As the Democratic candidates for the 2020 Presidential elections make their cases for leadership, LeRon Barton asks why the issue of reparations for Black American descendants of slaves is such a stumbling block for most of the hopefuls
At the start of his campaign, Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders appeared on The View and was asked if he would support reparations for slavery. Sidestepping the question, Sanders said, “I think what we have got to do is pay attention to distressed communities: Black communities, Latino communities, and white communities, and as President, I pledge to do that.” View co-host Sunny Hostin continued to probe Sanders about the issue, receiving the response, “I think that right now, our job is to address the crises facing the American people and our communities, and I think there are better ways to do that than just writing out a check.”
Sanders answers to the question of reparations are not atypical; many of the men and women running for the Democratic nomination have voiced similar answers. From pivoting to healthcare and education, to flat out dismissing the idea, the Democrats have avoided supporting reparations. Because of this, many in the African-American community, including myself, may not support them.
Reparations for slavery, a proposal that some type of compensation should be provided to the descendants of slaves, has been a topic of political discussion for years. From “Forty Acres and a Mule”, to cash payments, and land allotments, the idea of repayment to the men and women who are the offspring of those in chattel slavery is a longstanding debate in America. Who gets what, how will they get it, and who will pay for it.
“Confronting the racial wealth gap will likely require a major redistributive effort or other public policy intervention to build Black American wealth. This could take the form of a race-specific initiative like a dramatic reparations program”
Once thought of as a fantasy, the subject reappeared in the public’s consciousness after author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote his monumental essay “The Case For Reparations,” published in June 2014 by The Atlantic Magazine. In it he argues that the years of enslavement of African-Americans and the policies that have followed have designated us second-class citizens and impacted our ability to make significant strides: Jim Crow, Redlining (restriction of housing), and job discrimination, as well as other deterrents.
If Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” brought the subject to national attention, political commentator Yvette Carnell and Attorney Antonio Moore have placed reparations front and centre in today’s political conversation. Carnell and Moore, hosts of the popular YouTube series “Breaking Brown” and “Tone Talks” respectively, discuss Black politics, the economic disparity between African-American and white families, and the lack of resources in the Black community. Carnell and Moore are also creators of the movement “ADOS,” American Descendants of Slaves, which has been aggressively advocating for reparations specifically for Black people that have roots in the America’s slave trade.
The duo have been calling to hold the Democratic hopefuls accountable for why they have not championed reparations, which they believe could be the key to ending the Racial Wealth Gap. Moore writes in Forbes, “Confronting the racial wealth gap will likely require a major redistributive effort or other public policy intervention to build Black American wealth. This could take the form of a race-specific initiative like a dramatic reparations program.”
Almost all of the 18 Democratic Presidential hopefuls have given their thoughts about reparations for African-Americans. Former San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julian Castro said at a town hall, “If under the constitution we compensate people because we take their property, why wouldn’t you compensate people who actually were property.” Both Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rouke supports the study of reparations, but Beto backed off, saying, “I don’t believe…that (reparations) should be the primary or initial focus of the conversation. I think it is understanding the facts and then the actions will follow — and those actions will take place after there is a national conversation with facts and truth as the basis of that conversation”.
California Senator Kamala Harris doesn’t support monetary payments, but mental health care for descendants of slaves citing, “The term ‘reparations’ means different things to different people. We need to study the effects of generations of discrimination and institutional racism and determine what have been…the consequences and what can be done in terms of intervention to correct course.” South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg also says no to cash payments, but wants to “study” racial inequities. The only candidate who is behind monetary compensation is author and speaker Marianne Williamson, who if is elected President, proposed a fund of 100 million dollars.
Senator Cory Booker
The two most disappointing responses to the reparations question has been Bernie Sanders and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. While being interviewed on the radio show “The Breakfast Club,” Booker was asked about a Black agenda and he immediately started laughing. He then started talking about Black people being the “conscience of the country” and how all policies affecting disenfranchised people will “trickle down” to African-Americans. Booker then offered up “Baby Bonds,” a savings account given to every newborn in a low income household. The account would start with $1,000 and every calendar year, $2,000 would be deposited.
The Vermont Senator has been the most vocal against reparations, saying it would be “divisive.” My question to Senator Booker would be, “What is so funny about a Black agenda?” African-Americans are the most loyal voting block to the Democrats. One would think that an aggressive policy like reparations would be championed by Booker, who at one time lived in public housing in New Jersey. I would then ask Bernie Sanders, why is giving the people who were enslaved in America what is rightfully owed to them considered divisive? I would then pose this question: How are you opposed to reparations for descendants of slaves, but in support for Holocaust victims and survivors receiving it?
“We don’t need policies that will help everyone, low income families, or ‘people of colour. We need policies that will specifically help Black people – ADOS to be exact. The only way to do this is a radical distribution of wealth or reparations”
None of this should be surprising, as no major Democratic Presidential Nominee has supported reparations. Former President Barack Obama said instead of monetary payments, there should be investments in education. In the year 2000 at a gathering for her New York Senate campaign, Hillary Clinton said that we should first heal the mental wounds that have occurred due to slavery.
The word “Reparations” comes from “Repair”: to make amends for wrongdoings. This is what reparations for descendants of slaves would be doing. Our lives, our standing, our day to day has been coloured by slavery. We have been locked out of numerous opportunities that have allowed others to flourish. The racial wealth gap is so extreme that according to the Wall Street Journal, it will take Black families 228 years to amass the wealth of white families. This is not due to Black people being lazy and not working hard enough, having an unstable family life, or dropping out of school. This is what the effects of systematic racism looks like.
We don’t need policies that will help everyone, low income families, or ‘people of colour. We need policies that will specifically help Black people – ADOS to be exact. The only way to do this is a radical distribution of wealth or reparations. We, as Yvette Carnell says, “Need to be made whole.” There is no need to study if this needs to happen, only to decide when. Until a Democrat steps up to the plate and supports reparations, I will not vote for them.
LeRon L. Barton is a writer in San Francisco. His book All We Really Need Is Love: Stories of Dating, Relationships, Divorce, and Marriage is available at Amazon.com. You can view his TEDx speech – How I overcame my stutter and also visit his websiteFollow @MainlineLeRon