A recent Gallup poll shows 73 percent of African Americans support reparations in the form of cash payments to the descendants of slaves – the highest level of Black pro-reparations sentiment ever recorded in a national survey.
CNN anchor Don Lemon, one of the moderators of the latest Democratic presidential debate, asked Sen. Bernie Sanders how he would respond to Black reparations-seekers.
The Vermont senator responded with his usual less-than-inspiring endorsement of Black South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn’s “10/20/30 Formula Fight Persistent Poverty ” – which is not a reparations program at all.
But Sanders pretended it was, clumsily adding, “And what that understands is that as a result of slavery, and segregation, and the institutional racism we see now in health care, in education, in financial services, we are going to have to focus big time on rebuilding distressed communities in America, including African-American communities.”
In the 2020 Democratic presidential season, it appears that all reforms that disproportionately affect Black people are to be called “reparations.”
Author Marianne Williamson, the only non-politician candidate on the night’s lineup, calls for between $200 and $500 billion in financial assistance to descendants of slaves. Don Lemon rightly challenged her qualifications to make such a proposal.
As Frederick Douglass told us: “the man who has suffered the wrong is the man to demand redress…the man STRUCK is the man to CRY OUT.”
Now an issue
Notwithstanding Douglass’ admonitions, White Democratic presidential candidates – including Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard – along with Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Mexican-American hopeful Julian Castro, all faithful corporate servants – that have made reparations an election-year issue. Among the top-tier candidates, only Joe Biden refuses to endorse the H.R. 40 reparations study bill.
Black people’s support for reparations has soared in sync with the concept’s receptivity among White Democrats and establishment Black politicians. Although reparations has always been part of the Black political agenda, it has most often been endorsed by about half of Black respondents to scientific surveys.
A poll conducted in May of 2016 showed 58 percent of Blacks favored reparations. By April 2019, as the Democratic campaign season got underway in earnest, the Rasmussen Report found 60 percent of Blacks in favor of reparations.
Then came the deluge of candidate “reparations” endorsements, and Black support for financial redress of historical grievances shot up to 73 percent – almost three out four Black respondents – a near-consensus for reparations that had not previously been expressed in polls.
In effect, the thumbs-up from leading Democrats for the concept of reparations has given Black people permission to demand what most have privately supported all along – redress for the crimes that the U.S. state and society have inflicted upon them.
We observed a very similar phenomenon in 2008 when Barack Obama was attempting to become the First Black U.S. President. Most Black elected officials were sticking with Hillary Clinton, as were about half of Black voters. But all that changed when Obama won the lily-White Iowa primary, proving his viability among White voters.
Almost overnight, Black Democrats switched their allegiance to Obama. White Iowa voters had given Black people permission to back one of their own for president.
The same thing is happening with reparations. But nothing useful to the Black struggle will result from all this reparations-like drama if it remains within the Democratic Party’s corporate domain.
The same survey that showed three out of four Blacks favoring reparations revealed that only about half – 49 percent – of Democrats of all ethnicities favor cash reparations, with 47 percent against. Overwhelming proportions of White people of both parties oppose reparations.
The numbers decree that some Democrats will support programs that they choose to call “reparations” in the primary season in order to garner Black votes in selected states, but will avoid the word like herpes when the general election season rolls around.
Black elected officials will beat a quick retreat from the issue, resuming their “Me too, boss” postures – what Ajamu Baraka calls subordination to the “dictates and agenda of the Democratic Party.”
The surge in Black support for reparations is useful to the Black struggle only if African Americans themselves are willing to (a) define the issue and formulate demands accordingly and (b) mobilize our people around those demands.
It’s our decision
As I wrote in the June 25 issue of BAR, “We are Already Late to the Great Black Reparations Debate”:
Forty million Black people can’t change a damn thing unless they argue collectively about what is to be done, and then organize to do it. The Great Black Reparations Debate can be the extended, independent forum for Black people to reimagine themselves and their place in the nation and the world, and to act collectively to build a new society – one that is fit for our people’s habitation. Once such a mobilization is underway, it really doesn’t much matter what the corporate servants on Capitol Hill think reparations should look like – because Black people will have our own vision and plan.
The 73 percent pro“reparations” statistic represents a shared aspiration and a near-consensus among the nation’s Black population, who are a people with a specific history, not just a dependable Democratic voting bloc (or “progressive” constituency). The duty of those who claim to serve the people is clear. Lots of meetings are in order.