Sunday, August 03, 2008

Obama opposes "reparations"...

Barack Obama fields questionsInstead advocates... reparations.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama reiterated his stance of opposition to offering reparations to the descendants of slaves arguing that the government should 'combat the legacy of slavery by improving schools, health care and the economy for all.' Meanwhile, two dozen members of Congress recently co-sponsored legislation to form a committee to study reparations (meaning 'payments and programs to make up for the damage done by slavery'.) Additionally, organizations such as the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), cities such as Obama's home of Chicago, and major unions such as American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have endorsed the idea if not already supporting the legislation. But for a presidential campaign, supporting reparations is divisive and could be seen as an attempt to pander to Black voters, two things Obama's campaign has tried to avoid by stressing his work bringing people together to make change.
There's enough flexibility in the term "reparations" that Obama can oppose them and still have plenty of common ground with supporters.

The NAACP says reparations could take the form of government programs to help struggling people of all races. Efforts to improve schools in the inner city could also aid students in the mountains of West Virginia, said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau.

"The solution could be broad and sweeping," Shelton said.

The National Urban League — a group Obama addressed Saturday without mentioning the issue in his speech — avoids the word "reparations" as too vague and highly charged. But the group advocates government action to close the gaps between white America and black America.

Urban League President Marc Morial said he expects his members to press Obama on how he intends to close those gaps and what action he would take in the first 100 days of his presidency.

"Let's not be naive. Sen. Obama is running for president of the United States, and so he is in a constant battle to save his political life," remarked the co-chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, Kibibi Tyehimba, during an Associated Press interview. "In light of the demographics of this country, I don't think it's realistic to expect him to do anything other than what he's done." (AP)

Also this week, the House voted to apologize for slavery. Though past opponents of an apology say it would bolster support for more concrete action, the resolution -approved by voice vote- did not mention anything of reparations. When questioned about the apology, Senator Obama said an apology is 'appropriate but not particularly helpful in terms of improving the lives of Black Americans.' The presidential candidate stated that he would be wary of reparations becoming a distraction. "I fear that reparations would be an excuse for some to say, 'We've paid our debt,' and to avoid the much harder work," he told the NAACP in a 2004 questionnaire. As well, fielding questions Sunday at a minority journalists conference, Obama expressed that he would be interested in talking with American Indian leaders about making an apology for the nation's treatment of their people.
Pressed for his position on apologizing to blacks or offering reparations, Obama said he was more interested in taking action to help people struggling to get by. Because many of them are minorities, he said, that would help the same people who would stand to benefit from reparations.

"If we have a program, for example, of universal health care, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because they're disproportionately uninsured," Obama said. "If we've got an agenda that says every child in America should get — should be able to go to college, regardless of income, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because it's oftentimes our children who can't afford to go to college." (AP)

(Source: Christopher Wills/Associated Press)


Not gon' lie, it's a brilliant political move. He can oppose "reparations" keeping him in the graces of the majority of America, while actually selling them on the idea of... essentially reparations. Plus gets to voice the side of Black America opposing a "well, we paid you off so be quiet" racial consequence AND he gets to promote a platform including the intended benefits that should come from reparations (better quality of life, opportunity for advancement, further step toward equality). This is what I miss, a politician wise enough to know the public and savvy enough to get good things done using the flawed system with maybe minor PR damage. Additionally, he establishes consistency since he held the same stance in 2004 when he ran for Senate. Props on the political tip.

Oh, what do I mean "know the public?" Aside from the overt opposition, undecided-but-eventual disapproval, and Pandora's box of complications facing out-right reparations, there is also our (the original B in BET's) current conditioned love-affair with f*ckin' up. Have you seen the "Reparations 2003" skit from Chappelle's Show? That's pretty much exactly how things would go down (which is why it's so [sadly] funny, because it's true). A percentage of us would use the money to create sustainable wealth amongst our families while a majority of us would give the money right back to "the man" bolstering their economy and furthering inequities. We have been needing to work on that - again, what happened to "buy Black"? It reminds me of the adage that 'a dollar doesn't turn over once before it leaves our community'. I'm all for reparations, I just don't think we are ready for them. And though I joke about it, I'm not really for any type of financial literacy test because that would just hinder those who it's meant for from accessing it. [Even if you just coupled reparations with financial literacy courses]. Nor do I want to create an assumption that everything is "all good" since we paid off the Black folk - I like to believe we have more integrity than that. Nor do I really think the government would spend $150,000 per descendant of slavery (the current estimated value of 40 acres, a mule and 250 years of lost wages) if they could even find us. You saw how long FEMA checks took. [Sidenote: $4 billion to approximately 843,000 hurricane victims equals $4745 per individual, yet they expect reparations to come to $8 billion. There's your "fuzzy math".]

Now some like University of Dayton law professor, Vernellia Randall, think Obama is "dead wrong" and that helping all of the lowest rung would not close the gaps and that assistance is best aimed at those feeling the after-effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws. I don't disagree with that aim, but I think that's for us to press toward not the one brother with a serious opportunity to become president. Thus leading some to ask "Is America ready for a Black President?" I'd respond "Are Black folks ready for reparations?" I know it sure wouldn't hurt to have someone in office who might actually sign reparations legislation were it to cross his desk. Let that marinate.

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