Why Ta-Nehisi Coates Wrongly Labeled Bernie Sanders as Indirectly Representing White Supremacy in His Reparations Answer
When dealing with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent two perspectives on feeling presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ comments on reparations indirectly represents an example of American’s white supremacy legacy continuing, it is first and foremost vital for one not to be distracted by non-sequiturs to his writings.
Refuting Coates’ two pieces on Sanders and white liberalism by looking at them from a campaign perspective and mentioning why Coates is not chastising Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley or even President Obama for their positions on reparations misses his main point. No one rational expected the Democratic front-runner or the Maryland governor for being in favor of them, especially since Clinton in the past has sidestepped the idea.
It is also crucial then to not refute Coates by mentioning how The Atlantic, his employer, is funded by powerful interests. It again ventures us into territories away from the location Coates is coming from on Sanders: whether he has placed too much energy on socialism policies being a panacea for America’s major problems and not enough on the structural white supremacy that festers in many parts. Only if you eliminate those other sub-topics will you be able to properly evaluate the topic.
But once you do those key things and focus only on the topic this is about (Sanders and race overall), it makes Coates’ back to back think pieces, concluding that Sanders overlooks systematic race issues instead of making it the main staple of his political ideology, as a combination that is incomplete on the former independent senator.
Now no one, neither Sanders’ most ardent supporter or irrational critic, can say that Sanders entire political philosophy is primarily focused on something other than class public action. And it can’t be dismissed that despite Sanders Brooklyn background that Vermont, a state that he was a mayor in and both a House Representative and Senator for, is just as white as the Jonas Blizzard that engulfed much of the American East Coast in late January 2016.
But what makes Coates’ take on Sanders’ reparations answer representing one of the cruelest forms of white supremacy in America so reckless is that it leaves the impression for anyone not cognizant of Sanders’ history and record with race to infer that he’s apathetic to ever addressing white supremacy. In fact, they would infer from Coates’ provocative doubleheader that he doesn’t have any history with addressing and acknowledging white supremacy. And for how incomplete Coates’ labeling of Sanders’ reparations answer was, his viewpoint became even more bewildering with the array of vapid strawman statements littered on Sanders in his follow up post.
Many prominent black online figures have found their main problem with Sanders is him focusing on class long before he focuses on race. But it would REALLY be a problem if Sanders did not focus on any forms of structural racism at all. And to indicate he cares little on race, even before this campaign, is false.
No, this will not be another piece mentioning Sanders and the 60s again. Instead there are examples of him solely as a public official doing a terrible job at fundamentally representing white supremacy. Two decades before mass incarceration and systematic, racial injustice became a modern day bipartisan agreement issue, Sanders was railing against it on the House of Representatives floor by condemning the “disproportionally punishing of blacks.” Sanders’ “white supremacy” failure even crosses the border, with not only his “easy” standard liberal slamming of Ronald Reagan meandering into Latin America business in the 1980 while he was the mayor in Burlington, Vermont, but also requesting America to acknowledge Fidel Castro’s Cuba government and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. He didn’t fear backing Jesse Jackson at a time when supporting an unapologetically black politician for president was an undisputedly scary thought to middle white America (and still is for a good bit today). As a Senator, he has a 100% record with the NAACP and NHLA.
With all that included, it was again most unfortunate to see Coates do something rare for his usually detailed self, especially in his second Sanders slamming: not support his argument well at all.
Sanders never indicated nor guaranteed that his policy hopes would “ameliorate the effects of racism,” as Coates wrote. Sanders never indicated, as Coates also jotted, that he would be “treating a racist injury solely with class-based remedies.” Sanders never indicated that European countries have extinguished their racism problems through their public policies. Sanders never has eliminated the thought of having anti-racist solutions be apart of his desires. Sanders has never indicated that class based solutions would be the panacea of our black structural problems.
Moreover, for Coates to compare Sanders to Ralph Nader was the height of indolence for a writer who normally does the opposite of that. Forget the fact that Nader has never held a political office unlike Sanders, the now 81-year-old Nader, in his many presidential campaigns, failed to ever build any coalition on black issues or with black people. And to proceed in further lumping Sanders with Nader’s push to vanquish affirmative action for good completed two erratic, one-dimensional duel efforts from the Between the World and Me author.
Coates is stuck on Sanders using the word “divisive” to deny his support on reparations, indicating that this is a fundamental contradiction of the progressive ideologue advocating for policies he knows would be politically divisive. Again, this is shockingly narrow from the prolific scribe. Nowhere in his conversation with Fusion’s Nando Vila did Sanders say that black people don’t deserve reparations, a massive, key distinction. One can argue that hiding around the fact by saying it’s “divisive” and “political impossible” to past can masquerade as one truly thinking that black people don’t deserve reparations. But that is a perspective for those immature to a nuance, intricate view.
Parsing Sanders’ thoughts on reparations, just like parsing Coates’ real reason for his reactionary pieces, would distract from their actual words. And though passing any major government program without majority progressive or center-left representation in Congress makes Sanders’ main policy hopes about as unlikely to past as reparations in a Sanders’ presidency, it is a little disingenuous for Coates or anyone else to lump them together considering the popularity those social programs have compared to reparations’ modest backing, even amongst black people.
To emphasize in case it has been lost, it is always fair to test any politician on any issue, as it is to test any writer on his or her words. And those who aren’t black that condemn Coates for being highly alarmed at how Sanders answered that reparation question would be a prime example of white supremacy indirectly showing itself in clever form.
But it is equally salient that if you are to place an individual under the full position of a human ideology that you had better fully analyze that individual properly and accurately before doing so. In this case, Coates failed at that by accusing Sanders as another person indirectly contributing to white supremacy’s enduring legacy. Most importantly, it’s a failure to those apart of his massive following to paint Sanders as a man being indifferent to addressing and containing white supremacy. The septuagenarian White House hopeful has shown a history that isn’t just solely obsessed with class action being the only cure for America’s race woes.