Reparations and Rioters

Somewhere along the way, outrage over George Floyd’s slaying turned into a larger plea for more recognition of African-Americans in areas ranging from the arts to corporate boards to the big screen.  Demands for policing reform and greater accountability were only ploys to extract something more from society, like a diversion used in a casino caper.  The narrative of police punishment unfairly meted out on minorities became a tail used to wag the dog for a loftier goal.  That goal is vengeance mixed with monetary restitution.  In a word, reparations. 

Popularized by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, the bumptious James Baldwin epigone, reparations are less a racial subsidy and more of an ideology fixated on abstract compensation for the historic mistreatment of blacks.  Citing the ‘68 case of Contract Buyers League -- an assembly of black homeowners who brought a suit against suburban, mostly white real-estate predators -- Coates broadened reparations to mean more than cutting a check for financial damages.  “[Contract Buyers League] were charging society with a crime against their community.  They wanted the crime publicly ruled as such…[a]nd they wanted restitution for the great injury brought upon them by said offenders.”  The cause was “no longer appealing to the government simply for equality,” Coates reasoned, but for the grander recompense of “reparations.”

For a quarter century, Detroit-area Rep. John Conyers Jr., introduced a bill every congressional session that convoked a commission to study the lingering effects of black bondage and issue a list of “appropriate remedies.”  This was colloquially viewed as a reparations bill.  After being chased from Congress due to sexual harassment allegations, Conyers’s once abstruse campaign was relayed to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.  Now it’s au courant with progressive lawmakers.  Corey Booker, the genial New Jersey senator and also-ran presidential hopeful, introduced his own reparations edict in the Senate, with nearly half the Democratic caucus as cosponsors.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called the proposed commission on white-guilt payments not “a good idea,” making it a legislative dead letter for the near future.  President Trump described the discussion of reparations as “a very interesting debate,” but one he “[doesn’t] see... happening.”

But, bill or no bill, reparations are happening.  Instead of a subvention Uncle Sam stands for, they’re taking the form of voluntary penance payments.  Following the protests and riotous affrays over Floyd’s demise, a passel of corporations pledged charity remittances to black communities, including Bank of America, Nike, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Comcast, Walmart, Yum! Brands, and Johnson & Johnson.

Black Americans are too canny to be fooled by the PR stunt of NYSE-listed concerns offering a pecuniary permyriad of their market value, passed through the holdings of second, third, and fourth parties, before hitting the till of the local Y.  So, they’re bypassing the pro-forma commercial sops for more direct remuneration.  And public reproach is the shakedown weapon of choice.

One example: a letter to the well-endowed Poetry Foundation from 1,800 black verse-scribblers demanding “every cent” in the organization’s coffers be passed to “those whose labor amassed those funds.”  The petitioners also called for the resignation of Foundation President Henry Bienen and Willard Bunn, chairman of the board of trustees, for the misstep of issuing a supporting message not solicitous enough toward Black Lives Matter.  Bienen’s and Bunn’s scalps were handed over; no word yet on the ransom.

As Coates showed, expiating payoffs aren’t always in duckets.  It comes in prestige and exposure.  This fame is a reparation that, by any other name, is just as profitable. Matt James was just cast as the new lead in “The Bachelor,” a move up that, in turn, lowers blacks to the level of white bougie drivel.  The Minnesota rioters will no doubt take solace in this inspiring uncultured levelling.

Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar upped the reparation ante by “voluntarily” withdrawing from the Democratic vice-presidential race, asking Joe Biden to select a “woman of color” instead.  This noble sacrifice is made less noble by the uncomfortable fact that the state Klobuchar represents was the provenance of the latest wave of racial strife.  Biden’s consideration of her ended the second Floyd gave up the ghost.

Reparations also come in the form of stock options.  Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from his creation’s company board, beseeching members to fill his seat with a black man or woman.  Michael Seibel of venture-capital giant Y Combinator was the lucky recipient of the affirmative-action sinecure.

This soft extortion (“pay up or you’ll be branded a racist”) sends a blunt message: racial justice won’t come to America until every black person sits under his or her own vine and fig tree.  De jure equality be damned.  Forget about more deference from law enforcement.  Or even drop the pretense of wanting dignifying work above burger-flipping.  It’s all about lucre as an emollient remedy for centuries in manacles.

“When you riot... corporations will send you millions,” Tucker Carlson recently inveighed in a barbed monologue.  The gnostic theory of white supremacy was really just a guise for drawing reparations out of guilt-addled Americans.  But, to paraphrase Thatcher’s mot on socialism, the trouble with reparations is that you eventually find that no amount of restitutional funds heals historic injustice.  Too many businesses and institutions may run out of their own money before the shame baiters accept that fact.

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