Skip to main content

What Won't They do to Stop Bernie?

In November I began writing what I considered at the time the argument for white leftists to support Bernie's universalist  plans that represent a continuation of MLK's mission while easily deflecting accusations of being racist for not buying into the idiotic culture war framing that's useless and usually ascendant. I started by attempting to clearly describe the difference between systemic racism and personal bias based on the history of the creation of race. I followed that by explaining my own journey to a framework for racism that made it a problem for poor people regardless of race that might be fought through coalition. From those two pieces it was easy to explain that Bernie represented the only actual anti-racist platform, since any actual anti-racism would center a massive downward re-distribution of wealth. The effort initially seemed in vain, since many of my white mutual followers 'cancelled' me. By that I mean that a number of them after arguing that in abandoning identity politics I'd shown I don't actually care about racism unfollowed and blocked me. Putting aside the irony of a group of mostly white lovers of identity politics dismissing a Black man for pointing out the ineffectiveness of identity politics, in retrospect the moment has proven to be illuminating.

In noting that that the effectiveness of identity politics remains irrelevant to its proponents it became clear that there's a segment of the left that only cares about a politics of discourse. The material results of their advocacy doesn't matter, the conversation does. It was also clear that a more accurate description of the people I'd been calling the left might be "people who supported Bernie in 2016 or said they did." Although I should have predicted it, I didn't anticipate that there'd be another culture war topic we'd be arguing over in the name of justice, or in this case, a conversation about justice. As it's grown in the discourse I now see that I was actually making the case for white "leftists" who support racial justice and find reparations too divisive. What should be immediately obvious about reparations is that the "plan", which starts with a study to determine what reparations should be, is only meant to be about the conversation and not actual reparative justice. Honestly, even the most cursory look at the premise behind the current iteration of reparations should render the idea moot. In order to make up for its racist history and still racist present, the racist government needs to offer a plan that offers justice to Black people, sorry, ADOS (American Descendants of Slaves) that we find acceptable. Any rational person can see that the US has already offered as much as it's willing in the name of justice without coercion. There's nothing about the argument for reparations that is convincing for anyone who isn't already supportive. If politics is about self-interests, there's nothing to make reparations relevant to anyone not ADOS.

Despite being about justice for Black people, sorry, ADOS, reparations is ultimately only in the discourse to cast doubts in the minds of white leftists that universal policies adequately address the need for racial justice. It promotes the idea that fixing our history of racialized deprivation by focusing solely on Black people, sorry, ADOS, is a form of cross-racial solidarity. It's not, at best it's allyship.  In the third episode of their podcast, What's Left, Aimee Terese and Benjamin Studebaker lay out a dichotomy that's useful for understanding reparations in the current discourse by contrasting allyship and solidarity. In a nutshell they tie allyship to idealism and solidarity to materialism; allyship centers conversation while solidarity centers material results. It's helpful to frame what I've been calling culture war tools, identity politics, intersectionality, anti-bias programs, and now reparations, through this dichotomy. It's all idealism in the guise of a deep concern for justice. What makes reparations interesting is that it seems materialist, based on the common perception of it being a cash payout but is as idealist as identity politics. It's worthwhile to consider how. They share important characteristics. Despite the sense that two people are speaking of the same thing there's no standard definition. When advocates speak of reparations each will define it to meet whatever fault has been exposed in the idea as if offering a standard definition, although the standard awaits the determination of a study that exists in a possible future. The specific purpose of reparations is unclear. Are they meant to address the racial wealth gap? Pay for unpaid labor? Address the post slavery history of redlining and Jim Crow? It's difficult for me to fully critique what we're  calling reparations because it's so clear to me that what we're considering is utter bullshit and it's difficult to suspend disbelief enough to consider it having cogent arguments. Still, it's useful to examine superficially for what it illustrates about idealism being the polar opposite of any materialist project.

Although I try to avoid dichotomies because they tend to inspire ignoring contradictions rather than embracing them for a stronger analysis, I'm leaning into this one. I think it helps make clear when a concept that purports to have a materialist goal is idealism in disguise better than other framings I've used. The one thing that idealist concepts subbing in for justice have in common is that they have no political argument. To a great degree, the proponents of the concept, regardless of which, take offense at the idea that a political argument is needed since they feel the moral argument is so strong. What I mean by political argument is simply how to make the case for an objective and build a coalition that's dedicated to fulfilling the desired goal. The reason a concept like reparations would have trouble generating a coalition should be as self evident as why it's described as divisive. It's a solution focused solely on Black people, sorry, I mean solely on ADOS since the current iteration is particularly anti-immigrant. It argues that part of the debt due is the result of Jim Crow and redlining, but only the effect on ADOS matters. In fact, the current advocates argue that all immigrants arriving by choice, regardless of why, or their familial connection to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, also owe this debt since they presumably benefit from the racist system. Clearly, a notion of justice focused on 10% of the population that requires 90% of the population to be good allies by sacrificing trillions while leaving poverty untouched for millions is never meant to make the case that it's relevant beyond that 10% of the population. How could it? A political argument is only needed if material results are relevant.


I've started looking at candidates and their policies through this lens of materialism through solidarity vs idealism through allyship in relation to a possible political argument for them. It should not be controversial to say that HRC lost because she and Trump were idealist candidates. Idealism always serves what we call white supremacy, the hegemonic power of capital. I complained to several of her supporters at the time that I had no idea why she was running, what she wanted to do. After growing weary of arguing the reasons for her loss I started challenging the people still blaming voters a year after to explain her agenda and offer videos of her expressing it. It was fruitless. I ask of each candidate, "Why are they running? What do they want to do?" One of the lingering themes from 16 is the idea that Bernie's platform was too extreme to ever happen. Somehow, despite the experience of the Obama administration, the idea was that moderate policy had a greater chance of passing and thus a greater chance of doing good. Compromise was practical. It was pure idealism. Moderate policy has no greater chance of passing without changing the composition of Congress than the most socialist policy we could think of. I said a while ago that I think this moment calls for someone with Bernie's politics and constituency and since that only describes him, this political moment calls for Bernie.  So, I haven't looked closely at the plans of all the candidates. I also know I don't have to look closely at the plans to know that their policies are idealism, that they will never do what they promise. Has Medicare for America figured out how to ensure delivery to all residents in states with Republican governors and legislatures? How do you pass a policy that taxes the wealth of the most powerful for a means tested program that excludes them completely? Would any of these policies be any more politically durable than those instituted under Obama? I know that all the plans are idealism without reading them because there's no way for any policy balancing the material needs of voters with moderation to meet those needs. They are idealist because the material result is irrelevant.

It's interesting at a time when single payer healthcare has majority support and we have a policy that would provide it through the first universal program since the end of Jim Crow connected to a candidate consistently pushing anti-racist policy that a divisive concept like reparations is constantly being brought up in the media. By interesting I mean, obviously reparations are being cynically injected into the discourse to decrease the likelihood of the election of a president interested in carrying the mantle of FDR and MLK. (The same could be said of the campaigns of Beto O'Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, and most of the candidates pushing variations of the ACA.) While superficially it might seem aimed at Black voters, it's actually about white leftists concerned that Bernie might be insufficient on racial justice. The idea that candidates need a specific Black agenda is part of it. The ACA cut Black uninsured rates only by a third and millions of Black people work for minimum wage in states where the wage is closer to the national rate than to $15. It's pretty clear when a candidate has a platform that addresses that material reality since it so rarely happens.






These are some pieces I planned to make use of before I realized I had no desire to lay out all the specific reasons reparations is a ludicrous idea:






.....and for what it's worth my arguments involve accepting the framing that you're racist for wanting all Black ppl and PoC to have healthcare, so obviously there must be a better non-racist way to meet people's needs. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

If You Love Your People, Set It Free (or How an Identitarian Came To Prefer Universal Policy Over Identity Politics)

This post is late because I was in LA last week, where I made a point of walking as much as possible to enjoy my audiobook. Although I still have 20/20 vision I have been slow to accept that aging has made it more difficult to read, making it feel increasingly like a chore. In fully embracing this I've finally started looking for audiobooks I might find engaging enough to not be constantly distracted. For my trip I chose Mehrsa Baradaran's The Color of Money, which looks at the persistence of the racial wealth gap in the US.  It was incredibly striking and depressing listening to The Color of Money while accidentally walking through encampments of the unhoused, watching new encampments sprout up in the short time that I was there. This is who we've always been. If you have any doubt, the history recounted in The Color of Money makes it clear that capitalism has always been about extracting wealth from Black people and keeping poor people poor. On checking into Twitter I wa…

Anti-racism - Class = Status Quo: The Neoliberal Argument Against Coalition

I was approached a few months ago around the idea of collaborating to make the progressive case for reparations. I've said before that while the idea of reparations is morally appealing I don't believe in them as an immediate political project. It's not clear to me that it's possible to build a coalition around a reparative justice focused on just 13% of the population. Encouraged by a recent Twitter conversation that included economists Sandy Darrity and Darrick Hamilton where they suggested that saying reparations will never happen is cynical I've begun trying to think of them as an eventuality and lay out the steps to reaching them. Doing this has made clear that our understanding of reparations as a form of compensation to the descendants of the enslaved is not the reparative justice that we think it to be. If we were living with the kind of understanding of justice that made reparations possible we would not be a nation where war, healthcare, education, and cr…

Why Are We Expending So Much Energy on Something Barely Half of Black People Want?

Presidential contenders are being asked about their support for reparations. One could be forgiven for assuming that reparations has broad support within the Black community, it seems like an easy bet. But only slightly more than half of Black people support the idea. So why has the idea suddenly gained so much traction? Neither Yvette Carnell nor Antonio Moore, originators of #ADOS (American descendants of slaves) have the following to drive a topic supported by less than a quarter of Americans into the national conversation. I suspect that it has everything to do with Bernie Sanders, the obvious frontrunner since announcing, and the ongoing attempt to portray him as racially blind and unaware. When asked directly about his support of reparations in 2016, Sanders answered, "Its likelihood of getting through congress is nil. Second of all I think it would be very divisive." He then went on to explain how his policies would have a disproportionate positive effect on the Blac…