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Race, Reparations, and Sanders



Ta-Nehisi Coates writes pretty strongly against Bernie Sanders’ position on race, accusing him of being nothing more than a mainstream white Democrat on race, lacking any of the imagination he brings to economics, and basically of reinforcing white supremacy through not wanting to talk about it.

If not even an avowed socialist can be bothered to grapple with reparations, if the question really is that far beyond the pale, if Bernie Sanders truly believes that victims of the Tulsa pogrom deserved nothing, that the victims of contract lending deserve nothing, that the victims of debt peonage deserve nothing, that that political plunder of black communities entitle them to nothing, if this is the candidate of the radical left—then expect white supremacy in America to endure well beyond our lifetimes and lifetimes of our children. Reparations is not one possible tool against white supremacy. It is the indispensable tool against white supremacy. One cannot propose to plunder a people, incur a moral and monetary debt, propose to never pay it back, and then claim to be seriously engaging in the fight against white supremacy.

My hope was to talk to Sanders directly, before writing this article. I reached out repeatedly to his campaign over the past three days. The Sanders campaign did not respond.

I don’t think one has to per se endorse reparations as a policy preference in order to be deeply concerned about Sanders and race. Although my research and writing is primarily on economic issues and not racial issues, I can’t imagine making the claim that class trumps race in categories of oppression. It just doesn’t make sense to say that. And while Sanders doesn’t necessarily say that outright, his actions certainly suggest it. I have some pretty serious concerns about Sanders as an electable candidate because of the self-identified socialism, but if he’s going to call himself a socialist, one of the most politically demonized words in American history, taking an blah pragmatic approach to race that effectively sweeps it under the rug is really pretty depressing.

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