On Pride and Other Obvious Particulars: #ADOS and the Mainstream’s Next Phase of Reputation Tearing

1.) That conversation actually seems like quite an important one to have, given the marked disparity in outcomes in America among those two groups. And to the extent that anti-black U.S. public policy has played a pronounced, multi-generational role in shaping ADOS outcomes—whereas the other group, whose family members’ arrivals in this country post-date the origins of American black castehood, and who thus necessarily stand outside of that particular history and its radiating disadvantage—then the implications for due justice and specific repair should be obvious enough.

2.) ADOS really do a perfectly fine job themselves in emphasizing their political movement’s non-affiliation with N’COBRA, whose sclerotic campaign for reparations over the past several decades has been met with about as much enthusiasm as a ladle of grey slop tossed down on one’s dinner plate. Contrast this to #ADOS, which, in relation to N’COBRA and in a mere fraction of the time, has been able to take the issue of reparations for American Descendants of Slavery into the HOV lane of movement politics and has since basically not looked back.

3.) I guess one person’s ‘controversy’ is simply another person’s awareness. Because that’s all that #ADOS—from the absolute, very beginning of the political project, long before it even referred to itself as #ADOS—has ever attempted to create. What they are doing is, moreover, an extremely admirable and courageous thing to undertake in a moment where the impetus in left politics is to essentially collapse all distinctions that exist between dark-skinned people and to studiously avoid addressing some uncomfortable realities about who within that coalition has in fact benefitted from structural ADOS lockout. It’s courageous because confronting those truths as that which necessarily make reparative justice in America the exclusive province of ADOS is—as we are seeing—such an obviously solitary endeavor. The liberal establishment, particularly its media apparatus, is notoriously committed to doing the custodial work of maintaining the status quo and defending by whatever means those political candidates who signal to the relevant interests that their presidency will function reassuringly as a total non-interruption of business as usual, the organizing principle of which has always demanded ADOS at the very bottom. The more urgent connection to be made, seems to me to be, to individuals who see advocating for the type of justice that ADOS is owed as something that is controversial and who then go to these media outlets and label it as an ‘issue.’ Because Carr is right—we have indeed seen this show before. And the more relevant question, for those of us on this side of things, is: for whom are people like Carr working?

4.) Lastly, what should be glaringly obvious to anyone who is paying even minimal attention to the #ADOS movement—and not just jumping in to opine for plaudits from a cohort of similarly ill-informed or willfully deceptive people—is that it is not about asserting ‘pride of privilege in oppression,’ but rather pride in being the group who built the richest nation in the world. And it’s just so hard not to hear, in the calumny that is so often directed at #ADOS, overtones of indignation at the indisputable and rightful claim that animates their movement toward freedom: that the justice for that is theirs.


As American as Red-Baiting, Another Look.

Malcolm Nance has again taken to Twitter, insisting that “for 5 months…a bunch of black Trumpers using #ADOS” have been at the “leading edge of a racist Russian cyber attack” against Kamala Harris.

Because my articles are often shared on Twitter, usually by accounts that have #ADOS in their bios, or by accounts that routinely deploy the hashtag, it seems reasonable to suspect that some of them might be part of the supposed vast Russian cyber army to which Nance refers. About five months ago, when the claim was first put forward that #ADOS was a Russian plot of anti-Kamala subversion, I had thought it would be interesting to take a look at some analytics just to test that hypothesis. The results to support that particular narrative were not exactly persuasive.

Well, in light of Nance’s new assertion, I thought I’d take another look and see what, if anything, the past five months have produced.

That grey color where Russia is indicates zero web traffic. I can’t even take a screen shot of how many possible #ADOS Russian IP addresses have viewed and shared my stuff on Twitter because there literally are none. And contrary to what—at least in Nance’s telling—sounds like a real surge in cyber activity emanating from Russia over the past five months, there has been (at least in my little #ADOS nook of the web) a decline in the percentage of Russian web traffic, from .008% at the end of February, to now 0.0%.

I would, again, invite you to extrapolate from this. Or to, at the very least, pressure ‘experts’ like Nance to proffer actual evidence to corroborate their allegations.



A Time for Conviction: The Angela Project 2019 and the Sideshow of Uncertainty about Reparations for ADOS on Capitol Hill.

Of course the first and most obvious thing to say about The Angela Project 2019 is that, 700 miles away from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where sit the duo responsible for propelling the discussion of reparations to an unprecedented level of visibility in the mainstream of U.S. politics in recent memory, a patchwork of black celebrities, writers and academics are all gathered on Capitol Hill to give testimony during a congressional hearing for whether or not we ought to convene a committee to study that same issue.

And while the presence of American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) both in the hallways and the hearing room itself inside the Rayburn Building cannot but buoy the spirits of anyone who may be justifiably concerned that missing from the proceedings would be those who constitute the victim group such measures intend to heal, it is indeed a strange thing to be sitting here in this church in Birmingham, looking directly at the backs of the heads of Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore, and knowing that two of the most critical figures in elucidating the very much extant legacy of slavery in America—and who have really shaped the necessary framework and language for justice-focused, meaningful reparative initiatives that aim to redress that legacy—are conspicuously absent from the hearing today.

Which is not to say that right now they are not exactly where they’re supposed to be. Birmingham has in many ways been the seat of the civil rights movement in this country’s history. The very church in which we are all gathered is the site of a 1963 act of domestic terrorism that saw the lives of four young black girls snatched by the murderous intolerance of white society, an instinct that has not just occasionally accompanied American racism, but which still today remains its most basic expression. The girls, Denise McNair (age 11), Addie Mae Collins (14), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14), were all preparing to leave Sunday school, and were so being instructed in the precepts of a Christianity which, for the most part throughout the U.S., has historically asked the black community to lift up their suffering to the Lord and understand such hideous and barbaric deeds as burdens for Christ to carry. But when so-called Christianity limits itself to seeing only such depravities as violations of the very essence of its doctrine, and does not recognize as being every bit a form of participation in that same violation of holy decree the church’s absence in advocating for justice for the oppressed, demanding on their behalf restitution—not only for one incident but for the whole continuum of atrocities to which the black community has been made subject—then the fact is that it simply ceases to be a Christianity that can claim any kind of actual authority in matters of God’s intention for mankind. In such reticence and inaction, only sin and complicity in Satan’s will.

The heinousness of the act so nakedly expressed in the bombing of the 16th Street Church was one in a constellation of similar obscenities in the South that helped make apparent to the broader population the profound vulnerability of black America and the need for targeted legislation to shore up protections and to compel the curtailment of discriminatory behavior that further precluded the group’s normal development in a society entirely given over to preserving the template of race relations established by slavery. And so it is fitting that, at a moment in America where our preference is either to be indifferent to the abject failure of those efforts, or to indulge in a fantasy of progress, of expanded consciousness, refined moral sensibilities, and civic growth and inclusivity with respect to black America, we find those leading the charge in the repudiation of that flagrant lie right here with the community, among the still burning embers of injustice of which Birmingham is but one of myriad examples. From here they exclaim to America at large the glaring omission in that account of U.S. life; namely, that despite whatever perception is cultivated and silaged in the media, and which then goes unchecked in our segregated day-to-day experiences, Descendants of American Slavery—particularly the younger cohort—exist today by a few remaining threads of stability, be it the former generation’s modest and isolated gains in wealth, or the federal programs of assistance that both liberal and conservative administrations alike have been chomping at the bit to attenuate and eventually denude the landscape of entirely. Moreover they aver that absent a transformational politics that reallocates an appropriately vast sum of the country’s available resources directly into the hands of that group, and accompanies that with a suite of specific policies and initiatives to ensure that infusion of money does not simply get siphoned back out of the community and its institutions, the long, slow withering of black America will simply reach its inevitable and tragic conclusion.

Because The Angela Project is taking place during a time when we see ascendant on the Left a politics in which there figures at least a dimension of racial justice, one might argue that the deep anxieties surrounding the black community’s imminent collapse are somewhat misplaced, or that the apocalyptic overtones in which is cast this depiction of contemporary black life are perhaps overwrought. One might argue that there is, in the present moment, reason for optimism.

Professor Sandy Darity of Duke University—who, in what had felt like a kind of divinely ordained playlist coincidence, entered the room earlier while Angela Project staff was setting up and taping down sound cables to Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City”—uses part of his time to issue a rather sobering warning concerning some of the more ostensibly bold policy proposals put forward by these candidates on the Left. Policies which, in at least the candidates’ own understandings of them, aspire to reparative justice.

One of these—Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Small Business Equity Fund—professes to triage and structurally amend one of the many pernicious consequences of the racial wealth gap; that is, the dearth of startup capital available to black entrepreneurs. It claims to achieve this via a disbursal of 7 billion dollars in federal grants which are to be administered at the local level. Taking this as emblematic of the paltry and tepid approach to the abyss of injustice which is his object of scholarship, Dr. Darity says, “Now let me make the point here. There are already two point five million black businesses with one-hundred and fifty billion dollars in total sales,” he says. “That is minuscule. Wal-Mart alone has five-hundred billion dollars in annual revenue. Wal-Mart alone. A seven-billion-dollar intervention patently can do very little to change this huge imbalance. What we have to recognize is the imbalance is so enormous that incremental social programs—or social programs that are designed to help all Americans, however desirable—will not close the racial wealth gap.”

The point, obviously, is not necessarily to discourage the audience from getting behind Senator Warren as a candidate. Rather, the point is to demonstrate how thoroughly and utterly warped our understanding is of the sheer magnitude of what we are up against. And that such declarations of apparent commitment to tackling the problem of the racial wealth gap—which is indeed perhaps the most vivid expression of the summation of centuries of unchecked American antiblackness—either deliberately avoid the reality of what is required to fix it, or would rather pander to the desire among a portion of the electorate who wants to feel like they are engaged in justice work for black America, but who may not be fully aware of the degree and scope of the problem.

There is, though, to be sure, a giant surge of material injustice that has long been issuing from the seismic center of our nation’s racist history, the institution of chattel slavery. This is the point that Antonio Moore makes repeatedly: that what we observe now with respect to hardship in the ADOS community—while no doubt grievous— is by comparison a run-up flood that precedes the actual colossal swell of calcified wealth that is threatening to crash down onto that group and annihilate them with a swift and nameless shock. Politicians who proceed as if the backs of ADOS are turned to this existential danger, and who opt to do a little song and soft-shoe performance of racial justice to try and hold their attention, do so in a moment whereby they effectively absent themselves from serious consideration among an exceedingly conscious and self-interested voting bloc.

Contrary to what was discussed on Capitol Hill this weekend, the Angela Project begins from the premise that we can ill afford to squander any more time disputing the matter of whether or not a debt is owed to American Descendants of Slaves. Where else do we encounter the language and exploits of sober debate when it comes to the matter of an obvious debt? There is no uncertainty here. And so what the Angela Project rightfully asks instead is, insofar as there are people who identify as Christian in this nation, and who submit before and resolve to carry out the edicts of that biblical doctrine—of which justice is chief amongst those inviolable laws—then how do they not accept the task of repair put before them? Indeed, as Yvette Carnell reminds all of us as she closes out her speech in Birmingham, “When there is no confusion, it’s time for conviction.”


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.


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.


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.”


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?