Ta-Nehisi Coates has done some excellent work on making the case for why reparations are needed as a matter of both justice, and of basic morality. His analysis of how we got to the current racial disparities in wealth, political power, and standards of living is important, and he makes a powerful case for taking action to ensure that people today, and into the future, aren’t forced to suffer from bigotry just because the infrastructure of their oppression was built before they were born.
All that said, there are some ways in which Coates misses the mark. Folks on the left often point out that racial divisions and animosity are actively exacerbated by people in power, at least partly as a tool of dividing the working class, and preventing solidarity from taking root. In this video, Toure Reed makes the point that the current racial divides along economic and geographical boundaries go beyond the effects of unquestionably racist policies before, during, and after The New Deal. It was also a matter of capitalists changing where industry was centered, and who was able to follow those jobs.
Listening to this, it feels a bit like hearing about a trial run of the process by which American industry was moved to other countries to increase profits through lower labor costs, resulting in rising poverty in America, and a shifting of our industrial pollution and problems to other populations, in the name of “free trade”.
Where the so-called “white working class” was left behind as capital moved jobs overseas, where the workers could not follow, the black working class was left behind as capital moved jobs out of cities. Those who could follow were the ones would could take advantage of the federal aid programs that, as Coates rightly points out, were only available to white people.
Under the New Deal and Segregation, a white supremacist, capitalist government joined the interests of the capitalist class with those of white people, at the expense of everyone else. In time, as changes in technology made relocating cheaper, and changes in the rights of workers made the cost of labor in the United States more expensive, it became clear that the primary allegiance being shown there was not to white workers, but to capitalists. The “free trade” era saw jobs moved again, and this time everyone was left behind. What remained was scapegoating along ethnic lines.
While moving to a democratic socialist model would not solve all problems, giving workers ownership and democratic control of their companies would end the ability of a handful of rich owners to destroy lives by shuffling the giving and taking livelihoods based on what increases their hoards. Reparations are an essential element in moving forward, but are, by themselves, insufficient. They must be part of a broader restructuring of where power lies in our society.
Unfortunately, life costs money, and my income from this blog has yet to meet minimum wage for the time I put into it. If you can afford to, please consider pledging a couple dollars per month or so through my Patreon. This will help me continue creating and improving this blog by keeping a roof over my head, and food in my carnivorous pets so they don’t eat me. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can pitch in a little, it would help a great deal!