Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Self-Examination Averted

In "The Case for Reparations," Ta-Nehisi Coates has written

A country curious about how reparations might actually work has an easy solution in Conyers’s bill, now called HR 40, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. We would support this bill, submit the question to study, and then assess the possible solutions. But we are not interested.

“It’s because it’s black folks making the claim,” Nkechi Taifa, who helped found n’cobra, says. “People who talk about reparations are considered left lunatics. But all we are talking about is studying [reparations]. As John Conyers has said, we study everything. We study the water, the air. We can’t even study the issue? This bill does not authorize one red cent to anyone.”

That HR 40 has never—under either Democrats or Republicans—made it to the House floor suggests our concerns are rooted not in the impracticality of reparations but in something more existential. If we conclude that the conditions in North Lawndale and black America are not inexplicable but are instead precisely what you’d expect of a community that for centuries has lived in America’s crosshairs, then what are we to make of the world’s oldest democracy?

What we are to make of the world's oldest democracy- as was made clear yesterday afternoon by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden- is that this nation  will not reckon with slavery.

"Kamala Harris is the Safe, Smart, and Historic Pick" raves the Boston Gobe;"Who is Kamala Harris? How Joe Biden's VP Pick Makes History," The Wall Street Journal swoons;"In Historic Pick, Joe Biden Taps Kamala Harris To Be His Running Mate," a breathless NPR informs us.

And the most telling, from The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Black Democrats in Pa. are 'beaming with pride' after Biden picks Kamala Harris for vice president."

Good lord, they're easy. Historian Seymour Martin Lipset, explaining how President Franklin Roosevelt saved capitalism,noted

Time and again between 1935 and 1940, meetings to lay the basis for a national third party went awry because those involved recognized that the bulk of their constituencies favored reelecting the president. And, in the last analysis, most radical, labor, and minority-group leaders supported the president as well. Certainly these leaders objected to particular Roosevelt policies, to his compromises with conservatives, and, in some cases, to his refusals to back their group or organization in some major conflict. Nevertheless, they concluded that a government in which they could play a part, which had shown some responsiveness to their concerns, and which acknowledged their importance was far preferable to a Republican administration with strong links to business.

The economic crisis of the 1930s was more severe in the United States than in any other large society except Germany. It presented American radicals with their greatest opportunity to build a third party since World War I, but the constitutional system and the brilliant way in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt co-opted the left prevented this.

Barack Obama made history as the first black President, albeit having had a white mother. Kamala Harris has become the first black tapped for a vice presidential nomination by a major political party. She also is the first Asian-American to receive that honor.

However, before yesterday, most Americans did not even know that Senator Harris' mother was born in India, and it's likely that even most Democratic primary voters didn't know. Whatever her qualifications, she was in the mix because it's widely understood that in 2020- even without the spring protests- the Democratic ticket could not feature two white persons. As her choreographed attack against Biden on school busing indicated, she has (at least in her personal life) identified as black. That is her choice, born in part of life experience.

Nonetheless, as the daughter of a man from Jamaica, she is not an African-American. She is thus differentiated from Barack Obama, whose father was an African and mother an American of whatever European ancestry. But like Barack Obama, none of Kamala Harris' ancestors was-  as far as any of us knows- brought to this nation unwillingly. None arrived in bondage.

The dirty little secret: Kamala Harris is the 107th consecutive major party vice-presidential candidate who is not a descendant of someone brought to this country as a slave.

It's possible that you, like I, am far less interested in who Ms. Harris' ancestors were or where they came from than her record as US Senator and Attorney General of the State of Florida, the latter more than a little disturbing. But it matters to the Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the 7,238 politicians and pundits saturating CNN, MSNBC, and probably elsewhere crowing about this historic selection.

Moreover, this is a major reason that there is little interest- notwithstanding Ta-Nehisi Coates' blandishments- in directly confronting what we are told, accurately, is America's original sin. Joe Biden has, as did the nomination/election of Barack Obama. In 2020, one party was going to nominate as vice-president a black and, odds were, someone African-American. It is not going to do so. Joe Biden has done for sidestepping a legacy of racial violence and discrimination what Franklin Roosevelt did for capitalism. The relief valve has been activated and we have been given a reprieve.

Hopefully, we will elect Kamala Harris as the next vice-president of the United States of America and "beam with pride." We can applaud ourselves on making history- and while there, kill two birds with one stone by congratulating ourselves for once again sidestepping an uncomfortable truth about our national past.


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