Last week in comments, I said:
[T]he one thing that we know with certainty will make an immediate and meaningful difference is, simply, giving people money. Not tax breaks, not better loans, not more responsible federal spending, not better access to insurance, but money in their hands right now.One of the means by which this could be accomplished is reparations. The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates made the case for reparations, if you want some background, and noted succinctly yesterday: "Reparations is not one possible tool against white supremacy. It is the indispensable tool against white supremacy."
Call it a stimulus package, call it a hand-out, call it wealth redistribution, call it whatever the fuck you want, but what we need are detailed policies the explicit objective of which is helping people through a direct influx of cash.
It is not without precedent, but it is not even on the table in this election. Anywhere.
Last week, the Democratic candidates were asked where they stand on reparations at the Iowa Brown & Black Forum. First up, Hillary Clinton:
Fusion Moderator: Final rapid-fire. Um, do you think, uh, 2016 is the year, kind of on the federal level, we should start studying reparations?Okay, that is not a good answer! A good answer would have been: "Yes! I do think we should start studying reparations and how to implement them!" What she did do right was refer to the expertise of the Congressional Black Caucus. Aside from that, the only other points she gets are for not directly saying "no." Which isn't saying much.
Hillary Clinton: I think we should, we should start studying what investments we need to make in communities to help individuals and families and communities, ah, move forward. And I am absolutely committed to that. There are some good ideas out there. Ah, there's an idea in the Congressional Black Caucus about really targeting federal dollars to communities that have had either disinvestment or no investment, and have had, uh, years of being below the poverty level. That's the kind of thing I'd like us to focus on and really help lift people up.
And note her slick pivot here, from reparations to community investment. These are not two separate options. Reparations restore wealth to black individuals—wealth which white people and institutions stole from them over generations, facilitated by white supremacy. Community investment is exactly as described: Investment in the communities, from improvements in infrastructure to job creation, in which those black people live.
To focus exclusively on community investment is to suggest that the solution is to provide tools to people whose generational wealth has been plundered to play catch-up. Reparations are meant to catch them up, by restoring what is rightfully theirs.
Both are needed. Not one or the other.
Next up, Bernie Sanders:
Nando Vila, Fusion Correspondent: A lot of African Americans are starting to call for reparations for the many years of stolen labor, um, through slavery. Is that something that you would support as president?Okay, that is also not a good answer! A good answer would have been: "Yes! Reparations are definitely something I would support as president!"
Bernie Sanders: No, I don't think so. Uh, I mean, I think it would be— First of all, its likelihood of getting through a Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be, you know, very divisive. I think the real issue is: When we look at the poverty rate among the African American community, uh, when we look at the high unemployment rate within the African American community, the incarceration rate within the African American community, we have a lot of work to do. So I think what we should be talking about is making massive investments in rebuilding our cities and creating millions of decent paying jobs and making public colleges and universities tuition free and working on child care. Basically, targeting our federal resources to the areas that it is needed the most. And where it is needed the most are in impoverished communities, often African American and Latino.
Essentially, Sanders offers the same solution (such as it is) as Clinton: Funneling targeted federal dollars into predominantly black poor communities. Which, as noted above, is incomplete garbage.
But Sanders goes a step further. He says pointedly that he would not support reparations, and justifies that on the basis that it has virtually no chance of passing Congress. But wait! Since when does Sanders refuse to support policies that have little chance of passing Congress? In the very same response, he once again proposes "making public colleges and universities tuition free," which is also unlikely to pass Congress. So why won't he even give lip service to reparations?
Well, perhaps it's because he also feels it would be "divisive." Unlike white supremacy, which has been a real kumbaya moment for centuries.
Or maybe it's because reparations aren't "the real issue." Except for how they are. They really, really are. Just not according to Sanders, who has decided that "the real issue" is, in fact, community investment.
Neither of these answers are good. They are bad answers on an important subject. And I will reiterate once again my disappointment that directly giving money to people who need it is not on the table in this election, in any form, despite the fact it is the one thing certain to make an immediate difference.