Larry Elder’s ‘reparations’
I’d like to explain a number of problems in Larry Elder’s opinion piece, “Reparations.” I take it that one of Elder’s main points is that any attempt to compensate black people living in the United States today would in some way be unjust because white people aren’t the only ones who benefited from slavery, and not all black people suffer the same residual harms of slavery. But here he fundamentally misunderstands what people mean when they discuss reparations. When sincere people discuss reparations in the United States, the first step is always a thorough reckoning with past injustices and assessment of measurable harms done. Ta-Nehisi Coates, mocked by Elder for presenting unrealistic economic figures, wrote, for example, “John Conyers’s HR 40 is the vehicle for that hearing. No one can know what would come out of such a debate…But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as–if not more than–the specific answers that might be produced….More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.” Moreover, Elder seems to think that the only issue discussed by proponents of reparations is slavery, but Coates and others have pointed to the ways in which racist practices have continued to steal labor and wealth from black people (through convict leasing, sharecropping, housing policies, etc.) well beyond the official abolition of slavery. And everyone who thinks seriously about how race operates in the United States will admit that racism harms not only people of color but also certain white people. Indeed, certain proposals, like Senator Corey Booker’s so-called “baby bonds” plan, would seek to address a history of racial inequality through programs that would benefit everyone.
Elder, who often chides others for misrepresenting others or taking their ideas out of context, clearly did not do his homework for this piece.