It might seem odd to discuss a subject like this these days. Our current president embodies White grievances against minorities and foreigners and he has elevated outright White Nationalists to key government positions.
But, I’ve got some reasons. First, this topic compels us to examine American history from a different perspective than most of us are used to doing. The case for reparations for some form of reparations for African-Americans is not intended as a kind of punitive damages or monetary apology for slavery. As reparations’ most articulate recent advocate argues, it is about the edifice of exploitation that today’s White privilege stands atop right now and going forward. Maybe it’s a bad, wrong argument. But, it is about the present and future as much as the past.
Another reason is that acknowledging the truth of terrible historical injustices and in some instances and in some form compensating the victims is an accepted principle of international law in the 21st century. It’s called “transitional justice,” and it has been tried in a number of countries, such as Germany (reparations to Holocaust victims) and South Africa (truth and reconciliation commissions).
Lastly, the subject of reparations for African-Americans had a brief moment of prominence a few years ago for a reason that is erfect for this group: Because of a single, extraordinary article. “The Case for Reparations” in the June 2014 Atlantic Monthly was written by a brilliant young African-American intellectual named Ta Nehisi-Coates. I linked to it below, and to some representative critiques of its conclusions and recommendations.
If you have never read the Nehisi-Coates piece I highly encourage you to do so before Monday’s meeting. His argument – which are entirely about what happened after slavery ended, BTW – are not above criticism, obviously. But, at the least he makes a strong case for seeing our country’s history in a new (for many of us) light.
I am out of town this week. Be nice to each other.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
Restorative justice has been / is being used –
- Wiki entry on transitional justice.
- It’s been used in different countries.
- U.S. Govt paid $4 billion to Native Americans recently, but it wasn’t reparations.
The Case for U.S. Slavery Reparations –
- The Case for Reparations, by Ta Nehisi-Coates, The Atlantic Monthly June 2014. Your sole must-read, even though it’s long.
- In support of his argument and reparations. Okay, okay – includes a short summary of Nehisi-Coates article.
- His argument does NOT rest on calling today’s White people racists. Recommended.
- Reparations by one estimate would cost less than Trump’s tax cut.
The Case Against –
- From the moderate Right.
- From the Right. Nehisi-Coates rebuts it here. Both recommended.
- From the pissed-off-at-the-very-idea Right.
- From somebody on the White Left. Meh.
NEXT WEEK: Encouraging healthy lifestyles – How much govt activism is too much?
The mind just reels. Donald Trump will be the 2016 GOP presidential nominee. . One analyst I read said this is the saddest moment in American politics since Nixon’s resignation. I think it’s surely the most shocking political development since JFK was killed. May you live in interesting times, I guess.
But it’s great timing for us! Certainly, it is too simplistic to chalk Trumpism up to GOP voter racism and nothing else, even though progressives will do it anyway. Yet, as calls proliferate to hold accountable the people, institutions, and processes that led us here, the role played by escalating White conservative racial identity and anxiety must feature prominently, IMO. And they must have been caused by something, too. Are deteriorating race relations the answer we’re looking for? If so, how did it happen and why?
I used the old term “race relations” because it conveys more than just the political expression of racial tensions. Race relations refers to the whole spectrum of ways that people of different races in a society resolve (or not) the tensions and conflicting interests that arise between them. Yes, the term often was used euphemistically, to avoid talking about plain old racism and to shovel responsibility for bad relations onto both “sides.” Still, I think it’s a useful bucket term for us in trying to figure out what fissures and fault lines brought us to this extraordinary moment.
Anyway, on Monday I imagine people will be anxious to talk about Trump. Love to oblige (see all the links). But, I also hope we can focus a bit on the broader topic of why racial tensions seem to be so high right now. Is it just a confluence of events, like police shootings and the Trump rhetoric, or is it a confluence of trends, too, like demographic changes and hard economic times?
To take it easy on everybody, I’ll limit my introduction on Monday to a brief description of the (1) possible reasons why U.S. race relations seem to have worsened lately, and (2) some major theories (some subtle, some not) of the role that racial anxiety has played in putting Donald Trump one-person away from the nuclear launch codes.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What do we mean by “race relations?” What fields are race relations played out on: Political, cultural, economic, etc.? Are any of them level; i.e., can we separate “race relations” from differences in “objective lived racial realities?”
- Perceptions: Regardless of reality, how do Americans view race relations? Agreements/Differences?
- Events: What big events may be straining race relations, like police killings and the Great Recession?
- Trends: Same for demographic/immigration and economic and cultural developments.
- Culprits: Who has been particularly unhelpful, besides Donald Trump?
- Now what?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Perception/public opinion:
- There’s a huge Black/White gap in economic well-being in the USA. Recommended.
- There’s only a small gap in racist viewpoints among White Democrats and White Republicans.
- But, some U.S. Whites believe they are racism’s worse victims.
- Trump and 2016:
- Trump himself is obsessed with racist conspiracy theories. .
- His supporters have fused racial anxiety and economic anxiety. Recommended. Or, maybe they mainly see his racial comments as proof he’s a fearless outsider and a disrupter.
- No. Trump’s supporters look to him to restore a racial hierarchy they think got inverted by the Great Recession. A crucial but debatable read.
- Conservative POV: The tables have turned somewhat. Being non-White now conveys many advantages.
- FYI: Old CivCon mtgs on race:
- 2014-15: Trump’s rise. Racial profiling and police shootings.
- 2012-13: What is racism, perceptions versus reality, and its role in our politics. Racism and mass incarceration. Racism as a motive for hating President Obama. Our increasingly race-based politics – nice links. Will we end up with all-White GOP and a largely non-White Democratic Party?
Next Week: Are there any universal religious principles?
April 13 was Thomas Jefferson’s 273rd birthday. I sent a card and signed all your names. On Monday, Jim Zimmerman, our historian, will be our guide as we discuss Jefferson’s life and legacy. In the past few years, Jefferson’s complex legacy has become fodder for a new generation of historians that hate the guy, love the guy, or condemn/claim various pieces of him.
Outside of the academy, both Right and Left have wrestled with Jefferson in recent years. Conservatives sometimes claim him as the founding father most opposed to centralized big government and as much more traditionally Christian than historians generally allow. Liberals struggle with the paradox of the towering polymath that authored the Declaration of Independence and founded the Democratic Party while keeping a plantation full of slaves, some of whom he raped (Sally Hemings) and few of which he even bothered to free in his will.
So, lots to chew on. I’ll be there on Monday. But, I will leave it to Jim to run the meeting and you all to discuss history through any lenses you wish to peer through. I think our discussion should be wide-ranging, like Jefferson’s intellect, his accomplishments, and his dark side.
Here are a few basic readings on Thomas Jefferson and commentaries on aspects of his legacy that have been in the news lately.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Basic info on Jefferson:
- Controversies of late:
- Today’s historians are furiously debating Jefferson. Recommended.
- Why both Right and Left claim a piece of him. Recommended.
Or audio! A 30-minute podcast on same.
- Wiki Sally Hemings entry.
- Party politics of late:
- Conservative POV: A long (20+pp) defense of Jefferson by historian Sean Wilentz. He’s reviewing a 1997 Ken Burns film on Jefferson.
- FYI, for fun: What liberties with history did the new Broadway musical “Hamilton” take?
Next Week: Causes of deteriorating U.S. race relations/politics
Racial profiling is one of those issues that most members of our discussion group probably have very little feel for. Most of us, I’ll bet, have never lived in a neighborhood where young people are routinely stopped and scrutinized by the police, or in one with the crime levels that are used to justify the practice. Racial profiling has been illegal since 1968, when SCOTUS ruled that police cannot legally search someone solely on the grounds that their race or ethnicity makes them “suspicious.” But, the police still have enormous discretion in who they can stop and search and how, and young men/women in many poor communities of color are subject to interrogation and search by law enforcement whenever they leave the house.
Allegations of racial profiling and debates about its effectiveness have been in the news a lot the past few years. In 2013, a court struck down NYC’s controversial “stop and frisk” program, wherein law enforcement made it a deliberate practice to stop lots and lots of people on the street and search them for weapons and contraband. Mayor Giuliani and others argued that it lowered crime in the city and that the inconvenience to law-abiding citizens was worth it. Opponents said stop and frisk violated the rights of tens of thousands of innocent people, did not cause NYC’s drop in crime, and amounted to a kind of tax on poor people of color. Racial profiling also has been a huge issue in immigration, via Arizona’s A.B. 1070 “papers please” law, and in the anti- terrorism realm since 9/11.
We have a special guest Monday night, via Carl, who will talk about another topic and answer questions for the first 20 minutes. Then, I’ll give a very brief issue intro on our main topic and open it up. Let’s all stretch ourselves a little on this one and try to imagine how other people’s experiences might lead them to see the world differently than we do.
Discussion Questions –
- What is “racial profiling?” Why is it outlawed and what discretion do the police still have to search someone based partially on their appearance?
- Stop and frisk: Does it work? How high are the costs to poor communities of color and how do they compare to the benefits of falling crime (if it does that)? Also, who should get to decide what to do?
- Read the articles below on what it feels like to be racially profiled. Does this move you to think differently about our topic?
- Immigration: Any unique issues that make racial profiling more or less permissible?
- Terrorism: Same question.
- Basics: A short debate (transcript) over the pros and cons of stop and frisk.
- Better and more detailed. Read the first one plus the one you disagree with.
- The basics explained .
- Con: Stop/frisk does not cut crime and therefore is not worth it.
- Pro: Yes it does, and abandoning it abandons crime-ridden communities.
- What it feels like to be profiled: Read. Them.
- Profiling, Schmofiling:Ten things the police still can do to you on the street, despite stop and frisk being struck down..
- Theory: Stop/frisk is based on the “broken windows” theory of crime control. Is this theory valid or does it just sound valid?
Next Week: How to handle territorial disputes in the 21st century. (Iraq and Israel/Palestinians, anybody?)