Monday, March 4, 2019

Answering #ADOS: The problem with reparations and King's better solution

Anyone who knows US history knows black people were treated abominably. Today, as a group, they are almost as poor as Native Americans. After the Civil War, the plantations should've been broken up and the land given to homeless people.

But implementing reparations is impossible now.

1. If you give a cash payout to all American Descendants Of Slaves (ADOS), you will give money to well-off ADOS and the 1/4 of poor people who are black. No one who wants to end poverty can support ignoring 3/4 of the poor.

2. If you give an equal cash payment to all ADOS, you will create a new racial hierarchy in which all black people are richer than poor white, Asian, Hispanic, and Native Americans, but the rich are still disproportionately white.

3. There is no practical way to establish ADOS credentials. Should reparations go to anyone who has DNA linked to Africa? To anyone who can pass the brown paper bag test? To anyone who meets the one drop rule? To octoroons? To quadroons? To anyone who can submit a genealogy that proves an ancestor was a slave? Do the descendants of rich black slaveowners get reparations?

4. If you create a form of reparations that does not consist of cash payments, the primary beneficiaries will be the administrators, who will come from the black middle and upper class.

Reparationists insist justice calls for a race-specific solution, yet even fans of reparations admit that universal solutions are racial solutions:
"Because black families on average have considerably less wealth than white families, this kind of system or scheme would disproportionately benefit blacks." —William Darity
Martin Luther King had a better solution:
"...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 am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective—the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income." —Martin Luther King

Baby Bonds Only Modestly Reduce the Racial Wealth Gap – People's Policy Project:
It is not the middle that owns the wealth, but rather the very top. In 2016, the median white quintile owned just 3.7 percent of white wealth. For black families, the same figure was 2.8 percent. ... the top quintile owned over 85 percent of each group’s wealth.
The Reparations Puzzle:
Because wealth is distributed very unevenly within every racial group, any race-specific wealth transfer regime will either 1) open up massive racial wealth disparities going in the opposite direction of current disparities or 2) provide the vast majority of its benefits to the upper class.
On Reparations by Adolph Reed

Cornel West and Cedric Johnson on Ta-Nehisi Coates

Sorry Ta-Nehisi Coates, The NAACP’s Reparations Plan Looks Exactly Like What Bernie Sanders Is Proposing by Yvette Carnell

Bonus! An earlier post on the subject:
Two questions about reparations that no one will answer

Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Case for Reparations won't tell you that even slaves looked down on "white trash" or that Mississippi's poll tax law reduced the number of qualified white voters from 130,000 to 68,000, but it's well-written and well-researched. Yet, despite the title, Coates doesn't address the two most important questions:

1. How do you institute reparations for slavery in the 21st century? Coates mentions Conyers' bill, HR 40, that calls for studying how to institute reparations, but neither he nor Conyers actually offer a specific suggestion. I suspect the reason is in the answer to the next question:

2. How do you justify instituting reparations for generational black poverty while excluding the descendants of indentured servants, the American Indians and Mexican-Americans whose land was taken from them, the Japanese-American, German-American, and Italian-Americans who were put in concentration camps when the US fought the countries they came from, and the working class people of all hues who have been exploited by the rich for as long as this country has existed?

Jamelle Bouie tried to answer the first question in Reparations should be paid to black Americans: Here is how America should pay. I commented there:
One question is whether the descendants of black slaveowners, from Anthony Johnson, the first black slaveowner in English-speaking North America, to William Ellison, who may have been the richest at the time the Civil War began, should be rewarded for owning slaves.

The problem with using the census for reparations is that it's self-reporting. For example, "An estimated net 1.2 million Americans of the 35 million Americans identified in 2000 as of “Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin,” as the census form puts it, changed their race from “some other race” to “white” between the 2000 and 2010 censuses." If there are reparations available for being black, an awful lot of us who've been "white" will happily correct our forms to show we're "black".
Henry Louis Gates Jr. did a fine rebuttal of the rationale for reparations in How to End the Slavery Blame-Game (
While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today’s Congo, among several others.

For centuries, Europeans in Africa kept close to their military and trading posts on the coast. Exploration of the interior, home to the bulk of Africans sold into bondage at the height of the slave trade, came only during the colonial conquests, which is why Henry Morton Stanley’s pursuit of Dr. David Livingstone in 1871 made for such compelling press: he was going where no (white) man had gone before.

How did slaves make it to these coastal forts? The historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University estimate that 90 percent of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders. The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred.

Advocates of reparations for the descendants of those slaves generally ignore this untidy problem of the significant role that Africans played in the trade, choosing to believe the romanticized version that our ancestors were all kidnapped unawares by evil white men, like Kunta Kinte was in “Roots.” The truth, however, is much more complex: slavery was a business, highly organized and lucrative for European buyers and African sellers alike.
Eric Williams noted, “Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.” So the real question is not whether there should be reparations for slavery. It's whether there should be reparations for capitalism. I say yes, and I agree with Martin Luther King. The only viable reparation is Basic Income for everyone.


1. Coates says in the essay, "In the contest of upward mobility, Barack and Michelle Obama have won. But they’ve won by being twice as good—and enduring twice as much." But neither Obama's academic or political record suggests he was twice as good or endured twice as much as his rivals, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.


  1. We did, in fact, give reparations to Japanese Americans interred.

    1. Yes, and we should've given freed slaves their 40 acres and a mule. But doing it now is a mess. The biggest question for me is how you justify giving money today to rich black ADOS and not to poor Native, Hispanic, Asian, or white Americans.