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Loud and Wrong: Some Rebuttals to the Latest ADOS Smear

The following are thoughts on some of the chief claims put forward by a recent “Media Matters” article, nearly all of which seem to neatly recapitulate the criticisms that could be found in the alleged N’COBRA memo, “ADOS Exposed.”

1.) American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) is an organization that is campaigning for reparations.

False. Or, at the very least, imprecise and breathtakingly reductive. ADOS is not an “organization.” It is a bourgeoning political movement made up of a specific group of American citizens who’ve begun self-identifying around what is easily the most consequential factor of their personhood; namely, that their lineage is rooted in the American institution of chattel slavery, a practice which not only sought to deny those enslaved individuals any personhood in the first place, but which—because of the trans-generational nature of its economic injustices—has effectively ensured that same negation of humanity be extended and conferred upon their descendants. They’re not just “campaigning for reparations,” either. That is, without a doubt, the most superficial, simplistic and journalistically-lazy read of the political project. It is exactly the sort of thing that someone who was told to write about ADOS—but who has no interest in actually researching the movement—would write. What ADOS is doing is what oppressed groups have always done in movement politics, which is emphasize the singularity of their struggle and advocate as a collective for redress specific to those harms and damages. If, at this juncture, ADOS is “campaigning” for anything, it is to have the group’s particular experience of enduring centuries of persecution through private racism and anti-black federal policy recognized as that which is theirs and theirs alone. They are “campaigning” for why—in the context of justice for black America—only they deserve reparations specific to that history and lived experience.

2.) There is evidence that ADOS is advancing a right-wing agenda, and while it calls itself progressive, it pushes pro-Trump, anti-immigrant views.

There is evidence that ADOS is advancing a black agenda; that is, an agenda specifically drawn up with the aim of avoiding precisely those pitfalls involved in doing partisan-oriented politics that lump together disparate and—in the case of ADOS—often competing interests which have traditionally tended to appropriate the black struggle for its moral value and leave off the need to provide that group with tangible results in exchange for their ballot punch. The ADOS agenda is a response to the failures of that model of (non)co-operative advocacy and a clarion call to instead foreground a particular set of issues that are most relevant to the community and its uplift. And insofar as one of the most salient aspects of ADOS life is the steadily depressed rates of participation in the labor market since the advent of liberal immigration policy, it stands to reason that the group would support legislation that helps reverse that trend. The fact that ADOS gets attributed to it the same base prejudices and needless bigotry that actually does characterize a particular anti-immigrant attitude on the Right—when in fact the movement has consistently presented a far more nuanced and rational argument supported by evidence that shows a correlation between the prospects for working-class blacks and immigration (and has staked out its position exclusively on those grounds)—reveals nothing so much as the startling inability in our immigration discourse to accommodate dissent, and an observably illiberal state of affairs in the Left wherein adopting anything less than an explicitly pro-immigration stance is reflexively perceived as being xenophobic. The most that could be said about ADOS “pushing” certain views on immigration is that it pushes back on a status quo that—while consistently ensuring that ADOS has been excluded from enjoying the kinds of opportunities that immigrants typically come here to access—now demands they support policies that make it even easier for those groups to come here and further compromise the potential for material gain in the black community. There is, moreover, another, even more pernicious aspect of contemporary immigration policy to which ADOS is right to object; namely, the false impression of progress within black America that is created when foreign-born blacks—who routinely have come from a class position that Sandy Darity recently described as “exceed[ing] not only the average black American, but [that of] the average white American”—arrive in the United States. Leaving aside the issue of those immigrants’ typically contemptuous attitudes toward native blacks in America, the way in which their presence distorts and masks the alarmingly persistent and deliberate underdevelopment of the native black community is an obviously grave matter for a group whose ability to make an argument for their justice claim by pointing to the data on black life in America is, in effect, undercut by a growing number of upper-class, prosperous black immigrants in their midst. That reparations for American chattel slavery is, for this non-native group, largely a politically irrelevant matter, lends further credence to ADOS’s principle critique of contemporary immigration dogma: that it is an issue which, presently, is too fraught with contradictions for the group, and which must be resolved in a way that’s beneficial to them before they can advocate on behalf of other populations to come here.

3.) ADOS attacks other supporters of reparations, apparently for the benefit of Republican politicians.

ADOS is understandably vexed and offended by “other supporters of reparations” who demand that the group uncritically support politicians who themselves do not support reparations.1 Or whom (insofar as certain politicians do endorse reparations) nonetheless evince a thoroughly misguided understanding of what the word needs to mean in order to effect meaningful justice for American Descendants of Slavery. Reparations for ADOS is not a soundbite; and being a committed pro-reparations advocate means more than writing two rap lyrics about it over the course of seven years.2 For ADOS, it is the central, organizing principle in their eleventh-hour effort to be made whole and participate in a recognizably normal manner in the political, economic, and civic processes of the country that was built off the theft of their labor. It is their Hail Mary pass. And the fact that it has come down to a Hail Mary pass for black America in the year 2019 is such a fucking monumental failure of justice that it’s no wonder they respond with outrage when they’re chided with some faux-sage political counsel that recommends restraint, prudence, and a willingness to postpone their demand to receive redress. ADOS—like nothing before it—provides the group with such a truly empowering and necessary thing: not only a political, but existential anchoring through which they can pursue justice with the same singleness of aim and purpose with which injustice has, for centuries now, been done to them. So pardon the group for not running hangdog back to the Democratic Party where—if history is any indication—their being forsaken for a slew of other causes all while being told to surrender their vote without complaint for their own good is a fait accompli. That’s the alternative to ADOS not doing self-interested politics in 2019. And so is it really any wonder that the specter of four more years of Trump fails to sufficiently persuade them to fold on what they (rightly) understand is the group’s only recourse to gain some footing in the contemporary U.S.? Maybe that conviction and determination is better understood less as a matter of them carrying water for the conservatives, and more as the dawning consciousness of the Democrats being essentially a placebo party for ADOS, a trap-nest that for the past half a century has observably chosen to commit to paying—not reparations to ADOS—but only the most patronizing lip service to their suffering.

4.) ADOS has been promoted on Twitter by right-wing bigot Ann Coulter.

With respect to ADOS, Ann Coulter has literally only ever commented on what she feels would be a superior arrangement of the movement’s initials. To imply that she has been actively tweeting support for ADOS is just one of any number of examples of sloppy, misleading and just downright abysmal political journalism in the article.

5.) There is evidence that white supremacists have jumped on board with ADOS and that 4chan posters may be using the movement to sow division.

The ‘evidence’ posted was from a user with a Canadian flag icon, and whoever the person is doesn’t even know what the initials of the movement stand for. Go home, Media Matters. There is evidence you’re drunk.


1. The exchange that is cited exclusively in the “Media Matters” article took place between Yvette Carnell and Talib Kweli on the 3rd of March 2019, a time when Bernie Sanders had been unequivocally opposed to the idea of reparations for slavery.

2. For whatever reason, Talib Kweli has become the focal point for commentary on ADOS’s apparent hostility toward “other supporters of reparations.” In his Medium piece “Why #ADOS is Trash. Receipts Attached,” the rapper submits as irrefutable evidence of his advocacy for the cause of reparations two (2) lyrics that he wrote between the years 1997 and 2004, one of which he bafflingly misquotes: “They call it reparations (he means I call it reparations), they call it extortion.” Leaving aside the question of how a person whose whole life is words ends up misquoting himself on an issue he is apparently deadly serious about (it’s almost as if he has someone else writing his Medium articles!), if one is left scratching their head at how this qualifies as substantive reparative justice advocacy, I promise you that you are not alone. Kweli does, for the record, also cite having once “worked closely” with a grassroots organization, though whatever ‘working closely’ actually entailed is left entirely unspecified.

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Kiddie Pool Antics: The Anti-ADOS Campaign and the “N’COBRA Memo”

I’ve been really trying now, for what seems like the last hour, to affect a kind of Greenwald-esque manner in dispassionately reporting on an apparently confidential 10-page document concerning the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) and the coordinated efforts of its leadership to discredit, disparage and delegitimize those at the fore of the American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) movement by alleging that they are in league with conservative ideologues to manipulate the black vote in advance of the 2020 election.

Maybe I have Mueller fatigue. Isn’t there nowadays—having just come off a nearly 3-year bender of constant, sensationalized reporting on an investigation that, in the end, effectively placed a raw, open-eyed fish on the plates of the chanting, salivating masses—a kind of ambient, almost post-febrile weariness of disclosure? And I honestly think I’m just having difficulty summoning the kind of quasi-sincere, sober impartiality that would be required to make the contents of the reported N’COBRA memo seem even remotely consequential.

I don’t even know if the memo is real. It was submitted via email from a source who claims to have been provided the material by an individual in N’COBRA who is uncomfortable with the tack the organization is assuming with regard to its position on ADOS. Subsequent requests for comment on its veracity and the nature of the allegations therein have gone completely ignored by N’COBRA personnel. But insofar as the memo attempts to implicate ADOS co-founder Yvette Carnell in a nexus of xenophobic white nationalists, well, it certainly conforms to longstanding efforts by known associates of N’COBRA to ‘expose’ her and Antonio Moore’s political project as being some manipulative operation of right-wing forces. And so I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if it does in fact turn out to be authentic. But that particular accusation is one that has been levied at Carnell now for—literally—years, and if the document’s creators understand her affiliation with Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) as a discovery that leaves no doubt of there being some unsavory figures furtively at the helm of the ADOS movement, she has already publicly addressed these allegations head-on on both her YouTube live show and, more recently, has taken to her Twitter page to explicitly refute the charges that PFIR is somehow financially involved.

Perhaps the most unexpected (and execrable) aspect of the document is the lengths to which it goes in order to try and impugn the character of Duke professor and leading wealth economist Sandy Darity and inculpate him in the movement’s ostensibly nefarious aims and pro-Republican leanings. The accusations, however, are so thin and tenuous (at one point submitting as evidence for Dr. Darity’s involvement in the far-right machinations of ADOS his “publicly advocating for the group”) that—if what they are attempting to do wasn’t so totally repugnant—they would be basically laughable. Moreover, if simply expressing support for the political project of Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore is the criteria the makers of the document use to identify a person as a puppet of conservatism, then the recent pro-ADOS comments made by Dr. Cornel West—someone who is not exactly widely regarded in U.S. politics as having reactionary and retrogradist attitudes—would no doubt prompt these people to designate him as a divisive agent of white supremacy as well.

And I think this is the upshot. The overall content of the memo is more eye-rolling rather than eye-opening. I don’t know. Maybe there’s something more there; someone who maybe gives more of a shit about what certain detractors of the movement have to say can feel free to do a real close read of the thing and dig and speculate on the speculation and maybe produce something more revelatory and consequential vis a vis the future of ADOS. Be my guest. The document, in its entirety and reaction, is available below. I really don’t mean to be dismissive, or like cavalier, but it should be evident by now that there are just an astounding number of increasingly lower-tier figures and nominally socially ‘woke’ political neophytes whose voices are somehow being elevated in a conversation that is so observably removed from their level of understanding and ability to engage with meaningfully. Dreck like this document—authentic or not—becomes more baseless ammo for them to affect some kind of virtue and authority online and castigate and smear the people who are actually doing the work in trying to move the ball downfield for securing justice for their group. And to the extent that this is in fact an N’COBRA hatchet job on ADOS, one just sort of gets the sense that it’s essentially a petulant, sulky response to the ADOS movement having effectively picked up the issue of reparations off the shelf, blown off the thick layer of dust that has been allowed to accrete on it over the years, and told the old guard “Thank you, we’ll take it from here.”

The fact is that these individuals and groups will continue to scream and howl louder and louder from the yawning void of irrelevance into which their basic inaction and ineffectiveness over the years has consigned them. And there’s going to be a real stomach required to tolerate the attacks on ADOS and move forward as the group—in direct proportion to the former gatekeepers’ increasing condition of inconsequentiality—becomes ascendant in the national discourse on reparations. This stuff, this document and the accusations, is comparatively tee ball for what’s presumably coming down the pike. It is finger-flicking water at each other in the political kiddie pool. And it seems, looking ahead, like there are basically two options: either get out and towel off, or get ready to wade out into the deep end together.


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Fuel for the Journey: Bhaskar Sunkara, Black Exclusion, and Reparations

In 2006, a couple years before Bhaskar Sunkara would attend George Washington University and eventually start the leftist quarterly Jacobin, the county in which he grew up was sued by the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York, a private civil rights group alleging that local government in Westchester County was violating the terms of an agreement to receive federal funds contingent upon their being allocated to undo obvious, longstanding patterns of segregation.

These terms were set forth in a provision to the 1968 Fair Housing Act which legally required federal grantees to affirmatively further fair housing in jurisdictions which—like those in Westchester County—visibly bore the obscene and enduring signature of slavery and its aftermath of deliberate, anti-black economic exclusion. In court documents submitted by Andrew Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College, it was revealed that 25 of Westchester County’s 31 municipalities had an African-American population that was less than 3%, and that those municipalities were “characterized by exclusionary zoning that perpetuates the segregation of African-American households.”

Sunkara was born and raised in the village of Pleasantville, N.Y., which—when the lawsuit was initially filed in 2006—had an African-American population of 0.0%. It is referenced explicitly in Beveridge’s sworn declaration. And like many jurisdictions in Westchester County, it appears to have remained particularly keen on preserving the broader region’s rich history of enforced separation of black people. In Richard Rothstein’s book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, the author recounts the origins and pervasiveness of the area’s racist housing ethos: “[A] survey of 300 developments built between 1935 and 1947 in Queens, Nassau, and Westchester Counties,” he writes, “found that 56 percent had racially restrictive covenants. Of the larger subdivisions (those with seventy-five or more units), 85 percent had them.” Nikole Hannah-Jones, in her article, “Soft on Segregation: How the Feds Failed to Integrate Westchester County,” puts it more pithily: “As the Great Migration brought thousands of black Southerners to New York City in the 20th century, Westchester’s towns and cities snatched up the welcome mats.”

Those welcome mats were—with the majority of African-Americans effectively quarantined to southern Westchester County by racial deed language—then unraveled by developers in places like Pleasantville to receive a more economically advantaged pool of prospective buyers; buyers who—like the Sunkara family—were able to access the opportunities in those communities whose organizing principle seems to have been (and still remains) the deliberate exclusion of native black citizens. And while Sunkara has described his family as having been “some of the least wealthy people” in their “pretty affluent suburb,” they nonetheless were afforded a critical foothold for becoming upwardly mobile in America only because the black community in Westchester County had been specifically denied the ability to ever realize those same opportunities for themselves.

Which is what makes Sunkara’s most recent commentary on the issue of reparations in The Guardian so totally objectionable; because his life in America simply does not exist in any recognizable way without the fact of that manufactured black failure. Jacobin arguably does not exist without that black failure (Sunkara’s parents’ names both appear on Jacobin Press LLC’s business license filings, with his dad listed as the company principal 1, and the company address being listed at an apartment that the family owns in the Bronx). And so the question is, then, what does it mean for an individual whose life and professional career, which in so direct and unambiguous a way has been made wholly possible by the specific oppression suffered by black people, to then use his position in the media to promote the message that specific policy designed to redistribute such opportunities back to those very people “can’t adequately address racial inequality”? How does someone whose family has only ever enjoyed material success from the racial inequality in the U.S. have the outright temerity to withhold support for even the most modest and benign of proposals currently affiliated with reparations: to simply get some people together in a room to just go over and evaluate what it might look like? How does he suggest that reparations is not only outside the realm of what’s possible, but outside—as he writes—what’s even “comprehensible,” particularly in light of how thoroughly intelligible and straightforward are the racist underpinnings of both his own and his family’s eventual ability to succeed and have a normal life in America. What would it mean for Sunkara to take to the pages of The Guardian to elucidate readers on that fundamental component of his life rather than encouraging them to dismiss reparations in favor of universal policy which, even at its most effective, preserves that most baleful and odious distinction of American society: the persistent subordinate status of the black race.

In his pedantic diatribe against implementing race-specific policy, Sunkara naturally closes with the hoary counsel that we all be good little observant Leftists and hold in our minds the idea of “our shared destiny.” This is—as becomes more and more apparent with each deployment—nothing more than an attempt to put an ideological sheen on the most shameful and damning aspects of our own experiences of American citizenship as known through its essential dimension of systemic black exclusion. After all, if anyone should be out there full-throatedly advocating for the prioritization of applying specific, targeted redress for American Descendants of Slavery, Bhaskar Sunkara (since it has been black exclusion that has so clearly fueled his journey so far) would seem to be an ideal spokesperson for the cause of reparative justice. That he instead chooses to shout down to those same people who languish in the lowest rung of American society—people put in that position of profound suffering and marginalization which conditioned his ascent—that they share one destiny reveals far more about the depths of his political cowardice than it does an apparent concern to see meaningful justice done.


1. From Investopedia: “Principals have different roles depending on the nature of an individual business, but the universal responsibility of a commercial business principal is significant influence. Some principals are also the founder, owner and CEO. Others own a large portion of company equity and sign off on major decisions. Some principals are simply considered major parties to a business transaction. Many legal documents designate a ‘principal,’ the majority of which refer to someone with decision-making authority.”

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Canned Response: David Brooks, Reparations, and the Kumbaya Column

There was something entirely predictable about New York Times columnist David Brooks’s op-Ed on reparations. Not so much with regard to the subject matter (Brooks indeed has never before written in support of reparations), but rather in the framing of the ‘argument’ itself. And while the dilemma that prompts his column is certainly a worthwhile one to explore—namely, trying to discover why when he looks around and observes the many divides that characterize American life (rich/poor; urban/rural; red/blue), it’s the racial divide more so than any of the others that seems to stare back at Brooks with a grim, implacable quality of permanence—the author’s treatment of black suffering seems ultimately intended to advance his own ideological agenda rather than the cause of justice for American Descendants of Slavery.

The racial divide is hardly the first atrocity to really grip Brooks’s imagination. Nor is it the first for which he appears to gain a vague sense of its singularity. In fact, that circumstance—finding that among a set of horrors seemingly alike in nature, one in particular figures in his mind as uniquely odious—is one that has reliably served Brooks as a prelude to sermonize. Five years ago, after ISIS militants beheaded journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, Brooks also mused over his own intense sense of revulsion: “I’ve been trying to understand why the act of a beheading arouses this strong visceral response,” he wrote, “Why does separating a head with a knife feel different than a shooting, or a bombing?” And so now, like then, Brooks’s latest column, “The Case for Reparations,” finds him confounded by his distinct sense of the awful and trying to again name the “haunting sensation” he experiences as he contemplates how the racial divide in America “doesn’t feel like the other divides.”

But questions like these—why does a beheading feel different than x; why does the racial divide feel different than x—function for Brooks less as genuine appeals to critical thought and would instead seem to operate purely as contrived introspections that allow him to strike an attitude of sober thoughtfulness while being certain of his answer for what he personally believes most afflicts and ails humanity. That scourge, for Brooks, is always an increasing separation from the spiritual.

It is, after all, the ISIS militants’ patent disregard for the body’s “spiritual essence” to which he eventually ascribes his heightened sense of disgust at a beheading. And insofar as we too recognize and are revolted by it—when the “body’s spiritual nature is gratuitously and intentionally insulted”—then that is what differentiates us as higher-order beings than the “zealots [who] hew to a fringe of their faith that holds that the spirit and the body are at war with each other.” And while he haltingly acknowledges there will “probably have to be some sort of political and military coalition” to defeat ISIS, he nonetheless appears to reject it as a solution of any real consequence, maintaining that “ultimately the Islamists are a spiritual movement that will have to be surmounted by a superior version of Islam.”

Given Brooks’s insistence on the primacy of cultivating the spiritual as our most potent resource in the face of certain pernicious evils of the world (as much is obvious by a cursory look at some of the titles of his columns over these past years: “Building Spiritual Capital”; “Fighting the Spiritual Void”; “Capitalist Winds Expose the Spiritual Void”; “The Remoralization of the Market”; and “The Body and the Spirit”), one can be fairly certain that the ‘superior version’ of ideology that he has in mind—be it religious, political, or economic—involves nothing so much as an emphasis on the shared nature of our existence not just as material beings but, beyond that, as spiritually connected entities; a recognition of how, as he writes, “every human body has some piece of the eternal.”

It is the failure to relate to one another in this way that Brooks is always eager to diagnose as permanently stunting our development toward righteousness. So it’s no surprise, really, that when Brooks is weighing his sense of the racial divide’s singular quality as compared with other societal fissures, he characteristically offers this as a possible explanation: “One way of capturing it is to say that the other divides are born out of separation and inequality, but the racial divide is born out of sin.”

It’s a curious but—for Brooks—ideologically cohesive distinction. As a conservative, inequality and separation (while present levels are perhaps in his mind no doubt obscene, and while he himself may even argue the need for more fair-minded and moral policy to mitigate their scope) are ultimately matters grounded in the individual’s right to differ. If I am not materially well off, but choose to invest in a certain stock and end up experiencing an impressive percentage of return, am I sinning? If my family has always lived in the suburbs and unfailingly voted Republican, are we a family implicated in sin? Considered in the abstract, no. If, however, a person ceases to be a human to me on the basis of the color of their skin, I inarguably forfeit a defensible position wherein I could be said to not be acting from a place of innate wickedness and clearly violating what Brooks calls the “natural moral order to the universe.”

And so it’s in this respect that, for Brooks, the racial divide is categorically different: because white America presumed it had a right to differ itself qua humans from African-Americans. It is coherent only as a pure corruption of the heart, and Brooks feels as such that there is no option for healing that rent in our nation’s soul but in a spiritual return that confers a full sense of humanity and collective belonging upon black America. But the case for being seen as equally human is not the same as the case for being made equally American. And insofar as Brooks understands himself to be making the ‘case’ for reparations—or that his is a persuasive and compelling exposition of the singular plight endured by black America—he is woefully deluded. In a post-What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap world, it feels at minimum irresponsible if not altogether inimical to justice to have any contribution to the discourse of reparations out there that studiously avoids confronting the basic fact of how whatever chance a person has today of attaining an even remotely normal life in America is tied directly to which side of the legacy they were on after it was decided that white America would have material gains originated and sustained for it over the course of generations, while black America would be made to suffer material losses in equal measure over that same period of time. The entire landscape of American life—economic, political, civic—is in the fullest sense a pure and abiding expression of that. And what seems to completely elude Brooks’s awareness of what gives the racial divide a “dimension of depth,” or why that divide seems, as Brooks also writes, “more central to the American experience” than the others, is precisely because those other divisions—rich/poor; urban/rural; red/blue—are all in essence extensions of the deliberate separation of people into categories Black and White which served as the foundational basis for the economic ambitions of the United States. To point out the intensity of that divide relative to the others is like remarking on how the root of a tree seems to have more depth than its branches.

Which is why for all of his ostensibly deep ruminating, Brooks evinces no real desire for bringing to light the actual material implications of the racial divide. Either that, or he is just a phenomenally ill-equipped thinker when it comes to the function of race in America across centuries. Because if he were in fact committed to revealing deeper truths about what makes it unique in its essential and original evil, the assessment of the racial divide simply would not just point to how one side morally transgressed when it denied the other its humanity; it would necessarily aim to carry that thought to a further point of completeness and approach the divide between black and white America in the most genuinely reparative-oriented manner: by talking in clear and explicit terms about how that moral rupture was the flint and steel to spark American free enterprise, serving to place one group at a distinct advantage to reap the benefits of that system, and feeding its failure directly back into the other group and then letting (and oftentimes managing at the federal level) the logic of consolidation over generations ensure the enduring and fixed nature of that advantage and injustice. Then and only then does the terrifying salience of the racial divide really begin to take shape.

More than enmity between black and white America which in many ways has at least superficially abated, it is the ever-widening chasm of access to opportunity that best describes their relation. It is the material outcome of the legacy of discriminatory government policies and a private sphere absolutely rife with hostilities toward black people. And in the cause to provide redress for that condition, spirituality can only be one of several available means, but not an end in itself. That latter possibility is what it seems like Brooks is ultimately arguing for. His is always an anatomy of society in the midst of spiritual crises. And in the case of the racial divide, actual reparations is, for Brooks, basically an afterthought. This much is apparent in his appeal to one particular passage in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article on the same subject which conveniently supports Brooks’s notion that an ideal of justice will come from our looking inward: “Coates’s essay seems right now,” Brooks writes, “especially this part: ‘And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations — by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences — is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. … What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices — more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.” It’s a telling selection, and one which ultimately allows him to shift the focus off what would actually be required to make black America whole; a reassuring but wholly fallacious message to himself and his readers that the racial divide is most appropriately and purely served by a redistribution of our compassion and not of what’s in Uncle Sam’s pockets.

In the end, the question that animates Brooks’s column has already been pretty well unpacked and answered, especially as of late. Read Darity. Listen to Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore. Listen to a sermon by the Reverend Doctor Kevin Cosby where he takes spirituality out of the realm of the ethereal and makes the justice demands of the gospel materially relevant to the black community. The information that can help acquaint a person with the distinct nature of the racial divide and the data informing the justice claim of American Descendants of Slavery all the way up to the present day is out there. And if, like Brooks, you are afforded access to a platform like the New York Times to step up to the plate on behalf of black America and that justice claim, it’s really not that hard to keep your eye on the ball and take the fucking swing. Don’t get up there and daydream about how nice it would be if the game wasn’t rigged against certain players. Or that in the American context those seemingly benign instances of inequality and separation can be thought of as in some sense not sprung from and bound up in the sin of the racial divide.1 In so doing, a person appears as either incapable of really advancing the mission, or an opportunist who is co-opting the issue for their own purposes. And given the imprecision of Brooks’s analysis, the non-specificity of justice, and his well-worn spiritual agenda, it’s not exactly a stretch to attribute some rather dubious motives to his sudden concern over healing the racial divide. It’s like that old adage: “Give a small boy a hammer and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.” Give David Brooks a column and he will find that everything he encounters needs spiritualism. And if he’s really so concerned about why some things ‘feel’ particularly more morally detestable than others, he need look no further than considering what it means to pen a column that takes the singular issue of reparations, empties it of its material dimension, and uses it as a carrier argument for the need to recognize our cosmic interconnectedness.


1. To use the earlier example: how to account for white Americans participating in the stock market at such higher levels than black Americans with similar education and income?

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As American as Red-baiting: A Snapshot of Russian Web Traffic to One Very Pro-#ADOS Movement Space on the Internet

[Author’s note, added 3/7/19: It seems a few people declaiming this post online have this scenario in their heads wherein when I first hit the publish button, I’d apparently done so with a smug understanding that I would—with that single keystroke—effectively be putting to rest any suggestion of Russian involvement in the #ADOS movement. Alas, no. And while I find the below metric indicating traffic from Russian IP addresses to an explicitly pro-#ADOS site striking and kind of humorous (given the widely adopted theory that #ADOS is part of some Russian plot to sabotage the Democratic Party’s chances in 2020), I’m also pretty mindful of how one example of something constitutes a rather weak case for saying anything really conclusive about the larger phenomenon on which it intends to comment. But before totally dismissing this, it seems to me worth considering how the data supplied here—limited though it may be—nonetheless represents literally 100 percent more evidence suggestive of a basic *lack* of Russian engagement with #ADOS than anything that has thus far been produced by the supposed ‘experts’ who are appearing in the national media and actually stating as fact the matter of Russian infiltration. After all, one would think that these are people who have access to (or can easily obtain) the material that would corroborate the narrative they’re putting forward. The fact that they simply seem to be uninterested in doing that should really be the impetus for ridicule and derision rather than the appearance of a small bit of data that is—at the very least—interested in contributing to less speculative account of a situation.]

That’s .008% engagement from Russia over the last year, the place named by Democratic Party loyalists and intelligence ‘experts’ as the apparent hotbed for weaponizing and disseminating #ADOS dezinformatsiya throughout social media.

I invite you to extrapolate.

#notAbot

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Consider the Mule: Antonio Moore & Marianne Williamson in Conversation

Say you are taking a test.

You are taking a test and you come to a multiple choice question that reads like this…

Q: The following quote—Sometimes there is externalized oppression and injustice and unfairness, but the deeper injustice is within our minds”—typifies an attitude ordinarily found in which of the following viewpoints:

a.) Conservative

b.) Liberal

c.) Progressive

d.) The candidate who has made reparations for American slavery a primary plank in her presidential campaign platform

In a way it’s sort of a trick question; because in modern politics, the dismissive attitude toward deep, structural barriers to achievement expressed in that statement has taken root in the capital-T ‘Thought’ of both A and B, and even—although in a less pronounced way—some self-styled Cs. But what you would probably not hesitate to eliminate from consideration is option D. After all, isn’t the whole raison behind being an advocate for something like reparations for slavery (and the legacy of accrued disadvantages endured by those victims’ descendants) borne out of a pellucid awareness of how absolute is the degree to which systems and structures determine an individual’s ability to navigate and meaningfully participate in American life? One would think—one would hope—that if there were one person in whom this type of self-help platitude wouldn’t find a proponent, it would be a pro-reparations candidate for president.

Nonetheless, these were the exact words spoken last week by Marianne Williamson—a candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination—to Antonio Moore, a co-founder of the American Descendants of Slavery movement (ADOS). Williamson was responding to a question posed by Moore about whether or not she—as a minor candidate who is taking up the not exactly widely celebrated cause of making black America economically whole—could identify with, and relate to, ADOS’s recent experience of having larger, establishment interests coordinate what he called a “minimalization of [its] voice because it doesn’t fit the narrative of what [they] need to be said.” And while her answer wasn’t about black America per se, it’s really troubling to hear this little bit of pop-psych wisdom surface in a general discussion about the realities of structural disadvantage and the lengths to which those with power will go to discredit and delegitimize insurgent movements in order to preserve the status quo. Williamson concludes her response by telling Moore, “So where I feel none of this would hold us back…is if there’s enough activation within us.”

It’s again that last phrase that just sort of clangs around in the ear after it hits: if there’s enough activation within.

For the last century and a half, there’s been a basically bipartisan consensus on the inability of black America to simply ‘activate’ itself. And while the self-help literature industry from which Williamson emerges traffics endlessly in this sort of vernacular, the matter of black uplift to which she now addresses herself demands an entirely different and wholly distinct register. Absent this, one wonders if there’s a point where Williamson’s metaphysics and personal philosophies begin to contradict or—at minimum—complicate her ability to really persuasively and meaningfully advance the national discussion about reparations; a national discussion which has regrettably appeared to reach its apotheosis with exactly that language of individual agency being weaponized against black America to exculpate the profound influence of this country’s monstrous history of racism on the present, and to abjure the basis for reparative justice. In order to move beyond that, a candidate like Williamson—who does in fact seem to earnestly care about how we can use the institutional juice of government to repair the desperate situation that American Descendants of Slavery have been made to inhabit—ought to be way more conscious of how that sort of rhetoric plays so very neatly into the arguments of those who will forever reject the idea of the socio-economic immobility of the black community as being a semipermanent systemic feature and instead attribute it to some psychological deficiency of its group’s members.


Williamson is big on history. And a lot of her hopefulness in being able to create the political will for a reparations package seems to rely on really drilling down into the past, bringing it to light, and elucidating white America on how the post-emancipation period saw a basically immediate and radical attenuation of freedom and opportunity for black America. She cites the failure to provide freed slaves with forty acres and a mule—and how we probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion if that promise had actually been delivered—as something to which the white audiences with whom she speaks across the country really connect. And Moore’s got this real brilliant thing he does during this part of the interview where he talks about how anyone like Williamson who is trying to meaningfully do reparations needs to take extreme care not to succumb to a discourse of justice that tends to “forget the mule.”

Williamson nods politely while she listens, and you can see by her expression that she’s actively trying to process what exactly that statement means: we tend to forget the mule.

I think this is another instance (you see something similar happen in the interview he did with Rothstein a while back) where Moore is talking about blackness and its relation to wealth in America in a way that a lot of people who outwardly profess a commitment to racial justice either really struggle with applying certain concepts of redress, or they simply just don’t get it. Because the forty acres is one thing; and indeed—by adjusting for the valuation of acreage during that time, translating it into present dollars—we can look to that as a basically knowable figure for what compensation for descendants of slavery might entail. But, as Moore points out, it’s really the lack of the mule—the tool used to cultivate that land, and to make it maximally profitable, and thus be what really allowed a family to participate meaningfully in American civic, economic and political life—that most accurately characterizes the ever-compounding nature of black exclusion and what has driven the tremendous advantage of whiteness. And to the extent that our reparations discourse—if it fails to bring all those elements together in a coherent way and directly connect that sustained exclusion to its profound intensity right now in the present—will be woefully and ruinously inadequate.

Moore usually talks about this stuff in terms of ‘plugs’ and ‘outlets.’ Outlets are just opportunities for advantage, and plugs are what an individual can leverage in service of accessing them. For Moore, navigating American life in some recognizably normal way is really just about a person being able to insert a plug into an outlet in order to realize a possible benefit. It’s fairly straight forward. The forty acres was really just the outlet; the mule was supposed to function as the original plug, which is to say that it’s what a family would have used to start building out assets across generations, providing a measure of stability to help keep pace with opportunity’s ever-increasing cost in America.

Of course, that didn’t happen at all with black America. And their best efforts to build wealth following the denial of those critical resources were not only suppressed by the menacing violence of terrorists but by the decades-long quiet and subdued violence of anti-black public policy; so much so that now American Descendants of Slavery inhabit so severely disadvantaged a position in the vastly unequal landscape of national life that the process of doing violence unto the group is more or less automated. How else would you describe an existence in which—just to try to survive—the most wealth-poor group is forced to assume ever-greater debt to be able to compete for access to opportunities in predominantly white institutions that offer absolutely zero guarantee of actually paying off or guarding against the discrimination and bias of private actors? Access to education—and the enervation of HBCUs which are institutions meant to be responsive to the black experience in America—is a great example of this, and it’s what Moore brings up to Williamson during the interview:

“We see that now today in schooling and education,” he says. “We see black students unable to pay student debt; they went out and got these educations that they can’t plug into anywhere. So I ask you, also, what are your thoughts about HBCUs?”

What follows is basically Marianne Williamson’s own ‘Aleppo’ moment:

“What is HBCU?” she asks Moore. And after he tells her, she continues: “Well, I would ask you for the most informed information on that. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Am I…I would ask you. Is that a good thing? Isn’t it a good thing? I mean aren’t historically black colleges—I mean I would assume that when they were set up maybe they were not with the best of intention because they might have come from a consciousness of segregation at that time, but isn’t it…I mean…I think that there are Jewish universities, and so why shouldn’t there be black universities and women’s universities if that’s what people choose. What am I missing?”

The answer is a lot. Marianne Williamson is clearly missing a lot. There are multiple instances throughout the interview that betray a very real deficiency in her understanding of black life in America. And it would probably be pretty easy to be cynical about her whole campaign and kind of write her off as a nice, well-educated and obviously articulate lady who is maybe just a little too mystical and a little too out of step with certain political realities to really be considered a viable or even capable messenger for reparations on a national level.

Except there’s something really telling and worth paying attention to in her admittedly fumbling response to the HBCU question. It’s when she says to Moore, “I would ask you for the most informed information on that.” It’s literally the first thing she says when confronted with her own ignorance about a subject that significantly impacts black America. And yeah, it’s troubling that she doesn’t know what an HBCU is. But there’s something real and genuine and refreshing in that moment in which her instinct is to defer entirely to the black person in the room. And insofar as there’s a candidate in the field who is going to center the issue of reparations, maybe someone who feels they have all the answers is kind of less important or valuable than someone who recognizes they need to be listening to—and getting their information from—the right sources in the black community. Williamson—having already spoken with Sandy Darity, and having personally invited Antonio Moore and Yvette Carnell to be sitting at the table if and when there comes a time to shape reparative justice policy—seems to critically recognize that she needs to be doing exactly that, and that seems important.

Consider the particular valence an expression like ‘going out on a limb for…’ takes on in the context of publicly advocating for American Descendants of Slaves to be made whole. While she’s got her shortcomings—and they are serious shortcomings—Marianne Williamson is engaged in that, and she deserves a lot of credit for staking out a position on structural racism that isn’t afraid to propose how a solution to the problem of one specific group’s deliberate, centuries-long exclusion from American life must be particular to that oppressed group and proportional to that cost if it’s to function as actual justice. To the extent you feel this issue needs to be brought into the discussion during the Democratic primary debates, I would encourage you to go to Williamson’s website and make a donation to her campaign that will help satisfy the new DNC requirements for grassroots fundraising and allow her to use that platform to foreground the cause of #ADOS. She’s clearly signaling that she’s open to having the very best people in her ear.

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With Allies Like These: #ADOS and the Hegemony of Liberation Dogma

With the creation of #ADOS, Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore have thrown the railroad switch on the black agenda train in American politics. Predictably, the conductors and passengers aboard the People of Color Express—who’ve long promoted the idea of a shared destination regardless of one’s station of origin—are venting their spleens online, responding with the usual mixture of supercilious disdain and petulant mewling at the group’s insistence that, as a matter of basic preservation for the black community, a program of self-interested political action that actually corresponds to its particular oppression is imperative.

That strident outcry against #ADOS—that it is divisive; that it is ego-driven; that it is insufficiently committed to overhauling deeper structural phenomena—recalls nothing so much as the song of a bird who has come to love its cage. And while the contemporary radical or revolutionary ‘movements’ pronounce upon the apparently unprincipled nature of the #ADOS project—regarding as naïve and frivolous its advocacy for reparations from the U.S. Government, and chastising it for not joining in swearing fealty to some ostensibly unifying ideal of Pan-Africanism that is today arguably more sentimental and nostalgic than it is emancipatory—it’s tough to discern what they actually find more upsetting: the movement’s actual politics, or the movement’s actual movement.

Relevance is an enviable quality, and #ADOS’s ascendancy in our national politics is maybe nowhere more apparent than in the swift and coordinated efforts by Democratic establishment interests to neutralize it and seal off any space beyond the margins where its agenda could be more broadly expressed and advanced. And insofar as these total smear campaigns are being mounted against a movement that represents nothing so much as an emerging awareness that the language of shared struggle is the graveyard of justice for black America, it ought to raise some legitimate questions about who that rhetoric actually belongs to in the first place. After all, if the real threat to power is in a federation of undifferentiated black and brown people, it would seem like a lot of unnecessary trouble to marshal the black loyalists in the party to help promulgate the idea of the #ADOS movement as running 2020 election interference for the Russians, when—according to the ‘solidarity across group boundaries’ assumption at the core of most oppositional politics—the group’s self-isolation from the unified front should render it basically ineffectual anyway.

One wonders if it’s possible, then, that the idea of a shared fate of all marginalized people maybe proves more advantageous to a political class that has demonstrated that language to be far more effective as a means of social control for black America than it has been in actually producing some actionable revolutionary consciousness. Moreover, what does it mean to have a major political party be observably on the defensive, deploying the Afro-functionaries in its ranks to try and discredit the movement, all because a group is shifting the usual terms of engagement away from a global framework and instead situating its specific justice claim squarely within the arena of the national?

Whatever the answer to these questions, the #ADOS movement is proceeding from a position that says black America simply no longer has the luxury of an engagement with power that is essentially emotional, and that its survival as a group with a specific justice claim for the accrued disadvantages tied to America’s well-preserved racial caste system depends on drawing a very clear distinction between the performative and that which is actually political. As for the various diasporic elements whose reaction is to sneer and deride them in that mission, their position is little except vanity. At minimum, they ought to drop the arrogant pretense that their opposition to the movement is rooted in some high principle of revolutionary ideology and just admit that they simply have no respect for them or what they are trying to accomplish. Admit that the specific oppression that American Descendants of Slavery have endured as a group matters to them only insofar as they would homogenize it, genuflect and acquiesce to co-sign the big, fat conceit at the center of a politics of sameness: that is, that there exists some world state—one in higher authority to the sovereign nations themselves that have carried out and perpetuated the various injustices—that these oppressed groups can stand before as one and argue their case.

Alas, the reality that there exists no such entity is, though, always a matter to be postponed for the revolutionary diaspora. In the interim, those who—like #ADOS—are seen as breaking rank with the broader marginalized to mobilize in self-interest, bringing their history of particular discrimination before a government with the actual authority to make laws and allocate resources, are denigrated and ridiculed as being hopelessly deluded and solipsistic. One thing here bears mentioning: while the #ADOS movement is being reproached and spoken of derisively as a disunifying force in emancipatory politics, the group itself has never once promoted or engaged in this seemingly paradoxical and definitely antagonistic relationship to another oppressed group’s condition. While #ADOS may object on the level of strategy, or point out what it sees as the glaring problem of a lack of reciprocity in support for its struggle, it has never—not once—blatantly disrespected or belittled the fact of the enormous historical importance of a particular group’s oppression and what they may be owed as a result.

And this is why it’s hard not to hear in the denunciation from all sides of #ADOS a tacit, resentful endorsement of the structural subjugation that has so particularized their experience as a group. And it’s so odd how those detractors of the movement—who no doubt would profess to espouse a style of radical thought that is foundationally committed to rejecting all manifestations of hegemonies—are either unaware or just totally indifferent to the fact that they are subjecting American Descendants of Slavery to yet another form of hegemony, that of today’s social-critical thought favored by the Left. In so doing, they more resemble the oppressors whose attitudes of tyranny and intolerance and coercive obedience they claim to denounce than the apparent champions of personal liberty of black and brown people across the globe.

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