And I agree with Ta-Nehisi that “sometimes the moral course lies within the politically possible, and sometimes the moral course lies outside of the politically possible,” (with the caveat that there are multiple moral courses in many situations).
But I disagree with the notion that a failure to embrace reparations is tantamount to failing “in the ancient fight against white supremacy;” nor do I think a socialist opposing reparations proves that he is insistent on shifting the Overton window in order to achieve class justice but unwilling to do as much for the sake of racial justice.
Perhaps Sanders just thinks reparations are bad policy on the merits. There are many plausible reasons that a principled radical might come to that conclusion (though it isn’t entirely clear to me that Sanders is that radical even on matters of class).
Perhaps he is convinced that the highest incarnation of justice is a government that redistributes resources toward its citizens based wholly on their need, and doesn’t want to shift the Overton Window toward any model that is predicated on dessert beyond need, or that would redistribute wealth from poor to rich in some instances.
That seems consistent with principled socialism.
Perhaps when Sanders says that reparations would be divisive, he doesn’t mean that they would damage his campaign or the Democratic coalition by dividing its supporters––the plausible interpretation that Ta-Nehisi argued against in his critiques––but that it would divide Americans of different races against one another in a manner likely to cause more harm to vulnerable minority groups than good, or necessitate a divisive process of bureaucrats defining who qualifies as black. Maybe he was thinking that reparations poll dismally when their terms are undefined, and that hashing out specifics (I’m not sure if Ta-Nehisi wants Sanders to embrace the policies suggested by his 2014 article, or as popularly defined) would be divisive even among those on the left who favor reparations in the abstract.
I cannot disprove Ta-Nehisi’s less flattering theories. I am open to the possibility that they are accurate. But I see no evidence in favor of that proposition. And the arguments so far offered all seem to beg the question as to whether the reparations are the most just, the most effective, even the only effective way to dismantle white supremacy. Odds are that Bernie Sanders disagrees with those premises. I definitely do.
That is partly because I doubt the sufficiency of the remedy. “We know that black families making $100,000 a year tend to live in the same kind of neighborhoods as white families making $30,000 a year,” my colleague writes. “We now know that for every dollar of wealth white families have, black families have a nickel. We know that being middle class does not immunize black families from exploitation in the way that it immunizes white families. We know that in a city like Chicago,” he continues, “the wealthiest black neighborhood has an incarceration rate many times worse than the poorest white neighborhood. This is not a class divide, but a racist divide. Mainstream liberal policy proposes to address this divide without actually targeting it, to solve a problem through category error.”