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The Problem With Reparations

I’ve likely researched and written more about this subject than anyone in independent Progressive media. There is one problem with the subject of Reparations for Descendants of Slaves.

Contrary to what many people would argue, the 2020 Race for the White House is the most consideration and conversation ever devoted to the subject of Reparations for the Descendents of American Slaves in modern presidential politics. This is not to say that other institutions, groups, and individuals have not broached the subject in the recent past. It is merely a commentary on the current discourse.

Reparations are, broadly, a very simple concept. They are restitution for harm or loss. The forms they can take is fairly well known. Here is an article.

The Real Problem

I’ve likely researched and written more about this subject than anyone in independent Progressive media. There is one problem with the subject of Reparations for Descendents of Slaves:

There is no real argument against Reparations for Descendents of Slaves.

That is the only problem. There is no moral, political, or justice position that stands up to scrutiny. Especially, on the American Left. Not a single one. The big tell is that no one engages in good faith arguments about the horrific, continuous harms inflicted on slaves ripped from Africa and their further increase from 1619 up until today. 400 years of accrued disadvantage for a specific group. This situation was enabled and condoned by the United States government. These atrocities have been exceedingly lucrative for very powerful public and private interests. This is not rocket science, it’s Criminology 101- follow the money.

Arguments Thus Far

I’m going to address the counterarguments that address Reparations themselves. Not personal attacks or issues around particular personalities. None of those have any bearing on what is just, feasible, or moral.

Reparations are an unaddressed debt owed to a particular group of American citizens.

The vast majority of the anti-reparations talk fall under at least one of these categories:

  1. Submission to White Supremacy- Nearly all of the responses to Reparations could be placed in this category. The ones that fit here best  are a complete capitulation to White Supremacy:
    • “Reparations will trigger a race war”
    • “White people won’t vote for anyone that supports Reparations”
    • “This is a plot to undermine Bernie Sanders”
  2. Social Position Anxiety- This group seems to be quite active. These folks often reveal themselves with statements like:
    • “Reparations are cool. But, no cash.”
    • “They only want to give Black people an advantage.”
    • “How will it be done?”
    • “Reparations is not radical enough.”
  3. Victim Blaming– This is a big group, as well. Many don’t even realize what they say really means.:
    • “What about Black immigrants?”
    • “What about other poor people?”
    • “________ were victims, too.”
    • “What about solidarity?”
    • ”We just need to get ________ in/out of office.”
    • “I’m pro-reparations. But, now is not the time.”
    • “I like the idea of reparations. I just don’t like ________ being involved.”
  4. Unawareness About The Issue: Many people simply do not know the ins and outs of Reparations. It has intentionally driven out of the public discourse and our education system by very powerful forces. No shame in not knowing. The only shame is not finding out. Here’s an article.


Many statements blur the lines and could be placed in two categories or all of them. Also, bad actors will jump between arguments just attempting to gain naysayer traction.

Some of these even seem compelling, at first blush. However, in the face of 400 years of recorded, continuous exploitation and extraction with no redress for a community facing economic extinction, they all fall flat.

Categorical Concerns

Category 1- Submission to White Supremacy  

These folks are reacting to a lifetime of social conditioning. That conditioning says Black people are lazy and undeserving. Putting their well-being above, or even equivalent to your own, is folly. This is quasi-meritocratic thinking that we all know doesn’t apply in America. However, it’s hard to fight this brand of “common sense.” Because it is cultural, it’s easy to just fall into it and start rationalizing why it’s Ok.

If a Cat 1 is willing to look at the facts and interrogate their own reasoning, they will usually shift their stance to more-or-less pro-reparations. Meaning, they probably won’t become a Reparations hardliner. But, they won’t fight it either. Would like to see more of these folks become champions.

Note: Category 1 is not just White people. Many non-White people fall into this classification, including Black people. For many people, White Terrorism is a clear & present danger.

Category 2- Social Position Anxiety

America is a caste system, for all intents and purposes. Upward social and economic mobility is ultimately a myth in the land of opportunity. In Capitalism, someone MUST be on the bottom. If Reparations happens in any significant form, ADOS will no longer be the bottom. That necessarily means someone has to drop to fill that gap. Whom will that be?

Because family and individual wealth (not income) decide your social position, universal programs will largely leave the structure itself unchanged. Life will be more secure, healthier, and more comfortable. But the bottom will still be the bottom. No one wants to be there. In fact, any position BUT the bottom is OK for a lot of people.

Category 3- Victim Blaming

Many Lefties fall into this group. People see Bernie Sanders as an imperfect, once-in-a-lifetime politician that has a chance to make real change. This is a fair characterization. However, this line of thinking leads many to defend Bernie under any and all circumstances. Even at the expense of justice.

Reparations have been absolutely (and intentionally) radioactive in our political discourse for centuries. This puts people on the defense. Because Bernie must not be at fault in this frame, blame must be placed elsewhere. Black folks are always easy to blame in American culture. It’s easy to impose responsibility for Bernie’s or the Progressive Movement’s success on the other.

Posing solidarity as unworkable, if ADOS don’t smilingly accept inflicted poverty and degraded citizenship, is a very serious problem. Equally, galling is “What about [other marginalized group]?” Slave Descendents are expected to predicate their justice claim on others receiving restitution, shifting responsibility from government and industry to ADOS. There are exactly zero groups that face economic precarity because of the actions of Black people.

Furthermore, ADOS are the ONLY members of this coalition expected to make this sacrifice. Even though winning the White House as a Democrat is nigh impossible without our votes.

These are stunningly racist “know your place” moments for many of us. This is where this group overlaps Category 1. It smacks of assumed inhumanity and a belief that Black people should be more readily burdened than other groups.

Category 4- Unawareness About The Issue

There was a struggle here on whether to call this ignorance. It’s mostly imposed. Therefore, “unawareness” is a more accurate term. Some people feign ignorance to avoid the subject or start cynical, circular arguments. But, mostly this group simply doesn’t know.

If you feel you are in this group, there are links to other articles at the bottom of this piece,

After you read, you’ll have to get on-side or find another category.


Most successful political arguments are built on a morality and justice foundation. Even bogus positions have been successful when justice is woven into the framing. Centuries of wealth-driven White Supremacy have rendered ADOS unworthy in the minds of many people. This is bone-deep in American culture and it affects all of us. It takes careful thought, consideration, courage, and action to change this because America makes it comfortable to hold these views. US culture makes it physically, socially, and economically painful to stand up and push back against the grain on race.

If we on the Left envision a better country and world, the nexus of Racial and Economic Justice is likely the best place to start.

Thanks for reading! Please follow me on Twitter with tens of other people.

The Case for Our Burden: #ADOS vs. Everybody

The Last Third Rail In US Politics: American Descendants of Slavery (#ADOS)

What Are Reparations?

Michael Graham

Written by Michael Graham

Not the bad guy. But, a facsimile thereof.


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