The Reason Why ‘Reparations to Blacks’ Is a Stupid Idea

Eric Zuesse

Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic  is a prominent proponent of ‘reparations,’ which he doesn’t define, but which clearly entails monies to be paid by some majority-ethnicity to some minority-ethnicity that the given majority have historically victimized by some form of racism.

In a January 19th article, Coates headlined there, “Why, Precisely, Is Bernie Sanders Against Reparations?” That was a popular article, with 65,000 postings to facebook. It opened:

“Last week Bernie Sanders was asked whether he was in favor of ‘reparations for slavery.’ It is worth considering Sanders’s response in full:

No, I don’t think so. First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be very divisive. The real issue is when we look at the poverty rate among the African American community, when we look at the high unemployment rate within the African American community, we have a lot of work to do.

So I think what we should be talking about is making massive investments in rebuilding our cities, in creating millions of decent paying jobs, in making public colleges and universities tuition-free, basically targeting our federal resources to the areas where it is needed the most and where it is needed the most is in impoverished communities, often African American and Latino.

… The Vermont senator’s political imagination is active against plutocracy, but why is it so limited against white supremacy?”

For Coates, to be against ‘reparations’ is evidently to be a ‘white supremacist,’ or else in favor of, or at least not against, ‘white supremacy.’

Coates’s case for ‘reparations’ was presented in the June 2014 magazine, and titled “The Case for Reparations.” It was 16,000 words, and it had 249,000 postings to facebook; so, it was an article that disproves stupid editors’ prejudice against long articles — the idea that the public don’t respond favorably to them, or that they respond less favorably to long than to short articles. This article was enormously successful, from a commercial standpoint, and it has considerably boosted its author’s reputation. 

Almost all of its 16,000 words itemized the repulsive history of anti-Black racism in this country, and the consequences that this racism has had in starkly reducing the typical quality-of-life that black people in America experience today as compared to the quality-of-life of ‘white’ people, though Coates doesn’t say whether light-skinned Hispanics should also be in the category of people to be paying ‘reparations’ to ‘Blacks.’ 

Besides providing this centuries-long laundry-list of anti-Black bigotry and its results, there is no case presented for ‘reparations.’ The closest Coates comes to presenting a ‘case’ is his saying that Germany paid reparations to Jews, so it can be done. But those were real and quantifiable reparations, to people who had been robbed and injured etc., by German taxpayers, some of whom had voted for Hitler, but some of whom hadn’t, and also some of whom were the children of Hitler-voters, but some of whom weren’t. In a collective sense, then, this did constitute reparations: it was restitution to the victims by their victimizers and their first-generation descendants. I have now defined “reparations,” which Coates failed to do. But should all of those Germans be obliged to pay from their taxes to restitute those specific Jews, as was done? Should only Hitler-voters and maybe their children have been obliged to do that, or should all of the German population in, say, the decades immediately after the War, have shared in that obligation, as “Germans” to those specific “Jews”? These were concerns that were in every intelligent German’s mind when it was happening, but, ultimately, the decision was made, collectively, by the German nation, that their country had indeed, perpetrated a massive crime, and that, to the extent its victims after the war could be identified and their suffering and losses be quantified, this restitution should be paid as being a national obligation to those survivors and to their immediate heirs. Individuals could be located, and they were paid — after the count of their individual loss was estimated. This is “reparations”: it is restitution, by the victimizer, to his victim, but it requires a collective and democratic decision to be made, and specific victims identified, and their individual losses estimated. 

What Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to as ‘reparations’ is nothing of the sort. The slavery that had been experienced by some of the ancestors of some of today’s Blacks in America, by the ancestors of some of today’s Whites in America, cannot be restituted to those slaves, and to their first-generation children, because they’re all long-since dead. So, too, the slave-traders, and the slave-buyers, are dead and gone. Reparations are not possible. Thus, there likewise is no possibility for a collective and democratic decision to be made as to which individuals will pay what, and which individuals will receive what, as “reparation” for what.

Should Barack Obama receive ‘reparations’? Should ‘Whites’ pay them? How white? How black? And should Blacks who descended from slaves in other countries be on the receiving end of America’s ‘reparations’? Should Whites who descended from people who never owned nor sold slaves, and who both themselves and their ancestors were never bigots against any group, be on the paying end? Sanders said, “It would be very divisive.” He’s politic enough not to have said, “It would be extremely stupid,” but I am not politic, I’m an honest journalist, and therefore I can say it, because it would, indeed, be true, and because there are obviously lots of people who don’t know that it’s true, and who — for the sake of American democracy — need to know  that it’s true. What Sanders said is true.

If some direct slave-descendants, and some direct slave-master descendants, can be identified who are living today, then there is no clear moral obligation between them for whom their ancestors were, because those are distant ancestors, not parents nor anyone whom today’s descendants ever even so much as met. The debt was never paid, and it will never be  paid, because both the victimizer and his/her victim are long-since dead-and-gone. To presume otherwise is stupid. But Ta-Nehisi Coates presumes it. And that is his ‘case.’ And 249,000 of its readers passed it along via facebook. And still another 65,000 posted the version of it that called Bernie Sanders a ‘white supremacist’ for rejecting  Coates’s — and their — stupidity. Democratic voters need to know and understand the reality on this matter.

The present article is only one-fifteenth as long as Coates’s “Case” was, but I’ll be lucky if it receives even one-thousandth as many facebook postings. Truth is a more important value than success, even if it leads to failure, as it often does. The markets for stupidity and deceit tend to be far larger and more lucrative.

There are some injustices in this world that simply must be accepted, in order to be able to take on the real  challenges of governance in a democracy. Sanders knows that, even if some members of his audiences do not.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

This entry was posted in General, Media, Politics / World News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • kimyo

    First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil.

    the man displays a profound lack of vision. his memoirs will read ‘my hands were tied’. the present-day proof of this prediction? he backs the ludricrously wasteful, unsuitable for combat f-35, saying

    ‘And my view was that given the fact that the F-35, which, by the way, has been incredibly wasteful, that’s a good question. But for better or worse, that is the plane of record right now, and it is not gonna be discarded. That’s the reality.’

    ah, it’s the ‘plane of record’. if he were serious about funding education, he’d cancel that most hideously expensive pork on steroids project first. his ‘reality’ lives right around the corner from dick cheney’s.

    it’s really not that far a drive from ‘likelihood of getting through congress is nil’ to ‘the people of flint must not be allowed to suck off the government teat any longer’ (another prediction, for when feinberg rolls in to protect the government from the greedy, lazy second class citizens it poisoned).

    • wunsacon

      Thanks for making and sharing that observation.

  • Simply because the Plantation is unaware of the real history of America!

    The First Black Republicans

    Republicans Both Black and White sent these men to Congress!

    Democrats Lynching Killing Black & White ‘Radical Republicans’

    The Klu Klux Klan was founded as a Democrat proxy group. Many black Americans served in the U.S. Goverment in the 1800’s and beyond as part of the “Radical Republican” party. In 1912 the ‘Progressive’ Democrat, President Woodrow Wilson instituted racial segregation into the Federal Government. Many blacks were subsequently pushed out of the Federal Government.

    On the evening of March 21, 1915 President Woodrow Wilson attended a special screening at the White House of ‘THE BIRTH OF A NATION’, a film directed by D.W. Griffith and based on ‘THE CLANSMAN’, a novel written by Wilson’s good friend Thomas Dixon.

  • MrLiberty

    My great grandparents came to the US from France via Canada and from Hungary in the late 1800s – WELL after the war of southern secession was over and slavery was abolished. They all lived in New England. My wife’s all came from Canada as well from France and Sweden/Finland around the same time and settled in the U.P. of Michigan. Please explain why I or any of my relatives owe any black person 1 f-ing penny? And by the way, what happened to the trillions of dollars that have been stolen from Americans to pay for the War on Poverty, Public Housing, Government Schools, and all the other welfare programs that so-called African Americans have directly benefited from? My parents had to shell out for private school tuition in addition to the government schools so a double hit there.

    • nomadfiles

      you poor dear

  • Ron Dailey

    Nonsense,the wealth that was gained can be traced to several institutions,that continue to function to this day. however the question should not be in reparations of a monetary nature but one of an emotional, social and psychological nature. Today, whites harbor racist sentiments that have been programmed into them from prior generations, they have been used by their current masters to blame and vilify blacks as inferior as part of the social control mechanism that keeps this system running. Would it not be wonderful for them to destroy the illusion of separateness and joining with blacks and other minorities to throw off the shackles of monetary enslavement.

    • Suckit Hard

      Nonsense is right. Blacks are more racist than white. That’s why whites are literally 3,000% more likely to be assaulted by blacks, than blacks are by whites. And blacks commit hate crimes against whites about about 25 times the rate whites commit them against blacks.

  • pat

    While coates buys his multi-million dollar house,academics hire him,white liberals love him,newspapers braodcast his views.

    Let me slam coates argument,first he ignores that africans themselfs enslaved fellow africans,2nd, are Asians demanding reparations from their colonial masters, I don’t see folks from india or those of indian descent who worked in british colonies crying for reparations. I also don’t see many hispanics doing so, I can also go a lot further, many hispanics from the carribean and folks from brazil, are actually descendats from african slaves, dna proves it, are they demanding that their white colonial masters from portugal and spain give them reparations? What’s next, should eastern europeans demand reparations from russia for colonization during the cold war? What about jews and muslims who had to flee due to the crusades decades ago? We tried reparations in zimbabwe,it didn’t work.

    Of course since I am not as famous as coates,nor a famous blogger,this won’t get as much traction, and I’m not getting paid a single cent to write this, in fact its probably costing me a nickel or dime in electricity use, while coasts gets paid hundreds an hour? Hey should we demand reparations from the mongols or descendants of them, or what about the chinese decendants demanding reparations from descendats of those who forcem them who built the wall?

    • Suckit Hard

      I demand reparations from blacks. BLACK African Moors raped, pillaged, murdered & enslaved my Spanish & Sicilian ancestors.

  • Bam Bam

    1.4% of whites owned slaves. Yet they want to blame the other 98%. Education is key to ending ignorance and there is a ton of it out there. Beggars always want something free.

    • real times is end times

      Lmao Esau what are the percentages of free whites and slave blacks ?

  • hero37

    The wealth that is and has been generated in this country for the past 100 yrs had nothing to do with slavery. Bill Gates and Microsoft have nothing to do with slaves. Only big farms and plantations made money off of slavery, so taking money from everyone is just stupid. Also, Obama would have to pay reparations. He is mixed, but his black side is from Kenya, so he has no slave lineage. Only his white mom. But who knows, her family could have came here after slavery. It will never happen, it is stupid and anyone who thinks it can and will work is an idiot.

  • mike

    You seem to not “get it”, Eric. The issue is the situation they live in, and what that situation signifies. The issue of slavery and reparation essentially boils down to intergenerational trauma – suboptimal modes of relating and enculturating themselves, which emerged as a function of the inhumane treatment of blacks by the dominant white society.

    The issue of “reparations” should be better conceived as “rebalancing” an enormously disproportionate power distribution between the races. Whites such as yourself want to defocus from this neurobiological perspective – from the sciences, from ideas in biophysics like dissipative structures, the general framework of complexity, nonlinearity, and systems – which applies from the largest scale to the smallest scale, producing our minds as a mesoscale that “teeters” as a function of recognition processes, and the adaptations Humans make.

    The blacks are stuck in a positive feedback loop between an external culture which enforces a suite of behaviors that are harmful to their own advancement as a race. The infatuation with guns, violence, and the rampant misogyny present in popular hip-hop is not just part of the problem, but an active expression of the problem: a virtual “funnel” which produces far more economic/social/psychoemotional losers than winners.

    This situation cannot be remedied without some sort of economic investment – but whether or not the theatrics of a public acknowledgement of fault would be helpful, or hurtful, should be explored, because i can see pros and cons in either direction.

    If you respect the sciences, you have to accept that biological “primes” such as the need to be known by others – and so conform to their expectations for behavior (outer) and identity (inner). The relevant “control parameter” here is their history of trauma, and their inability to nurse themselves back to a coherent state of relatedness to themselves as well as nature when whites still held them with contempt and disgust – consistently needing to remind them of their ‘worthlessness’. Doesn’t such a motivation – btw – not constitute a “deficiency cognition”? Why does everything seem wrong to such a person, unless because they are maniacally certain of their own rightness? The black trauma is countervailed by the pugnacious narcissism of the WASP establishment in Europe, Britain and America.

    • Suckit Hard

      You’re a typical ignorant, delusional, “white guilt” laden, anti-white white left-wing liberal cuckold, & you make no valid, credible or legitimate points. I don’t owe blacks a damn thing. If you want to give money to blacks, go ahead. You can even ask them bang your wife, cuck. (if you’re not already doing that)

  • Michael Zaman

    Very few Americans owned slaves in 1865 (at most 2%). Plus, the overwhelming majority of present day Americans descend from people who immigrated here after the abolition of slavery. The institution of slavery benefited only a small class of wealthy southern plantation owners. It had little impact on the north’s economy and industry. If anything, slavery was burden on the southern economy. Whatever contributions black slaves may once had is entirely irrelevant to America’s success and wealth today. Lastly, it is absurd to suggest that the United States should be the entity to pay reparations. Any grievances should be addressed to southern slave states, banks and companies that facilitated slavery, and most especially the Democratic Party, which was the life blood of slavery and Jim Crow in America.

  • Dr Mindbender

    Why are people so upset about the PAST? You are all slaves, Today.

    Wake up and Smell the Plantation!