Toward A Black Agenda

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Barry O shows you how to do this, son:


The bill is the most sweeping piece of federal legislation since Medicare was passed in 1965. It aims to smooth out one of the roughest edges in American society -- the inability of many people to afford medical care after they lose a job or get sick. And it would do so in large measure by taxing the rich. 

 A big chunk of the money to pay for the bill comes from lifting payroll taxes on households making more than $250,000. On average, the annual tax bill for households making more than $1 million a year will rise by $46,000 in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group. Another major piece of financing would cut Medicare subsidies for private insurers, ultimately affecting their executives and shareholders. 

 The benefits, meanwhile, flow mostly to households making less than four times the poverty level -- $88,200 for a family of four people. Those without insurance in this group will become eligible to receive subsidies or to join Medicaid. (Many of the poor are already covered by Medicaid.) Insurance costs are also likely to drop for higher-income workers at small companies.

It's been charged by people on the far right that health care reform is reparations in disguise. This is false on its face. Reparations has always been argued as a transfer of resources to black people, meant to amend for slavery, Jim Crow or both. Health care reform, in contrast is a resource transfer from the wealthy to the less wealthy--regardless of color. We can debate  whether that's prudent, whether that's government's right, or other questions undergirding the basic differences between left and right. But what's important to me, as a progressive, is how this legislation unquestionably helps black people by casting their problems as American problems. 

Michael Eric Dyson has made a pretty sensible critique of the notion that "a rising tide list all boats." But it's always been a stupid metaphor, and one that Obama should avoid because it doesn't accurately describe what's happening here. Essentially, a "Race Above All" perspective assumes that what plagues much of black America today is active, present, systemic racism. It's very clear that is at least part of what of what plagues black America. I don't mean that as an aside to get to my main point, either. Any assessment of black America must take into account ongoing employment discrimination, racist practices in the lending industry, and how race influences who we jail and for how long. 


But beyond that, it must also take into account the legacy of nearly a century of Jim Crow, red-lining, and active wealth-destruction aimed at black people. That legacy shows up mostly in an absence of resources in the black community. But African-Americans aren't alone in suffering the effects of resource poverty, and it makes neither moral nor practical sense for a president to simply address the issue in the black community. A progressive strategy of targeting a resource deficit among all people has the advantage of disproportionately helping blacks, while at the same time helping a much larger numbers of non-blacks.

This isn't a matter of boats and tides. It's a matter of how you see the world, and the tools you embrace to change it.  I would submit that it's worth recognizing those moments when the problems of East New York look like the problems of East Kentucky. We were never simply fighting racism. We were fighting injustice. Post-1968, injustice got sophisticated. Why shouldn't we do the same?
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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