I’m really not enjoying the strange journey of race in the presidential election thing. I doubt many people are, save for the occasional Karl Rove, for whom it is a fabulous tactic – if you’re creative. I must admit to being surprised, though, to see the issue of reparations come up. It’s a nuanced and compelling issue, if one has the time to examine all of the folds. It’s about memory, state history, back wages, social justice, economics, the nature of representation, and so on. But that’s too much to ask. Turns out, sometimes a non-reparation actually is one.
Just a short remark, then, on a new newswire story. Of course it doesn’t ask the really interesting questions, like how the state carries responsibilities not borne by individual citizens, etc., though it does call a reparation plan a non-reparation plan. Or it at least says Obama “opposes reparations,” then shows how he in fact supports a version of reparations.
First, we get to learn that Obama opposes:
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama opposes offering reparations to the descendants of slaves, putting him at odds with some black groups and leaders.
Second, we get the nonsensical rejoinder, for Obama (like any reasonable person) cannot let the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and persistent racism pass by without comment and a sense of how to address:
“I have said in the past – and I’ll repeat again – that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed,” the Illinois Democrat said recently.
Well, I hate to say it – actually, I’m pleased to say it – but that there’s a reparation. Anyone who has actually read the reparations debate, is familiar with the issues raised and solutions proposed, can see it, even if the (strange) popular view is that reparation means a check for African-Americans, once and final. You see, the idea of cash payments is only one version of reparations. And a pretty small one, really. Paying cash to descendent of slaves covers some of the basic questions of justice, namely, how unpaid wages can be paid. Two and a half centuries of labor adds up to a lot, so the cash payment reparations folks eventually settle on something workable. This is a pretty marginal version of reparations. Most reparations advocates take the more complex route, pointing out that the legacy of slavery is a human legacy, not a matter of wages (which does not forget the wages question, just sets it aside). The human legacy is one of full social marginalization, which means…well, that Obama remark, well, hey, that’s a reparation.
The other name for it is social justice. Reparations just gives a more precise account of why that social justice should be enacted. It’s so interesting, too, that Obama’s remarks are linked to the more-than-obvious remark that apologies for slavery are “not enough.” As if anyone thought they were…but that’s another issue.
Score one against the Republicans here, who were no doubt hoping to use the big scary word “reparations,” but now can’t. Alas.