“Until We Reckon With Our Compounding Moral Debts, America Will Never Be Whole”

reparation: the making of amends for wrong or injury done…restoration to good condition.


Late Wednesday night, I saw a tweet from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that linked to an article at The Atlantic written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is the magazine’s national correspondent and a fantastic writer and thinker. And today I am going to ask readers of this blog to spend some time this holiday weekend and read the lengthy article, “The Case for Reparations.”

The reason you should read it is because it will enlighten you. It will make you think. It will make you smarter. It will tell you things about American history that a lot of people, particularly a lot of white people, either never knew or want to forget these days. It may even change the way you feel about the kind of commitment our 21st-century American society should make in order to attempt to right some of the wrongs that were done to African-Americans so long, and not so long, ago.

Coates explains in a blog post (“An Intellectual Autopsy”) that he has changed his mind about reparations. He once opposed the idea. Now, after doing a lot of reading and talking to people, and especially after spending a lot of time in Chicago (“where the history, somehow, feels especially present,” he says), he has changed his mind. When you read his essay, you will see why. Give it a chance. Take the time to read this amazing piece. And if you would be so kind as to give me some feedback as to what you thought about it, we can have a conversation.




  1. ansonburlingame

     /  May 24, 2014

    OK, Duane, here goes an honest attempt to say “Yes, but……” to the article.

    For decades I have read articles and books about “mistreated people”. An example to make that point was sometime in the early 1970’s I read “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee”. You may recall it was a vivid description of an Indian massager by White men. While an isolated event it certainly and correctly suggested that such things happened, a lot during the “Indian Wars” in America. Left unsaid was iconic books about Indian attacks against Whites, as well

    Read horror stories about the Holocaust, persecution of Jews, the Inquistion, pogroms in ….., etc.

    Read all about what Protestants did to Catholics, and the reverse, almost all of them white people at the time.

    Read 1492 claiming, probably with merit, the death of tens of millions of North and South American Indians dying of disease, etc. once whites from Europe reached those shores. I was surprised to learn in that book that the Incas in Peru had an empire in terms of wealth (gold and silver) and land mass far bigger than ANY European nation or even group of European nations, before 1492 or thereabouts. Now look at Peru and other tribes in South America, or the Aztecs in Mexico.

    Is the solution for South America and Mexico to demand reparations from all of Europe, today?

    But more important, what good would such reparations achieve, in South America today.

    Since the 1800’s slavery became a despicable social institution, any where in the world and the leading proponent of abolishing slavery was……., yep a White nation of Englishmen. Even America with all it super power status today has been unable to completely eliminate slavery in the world today, but we try, at least to some degree. But how many millenia did slavery exist everywhere, before…….?

    Please I ask, do not accuse me of making another “strawman” argument either. Read on.

    Take the story at the beginning of the article of the one Black man leaving Mississippi and moving to Chicago. He went from hell, where he could have been lynched, to another form of hell where he was plagued by people, white people in the anti-slavery, non-“South” culture of Chicago. While he was not lynched, he still suffered, terribly in a very different American culture. Why was that? What was missing for that one (and millions of others) Black man?

    I submit it was EDUCATION, for that one (and millions of others) Black man. And I don’t mean just adding 2+2 or writing his name. I mean a form or type of education that reaches the core to an educated man or woman. Educate a man or woman in the best ways to seek and live a “good life” and then ………

    Now what I add to this is a total coincidence, I think. Go to http://ansonburlingame.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/a-graduation-speech-for-everyone/ and take ten minutes to read that inconic speech recently delivered at the University of Texas.

    Consider the “ten points” offered by that speaker, ten keys to finding and living a “good life”. I submit that if you teach men and women those basics and inspire them to live their lives following such basics, well “sharks” don’t bite such people now do they? You have to read the speech to understand that point.

    The solution is NOT to outlaw sharks, train sharks not to bite “bait”, etc or gather up all the sharks in the ocean today and demand “reparations” from sharks. No, you teach men and women how to safely “swim with sharks”.

    No one can disagree with the historical harm done to Black in America. But the author, while again making the same points as the author of harm done to Indians in America leaps to the wrong conclusion to remedy such harm, reparations, rob from Peter ,today, to pay Paul based on historical harms done to Paul’s family, generations ago.

    Reparations make “victims” feel good for sure. Look how good the “allies” from WWI felt after they brought Germany to its knees AFTER the war by literally “raping” Germany, financially. Welcome to WWII. When the “workers of Russia united” and raped the hell out of the “fat cats” in Russia, well look what happened, in Russia over the long haul at least, and China as well for about 50 years. Using the force of law for one group to rob another group never works, historically, at least for the long haul. And that is exactly what those white predators in Chicago did to Blacks in the early half of the 20th Century, it seems to me. Now Blacks want to ……. using the force of law.

    You, Duane, Jim and I all came from humble origins, admittedly white origins and thus with an advantage at the start. But none of us gained our current lifestyle by purposely achieving our “comfort” only by climbing on the backs of others. Instead we all three became reasonably well educated men, did our best to live a “good life” according to some basic principals, and here we are today. Had I only gained an “Appalachian” education, or Jim one for a “dirt farmer” or you in some ghetto somewhere, well where would we be today I wonder. And even if we had a great education but lacked the “principles” contained in the linked speech (or some sense of some of those principles), well ……..

    The article serves a good purpose to once again remind all of terrible history in America. But I cannot agree with the solution, reparations. Just how many $Billions (maybe even $Trillions) have been poured into a historically undereducated “Detroit”?



    • Anson,

      I will address your remarks like this:

      1. Let’s stay focused on the case of African-Americans. What happened in Central and South America, or what happened to the American Indian, or what happened to the Irish, etc., is not the issue we are discussing. Maybe someone else will write a 15,000-word piece in The Atlantic about those things.

      2. This is a four-hundred year case in the making. It is our history. Slavery and the later confiscation of black property and other wrongs benefited a lot of people and their progeny. Who were they? What, if anything, do they owe today? Likewise, individuals were wronged. Families were wronged. So were their grandchildren and great-grandchildren and on and on. Who were they? What, if anything, do we owe them today?

      3. Much of the wrong done was done with the blessing of local, state, and federal governments. There is at least a plausible case that government should attempt to make people whole who were injured by its hand.

      4. It is not enough to say that a wrong was done, that great harm was caused, but then to dismiss any claim of compensation by simply asking, “how many millenia did slavery exist everywhere.” Or because there have been other groups of mistreated people. 

      5. You wrote,

      Using the force of law for one group to rob another group never works, historically…

      Huh? There is no moral equivalency here. Reparations, if they were to happen, would not share the same moral status with slavery or Jim Crow. One is a wrong and the other is righting a wrong. They are not the same thing. Any concept of remedying wrongs done to African-Americans would not be on the same moral plane as the things that perpetrated the wrongs against them.

      6. Again, you wrote:

      Just how many $Billions (maybe even $Trillions) have been poured into a historically undereducated “Detroit”?

      One of the points of the legislation proposed by John Conyers is to not only “acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865,” but,

      to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies…

      Notice the word “appropriate” attached to remedies. It may be too expensive to do all that we should do. It may be impossible to come up with all the money that would be required to remedy, at least in part, the cultural damage done to African-Americans. But until we know how to quantify the damage that was done (and perhaps it is not quantifiable at all), until we know the impact of all the things that were done to African-Americans, we cannot even begin to know how to suggest “appropriate remedies.” It seems to me that you don’t even want to know what might be involved. I, for one, would like to know the scope of the damage done and what might be advanced to help make a group of folks whole. Then we can argue about whether or what we should do.

      7. Finally, you said yours was “an honest attempt to say, ‘Yes, but….’ to the article.” Okay. I buy that. You focused on education (yes, I read the graduation speech, which, by the way, was given by a man who has defended President Obama’s leadership). Let us agree on that. But you are opposed to affirmative action, for God’s sake. You say that education is the key, that blacks suffered because of years of discrimination in education, yet you don’t want to remedy that injustice with some kind of affirmative action plan for education. That is a big flaw in your argument, Anson. And until you come to terms with it, your argument fails, as far as I’m concerned.



  2. Duane,

    Wow! What a bombshell you dropped in here at the end of the week. I’ve already got a headache, and I haven’t even opened the scotch yet.

    I did read the article by Mr. Coats. (Actually I scanned it looking for the meat and skipping all the personal stories like those of Clyde Ross et al.) It is a thought-provoking article indeed. And Coats makes very well reasoned arguments, backed up with a whole lot of embarrassing history.

    I guess my first reaction to the article is that Mr. Coats, like other reparationists, may be trying to put a square peg in a round hole. We can have all the “honest” conversations we want between the races, but even that, in my opinion, will not mitigate the legacy racism and bigotry of almost 400 years that still lingers in the air.

    And that points to what I see as a flaw in Coats logic. Toward the end of the article, he uses the negotiation for reparations between Germany and the Holocaust survivors as a example of the benefit that came from that effort. He writes, “Reparations could not make up for the murder perpetrated by the Nazis. But they did launch Germany’s reckoning with itself, and perhaps provided a road map for how a great civilization might make itself worthy of the name.”

    (I wonder if this same reasoning might apply to the Jews making reparations to the Palestinians?)

    But the Holocaust lasted only about 10 years and the reparations were made within the life times of the recipients. (It’s interesting that Coats didn’t mention the reparations paid by the United States to those Japanese-Americans who sent to interment camps during WWII. Again, those payments were made to those affected and still around within a relatively short period of time after the incident.)

    In any case, I see the reparations for the Holocaust survivors as a false equivalent with what Mr. Coats seems to be asking for here. There is a huge difference between 10 or 20 years and 400 years. The vast majority of those who would have a rightful claim to reparations as Coats proposes are long dead.

    In other words, if we followed his reasoning, then the Native Americans from Mexico and all the way down to Tierra del Fuego should also demand reparations from the Spanish, the Italians, the French, and the Dutch, by way of the Roman Catholic Church. Meanwhile, the U.S., representing the mostly western Europe Protestants who committed genocide and other atrocities affecting the Native Americans from Maine the Washington state for almost 300 years, should likewise pony up. (See the BIA scandals at http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/interior/indian-lands-indian-subsidies)

    Another thought occurred to me as I was reading the article. I would characterize the picture that Coats paints as one of the downsides of this experiment we call democracy. As you know from history, slavery in the U.S. was supposed to end in 1808, 20 years after the Constitution’s ratification. It didn’t. Slavery was supposed to end by law in 1865. But in substance, it didn’t. The tyranny of the majority that democracy demands carries with it an inherent inequality for the minority.

    This is the reality that Mr. Coats would like to equalize through a process of reparations. But this is a dragon he will not be able to slay.

    Well, I’ve rattled on long enough. But maybe some of this will held spark the conversation you’ve asked for.



    • Herb,

      I’m sorry you skipped the personal story of Clyde Ross. That’s sort of like saying I read the Gospels but skipped the parts about the Romans hanging that guy on the cross. As Coates said today on NPR, “It was shockingly easy to find Clyde Ross.” And that is what made the thing so horrifying. What happened to Clyde Ross happened to a whole lot of folks.

      In any case, here is my response to your comments:

      1) As I have written to others, the bill proposed by John Conyers does not order any reparations. It commissions a study to find out the damage done and what might be an “appropriate” set of remedies. So, at this point we are merely talking about finding out the severity of the injury and whether there are any viable ways to make African-Americans whole.

      2) This issue is not about American Indians or any other group of folks who have been injured by the various levels and agencies of government here or elsewhere in the world. Let’s stay focused on the issue at hand, and we can have another discussion on those other groups when someone writes a 15,000-word essay on them.

      3) Now to what I perceive as your central objection. We agree that there is no way to mitigate the legacy racism and bigotry of almost 400 years that still lingers in the air.” I, however, find that an odd argument to do absolutely nothing. It would sort of be like telling the family of a plane crash victim: “There is no way to compensate you for your loss, so to hell with you.” Somewhere between doing nothing and making African-Americans completely whole there is perhaps, I said perhaps, a ground we can stand on and defend.

      4) Henry corrected your 1808 claim, but attached to it you wrote,

      The tyranny of the majority that democracy demands carries with it an inherent inequality for the minority.

      Huh? I don’t think so, my friend. The Constitution was designed, in some important ways, to prevent a “tyranny of the majority.” It just so happens that, for historical and economic reasons, black people didn’t fall under the document’s protection until after the Civil War. And then it happens that even after the war, in some cases it was a white minority that kept them oppressed:

      After emancipation and Confederate defeat, many white Mississippians still thought they had been right to own slaves and secede from the Union. This position, within a state where the population was 55 percent black, foreshadowed a difficult Reconstruction.

      That was pretty much the same story in places like South Carolina. White supremacy wasn’t necessarily tied to any concept of “majority rule,” let alone a tyranny of the majority. In fact, in some places in the post-war South, it was “tyranny of the minority.”

      And I reject the notion that in our post-Civil War, post-civil rights era society, that there is “an inherent inequality for the minority.” If that is the case, after 227 or so years of this experiment with self-government, we ought to shut it down and try something else. Our Constitution, as it has evolved, is a minority rights-protecting instrument. And thank God, or James Madison, or, more likely, Earl Warren, it is.



  3. henrygmorgan

     /  May 24, 2014

    Duane: I may be wrong, but I think the 1808 date was intended to end the importation of slaves into the U.S,.not the end of slavery itself. In any event, it didn’t do either, so the point is moot. Bud


    • Henry, you are correct. To pacify the southern states, the framers added a provision to the Constitution that allowed for importation of slaves until 1808 unless extended by Congress, but at the rate of $10/head and with each slave being counted as 3/5th of a person.

      It was assumed that the Southern states would, by virtue of an increased population of slaves, have enough sway in Congress to keep the importation going after 1808. But that didn’t work out and Congress did pass a law in 1808, as required, to stop the slave trade into the U.S.

      Thanks for the correction. And for sending me back to the history books.



    • Bud,

      I appreciate the correction. I am making my way down the comment list and found that Herb has already acknowledged the error. I happen to think he made another error associated with the 1808 date, when he wrote,

      The tyranny of the majority that democracy demands carries with it an inherent inequality for the minority.

      What do you think?



  4. ansonburlingame

     /  May 25, 2014

    During the middle part of the 19th Century the Royal Navy was capturing any slave ships world wide, EXCEPT American flag slavers. They had a treaty with none other than the Lincoln administration to leave American flag slavers alone.

    I also wonder if some “chinaman” might comment herein about his forefathers in America that built the first transcontinental railroad. Should we go to San Fransisco today with big bags of money to make amends to those people as well?

    I add that I like Herb’s views above as well.



  5. Duane,

    Please allow me a few more thoughts on this highly controversial subject.

    Anson mentioned the Chinese and their efforts to build the transcontinental railroad form west to east. The Irish, I believe, built the part that went from east to west. I don’t know how the Chinese or the Irish were treated during that period and therefore don’t know whether they would have a claim to reparations in the way Mr. Coats proposes. But to be consistent, they should be considered.

    Also, as I remember, there was a rift between the Protestants and the Irish Catholics in the mid-1800’s that turned violent. I think the Catholics lost. But the discrimination against the Catholics, and also the Jews, carried well into the 20th century. If so, then the Catholics and Jews, by Mr. Coats reckoning, should also be due some reparations.

    Then there was the rise of the unions beginning in earnest after the Civil War. That too was often a bloody affair and the bigotry, bordering on hatred, against unions and their members continues, sadly, up to this day. Then there was the child labor factor and the unsafe working conditions that our bourgeoning capitalist economy imposed on plain working folks for decades. At the time, those things were perfectly legal, while morality, however that’s meant, apparently played no role.

    Well, you get my point. Blacks are not the only group to have suffered indignities and worse at the hands of the powerful. You can probably think of a few more.

    You begin this post with a quote from Mr. Coats: “Until We Reckon With Our Compounding Moral Debts, America Will Never Be Whole” Damn, we can’t even reckon with our financial debts! Surely Mr. Coats is realistic enough to know that morality is not exactly the force that drives this nation. America has never been “whole” anyway. In fact, there is no reason to expect it ever will be.

    And don’t call me Shirley.



    • King Beauregard

       /  May 25, 2014

      “Blacks are not the only group to have suffered indignities and worse at the hands of the powerful.”

      But they are the only ones who, as a whole, were bought and sold as property.

      Is this the part where you remind us that a black man murdered white people in Oklahoma therefore it’s only proper that all white people assume the worst of blacks? Let’s be extremely clear: I am accusing you of trying to minimize slavery because you’ve got a thing against blacks.


      • King,

        Referring to slavery, you write, “But they are the only ones who, as a whole, were bought and sold as property.” Not true. Slavery has been around for millennia. And it goes on today, except now we call it human trafficking. It’s estimated that over 100,000 people are bought and sold right here in the U.S. every year. Most are children sold into the sex trade and the others are sold as laborers. I think Anson, in his comment above, helped explain why your statement is wrong, or at least inaccurate.

        Anson also gave you a good head-scratcher in his “homeless man” illustration above. Let me give you another. Let’s say your great-grandfather borrowed $10k back in 1914. Problem is, he gambled it all away along with all the other assets he had, becoming destitute, then promptly died of a heart attack.. But the bank didn’t write off the debt. It held onto it and let the interest compound over the years. Now the bank comes knocking on your door saying that you owed them $322k for your great-granddad’s bad acts. Would you pay it to save the family honor? Or would you tell the bank to FO? Do you fell like it’s your moral obligation to pay, or are you going to go to the cemetery and kick over great-granddad’s headstone yelling at him that it was and will always be his duty, not yours?

        Then you say, “ Let’s be extremely clear: I am accusing you of trying to minimize slavery because you’ve got a thing against blacks.” You have accused me of being a racist a number of times on this blog. But I don’t take it that way. What I see is someone who has strong opinions regarding blacks and who doesn’t like anyone to challenge those opinions. So you lash out in anger rather than offering constructive arguments for your position. I see that as being close-minded and unthinking.

        So, King, if you want a conversation about race, a truly honest conversation about race, you need stop judging others based on what you think they mean and start a purposeful dialog. Or you can continue to draw a line in the sand and dare anyone to cross it. It’s up to you.



        • King Beauregard

           /  May 27, 2014

          I see — so my choice is to either see you as reasonable and your opinions as sound and defensible, or I am being irrational. To hell with that. You are a racist, and if you were half the decent person you doubtless imagine yourself to be, you might look into that.

          I love your bit about slavery being around for millennia; talk about intellectual dishonesty. The discussion of reparations centers on what our country has done to its members, and what it may or may not owe them. So I see you trying to muddy the waters rather than having “a truly honest conversation about race”.


        • Herb,

          Permit me to address your illustration. 

          First, The idea that an individual is responsible, morally or otherwise, for the debts incurred by someone long dead doesn’t fit with the idea of reparations. With slavery and the subsequent forms of oppression, the government, at various levels, would be the direct and indirect perpetrator of the wrongs done. The government is still with us and, theoretically at least, still morally, if not legally, responsible for the wrongs it caused. Any aggrieved individual, who thinks he has a claim against another individual or family related to slavery, etc., could, I suppose, sue the old fashioned way. But we are talking about something else when we talk about the moral case for reparations.

          Second, those who support reparations realize that it is impossible to satisfy all of the claims of individuals who were directly affected by, say, only slavery. But there are victims alive today who did have their wealth stolen, in one form or another, by government policies. (That is why you should have paid more attention to the Clyde Ross narrative in the story.)

          But, third, there is the idea that what was done to past generations of African-Americans has had definite negative effects on those alive today (you don’t dispute that, I know), even if those alive today cannot definitely prove it in individual cases. Black people, for hundreds of years, were raped of their economic power, of their power to earn and accumulate wealth, and that raping obviously had long-term consequences for their progeny. The Conyers bill is an attempt to find out if there is a way to figure it all out or if there are remedies that would help address some of the problems in African-American-dominated communities and elsewhere.



  6. ansonburlingame

     /  May 26, 2014

    And thus a liberal, “King B” if you will, reduces the discussion once again to how disagreement in principle is reduced to “I am accusing you of trying to minimize slavery because you’ve got a thing against blacks.”

    Unlike King B., I know Herb fairly well. He no more has a “thing against blacks” than he has against ……. Herb is in no way denying or trying to minimize the harm done to people by slavery, or the harm done to people building an intercontinental railroad across a vast (at the time) continent, or building pyramids in Egypt, etc., etc. All Herb is suggesting is that once the door to pay later generations for harm done to earlier generations then all formerly mistreated generations must get their say in court as well.

    My tact is slightly different. I submit that simply paying money to a whole class of people, large or small and however one decides to identify the “class”, does not resolve the fundamental issue to raise that group of people to a higher socio-economic level to live. It boils (back) down to “teach a man to fish or give a man a fish”.

    There are short term fixes and long term fixes for social ills. I can point to many historical examples when short term fixes, giving only money to the downtrodden has failed to raise a whole “class” of people to a sustainable, better life in the long term.

    Permit me to offer an example of how this conversation might head, given King’s rebuttal back to Herb (or maybe me). A normal American individual walks down an urban street and sees a homeless man (make him a white man to avoid racial stereotyping) asking for money. Some will walk on by muttering “get a job you drunk” and move on with his life. Some will actually not have any money to offer, and walk on by, never to confront the homeless man again. Some may be so oblivious to others that they actually don’t see or hear the homeless beggar, drunk of not. At any rate, the homeless man gets no money from any of those individuals in that instance and he continues to suffer, from DTs or hunger, well who can be sure about that point either?

    Terrible crys the liberal and he then accuses all white people of ignoring homeless people. He, the liberal also gives the beggar $10, then goes home and writes a blog about terrible people, ignoring the homeless.

    There is also another class or group of liberals, ones that only have $5 and don’t want to give it to a beggar. But they still go home and write a blog about “fat cats” that won’t give any money to beggars. While they refuse to share their own limited resources, they sure will condemn others doing the same thing, refuse to share their resources. Ultimately that type of liberal will say “There outta be a law ……..” Fill in the dots and he is really saying “Force fat cats to share their resources but leave mine alone”.

    Well what started the whole argument I ask. I submit a man suffered homelessness and asked for money. Maybe he gets some money. Well THEN go watch what happens next. Whatever the source of money might have been to the homeless man, HE alone decides what to do with it. Just what percentage of those beggars will only use the money to buy a bottle of Ripple, reduce the pangs of DTs only, go sleep in a ditch but oblivious to where he is, awaken with a helluva hangover and go back to the corner and start the process all over again the next day. Problem remains totally unsolved, fundamentally.

    “Let’em die in a ditch” does not resolve the fundamental problem, but as well just giving the beggar $10 every day does not do so as well, now does it?

    There are other varients as well to the situation above. Take the beggar that gets $10 and goes to the owner of a liquor store to buy his Ripple. Is that owner being “fair” to make him pay for the Ripple? What if another homeless man, too drunk to beg, successfully, just lurks around the liquor store and beats the hell out of the other guy, for his money or Ripple. What about a bunch of “toughs” that just make a habit of robbing homeless people? Etc., etc. etc.

    Duane, I hope we all agree, served a good purpose by raising the issue of black poverty and “mistreatment”, again. But in doing so he used a “single” proposed solution, or at least he used an author proposing a “single” solution. That solution was to take money from some people (reparations) and giving it to black people. But I failed to read any mention of “what happens next” to or for the black people receiving the money, or the homeless man, or the woman caught in “white slavery” selling her body for ….., etc., etc., etc.

    And to dimiss discussions about other solutions, to other underlying and more fundamental problems to “he has a thing against ….” is, well you tell me what word to use. I will also admit that I DO have a “thing” against such liberal reactions to huge problems but I add “letting em die in the streets” is equally abhorent as well, to me at least.

    I will also quickly add that I do NOT have a comprehensive solution to the problem (a black problem, a homeless problem, a selling girls into slavery problem, etc.). But I remain convinced that the underlying problem is NOT to just give “fish” to everyone. TEACHING THEM TO ….. must be a big part of the solution as well.



    • King Beauregard

       /  May 27, 2014

      “And thus a liberal, ‘King B’ if you will, reduces the discussion once again to how disagreement in principle is reduced to ‘I am accusing you of trying to minimize slavery because you’ve got a thing against blacks.'”

      Yet you won’t see me saying the same things about, say, Jim Wheeler, because in his case I believe it IS disagreement in principle. And even then, I’m not even sure I agree with reparations in the first place, so it’s not even necessarily disagreement on reparations. But Herb’s racism is already pretty well-documented on this site, and since he feels blacks are supposed to police blacks with regard to how they relate to whites, it naturally follows he wants whites policing whites with regard to how they relate to blacks.

      And even if Herb didn’t himself call for it, if white guys aren’t willing to call other white guys on racism, what good are we? What, I should wait for some black guy to wander onto his site, decide he’s eventually had enough of Herb, call him on being a racist, and then I click the “Like this” star? I realize you cleave to a part of a political spectrum with an Eleventh Commandment about not criticizing one another no matter how reprehensible your people are — and as a result they are pretty damn reprehensible — but that’s nowhere near good enough.

      Once again, Herb was trying to equate the ownership of human beings as well as their offspring to, say, anti-union sentiment. I don’t set out to hassle Herb, but Jesus, shit like that demands a response. Duane is a polite host so I can’t expect him to do it, and if nobody else will, then by damn I’ll do it myself.


      • King B,

        I very much appreciate the fact that you have passion on this subject. I do too. I have challenged Herb many times on this very issue and will address some of the comments you referenced as soon as I can. I am working my way down to it, as I was away for the weekend.

        I do think I am a “polite host,” even though I have challenged a lot of folks who comment here, even those whom, on many other issues, I am inclined to support. You couldn’t be more correct when you say, “Herb has his head screwed on straight when it comes to so many topics, but when it comes to blacks…” He knows that I think he has a blind spot on issues having to do with what he thinks is some kind of hustle perpetrated by Jesse Jackson types in order to make a buck off of black grievances.

        But do I think his view represents full-blown racism? Not the kind we should think of when we think historically, in my opinion. But it is a form of racial profiling, which a lot of whites, me included, are sometimes guilty of. Herb just tends to be more bold and aggressive with it than one usually finds among people trying to have a serious debate about these issues. He calls Jackson and Sharpton “racists” because, he says, they keep things stirred up, keep the tension and distrust going.” Well, I have heard Rush Limbaugh and others say the same damned thing. I heard that sentiment from my dad, who was a racist in some important ways, about Martin Luther King, Jr., way back when I was a kid.

        Some white folks just don’t want to be reminded that not only were there injustices in the past, but some black people want those injustices redressed beyond mere acknowledgment of having happened. Now, some of those white folks who don’t like the reparations ideas are certainly racists in the historical sense, but some of them are engaging in a convenient form of racial profiling, convenient for the white-majority status quo, that is. And then there are others, many I suspect who read this blog, who sympathize with the reparations arguments but who, for some reason or another, don’t think it is practical or who think that giving compensation to blacks would start a whole chain of necessary awards of compensation to other aggrieved groups.

        I guess the short of it is that some of Herb’s expressed views could be labeled as “racist,” but only in a narrower sense than history would otherwise permit. I prefer to see his views as part of the whole problem we still have with racial profiling in America. And although I have a problem with Herb’s unsound analysis and claims on matters of race, I don’t see all forms of racial profiling as necessarily racist (for instance, when we take into account a person’s race in order to study, say, prostate cancer, which is more common among black men than white men). The biggest problem among the white majority, as far as I can tell, is not blatant racism or in refusing to acknowledge the past injustices, but refusing to acknowledge that at least some of the injustice is still with us, and refusing to acknowledge that we ought to at least try to do something about it.




        • King Beauregard

           /  May 27, 2014

          “I do think I am a ‘polite host,’ even though I have challenged a lot of folks who comment here, even those whom, on many other issues, I am inclined to support.”

          True, I’ve seen it many times. You are inclined to remain diplomatic, is what I was getting at. You have good manners and know that, as a host, there are some things you should refrain from saying. (Not trying to put unspoken words into your mouth, but I strongly suspect Duane the Guest would occasionally be more outspoken than Duane the Host.)

          Herb may not be racist by historical standards, but I’m pleased to say we’re not operating by historical standards today. Today we’ve got fewer cross-burnings and more Voter ID laws that by incredible coincidence impact minorities predominantly. Today we’ve got fewer politicians harping about the evils if miscegenation and more harping about poor people on food stamps (and we’re not talking about the poor in rural Appalachia, wink wink). Today we’ve got fewer lynchings and more legal shootings of blacks are are shrugged away because the white man made an honest mistake therefore no real harm done. Or, to hear some tell it, the white man didn’t make a mistake at all. That may not be Jefferson Davis grade racism, but it’s bad enough.


          • King B,

            You are probably right about the guest-versus-host thing! Just human nature, I suppose.

            You gave three examples of expressions of contemporary racism:

            1. Voter ID laws that “impact minorities predominantly.”
            2. Food stamp program complaints, which are largely based on perceptions that black people are living it up on the public dime.
            3. The Trayvon Martin case, in which some blamed Martin for his own death.

            I don’t know this for sure, but I would guess that Herb is opposed to 1. and 2. and guilty of 3., at least as I understood at the time his arguments on this blog. If so, I would submit that in order to be a racist by your standards, one would have to fall in line with all three of your examples. And there are plenty out there who do, but, as odious as I thought Herb’s take on the Trayvon Martin case was–and after going back to look at it, it was quite odious–he would have to do more in order to prove to me that he deserves the term “racist.”

            I want to make one thing clear: I will call out racists or racist-thinking when I see it and I admit Herb’s analysis (considered in its entirety) of the Trayvon Martin case came close to the contemporary mark, if not the historical one. But I find it hard to believe that a person fits even today’s definition of racist, who could write the following:

            I do agree with you that the treatment of blacks in the criminal justice system is abhorrent. There is a whole lot of racism going on there. Maybe the tragedy of Trayvon Martin can be turned into a positive reformation of that system.

            Herb would be a strange kind of racist, in my opinion, if he could write and believe such a thing. I have gone on a lot of racist websites and you would never find such a sentiment expressed.

            What I mean to do in writing this is not to defend Herb (he can do that himself), but to do my part in preserving the integrity of the term “racist,” so that it will have enough force in the future to discourage people from even getting close. Now that I think about it, maybe that is what you and I both are trying to do, but in different ways.



            • King Beauregard

               /  May 27, 2014

              “I would submit that in order to be a racist by your standards, one would have to fall in line with all three of your examples.”

              Nope, any one of the three will suffice, if it’s done with a sincerely racist heart. Nor is it that an exhaustive list.

              And by the way, fair’s fair; if anyone can find evidence of me demonstrating prejudice against blacks, or Wallachians, or whatever group you like, call me on it. The point of awareness is the point of responsibility.


              • Ahhhh, my friend! “…if it’s done with a sincerely racist heart.” I couldn’t agree more. My problem is that, for me at least, it is very difficult to figure out how to determine whether one is a sincere racist or just tinged by some tribal preferences. I tend to give someone the benefit of the doubt until the doubt, or at least a big chunk of it, is removed.

                And thanks for stating a great truth that bears repeating: “The point of awareness is the point of responsibility.” We all should, especially as we think about topics like this one, welcome awareness. I know that examining my own tribal instincts (as a member of the white tribe), I have some distance to go.



                • King Beauregard

                   /  May 30, 2014

                  “The point of awareness is the point of responsibility.”

                  I give benefit of the doubt where possible too, but if you’re trying to understand my thought process, the above statement is the heart of it. It’s possible a person doesn’t see what they’re doing, they may not be aware of their biases or they may be unintentionally causing harm or whatever. We all have blind spots; I can’t fault a person for being merely human. But it’s at the point of awareness, and how they react to that awareness, that I start holding them accountable for what they continue to believe.

                  I wouldn’t get on Herb’s case at all, except that, after being confronted with the other side of the Trayvon Martin case, he doubled down on how it was Trayvon’s fault. Even allowing for a little defensiveness (again we’re all human), I see someone who still very much wants to believe every terrible thing that is said about a dead black teenager while giving his gun-toting stalker a pass. The polite thing would be to pretend that none of that ever happened, except that the aggregate effect of a hundred million polite things is that racists can get away with saying just about anything, provided they’re in a minority-free setting. And with that point of awareness, I am responsible for choosing to be complicit, or not.


                  • King,

                    Based on your numerous accusations that I am a racist, I thought I’d peruse the inter-web to try and find a test or something to see if I do, indeed, fit that characterization. And I found a good one. It’s called, “28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors that Indicate a Detour or Wrong Turn into White Guilt, Denial, of Defensiveness.” You find it at http://www.stcloudstate.edu/affirmativeaction/resources/insights/pdf/28ToolsChange.pdf

                    Turns out, after taking the test, I am an honest-to-god, low-down, judgmental racist. But then so are you and so are all whites. What these 28 Attitudes and Behaviors come down to that whites are not blacks, therefore, whites can never have or appreciate the black experience.

                    Even those of us who are supportive of and empathic with the blacks in seeking some semblance of equality or fairness, we are still, from the “reality checks and consequences” of each of these 28 Attitudes, racists. Whites cannot walk a mile in a black person’s shoes because whites can’t even get the shoes on!

                    That said, there is a great sidebar on page 5 that provides a pretty good summary:

                    “Each anti-racist action we take brings new racist action and challenges. People of color will continue to demand their rights, opportunities and full personhood. But racism in the United States won’t end because people of color demand it. Racism will only end when a significant number of white people of conscience, the people who can wield systemic privilege and power with integrity, find the will and take the action to dismantle it. This won’t happen until white people find racism in their daily consciousness as often as people of color do. For now you have to drag racism into your consciousness intentionally, for, unlike your sisters and brothers of color, the most present daily manifestation of your white privilege is the possibility of forgetting about racism. We cannot.”

                    (The article that the 28 Attitudes is based on, “Detour Spotting for White Anti-Racists,” by Jona Olsson, can be found at http://www.culturalbridgestojustice.org/resources/written/detour/. I recommend reading this as well.)

                    It would be interesting to see how you and any other whites reading this post might see themselves after going through these, ah, reality checks.



                    • King Beauregard

                       /  May 30, 2014

                      Again, Herb, you’re the guy who goes running to the defense of a thug who stalked and later killed a kid who had been minding his own business. You further buy into every speculative slander against the dead kid, and to top it all off, you say that, if whites assume the worst of blacks even when it’s not called for, it’s the fault of blacks for not doing a better job of policing their own.

                      That’s plenty racist. And it certainly calls “even those of us who are supportive of and empathic with the blacks in seeking some semblance of equality or fairness” into question. Maybe that’s how you feel in the abstract, but when applied to a certain famous concrete example, your responses tell a very different story. That’s seriously something for you to contemplate.

                      As for that link, it’s not even an online test. It addresses the warning signs that you may be suffering from white guilt, denial or defensiveness. I don’t know how you’re doing with regard to white guilt, but denial and defensiveness … ? Oh hell yeah, Herb, you should totally look into those.

                      The irony is that you’re getting defensive over this checklist about defensiveness, and trying to use it to make the point, apparently, that you can’t please everyone so you shouldn’t take a candid look at yourself and clean up your own act where needed. Wow.


                    • King,

                      You say, “Again, Herb, you’re the guy who goes running to the defense of a thug who stalked and later killed a kid who had been minding his own business. You further buy into every speculative slander against the dead kid, and to top it all off, you say that, if whites assume the worst of blacks even when it’s not called for, it’s the fault of blacks for not doing a better job of policing their own.”

                      1. Thug is your term which I assume you are applying to Zimmerman. Do you have anything to back that up? Any history of animus by Zimmerman toward blacks? Well, I have support for the contention that Zimmerman was a friend of blacks with NO history of racism whatsoever. Check your facts before you just start pulling stuff out of your, ah, the air.

                      2. What evidence do you have that Z was “stalking” Martin. There is none. You’re using inflammatory language to make sure we all know your outrage. We’re duly impressed. But sadly for you, there is NO evidence that Z was following Martin. Quite the contrary.

                      3. The “killing” was NOT intentional as the evidence showed. The killing was accidental as Z was trying to keep M from basing his brains out. And the jury agreed. Don’t like the law, well deal with it.

                      4. The “kid,” Martin, was minding his own business? If that was true, M would have gone straight to his dad’s house and this incident would never have occurred. Go back and read Rachel Jeantel’s testimony. Where did you think the “creepy-ass cracker” came from? Again, do you have any evidence to contradict that? That’s because there isn’t any.

                      5. You talk about me buying “into very speculative slander against the dead kid.” Slander means, “to make a false spoken statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone.” That definition applies exactly to what you are saying about Zimmerman. Exactly.

                      6. “If whites assume the worst of blacks even when it’s not called for, it’s the fault of blacks for not doing a better job of policing their own.” I don’t know where that came from, but, again, it’s inflammatory language which you apparently think will bolster your case. What I said about blacks policing their own came from BLACKS SAYING WE SHOULD POLICE OUR OWN! Can you not comprehend simple sentences?

                      Then, referring to the reference I gave you on the “28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors,” you say, “ I don’t know how you’re doing with regard to white guilt, but denial and defensiveness … ? Oh hell yeah, Herb, you should totally look into those.” Right back at ya. Denial and defensiveness sure have your name written all over them.

                      Anyway, your vitriolic, judgmental, holier-than-thou, immature, twisted, hateful, and offensive remarks aimed at me show someone who is shallow and afraid of the truth. You are obviously not a critical thinker, King. You make up lies and take things out of context and misrepresent what I’ve said that apparently everyone but you gets right. You are blinded by the light of your own ego.

                      I’d rather be a racist than a snipe like you hiding in the bushes.


                    • King Beauregard

                       /  May 30, 2014

                      “I’d rather be a racist than a snipe like you hiding in the bushes.”

                      Good news, you get your wish!

                      Most of this has been debated point by point on this very blog, and if you like, re-read the discussions. I doubt you’ll be moved this time any more than you were the last time. But I found this particularly charming in your latest installment:

                      “The ‘kid,’ Martin, was minding his own business? If that was true, M would have gone straight to his dad’s house and this incident would never have occurred.”

                      Un-freaking-believable, Herb, how you bend over backwards to make sure the actual problem (Zimmerman) is apportioned none of the blame.

                      By the way, Duane has given a pretty good reason (based on personal experience) why you don’t go straight home if you’re being followed by someone whose motives you don’t know: because you don’t want them to know where you live. Not that Trayvon owes the world a reason.


                    • By the way, not to keep this (probably) futile argument going, but you reminded me of something about the Martin-Zimmerman case that I thought revealed some of the inner prejudices that Herb’s St. Cloud piece was getting at.

                      I thought that Trayvon Martin’s action, of not going immediately home when he thought he was being pursued by a strange guy, was totally logical, based on my own experience. But the fact that so many white people did not recognize the logic of that action—that Martin, out of fear for himself or his family, might not want Zimmerman to know where he lived—says a lot about how we are quick to pin the worst motives on people whom we perceive as occupying a different moral universe from our own.



                    • Herb,

                      People of color often experience American life much differently from you or me—simply because they are people of color. Let’s agree on that much. Having said that, I can see why many of the things on the St. Cloud list are there, even though I think some of them overstate the case and some of them are needlessly contrived (#20 for instance). I will here deal with four of them, just to give you an idea where I am coming from:

                      “Color consciousness does not equal racism.” That’s good, because I am color conscious. We all are, I am sure. That’s how I know that when, say, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh tell us they are “colorblind,” that they are adherents of what they claim are MLK’s principles of colorblindness, then I know they are covering up something.

                      “…anyone with grit can succeed if they just pull up hard enough on their bootstraps.” I have written about this meme a lot. I find it a class thing, not merely a race thing. This meme is designed to keep working folks of all colors working hard and not much questioning the system that is breaking their backs. But I can see why people of color hear something in the statement that speaks to them specifically as people of color.

                      “Reverse Racism.” I subscribe to the view presented: “People of color, as a social group, do not have the societal, institutional power to oppress white people as a group.” I believe that when it comes to African-Americans in our time, there is an important distinction between “acting out of a personal racial prejudice” and “racism.” The kind of historical racism (like the kind Coates dealt with in the piece above) is, indeed, a combination of “racial prejudice” and “systemic, institutional power.” Without the institutional power, it wouldn’t matter that much if this or that white person was a supremacist. It is the power that makes racism, the kind that existed here in America, so culturally insidious. And because blacks lack the kind of institutional power necessary to sustain a racist society, they cannot be racists in the historical sense. I do, though, find that a difficult concept to explain to white people, for obvious reasons. A lot of them, including people I know who are Democrats, just don’t want to hear such a thing.

                      “You righteously consider yourselves white people who have evolved beyond our racist conditioning.” This charge is mostly nonsense, although there is a grain of truth in it. It is nonsense to say that correctly claiming you are not a racist and recognizing the racist tendencies of other whites means you are merely involved in “another level of denial” or indicates some kind of racist attitude. The idea is that no matter what your personal views on racial issues, because you are white you have benefited from being white and that in and of itself makes your position suspect. Ridiculous. While it is true that white people, just by being the right color, do not have to face some of the cultural obstacles that people of color do, it is strategically dumb (not to mention intellectually dishonest) to cast such doubts about people who are sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans in this society. It is hard enough keeping white people interested in the cultural argument for continuing to improve opportunities for people of color without calling into question, on incredibly flimsy grounds, the motives of those who support such improvements.



                    • Duane,

                      As to the St. Cloud list, I think you and I basically agree. As I said somewhere above, the sidebar on page 5 of the “28 Attitudes” says it all. We are all different individually, culturally and racially. I can no more appreciate the 24/7/365 experience of an African-American than an African-American can experience mine. And there is an extreme range of behaviors within each race that make generalizations virtually impossible. I suppose the best we can do is to have some common values to share not only within our own race but with all other races as well.

                      Certainly racism is not an easy issue to deal with, much less minimize. And I’m sure many in the black community feel that Dr. King’s dream has too often become a nightmare. The eloquent Mr. Coats brought that point home in many ways in his article.

                      The problem though is that negative attitudes towards blacks is getting worse. An AP poll shows implicit anti-black sentiment grew from 49% in 2008 to 57% in 2012. (See http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/27/14740413-ap-poll-majority-harbor-prejudice-against-blacks?lite) That covers the first 4 years of Obama. It’s probably even worse now as Obama loses more respect over the ACA, and his embattled foreign policy positions. I think it’s the American Taliban pushing their authoritarian agenda contrasted with the losing battle of those on the left slouching toward some semblance of an egalitarian state. The eagles are clearly losing.

                      Anyway, the demographers are now projecting that non-Hispanic whites will be in the minority by 2043. By 2060, minorities (all except non-Hispanic whites), now 37 percent of the U.S. population, are projected to be 57 percent. It’s going to be an interesting ride to say the least.



  7. Well, I also waded through Coates’ remarkable and compelling essay and I must say, it was painful. I am similar to Herb in that I found myself hurrying through some of the gory personal details of humiliating and shameful treatment that blacks suffered because of the institution of slavery, the economic foundation of our country. And I must say, I generally agree with Herb. I was even going to mention the oppression of the Irish by British nobility, but he recognized that as well. The Irish were likewise victimized by fiscal manipulation, similar to the unjust treatment of blacks in the housing and real estate markets. Perhaps even worse than in the case of blacks, the Irish were purposefully ignored and left to literally starve by their absentee landlords when the potato famine hit. Not only that, though, there were also Irish slaves as well as indentured servants whose condition was similar to that of slaves.

    Finally, I must endorse Herb’s, and Anson’s, conclusion that reparations are not a proper avenue for whatever collective guilt we ought to feel. Herb is right for all the reasons he gave that the precedent set by West Germany in making reparations to Israel is inappropriate. Coates dismisses concerns that reparations might be politically intolerable, but in my opinion, he’s wrong about that, and I cite the last 5 ½ years as evidence. Government is a proper vehicle for managing economies and wars, and for setting rules for behavior (laws) for society, but not, I think, for morally-founded reparations that seek to assuage generational guilt. Maybe in the far future, who knows?

    Human beings are still compulsively competitive, self-interested, and fundamentally tribal, and of course, that’s the problem we have to live with. It has been said that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, but frankly, I would consider it significant progress if Republicans simply recognized that it’s morally unjust to structure voting rules to disadvantage minorities. Instead there is evidence that America is back-sliding in many areas, including education. There is much to work on without trying to swallow the cow in one gulp.


  8. I hesitate to weigh in on this conversation because I find it difficult to articulate what I think is important about the issues discussed above. To me, the principles at play are at once simple and very complex – simple to understand intellectually, and very complex to incorporate into individual and organzational (national) behavior. I am going to begin by discussing a theoretical issue between two individuals and attempt to extrapolate to nation-states, a tricky proposition under the best of circumstances.

    When I have a disagreement with another person, the only useful question for me to ask is “What did I do to cause this disagreement?” Why is that the only useful question? Because the only behavior I have any chance of changing is my own, and I can’t even do that most of the time, being a hormone/ego-driven human being. I have no chance of changing the other person’s behavior except by changing my own, by changing my response to them, and providing an example to them or at least lowering the emotional tone of the encounter.

    For me to able to ask that question of myself, honestly, I must mitigate or give up the powerful human urge to “be right”. This is very difficult, bordering on impossible in some instances and for some people. In fact, the more “wrong” I might have been in the circumstances leading up to the disagreement, the harder it is to give up “being right”. It seems to be kind of a mental defense mechanism, I guess. But, my experience shows me that if I can do that, I have a much better chance at understanding the other person and reaching agreement with them.

    I think that is what is going on with the USA and the issue of race. We have behaved badly in many instances, as pointed out in the article and comments above. The most egregious instance is that of blacks and slavery, and we have very bad feelings about that, as well we should, in my opinion. We have similar bad feelings about other instances of racism, or treating particular ethnic groups badly. In order to move forward on these kinds of issues, we must admit to ourselves and to the world that we were wrong. Further, we must admit that we still harbor ill feelings towards some people for no more reason than the color of their skin, and that we are trying hard to change. (Some are trying harder than others, in my opinion, and it shows.)

    I think that is exactly what Nelson Mandela did in South Africa with the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”. People on both sides of the issues had a forum in which to tell their stories, be heard and understood, and to expiate their feelings of guilt or outrage.

    Can we, as a nation, ever “repair” the damage done? I don’t see how, and most of the comments focus on the difficulty of making repairs. The most effective thing we can do as a nation is to admit that we were wrong, very wrong, help where we can help in effective ways, and sincerely, honestly make every effort to get better. Maybe something similar Mandela’s commission or the study proposed by Congressman Conyers’ bill would be an excellent first move in admitting that we were wrong.

    But first we have to give up being right.


    • Nagarjuna,

      Your comments are quite insightful. The Conyers bill, which was part of the focus of Coates’ piece, essentially was designed to do this:

      To acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.

      Why wouldn’t we want to study and find out, as best we can, the comprehensive damage that was done, and is still being done? I agree with you, and Coates makes this point somewhere, that there is no real reparation possible. But in order to help address what is wrong with parts of our country, it only makes sense to figure out the impact of slavery and subsequent economic and other forms of discrimination, and, as you say, “help where we can help in effective ways, and sincerely, honestly make every effort to get better”?

      For the life of me, I don’t understand what people are so afraid of. Or, maybe I do.



  9. All,

    I hate to take any more space on this subject, but I came across what I think is a good coda here, at least for my thinking. It comes from the preface to Charles Syke’s, “A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Character.” Written in 1992, I think it still relevant today and specific to this topic:

    “Something extraordinary is happening in American society. Crisscrossed by invisible trip wires of emotional, racial, sexual, and psychological grievance, American life is increasingly characterized by the plaintive insistence, I am a victim.

    “The victimization of America is remarkably egalitarian. From the addicts of the South Bronx to the self-styled emotional road-kills of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the mantra of the victims is the same: I am not responsible; it’s not my fault.

    “Paradoxically, this don’t-blame-me permissiveness is applied only to the self, not to others; it is compatible with an ideological puritanism that is notable for its shrill demands of psychological, political, and linguistic correctness. The ethos of victimization has an endless
    capacity not only for exculpating one’s self from blame, washing away responsibility in a torrent of explanation—racism, sexism, rotten parents, addiction, and illness—but also for projecting guilt onto others.

    “If previous movements of liberation may have been characterized as Revolutions of Rising Expectations, this society is in the grips of a Revolution of Rising Sensitivities, in which grievance begets grievance. In the society of victims, individuals compete not only for rights or economic advantage but also for points on the “sensitivity” index, where “feelings” rather than reason are what count. This ethos is fueled by a hypersensitivity so delicately calibrated that it can detect racism in the inflection of a voice, discover sexism in a classroom’s seating pattern, and uncover patriarchal oppression in a mascara stick or a Shakespeare sonnet.

    “The new culture reflects a readiness not merely to feel sorry for oneself but to wield one’s resentments as weapons of social advantage and to regard deficiencies as entitlements to society’s deference. Even the privileged have found that being oppressed has its advantages.”

    It goes on from there, but the point is made, brilliantly in my opinion, that a nation of victims is helpless to help itself. But he then spends the rest of the book showing how taking responsibility can pull us out of the victim mindset and on the road to tolerance and acceptance.



    • Charles Sykes is a controversial right-wing Wisconsin shock jock with a history of making racially charged comments. I am surprised you inserted him into this comment thread.



      Liked by 1 person

      • King Beauregard

         /  May 27, 2014

        “I am surprised you inserted him into this comment thread.”

        I’m not. Did you ever read Herb’s comments on Trayvon Martin? Herb has his head screwed on straight when it comes to so many topics, but when it comes to blacks, well, see for yourself:


        I debated whether to post this link because I’m not in this to embarrass Herb; but then I remember that Herb isn’t embarrassed by his comments, it’s not like he posted an ill-advised and much-regretted screed after a night at the bar. This is what Herb actually believes.


        • I wasn’t surprised. Read it as Captain Renault saying he was shocked to find gambling going on in Rick’s Cafe Americain. I remember Herb’s take on the Trayvon Martin tragedy: He blamed the late teenager for his own murder.


    • Well, Herb. I am not much impressed by anyone, whether he or she is a shock jock with a flair for quasi-racist rants or a well-respected scholar, whose thesis is, “American life is increasingly characterized by the plaintive insistence, I am a victim.” Hogwash, to put it politely.

      What is the Declaration of Independence if not a plaintive insistence on certain rights that the King of England was allegedly not respecting? What is the Declaration’s list of grievances if not an accounting of the victimization of the colonists? America was born insisting that it would no longer be a victim of British oppression. And throughout our history there have been individuals and groups who have complained about being victims. Slaves were victims and those who fought for abolition were demanding justice. Southerners claimed they were victims and started a civil war over their complaints. Women were victims and demanded equality. There were people who were victimized by our economic inequality in the late 19th and early 20th century. They demanded, and in Roosevelt they got, some measure of relief. Civil rights “complainers” of the 50s and 60s, and those still active today, are simply following a long tradition of American grievance-making.

      So, just using terms like “this society is in the grips of a Revolution of Rising Sensitivities, in which grievance begets grievance” does not in the slightest change my opinion of the situation.

      We have to look no further than what happened in Europe just yesterday. The elections for the European Parliament have scared some of the establishment. Why? Because some radical parties, from the right and left, scored some big wins. And what is all the fuss about? Some people feel victimized by the European Union and its austerity measures. Some feel victimized by immigration policies. And so on. The point is that people, always and everywhere, have grievances and it is not whining or complaining to want them addressed. Heck, in our own Constitution, whining is protected: Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It is strange to me that people who might take advantage of their constitutional right get accused of turning the country into, in your words, “a nation of victims” that is “helpless to help itself.”

      I hate to say it, Herb, but I have heard that same rant a hundred times from Rush Limbaugh.




  10. RDG,

    Coates explains his reasoning for supporting reparations with Bill Moyers. I find it a compelling argument.



    • Thanks for the Moyers link, John. Coates’ conversation does add a dimension to the subject. I too find it compelling that his race has been damaged, and is still being damaged, by institutionalized and clever inequality, but it is also compelling that significant progress has been made. Coates says that’s not enough. Maybe not, but the problem as I see it is that it is not resolvable except by continuing progress.

      I think our system of justice might be a good analogy. There is no perfect justice. The system tries to avoid it but the innocent are sometimes convicted and even executed. Sentences are often disproportionate to the crime and are inconsistent from state to state. Eyewitness testimony has been shown to be unreliable and yet remains the most persuasive evidence in trials. The jails are overflowing with people convicted of non-violent crimes. All this, and yet we somehow convince ourselves that we have a good system of justice.

      This being the case, how then would government-mandated reparations work? (That never seemed to be addressed in the Moyers interview, portions of which I admittedly skipped.) Reparations would mean collectively taking from the whole and giving to an ethnic sub-group without regard to the sources of that wealth, whether from sweat and toil or capital gains, or to the degree to which recipients might be individually unworthy, as in criminals. I don’t see any way to do it and still maintain any sense of justice on an individual scale, and that’s what democratic politics always comes down to, the individual voter alone in the booth.

      I believe in government but I submit that we must be rational about its limitations. We are animals, sentient though we may be, and the fundamental struggle to survive and prevail must be recognized on an ethnic and tribal level as reality. Considering that, perhaps our progress thus far is not so bad, and perhaps just continuing an upward trajectory of justice can be considered victory.


      • Jim,

        Rarely do we disagree, but here I will quibble with a couple of things.

        You said you “endorse Herb’s, and Anson’s, conclusion that reparations are not a proper avenue for whatever collective guilt we ought to feel.” I will address their arguments when I get to their comments, but I first want to say something about the idea of “collective guilt” you mentioned.

        If you follow him closely, you will find that Coates isn’t talking about stimulating some notion of white guilt. Independent of what people might feel, Coates says there is a “moral debt” that society owes to black people. It doesn’t matter really whether one feels this way or that about a debt. The person to whom you might owe a debt is just interested in your willingness to pay the debt you owe. He doesn’t really care whether you feel sorry for him or feel bad about injuring him; he just wants to, as we used to say in my business as a union representative, be “made whole” for the injury he suffered. So, in this context, I don’t think the term “collective guilt” is relevant to the issue, as it ignores the straightforward claim being made in the idea of reparations: injury was done and compensation is due.

        Secondly, you wrote,

        There is much to work on without trying to swallow the cow in one gulp.

        I never read or heard Coates say or suggest that. What I did hear him say (on NPR today) is that he has changed his mind on the idea of reparations and that the legislation proposed by John Conyers (HR 40) was a way to attempt to find out what the quantifiable economic damage from slavery and subsequent discrimination was and what remedies might be available. It would commission a study to find out what the impact was on African-Americans and  to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies.” Those remedies, in my opinion, would benefit all of our children and grandchildren and beyond. As Coates says, we don’t really know the entirety of the problem. We need to know that. Is there something owed? And in what conceivable way can we begin to pay it back?

        I don’t think anyone who is serious about reparations thinks that there is a magic solution that will take care of the problem. Not only would understanding the depth of the damage done be a complicated challenge, but proposing remedies would be even more challenging (for some of the reasons you correctly mention). I think Coates and others want to at least start a conversation, a serious conversation, about what happened and what might be done about it. If nothing else, it is because of what you said, that “there is evidence that America is back-sliding in many areas.” One of the reasons we are backsliding in this particular area is because people don’t seem to want to face the truth, or in the case of the Conyers bill, even know what the scope of the truth entails.

        I think Coates is just trying to get people to face the consequences of a history they don’t want to think about. He has written that he thinks it would be dumb, for instance, if President Obama came out in favor of reparations. Of course it would. But that doesn’t mean all of us shouldn’t want to at least think about what remedies might be available for the wrongs that we know, even if we don’t know all of the wrongs in depth, were done by the government and by individuals acting alone or in concert with others.

        Finally, I agree with you that we have made a lot of important progress. But I don’t think I agree with you that “perhaps just continuing an upward trajectory of justice can be considered victory.” That sounds like we’re letting ourselves off easy. If you read “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” you will find that Dr. King had had it with the notion of settling for incremental progress. Yes, he knew that such progress was a good thing, but he also knew that in so many cases, waiting meant waiting forever. He wrote,

        For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

        Keep in mind that he wrote that to people who generally supported his goals as an activist. They just didn’t like his methods. In some ways, they sounded like Herb Van Fleet and Anson Burlingame. King continued:

        I had hoped that the white moderate would see this. Maybe I was too optimistic. Maybe I expected too much. I guess I should have realized that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action.

        I guess what I am saying is that part of any strong and persistent and determined action is to keep reminding people what happened, how much damage was done, and suggest that there are still debts to be paid to African-Americans, even if it is extremely difficult to figure out how to do that in a democratic society. The worst that can happen with Conyers’ bill is that we all might have a better understanding of our history and perhaps a better understanding of people who don’t share our tribal markings, namely our skin color. And perhaps we might figure out that there are some effective ways we can help the African-American community, a community that certainly still collectively suffers from centuries of enslavement and other forms of economic and cultural oppression.



    • Juan,

      I can’t wait until I have some time to watch that interview. Thanks for linking to it here. Everyone interested should listen to what he has to say. Jesse Jackson or Reverend Al he is not.



  11. Duane,

    Well, you asked for a conversation and it looks like you got one. I was pleased to see that, for the most part, the comments have been relatively calm given such an emotionally charged topic like this one.

    I don’t want to add any more fuel for the fire, but since my name has been tossed around like a lit stick of dynamite, I would like to make a few closing comments.

    For the purposes here, I’ll do away with all the intellectual mumbo jumbo and try to look at the issue from a pragmatic viewpoint. Here, then, are some issues I think may be a threat to or a weakness in Representative Conyers’ HB 40, which I have now read in its entirety.

    1. The first thing that sticks out is the word “reparations.” I believe that word will be seen by many as an entitlement or another welfare program. If so, then there will be lots of screaming and yelling from the right. Also, The notion of reparations means money, meaning more expenditures, meaning more deficits, meaning more debt. Conyers would have been better off using a euphemism, say, “injustice,” or “unfair,” or “civil liberties,” or similar. I think his proposal would have been better received in Congress and by the public at large if a hot button, polarizing, negative term like reparations had been left out or inferred.

    2. Then there is the commission itself. There are to be 7 appointed members. If they are all, or at least a majority of them, black faces, I believe there will be the charge of bias or like criticism suggesting that the commission would be unable to make an objective and fair consideration of the issues. Then there is the $8 million budget, which, again, the Conservatives will no doubt challenge.

    3. If the above problems are solved and the commission starts getting organized, I believe that other minority groups, as I identified earlier, could demand equal treatment. The Native Americans, along with the Irish, the Chinese, women, even the atheists, would surely want Congress to study their histories and devise something like reparations for them. Of course, blacks are totally unique their history and in the social constrains that continue unabated.. The point being that the cries of “unfair” and “biased against us” would likely diminish the work of the commission.

    (As an aside, it may be worthwhile to pick up a copy of Matt Taibbi’s “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.” I’ve not read it, but I did see Matt on C-Span2 talking about it. Many of the stories in there are about African-Americans at the low end of the income scale and how poorly (and immorally) they are treated as compared to the Wall Street fat cats who commit fraud on a routine basis and are never charged.)

    4. If the commission ever gets to the point of releasing a final report, I think it’s safe to say that it will be sliced and diced so many ways by so many special (non-black) interests that its recommendations will never be implemented. If its even attempted, then I believe there might be a tremendous backlash against blacks by non-blacks that would cause an even greater gulf between them – out come the white sheets and the dunce caps with eye holes, along with the burning crosses, and perhaps even lynchings Not good.

    I think my concerns are best summarized by Alyssa Rosenberg’s piece in the Washington Post (May 22), “Culture change and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘The Case For Reparations’,” where she writes in part:

    “Americans “are not interested,” in Conyers’s bill, Coates writes, perhaps understating the case. Govtrack, a legislative tracking site, estimates that H.R. 40 has a three percent chance of departing from committee, and a one percent chance of being passed seems almost comical in its optimism. And if, in some fantastical future, H.R. 40 were to become law, I blanch to think about the brutal fights over how such a study would be set up, conducted, and inevitably investigated, much less the battle — or worse, lack thereof — over its recommendations, which could easily be allowed to slip beneath the waters of public policy.”

    All things considered, I think the black community should ask whether Ta-Nehisi Coates’s pleas for action or Conyers’ HB 40 might do more harm than good. Things are bad enough for the black community as it is.



    • Herb,

      1. I don’t disagree that the term reparations presents a problem. But that is part of the problem, isn’t it? That “there will be lots of screaming and yelling from the right” doesn’t really matter since no matter what there will be lots of screaming and yelling from the right. It’s sort of what defines the reactionary mind. (That and a penchant for Putin-like leaders.) Just studying the effects of slavery and economic oppression of blacks starts the screaming and yelling, no matter what you call any attempt to make things right.

      2. Let’s agree to make all the commission members white. As white as snow, or Sean Hannity’s ass, whichever is whiter. Do you think the right-wing will be satisfied? Nope. And $8 million seems to me like an insufficient amount of money to do the needed research on this topic. We are talking about four hundred years here. But, okay, let us trim it to, oh, say, $8. Do you think that will make Rush Limbaugh tell his followers in the House of Representatives to vote for it? Nope. Doesn’t matter what it costs.

      3. I do agree that other groups might do what you say they could do. Okay. Let them try to get their bills through Congress. You are right to acknowledge that the history of black folks in America is “totally unique.” That’s not to say other groups don’t have legitimate claims to pursue, but slavery and its legacy seems to me to be the worst of a lot of bad behavior, and thus a good place to start, if we are to ever reckon up the damage done by the deliberately ill treatment of non-white, non-male, non-Christian people.

      4. Finally, you get to the real problem, a problem that screams at us about how far we have and haven’t come in America:  “Conyers’ HB 40 might do more harm than good.” We have come far in that white people, at least most white people, are comfortable with the idea that black people are people too. And by people, I mean part of “we the people.” Thus, white people now believe that a black man has a right to sit in Congress and a right to introduce any bill he wants to. But we have not come very far in that white people think that because they now include black people as part of “we the people,” because a black man has a House seat or a black man has the White’s House, that no more needs to be done. I can hear it now: “Sure, you African-Americans were screwed over pretty good. But that was long ago and America is an equal opportunity screwer now. You’re on your own and good luck to ya, all ye black folks. We’re all running the same race now, even though we are halfway around the track and you just got started. But don’t worry about that. If you work really, really hard, you still have a chance to win.”

      I happen to think, and I would guess Coates himself would admit, that what you say is true, Herb. This all might “cause an even greater gulf” between blacks and whites. And, thus, the economic harm done—still being done—to a group of Americans will never, ever be redressed.

      That leads me back to Coates’ claim: “Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” Yeah, well, I guess we will never be whole.



  12. ansonburlingame

     /  May 29, 2014

    I took some recent time off from this chain for some medical issues. But I have now read all comments.

    First, I jump back to the beginning wherein Duane responded to my first comment and suggested my opposition to Affirmative Action Programs leaves me no room to argue that Education is the solution to remedy “moral damages” to blacks, caused by whatever “moral oppressions” are found. I only suggest to all that my objection is to “robbing Peter to pay Paul” when “Peter” himself was not morally oppressive. That applies to restricting access to education based on race, just as it would apply to taking money from “Peter” today for what his ancestors did long ago. Racial preferences are just that, preferences based on melanine content in an individual body, race in other words. All that does is create another “moral debt” at least in my view.

    I do not attempt to argue that prejudice, bigotry and racism did not cause huge moral damages. I also do not argue that such factors were not very prevalent in America, during the period of slavery (or Indian Wars, or Tammney Hall against the Irish, etc.), followed by Jim Crow laws and even today. Prejudice, bigotry and racism still exist today as well. BUT, I submit it is no longer a one way street, racially. I also assert that laws in America today have reduced at least the legally condoned prejudice, bigotry and racism, coming from the “white” direction.

    But while Conyers studies the continuing ;prejudice, bigotry and racism, now illegally directed against blacks, today in America, I would suggest another study (just as apolitically done as one would hope Mr. Conyers does his study!) to investigate the “moral damages” done to other people in America today caused by black people.

    I suggest such a ridiculous effort with tongue in cheek however. All we need is more studies!!

    MLK had the solution in his “dream”. It was for a color blind society, TODAY, or at least “tomorrow” in which all men were judged only by their character. Studying the moral flaws of a white lynch mob in 1920 or actions by a black gang in a ghetto today, assessing the “:moral damages” done by either group or class of people does little or nothing to advance MLK’s dream, at least in my view. In fact such studies perpetuate antagonism between races, which MKL wanted to abolish in his “dream”.

    And you can bet your bippy, after such studies are conducted and one group presents a fianacial repayment scheme to another group, well hold on to your hats, any day in any age.

    More and more people today, people of all color, creed, gender (for sure), sexual orientation (for sure), etc. seek to be found as victims and demand punishment against oppressors. I agree with Herb’s views on that point and don’t need a slanted right winger to convince me of such views as well.

    But if prejudice, bigotry and racism need more study today, well look at ALL the directions and sources such moral oppression comes from is my suggestion.



    • Tongue-in-cheek: Well, this comment was certainly worth the wait.


    • King Beauregard

       /  May 29, 2014

      So Anson, you’re going with whatever MLK Jr had to say? That’s your position, you’re throwing in with MLK Jr and his solution? I’m glad to hear you say that, because here’s what MLK Jr had to say more specifically about the topic at hand:

      “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him.”

      And elsewhere:

      “Within common law we have ample precedents for special compensatory programs…. And you will remember that America adopted a policy of special treatment for her millions of veterans after the war.”

      So will your first reparations payment be cash, check, charge, or PayPal?


    • Anson,

      Okay. I detect a bit, well, more than a bit, of moral equivalency in your comments. Let me get this straight: If we are to try to figure out the damage white folks have done and are doing to black folks in America, we also ought to figure out the damage black folks have done and are doing to white folks. Is that about right?

      All I want to say about that is this: Is it possible, in your view, that those “actions by a black gang in a ghetto today” were caused, or substantially caused, by the actions of your “white lynch mob” or variants? Or, to put it simply: which came first? The black gangbanger or the white supremacist?



  13. ansonburlingame

     /  May 30, 2014


    I’m not sure if moral equivalency or moral consistency is the right term. But MLK did suggest judging people, all people, by their character. Are you really suggesting that a group of black thugs only act like thugs because their ancestors were treated despicably?

    Does prejudice, bigotry and racism create bad character on the part of those that are the subject of such disdain? I know many people that suggest, demand perhaps, that one’s character, good character, must rise above mistreatment if one is to have a “good life”. In another program espousing good character it is said that resentments kill more …… than any other single factor.

    I seek solutions for such social ills. Stop first and foremost illegal actions. Sure bad character (lack of substantial moral values, the Seven Deadly Sins, etc.) motivates many people to act illegally and their skin color makes no difference when that happens.

    When Herb suggested that “character” was on the decline in America today, you and others disagreed. But you are always quick to point out the despicable character of groups like the Tea Party as well. Well let me point the finger in the opposite direction and suggest that when people claim victimhood in order to gain more material benefits they do not have the character needed to live a good life.

    I am not calling for no LEGAL punishment either, nor do I call for eliminating all the civil awards for “damages”. When Peter acts poorly and illegally, well Peter should pay Paul. But it takes a court of law to make those decisions as well.

    Face it Duane, reparations of the sort espoused by Coates (or Conyer as well) just won’t happen in America today. If it makes people feel moral superiority by calling for them, well go ahead. But pragamatically, I seriously doubt the long term efforts by Conyer to get his bill even out of a committee in Congress will ever happen, much less be passed into law.

    But if I am wrong on that point well I would also ask exactly how much good would it do for all Americans to establish a massive financial system of reparations to all blacks (and only blacks) today? Forget the possibility of real race wars in such an event. Just assume no massive social upheaval happens. Now blacks have far more money than they ever had before. Will that event actually fix the “black/white problem” in America?

    I close my participation in this exchange, a good exchange by and large, with one small example. I suggest ONE of the huge problems within the black community across America today is the 77% (or whatever the actual number might be) single mother birth rate is destroying the black community, step by step, in America today. We cannot outlaw unwed sex in America, handing out free birth control devices to men and/or women won’t fix the problem, forcing everyone to go to church, read the Bible, etc. won’t fix the problem and providing all the free HC in the world to the mothers and the kids won’t fix the problem, either.

    At least in a free democracy a basic element of success in such a society has always been the assumption that the vast majority of citizens practice moral restraint, good judgment, concern for others, and the list goes on. When some 70% of the young males in any society have no qualms about “wham, bam, thank you mam” and leaving Mom the the future kid in the ditch, I would suggest the ability of such a society to prosper is going to be very problematic.

    If somehow such a failing society could rally around concepts such as those espoused by Admiral McRaven, Bill Cosby, MLK (when he focuses on character), etc. then some long term trends of improvment will be seen. But ignore those concepts and all the money in the world will not bail out such a failing society, regardless of the skin color making up that society. Actually the better word is TRIBE, not society, today.



    • Anson,

      1. You asked, “Are you really suggesting that a group of black thugs only act like thugs because their ancestors were treated despicably?”

      Are you really suggesting that there is no possible connection between the former and the latter?

      2. You asked, “Does prejudice, bigotry and racism create bad character on the part of those that are the subject of such disdain?” Pleading a Humean resistance to the very notion of causation, I would say that there is at least as much chance of that happening as there is of prejudice, bigotry, and racism creating good character in its targets.

      3. You said I am “always quick to point out the despicable character of groups like the Tea Party.” Not really. What I do is point out the sometimes, but not always, despicable and reactionary character of the Tea Party’s philosophical and political and religious fundamentalism (to the extent it can be discerned), as well as its money-driven attempt to take over the country. Although I will admit that, in my darkest moments, there are a handful of Tea Party folks that I dislike to an unhealthful degree.

      4. Yes, we know reparations ain’t gonna happen. But this isn’t just an exercise in flashing a little “moral superiority.” Coates was making a serious argument for the moral legitimacy of addressing claims of wrongdoing and an argument that if we don’t do so, the country will never be whole in the way that all of us, presumably including you, might wish it were.

      5. You said, assuming reparations ever happened, that “Now blacks have far more money than they ever had before. Will that event actually fix the “black/white problem” in America?.” Who says that this is all about money given directly to individuals? I don’t see it that way. I see it possibly as investments made in what are now predominantly black communities (like adequate policing, for instance; black people hate crime as much as white people), as investments made in upward mobility for African-Americans, through vehicles like early education and funding for college, and so on. And, of course, such investments won’t fix what you call the “black/white problem” overnight. It would, though, years down the road, lead to a better country.

      6. We agree that some iteration of “character” is important for the well-being of any society. But you fail to acknowledge that the well-being of society is also dependent on the availability of opportunities for advancement. There are lots of fathers of all colors who don’t abandon their children but who nevertheless don’t see them much or substantially participate in their upbringing because they are working two or three jobs just to survive. Same goes for mothers. That also needs addressed. That is partly what Coates’ piece was about, in my view.



  14. @ All,

    Wow, this was a long one. I just wanted to say, in summary, that Duane’s post here did stir up my brain on the subject of racism, not to mention slavery of all flavors. I find myself a lot like Herb who took the St. Cloud educational 28 (?) point test on racism and flunked. That thing made my head spin and I was taken aback that anyone could even aspire to altruism of that order. I guess I can see it as a function of committed religious zeal, but not other wise, but I think that’s a very small percentage of those who darken the churches’ doors with regularity.

    However, with it all sloshing around in my head now for these several days I do feel somewhat different on the subject, kind of like I’ve been given the insertion of a moral stent. I’m still occluded and fundamentally a member of an evolved tribal species, and still more aware of my own vulnerability in a dog-eat-dog competitive world than that of the oppressed, but I think my moral circulation is better than it was before the, ah, operation.


    • King Beauregard

       /  May 31, 2014

      I submit that that list is neither a “test” nor can it be “flunked”; it is a list of points to consider, presented as such precisely because they are not obvious points (i.e., a person can very much be forgiven for not having been aware of them). Nor is it intended for finger-pointing; if you know how to take well-intended criticism, that’s the right mindset for contemplating the list. And as with anything else it’s subject to interpretation and refutation; it’s entirely possible to disagree with some of the points or their reasoning, but then it’s probably up to you to put together a real refutation rather than just rejecting the point.

      I don’t know, maybe it’s generational; I was born in 1967, which makes me an arrogant kid by this site’s standards. A college prof of mine, back in 1988 or so, once remarked that we’ve all got at least some prejudice in us, and you can’t ever exactly get rid of it; beyond a certain point you just have to be aware it’s there and try to cope with it. It seems to be a fairly common way of looking at it for people my age and younger: you do your best, you make mistakes, you learn and try better next time.


      • King B,

        I think you have it exactly right: awareness, followed by doing your best to combat it. Absolutely great advice in this or any context.

        I also agree with you about the list: “it’s entirely possible to disagree with some of the points or their reasoning, but then it’s probably up to you to put together a real refutation rather than just rejecting the point.” I tried to do a little of that in my latest response to Herb.

        As far as the list being “well-intended criticism” and not representing “finger-pointing,” I mostly agree with that, although I wish the tone had been somewhat less preachy and the presented solutions, in some cases, less dramatic. Here is an example from #13 (“The Penitent”):

        Being an ally to people of color is not limited to an apology for other white people’s behavior, it must include anti-racist action.

        “Must include” is way too much for a piece like this. Presumably, one is trying to persuade, in this case trying to convince folks to take the action. I don’t think the best way to do that is by making such dramatically definitive statements. Why wouldn’t this have worked:

        Being an ally to people of color is a good thing, including recognizing the wrongs that were done and feeling remorse for them. An even better thing would include getting involved in some anti-racist action.



        • King Beauregard

           /  June 3, 2014

          The phrasing I didn’t like was the one from #6 or #7 (I can’t be bothered to look it up this early in the morning), where it said that being defensive is “arrogant”. Not necessarily; it could be that you are a human being who reacts like human beings do to accusations. But, as a human being with a conscience, it’s up to you to overcome the defensiveness and ask yourself whether the other guy has a point.

          I think of actors a little bit: the good ones take direction and are eager for suggestions because they want to deliver the best performance possible; the arrogant jackasses refuse to even consider other people’s input and it only hurts their careers.

          About #13 — I do think that anti-racist action is absolutely necessary for us white folks. It simply isn’t enough to let minorities do the fighting, while we stand to the side. If white racists are going to feel pressured to change, the pressure’s got to come from us too, not just from uppity minorities. Yes, that means some impolite exchanges. Sucks to be us, doesn’t it?


      • By the way, my wife was born in 1967, so “this site’s standards” are not as high (or low) as you might think!



    • As you usually do, Jim, you have hit upon the point of my posting about the Coates piece. It was meant to “stir up” brains, including my own. I have enjoyed the various perspectives expressed in the comment section. And I really like what you said:

      I think my moral circulation is better than it was before…

      Mine, too. Thanks to Coates and all the responses here.



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