Kevin Moye | Managing Editor
One of the most surprising features of this election cycle thus far has been the unexpected amount of interest in the reparation platform for candidates running in the Democratic primary. Popularized by many members of the black media like Ta-Nehisi Coates and “The Breakfast Club”, reparations have become a hot-button issue that just about every candidate in the race has opined on.
While I do wish that more politicians would get behind the idea of reparations as a means to remedy the damage caused by 200 years of chattel slavery, I do not think that reparations should be the hill that progressives die on.
Two of the most progressive candidates in the race, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have both displayed some reluctance in endorsing outright financial reparations. Progressives are right to question the candidates for their lack of support for the program, but dropping them all together is a naive position. These two have been the most vocal about creating policies that would redistribute wealth to the middle and lower classes of our country, while others in the race, who have been much more open to reparations, have actively damaged the black community through programs like criminalized truancy and mass incarceration laws.
Before we can expect presidential candidates to run a campaign on reparations, we must first engage in a larger policy discussion about the true logistics of the program. Reparations are mostly thought of as a form of repayment to black Americans whose families were victims of the U.S. crime of slavery. This definition of reparations would only seek to repay those with direct lineages to American slaves.
Black Caribbean-Americans, Afro-Hispanics and Africans residing in the United States would all be left out of an American reparations policy. Even though they are likely the descendants of slaves or families impacted by slavery, they would only be entitled to reparations from the countries that oppressed their people.
If progressives are to reclaim the presidency in 2020, we must build a powerful coalition of voters that will storm the polls. Reparations would certainly do well to energize those of us that would benefit from the policy; however, such a program could potentially isolate many prospective members of a progressive coalition. In addition to the black Americans who would be left out, all other minorities who have historically been strong allies of Democrats may feel inclined to stray away from candidates that endorse reparations.
Before pushing for reparations, we must advocate for policies that would uplift all black Americans regardless of their family’s national origins. Because there is such a high correlation between race and wealth in this country due to systemic oppression, such policies would include massive wealth distribution that disproportionately benefits all members of the black community and other targeted minority groups.
We should also be focusing our attention on ensuring that candidates have plans ready to reverse the damage the Trump administration has done to affirmative action so many more black intellectuals, like ourselves, can continue to flourish in the world of academia. Maintaining affirmative action will continue to uplift the descendants of slaves while also being a policy that a broader coalition of voters can still get behind.
The idea of having a president that supports reparations is certainly one that we should pursue, but some degree of pragmatism must be involved in how we judge candidates based on their position. Reparations should not be the end-all and be-all of progressive politics. Before canceling a candidate or politician for the hesitancy in supporting reparations, we must really take a holistic look at their overall agenda to help bring both economic and social justice to black America.