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I am still working through my thoughts on Ta-Nehisi Coates' much discussed essay on slavery reparations.

Ta-Nehisi Coates will be on Melissa Harris-Perry's TV program this weekend. I am curious to see how he parses a long essay into a set of television talking-points. Melissa Harris-Perry is a great interviewer--and an expert on the material covered by "The Case for Reparations"--so the conversation should be very educational for the viewers of the show.

As I wrote here, I am fascinated by the comments that The Case for Reparations has generated over at the Atlantic and the other much less moderated sites across the Internet (speaking of which, one of the moderators of Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog was kind enough to chime in here).

If one needs any more confirmation that white supremacy remains a real social force in American life simply read the comments in response to Coates' The Case for Reparations.

The Internet is one part of what is termed "the backstage" of modern American racism. It is a space for people to act out publicly what their (semi)private thoughts actually are. Now, take the next step. Those bigots are your neighbors, friends, colleagues, and perhaps even your family members. Meditate on that fact.

For white folks, the above is a thought experiment. For people of color, it is a matter of life and death.

Most of the comments in response to Coates' new essay are standard, white racist, "color blind" talking-points. Consequently, they are uninteresting, merely a reveal of the White Right's intellectual bankruptcy in post civil rights America.

However, there is one emerging meme in the comments against Coates' essay that merits some attention. Contrary to what some racists would suggest--be they active or passive, intentional or accidental, or just drunk on white privilege and the white racial frame--slavery reparations (or for the myriad of other state sponsored crimes against black people in America) are not a "lottery".

Reparations, of any form, are an act of acknowledgement that a crime has occurred, and said victim should be made whole both materially and financially, as well as through the moral gesture of an apology.

A lottery is a random win. A lottery is fun. The crime against humanity that was centuries of white on black chattel slavery across the Black Atlantic, more than one hundred years of Racial Apartheid in the United States under Jim and Jane Crow, and then decades more, into the present, of continued institutional white supremacy, is not fun or entertaining for African-Americans or other people of color.

It is more than glib. Using the word "lottery" to describe slavery reparations is an act of violence through language against black folks' humanity. When the justice claims of black Americans are reduced to the randomness of a game and the monies that can come with winning it, white racists and their allies are mocking and dancing on the graves of the recent dead, the long-dead, and those in the present whose life chances continue to be negatively impacted by white supremacy.

There is mounting empirical research which suggests that white people do not feel empathy towards people of color. And maybe that is the point? If you do not feel any sense of empathy or shared humanity with black people then why would a person not spit in the face of their lived experiences by reducing their justice claims to a "lottery"?

Do share if you would. What are some of the most obnoxious and racist comments you have encountered online in response to Coates' new essay on reparations for the crimes committed against African-Americans? What are some of the smarter and more insightful comments, either pro or con, that you have read?

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Comment Preferences

  •  The most important thing that many (15+ / 0-)

    commenters on Coates' piece miss is that it's not just about reparations for slavery, it's about the continued to this day economic practices that deliberately deny black people their rights.

  •  When You Keep In Mind the Conservative Meme (10+ / 0-)


    there is no such thing as society
    and that therefore we are all on our own --except for family and church-- the very concept of reparations, for anything other than immediate personal injury would be nonsensical, and criminal.

    Just about every criticism of a conservative policy or policy objection comes down to their denial that there's any sort of community, and therefore of any policies that would benefit community, because as it turns out there is no population of any important size that does very well under conservative style possession and rule by a tiny authoritarian elite.

    It's easiest to see this in action with the US race issue but it's the same general principle that also applies to social security or any government program or policy that would benefit the people.

    They can't crack the door on any issue, because once they let in the concept of community everything about conservatism including racism, collapses under the facts and simple human compassion.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri May 23, 2014 at 12:20:33 PM PDT

  •  Numbers? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tonedevil, Onomastic, Mindful Nature
    There is mounting empirical data which suggests that white people do not feel empathy towards people of color.
    What percentage of whites have damaged empathy capability? What research indicates this?

    I know an awful lot of white folks who are the opposite of what your sentence states.

    Then again, the ongoing de facto segregation of our culture, no doubt celebrated by racists, allows for few opportunities to get to know each other across racial lines, and that obviously adds to the sense of division.

    How can black folks check the white folks they don't kick it with?

    We (my wife and I) have MHP set to record on the DVR every Saturday and Sunday, so we will be watching.

    Social justice is part of the implication of loving thy neighbor. - Frances Perkins

    by paz3 on Fri May 23, 2014 at 12:23:05 PM PDT

  •  If I inherited money and was able to (5+ / 0-)

    go to college and enter a high-paying profession because my parents (add any amount of generations) enslaved people and stole the money from their labor and someone else is living in poverty without a good education because their parents' labor was stolen, simple fairness demands that I share those ill-gotten gains with that someone.

    If someone owed my mother money and she died, they would owe that money to me and my siblings, correct?

    Reparations do not make up for the horrors of slavery, but it would belatedly pay people for their labor.

  •  It is embarrassingly easy (8+ / 0-)

    to tell who didn't read what was written.

    "Why should I write you a check" is an understatement of a response to the compelling history that Coates documents.

    That much (most to all)  of it continues not to be taught or that there is resistance to its inclusion in American history proves the painful truth of the essay.

    We view "The Handmaid's Tale" as cautionary. The GOP views it as an instruction book.

    by Vita Brevis on Fri May 23, 2014 at 01:46:27 PM PDT

  •  Speaking of lotteries Africans do win the Green (0+ / 0-)

    Card lottery.  I met an Ethiopian fellow a few years back who was about the happiest guy you'd ever hope to see.  Filled out his State Department forms and darned if he didn't win.  

    Some members of my family like to do their own version of paying back funding various stuff in Ireland (NO, not the IRA but hey the Irish can be bitter and hostile too).  

    I feel no need to apologize or make reparations of any kind.  Life is unfair.  No one is an adult who hasn't figured that out.  It's challenge enough to make amends for our own misdeeds without trying to make amends for whatever that happened generations ago and I see no reason whatever for confining oneself within a single nation state if you're going to do that.  I mean, what a quarter of the population of Ireland starved or was forced to leave the country.  European Jews, Cambodians we can all compete for world's greatest victims but at least in that completion we might learn something about one another.  

    When I visit the graves of my grandparents in the little rural cemetery where the Irish settled the earliest graves are also those of the Irish who had no sooner landed than they were off to fight the Civil War so the war graves and the pioneer graves mingle as the oldest of all.

    I don't see anything remotely connected to empathy in this campaign for reparations because it totally ignores or trivializes the history of others who have suffered.

    So I think we'd do better to celebrate with that winner of the Green Card lottery, consider our glass half full and recognize that to billions of people around the world simply being born here is winning the lottery.

    •  Jeez (12+ / 0-)

      "Generations ago?"  You do realize that explicitly racist policies of the United States were aimed directly at people who are still alive?

      If your response to being a citizen of a country that was built to unprecedented prosperity on the back of a racist agenda is "life is unfair," I really question your ability to understand what empathy is.

    •  Didn't even bother to read the diary (4+ / 0-)

      let alone the subject of the diary. Way to make yourself look like an idiot.

    •  It might be nice if you read (9+ / 0-)

      Coates piece again - and Chauncey's diary.

      Perhaps slowly.

      Then think about it.

      "If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition." Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon

      by Denise Oliver Velez on Fri May 23, 2014 at 06:13:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Quite frankly (6+ / 0-)

      This is pretty much how I expect most white folks to respond.

      Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. - Ta-Nehisi Coates

      by moviemeister76 on Fri May 23, 2014 at 08:26:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I gotta tell ya, my first instinct (8+ / 0-)

        was to bristle at this comment.  And then I thought about it a bit more.

        I am white, male, hetero. While poor, privilege is something that had effected my life since day one.  And confronting that, well, it's uncomfortable, at best. I am, without a doubt, completely incapable of putting myself in the shoes of another, much less any group that is not similarly privileged. I may try, I may sympathize, but I'll never truly understand being on the wrong side of a system stacked against me. And while it makes me squirm when you lump "most whites" together like that, I have a sinking suspicion that you are more right than I'd like you to be.  That depresses me, but it also gives me hope.  The more that people begin to even recognize that privilege exists, whether we want it or not, the more likely we are to change that shoddy system.

        I cannot walk in your shoes, but I can be an ally.  And I can try to change the way I and others around me see the world.

        I'm sorry, it's late, and I'm rambling.  I think I had a point in there, somewhere.  :-\

        We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine,

        And the machine is bleeding to death.

        by Marcus Tullius on Sat May 24, 2014 at 01:29:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  critical self-reflection is the beginning (5+ / 0-)

          few folks are as self-aware as you are.

          keep on walking that path.

          stay strong.

        •  Oh how awkward (5+ / 0-)

          I'm actually white.

          The reason why I suspect that most white people will respond this way is purely based on my experience of how I've personally witnessed white people react merely to the idea of things like white privilege, both on the interwebz and in person.

          Outside of this web site and a few other predominantly white spaces online which also take white privilege as a given, most white spaces I visit still don't really understand it and largely reject it. And it's still a fight nearly every week here at the GOS to get many white folks to not snicker about white privilege. Many black people have left this site for good.

          The only time I've ever seen privilege actually understood and taken seriously by a large group of white people is when black people were in that same space fighting their asses off to try and make it that way. So it's not a surprise that it's largely accepted here since black people are a large and loyal part of the Democratic base.

          But most of the internet is not politics, and most white people go where they aren't made to feel uncomfortable, which usually translates to mostly white areas since a lot of white people get uncomfortable when they aren't the majority. Which is why I often feel like I live a schizophrenic life on the internet when I go back and forth between sites that feature a diverse amount of followers and sites like Fark which is obviously predominantly white. And in those sites, white people have created a very insular bubble which might not even allow Ta-Nehisi's essay entrance.

          So, if I am correct and most white people aren't even comfortable enough to openly accept and discuss such an obvious thing as white privilege, how on Earth are they going to do anything but reject any conversation that starts with the idea of reparations?

          Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. - Ta-Nehisi Coates

          by moviemeister76 on Sat May 24, 2014 at 03:39:02 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  forgive me. (5+ / 0-)

            When I said I can't walk in your shoes, I meant I cannot walk in ANYONE'S shoes. I didn't really make the assumption that you were white or black, male or female, because I was more upset with the idea that, "my gods, do most white people react that way?"

            When rserven or Horace write on trans issues, when Denise or shannika write about black experiences, or when Joan or Laura write about the war on women, I cannot truly "get it". I just try to recognize that I almost HAVE to have a viewpoint that is somewhat skewed. And I try to remember that, even if I never truly get it, I can still be an ally.

            I dunno. I don't think I'm expressing myself very well. I'm tired and frazzled. I guess I'm just trying to say you're right, and thanks for making me reflect a bit.

            We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine,

            And the machine is bleeding to death.

            by Marcus Tullius on Sat May 24, 2014 at 07:12:20 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  No problem (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              poco, Marcus Tullius, Eric Nelson

              You explained it well. Probably my fault for not realizing you didn't mean me in particular.

              But you know us white folks. Everything is about us.;)

              Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. - Ta-Nehisi Coates

              by moviemeister76 on Sat May 24, 2014 at 10:24:39 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Slavery trade (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SoCalSal, leoluminary, Eric Nelson

      was an entirely different order than people deciding to come here to escape oppression.

      Reparations = YES!

      This country was built on the involuntary servitude of Africans (later becoming) Black Americans.

      The involuntary labor of African/Americans enabled capitalism USA to be invented. We ALL owe our involuntary forebearers. And, their descendents were cheated out of the fruits of their labor. Inheritance for only a few? No, the descendents require their inheritance as well: what was stolen.

      Wages and property need to be accounted for and finally paid. How many institutions of these United States owe their existence to slave labor?

      Seems elementary to me.

  •  conservatively $10 trillion (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    by my amateur math is what USA owes the heirs based on 4 million in 1865 and their heirs during Jim Crow. Probably liability is in the states of the Confederacy which should be reorganized to pay. Didn't read the article.

  •  Honestly? (7+ / 0-)

    I'm all for reparations. Maybe it's because I'm Jewish and my people (but not me specifically, or my family) got reparations from Germany for the Holocaust.

    It only seems fair that a tragedy of equal horror should be paying dividends to its victims's heirs.

    But the point is deeper, IMO, and for what it's worth: the point is that the reparations would help to do something that all the diversity training, all the anti-racism movements, all the speeches, all the seminar talks, all Civil Rights leaders, all the poet-academics, and all those well-intentioned WASPs can't do.

    It would change the system forever.

    Seriously. At the conservatively $10 trillion dollar mark, Black Americans would be an economic/political and social/cultural force beyond even the impressive gains they've made for themselves through mere blood, sweat, and tears.

    Essentially, $10 trillion may be enough to buy an end to systemic racism. Or, if not, it could certainly buy a new beginning to that reality.

    But, in reality, reparations will never happen. The powers that be are too entrenched and White people are too confused, convinced that racism is just hurt fee fees and that they're the real victims these days.

    Still, unlike the shots fired by bell hooks on Beycone, TNC's article on reparations is a provocation that actually accomplishes something. It actually gets people to have a damned conversation.

    Also, it'd be awesome to get a poll on the question of reparations at the DKos front page.

    "When facts are reported, they deny the value of evidence; when the evidence is produced, they declare it inconclusive." -- Augustine, in The City of God.

    by Zek J Evets on Fri May 23, 2014 at 04:23:25 PM PDT

  •  It's an interesting question. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    If you had a just society, reparations wouldn't be nearly as salient an issue, since the actual current situation of African Americans would be different.  So the opening observation on the salience of reparation is that we have an unjust society.  Two things follow from this.  (1) That unjust society isn't going to agree to reparations.  I don't think that needs much elaboration.  (2) If that unjust society did agree to reparations, the material conditions of the African-American recipients would improve (money makes everyone's life better), but it wouldn't fix injustice; rather, an unjust society would make the ol' giant sucking sound to get that money back from the recipients, through all of the existing mechanisms by which the wealth of African-Americans is funneled to the top levels of society, and no doubt some new ones would be invented.  

    The thing about German reparations to Jews is that those Jews weren't in Germany anymore--they were in Israel, so they go to enjoy their reparations in a setting where they didn't continue to experience injustice.  

    It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

    by Rich in PA on Fri May 23, 2014 at 06:25:32 PM PDT

  •  NPR Interview (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'll admit, I didn't read the piece, but I did hear the NPR interview.  Clearly Coates's main point is that the economic injustice continued (continues) today.  (To see how slavery continued into the 20th century in the U.S., see "Slavery by Another Name," PBS documentary based on the book of the same name.)  In a sense the "Reparations for Slavery" is a misleading title, but it would be hard to find a concise and catchy title for what he's trying to convey.

    Part of our problem is that Americans still tend to think about money as a reward for individual virtue, so we have a hard time talking about economic injustice, whether race enters the question or not.  And I think that American men in particular still confuse their net worth with their value as human beings, which makes it difficult to talk about an economic system and whether the values it promotes are worth promoting.

    •  Just a minor nitpick (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, kfunk937, Vita Brevis

      Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't actually call it "Reparations for Slavery." The title is "The Case for Reparations." I imagine that it was a deliberate choice, since his argument is that the reparations will be for more than slavery. Unless you are talking about some other title of which I am unaware, then I apologize.

      Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. - Ta-Nehisi Coates

      by moviemeister76 on Fri May 23, 2014 at 08:43:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Meh (0+ / 0-)

      Never mind. I just realized you were referring to how chaunceydevega wrote it.

      Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. - Ta-Nehisi Coates

      by moviemeister76 on Sat May 24, 2014 at 12:44:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Coates's piece is sobering, yet ultimately (4+ / 0-)

    optimistic, pointing to Rep. Conyers's H.R. 40 as a first step to ending present wrongs and correcting for past ones. I hope Coates's writing will help more "not privileged" whites realize that, yeah, white privilege really is a thing, for everybody from zillionaires down to the penniless. Then again, sometimes it's just not worth trying to persuade someone who refuses to be persuaded.

  •  Like some others have pointed out (4+ / 0-)

    A lot of people skipped the essay and just regurgitated the usual anti-reparations talking points ("I didn't personally benefit from slavery!", "We don't have enough money!", etc.)  The real genius of the article though is the way it directly describes the systematic racism that was pervasive even in northern cities a hundred years after the Civil War.  When growing wealth (and the changing world situation) led to a burgeoning middle class in the 1950s and 1960s, African-Americans were intentionally excluded from it.  Tons of white people who had grown up poor in the Great Depression could suddenly afford to send their kids to college by the 1970s.  It was a good time to be white.

    Now 50 years later, and it's supposed to be ancient history.  Successful people "did it on their own".  "Why dwell on the past?"  Easy for some to say.

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