated by the Roman Empire ? )

Segregation just ended 50yrs ago. There are millions alive today who sat in the back of the bus and endured numerous levels of mistreatment. It isn't ancient history or a discussion about ancestors removed by generations. Victims of racial disenfranchisement exist today. 

13 minutes ago, iNow said:

Exactly, but if we don't correct for past mistakes, then the starting point for today's equality is not equal.

Said another way, if we both are allowed to run the race at 5mph, then we're equal... but if we're going the same speed and you start 10 miles in front of me, then we're equal in name only.

In Germany there are laws against Holocaust denial and any statues of Hilter have long since been destroyed. In Germany they take full responsibility for there past ugliness. Here in the U.S. It is very different. Confederate flags fly and founding fathers are revered with godlike adoration despite many being slave owners and murdering Natives. Here in the U.S. we have a very long way to go. 40+ percentage of the voting public just put an obvious bigot in the White House. 

People do tend to agree individuals have been treated different based on race but which groups were treated better or worse is a matter of disagreement. As we see with climate change studies don't change minds. 

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28 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

It's about justice and why perspective should be ignored when deliberating...  cross posting

hello is this thing on...

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49 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

It's about justice and why perspective should be ignored when deliberating

Depending on ones definition of justice, perspective may be prerequisite to achieving it.

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You've really gotta start adding some 'meat' to your potatoes, Dimreepr  :P

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2 minutes ago, iNow said:

Depending on ones definition of justice, perspective may be prerequisite to achieving it.

If the perspective is ignored then justice is defined.

40 minutes ago, MigL said:

You really gotta start adding some 'meat' to your potatoes, Dimreepr  :P

35 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

If the perspective is ignored then justice is defined.

meaty enough? :rolleyes:

 

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1 hour ago, iNow said:

Exactly, but if we don't correct for past mistakes, then the starting point for today's equality is not equal.

Said another way, if we both are allowed to run the race at 5mph, then we're equal... but if we're going the same speed and you start 10 miles in front of me, then we're equal in name only.

Many already believe it is time to end Affirmative Action as it is unfair to those who have never wronged anyone, and gives an advantage to those who have not been wronged. And to clarify that point, when I say "have not been wronged", I am speaking to the specific correction made by AA. For example, if a black person is applying to University for the first time, they have not been wronged by the application process. So it can be reasonably argued that giving someone preferential treatment in college admissions is as unfair to whites as Jim Crow was unfair to blacks. Instead you should just make the admissions process fair for all.

I personally support making up for past mistakes, such as by the use of Affirmative Action, but I tend to be hopelessly pragmatic. In my mind, giving blacks something of value not given to whites (money, admission preference, etc.) is too big a bite at this time in our history and is doomed to failure. I therefore think we have a much better chance of meaningful change if our goal is equality for all.

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Posted (edited)

:cool:

43 minutes ago, zapatos said:

Many already believe it is time to end Affirmative Action as it is unfair to those who have never wronged anyone, and gives an advantage to those who have not been wronged. And to clarify that point, when I say "have not been wronged", I am speaking to the specific correction made by AA. For example, if a black person is applying to University for the first time, they have not been wronged by the application process. So it can be reasonably argued that giving someone preferential treatment in college admissions is as unfair to whites as Jim Crow was unfair to blacks. Instead you should just make the admissions process fair for all.

I personally support making up for past mistakes, such as by the use of Affirmative Action, but I tend to be hopelessly pragmatic. In my mind, giving blacks something of value not given to whites (money, admission preference, etc.) is too big a bite at this time in our history and is doomed to failure. I therefore think we have a much better chance of meaningful change if our goal is equality for all.

3

:D

Edited by dimreepr

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41 minutes ago, zapatos said:

Many already believe it is time to end Affirmative Action as it is unfair to those who have never wronged anyone, and gives an advantage to those who have not been wronged. And to clarify that point, when I say "have not been wronged", I am speaking to the specific correction made by AA. For example, if a black person is applying to University for the first time, they have not been wronged by the application process. So it can be reasonably argued that giving someone preferential treatment in college admissions is as unfair to whites as Jim Crow was unfair to blacks. Instead you should just make the admissions process fair for all.

I personally support making up for past mistakes, such as by the use of Affirmative Action, but I tend to be hopelessly pragmatic. In my mind, giving blacks something of value not given to whites (money, admission preference, etc.) is too big a bite at this time in our history and is doomed to failure. I therefore think we have a much better chance of meaningful change if our goal is equality for all.

I think Affirmative Action is often misrepresented. It isn't meant for making up for past mistakes. It is to prevent ongoing discrimination. The goals surrounded Affirmative Action are typically that a business or school have diversity levels proportional to society at large. Preventing a school from only have a 0.5% minority student population is the aim. Affirmative Action is managed differently in different places but it is very much about preventing discrimination in the present and not just some sort of consolation for past wrongs. They are still companies, schools, clubs, teams, unions, and etc throughout the country today which are 100% white. Affirmative Action forces organizations to be more inclusive by pressuring them to meet minimum levels of diversity that mirror society. 

Most things in life are incestuous. We get out religion, diet, hobbies, and etc from our family. Which type of work one pursues or type of education also is greatly influenced by family. People are more likely to do or consider things their parents or siblings did. As such many institution which formally prevented minorities might struggle getting many minority application. Some institutions may have 99% white applicants. Affirmative Action encourages such institutions to open some spots and find a way to recruit some diversity. 

With that said I agree with your conclusion. Reparations is too big bite. We still have monuments up honoring Jefferson Davis for #*ck sake. 

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13 minutes ago, Ten oz said:

I think Affirmative Action is often misrepresented. It isn't meant for making up for past mistakes. It is to prevent ongoing discrimination.

Not as I've always understood it.

Quote

Affirmative action, also known as reservation in India and Nepal, positive discrimination / action in the United Kingdom[1], and employment equity (in a narrower context) in Canada and South Africa, is the policy of promoting the education and employment of members of groups that are known to have previously suffered from discrimination.[2][3][4][5] Historically and internationally, support for affirmative action has sought to achieve goals such as bridging inequalities in employment and pay, increasing access to education, promoting diversity, and redressing apparent past wrongs, harms, or hindrances.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmative_action

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7 minutes ago, zapatos said:

Not as I've always understood it.

Quote

 

Affirmative action policies were developed to address long histories of discrimination faced by minorities and women, which reports suggest produced corresponding unfair advantages for whites and males.[13][14] They first emerged from debates over non-discrimination policies in the 1940s and during the civil rights movement.[15] These debates led to federal executive orders requiring non-discrimination in the employment policies of some government agencies and contractors in the 1940s and onward, and to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibited racial discrimination in firms with over 25 employees. The first federal policy of race-conscious affirmative action was the Revised Philadelphia Plan, implemented in 1969, which required certain government contractors to set "goals and timetables" for integrating and diversifying their workforce. Similar policies emerged through a mix of voluntary practices and federal and state policies in employment and education. 

Link

 

The goal was to stop ongoing discrimination and then work to increase diversity where it had previously not existed. 

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Cory Booker often speaks of a comment his dad used to make. 

“Stop acting like you hit a triple. You were born on 3rd base.”

It reminds me of this conversation. We can give everyone a bat, good cleats, access to food and training equipment, but the underlying issue remains:

Some people begin the run from home plate to 1st base. Others begin from 3rd base straight to home. 

The score remains handicapped and biased (whether or not passage is politically feasible). 

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16 minutes ago, Ten oz said:

The goal was to stop ongoing discrimination and then work to increase diversity where it had previously not existed. 

I think you are reading it too narrowly. From your source...

Quote

Affirmative action in the United States is a set of laws, policies, guidelines and administrative practices "intended to end and correct the effects of a specific form of discrimination"[1] that include government-mandated, government-sanctioned and voluntary private programs. The programs tend to focus on access to education and employment, granting special consideration to historically excluded groups, specifically racial minorities or women.[1][2] The impetus toward affirmative action is redressing the disadvantages[3][4][5][6][7] associated with past and present discrimination.[8] Further impetus is a desire to ensure public institutions, such as universities, hospitals, and police forces, are more representative of the populations they serve.[9]

 

AA was not just about equality and increasing diversity. Discrimination didn't just mean that blacks might be discriminated against in college admissions, it meant that blacks were often unqualified for college admissions due all the additional barriers blacks faced when trying qualify for college admission in the first place. As my first link and now your link point out, AA addresses past discrimination.

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1 hour ago, zapatos said:

we have a much better chance of meaningful change if our goal is equality for all.

We agree, though I see these issues as parallel, not mutually exclusive. 

Acknowledging, however, that some would argue that reparations means it’s no longer equal. 

It’s about what we’re making equal. Is equality of opportunity enough, or should we strive for greater equity in outcomes?

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22 minutes ago, iNow said:

We agree, though I see these issues as parallel, not mutually exclusive. 

Acknowledging, however, that some would argue that reparations means it’s no longer equal. 

It’s about what we’re making equal. Is equality of opportunity enough, or should we strive for greater equity in outcomes?

I generally believe that if we are responsible for harm to others, then we are responsible for making them whole again. Since government policies meant many blacks were not prepared for college, and since we cannot go back in time correct those policies, the way to make them whole again was to ensure they received preferential treatment in admissions.

Unfortunately it is an impossible task to know precisely who was harmed and by how much. Statistically we know the population was harmed, but how do you decide which individuals were harmed and to what extent? Equity of outcome means preferential treatment, and there is no way to ensure that works. Years of AA did not ensure equal salaries for blacks as compared to whites.

If we only ensure equality for all at all levels, we will eventually reach equity in outcomes. It may be slower than adding in preferential treatment, but it will be less controversial.

I don't think you and I disagree on what would be best. I'm just not sure we agree on whether going after 'the best' is the preferred strategy.

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