I have to admit that when Ta-Nehisi Coates came for Bernie Sanders last week over Bernie’s position on reparations I was like, “chill Ta-Nehisi he’s with us,” but the more I think about it the more I understand exactly what Coates was trying to hip us all to. Any candidate who understands the true nature of white supremacy and institutional racism, and wants to fix it, would support reparations. If you do not support reparations you are not even remotely concerned with righting the wrongs that have plagued this country since it’s inception.
Bernie Sanders said he is against reparations for African American’s because,
First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be very divisive.
Well, as Coates points out, almost everything on Bernie’s agenda, if he wins, will likely be divisive and unpopular in congress, but he’s willing to go for it, because he believes those things are the right things for most Americans. Reparations are the right thing too, and his dismissal of the idea is directly related to how radical he is not and how uncommitted to moral and social justice for African Americans he is.
Coates discussed this further in a piece published two days ago. In it, Coates addresses the idea that just focusing on reform of the current system and policies centered around class are not enough. Coates says,
Here is the great challenge of liberal policy in America: We now know that for every dollar of wealth white families have, black families have a nickel. We know that being middle class does not immunize black families from exploitation in the way that it immunizes white families. We know that black families making $100,000 a year tend to live in the same kind of neighborhoods as white families making $30,000 a year. We know that in a city like Chicago, the wealthiest black neighborhood has an incarceration rate many times worse than the poorest white neighborhood. This is not a class divide, but a racist divide.
Coates does not stop there. He adds,
Across Europe, the kind of robust welfare state Sanders supports—higher minimum wage, single-payer health-care, low-cost higher education—has been embraced. Have these policies vanquished racism? Or has race become another rubric for asserting who should benefit from the state’s largesse and who should not? And if class-based policy alone is insufficient to banish racism in Europe, why would it prove to be sufficient in a country founded on white supremacy? And if it is not sufficient, what does it mean that even on the left wing of the Democratic party, the consideration of radical, directly anti-racist solutions has disappeared? And if radical, directly anti-racist remedies have disappeared from the left-wing of the Democratic Party, by what right does one expect them to appear in the platform of an avowed moderate like Clinton?
The democratic party will not save us. We must save ourselves. We can use reparations to start anew.
A comrade of mine recently posed to me the idea of starting a new nation. He said we must consider a demand for land as part of our reparations and we must use that land to start a new black socialist nation. At first, like I did with Coates, I was resistant. I was stuck focusing on class warfare (which is important), but not really seeing the big picture. I imagined revolution being this populist uprising of poor people of all shades rising up to claim their liberty. That’s unlikely. The number one thing liberals say when you talk about system change is “well what are your alternatives.” Black people… we can be that change. We can take what is owed to us, our forty acres (let’s not forget these ideas are not new) and our money, and build the alternative. It might start out as a black socialist nation, but where socialism goes equality goes, and everyone is invited.
If we as black people can at least unify behind a demand for reparations anything is possible. We would no longer need to look to White America for anything. We cannot reform the current system. It is working as designed. We have to look beyond it, and Ta-Nehisi Coates is spot on. It starts with reparations.