Why Precisely Is Bernie Sanders Against Reparations? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

On that question, Ta-Nehisi has written two pieces so far—here and here. A reader responds via hello@:

It is not necessary to debate the merits of reparations to know that black people in the U.S. will be the primary (statistically very over-represented) beneficiaries of any significant class-based redistribution of wealth and income, and therefore that their interests will be vastly better served by a Sanders victory than by that of any other presidential contender.

At this particular historical conjecture, one of the responsibilities of anti-racists is to make those facts known in black America so that black voters might be persuaded to switch their allegiance from Clinton (who offers no hope for a change in the status quo) to Sanders (who calls for a political revolution that will transfer wealth and power from those at the top to those at the bottom).

Unfortunately, Coates, in attacking Sanders, undermines that effort and thereby objectively works against the empowerment and enrichment of black Americans that would result from the political revolution for which Sanders is calling.

Another reader also thinks any talk of reparations from Sanders would be deeply counterproductive to his goals of social justice:

I really like Coates, and like many people, consider him an invaluable voice on race in America. I’m struggling with his views on Sanders, though.

TNC seems to imply that because single payer and reparations are both not feasible, that Sanders arguing against reparations from a point of feasibility is disingenuous. I don’t see that at all, and it strikes me as far too simplistic.

Single payer is not feasible due to the fact that getting it passed is unlikely. Reparations isn’t just not feasible for the time being, but a complete non-starter. And yes, this is due to the fact that a lot of white people, non-black minorities, and yes, even some black people, simply don’t understand the full scope of the real, tangible, financial damage done to black people in this country through state-allowed and even state-sponsored white supremacy.

That said, I doubt very much that Sanders doesn’t understand the scope of this damage done. Rather, he believes that the best way to currently help the largest amount of black people is through race-neutral economic policies. I think he’s likely correct.

TNC states that economic policies have generally not solved the economic impact of racism, and I think he’s correct about that, but better isn’t the opposite of perfect. It seems TNC would prefer that Sanders torpedo his own campaign (and believe me, he would if he came out in favor of reparations) so he can remain ideologically pure. I disagree with that. And yes, I know this is much easier for me to say as a white man.

So, does it say something depressing about America that we’re still unable to come to grips with this legacy of ours? Of course! But when it comes to politics, results are what matters, and the fact remains that it would be electoral suicide for Sanders to come out on the side of reparations. And if you think that Sanders is the best person for the job, that matters. It has to matter.