Monday, April 14, 2014

I just figured out how to do racial reparations!

I'm a great fan of Matt Bruenig's work, but I was disappointed with Glaring limits of the Civil Rights Act: We need to redistribute wealth. He says, "Ideally, we could work towards reparations in the form of redistributing wealth along racial lines."

In the comments, I said,
How do you redistribute along racial lines? Do you exclude the descendants of black slaveowners? And when you do the redistribution, what do you do about the white poor? Should one racial group suffering from generational poverty be helped and another ignored? In 1967, Martin Luther King said something that's still true today: "In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike."

I like King's solution, Universal Basic Income, for a lot of reasons. One reason is that it doesn't try to examine the many reasons different groups are poor. It cuts to the chase and eliminates poverty.
But thinking about it a bit more, I tweeted Bruenig:
So how do you implement reparations for black folks? Give money to everyone who checks "black" on the census?
He replied:
Yeah I think that would work.
I tweeted back:
Cool! End of US white majority overnight! (And I like the idea that white racists would pay for their commitment to whiteness.)
And then:
Okay, if you said people had to stick with what they put on the last census, I guess that'd work.
But there would still be the biggest problem with racial reparations: How do you justify giving nothing to the white poor? Very, very few of them are descended from people who owned slaves, and the argument that the white poor benefitted from slavery is hard to make if you know history: the US's free poor of all races competed with slave labor, and the ones who benefitted were the rich of all races.

As for the notion the free white poor got to feel superior to someone, that worked both ways. From White trash:
In 1833 Fanny Kemble, an English actress visiting Georgia, noted in her journal: "The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as 'poor white trash'".
So I guess the title of this post is a lie. But I came closer to figuring out the "how" of racial reparations than anyone else I've noticed discussing the idea.

ETA: In the discussion, someone wanted to keep the focus on black injustice, so I asked this:
Let's say you're only interested in African American unfairness and not interested in Hispanic American, American Indian, or Poor White American unfairness. How do you set up a reparations system that only benefits black Americans? How do you justify giving money to Herman Cain instead of a homeless white veteran?