Author Topic: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Hip-Hop and Being Praised by Toni Morrison  (Read 2275 times)

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Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Hip-Hop and Being Praised by Toni Morrison
'Between the World and Me' author discusses his writing process and how hip-hop is one of his biggest aesthetic influences


About three weeks ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates got a phone call from Chris Jackson, his editor at Random House's Spiegel & Grau imprint. Jackson was calling to propose moving up the publication of Coates' new book, Between the World and Me, from its planned release this fall to mid-July. "I thought it was crazy," says Coates, 39. "I was basically opposed to it. Then we had coffee, and he made the case. And it turns out they were right."

Between the World and Me, which arrived in stores this week, is an extraordinary piece of writing: a lyrical blend of history and memoir, framed as a letter to the author's 14-year-old son. It is also very timely. Over 152 riveting pages, Coates wrestles with the racist violence at America's core in unflinchingly honest terms – casting aside easy abstractions to lay bare the physical danger and fear that come with living in a black body. It's a deeply personal story with profound implications for everyone living in this country, and one that feels downright necessary this summer.

Coates meets me at his publisher's Manhattan office in the middle of a busy day of promotion for the book – after we talk, he's due to make appearances on Canadian radio and All In With Chris Hayes. "It's been pretty insane," he says. He's wearing a flat cap and a bilingual t-shirt ("Ce moment when you start penser en deux langues at the same temps"), with the laptop he used to write most of the book open on the table next to him. When a Random House employee brings him a cup of takeout coffee, he accepts it with relief.

The book's origins, Coates explains, date back to a 2011 contract that he inked to write a volume of essays about the Civil War. The project's focus shifted as he worked separately on "The Case for Reparations," a painstakingly researched cover story published last spring in The Atlantic, where he is a national correspondent. "That was a really empirical case," Coates says. "I wanted to think about the problem I was dealing with for reparations – this grand theft, this idea of plunder – from a more literary perspective, and I didn't know what that looked like." The crucial next step came when he reread James Baldwin's classic 1963 work The Fire Next Time. "I was so moved by the way he approached the problem," he says. "Baldwin was a writer, first and foremost. The Fire Next Time is a beautiful work of art. And I really wanted to make something beautiful."

We spoke for 45 minutes about literature, hip-hop, the meaning of hope and more.

How old were you when you first encountered James Baldwin's work?
I was about 13 or 14 when I heard Malcolm X's speech "Message to the Grass Roots." He's criticizing the March on Washington, and he says they wouldn't even let Baldwin get up and talk, because Baldwin's liable to say anything. I thought, "Who is this dude?" My exposure to him was as somebody who was slightly crazy, a guy who lobbed firebombs. Then I got to college and read The Fire Next Time and Going to Meet the Man, a short story collection. I have this fond memory of my time in college – I wasn't a great student, but my time was open and unrestricted. I remember sitting in this library at Howard University and reading The Fire Next Time in one session. It was such a pleasurable experience, to be lost in a work of art. I didn't really grasp the political points. Did I understand what Baldwin was saying about religion? No, not really. But I knew that it had been said really beautifully. I had that. When I went back to read The Fire Next Time, I remembered me as a 19-year-old kid, sitting in that library, lost. And I thought about how in this age, where the Internet is ubiquitous, it's very hard to have that experience. I had this vision of some 19-year-old kid sitting in a library somewhere, picking this book up, and just disappearing for a while. That was all I wanted.

That's not a quality found very often in writing these days.
Everybody thinks that an important book has to be a big, long book. But it was very important that this book be short. I actually wanted it to be even shorter – it's about 170 pages, and I wanted it to weigh in at about 120. This ain't something that should take you three months to get through. I mean, if you don't like it, that's another thing. But it should lend itself to re-reading.

Toni Morrison's blurb for this book is pretty remarkable: "I've been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates." How does that sit with you?
I'm tremendously honored by her praise. I don't take it lightly. I can be kind of an asshole with my editors here about blurbs – I hate the idea of having five advertisements on your book. So I got into this conversation: Who can represent the tradition out of which I come? Who can speak to that? My whole thing was, if Toni Morrison can't blurb it, then I don't want anyone to blurb it.

Much of your writing in this book has such a lyrical, poetic quality, even when you're writing about profoundly painful subjects. How did you develop that voice?
It's something that makes me happy. I enjoy the challenge of trying to say things beautifully. The message is secondary in that sense. Obviously, I have something that I want to say that's very, very important to me – but the process of actually crafting it is essential. It went through several versions. At one point I sent a draft to Chris, and it was not working, so I took it apart paragraph by paragraph. This was about this time last summer. I printed a manuscript and numbered every paragraph in the order in which I thought they were supposed to go. Then I went back to the computer and typed up every single one of those paragraphs again, instead of cutting and pasting, because it allows you to run it through your mind again. Once I did that, I had the meat of the book.

At the same time, some of the best parts of the book are when you're most blunt. There's a passage very early on where you say that the way we talk about race in America – even the phrase "white supremacy" – can serve as a cover for actual, physical violence. Is there a tension between those two aims?
Well, the lyricism doesn't serve if it's not conveying. Chris helped me a lot with that. He'd say, "OK, what does this mean? Clarify, clarify." A lot of the time, I write by ear. So in rough draft form it's probably a lot more lyrical. He'd say, "Ground this. What are you saying specifically?" A lot of times, I actually didn't know. You just have to write, and strip down, and rewrite, over and over and over again, until it's not only beautiful, but it actually says something. It's almost like a melody coming to you before the words.

One phrase that recurs in this book is "the Dream": the idea that America needs to wake up from the dream of race, the dream of whiteness. How did you come to that theme?
"The Dream" is lyrical in and of itself. It's a device, but again, I hope it clarifies. It's subverting the notion of the American Dream, subverting Martin Luther King's rendition of "I have a dream." I wanted to do something a little darker. It's no different than these movies where they say it's a darker version of some comic book story. This is very much the same thing. I just wanted to darken the filter a little bit and take it from another perspective.

You write about how religion has never been part of your life – how you don't have that comfort to fall back on – but your use of language has an almost religious feel to it at times.
Maybe, I don't know. I'm so ignorant with religion. This is all I have. I don't know what it feels like to be a believer, or to have been a believer. I don't have that in my arsenal.

How much has hip-hop informed your voice as a writer?
It's the biggest influence on my aesthetic as a writer. It actually influences the atheism in the book. One of the constant questions I get is "Why are you so depressing? Why are you so dark? What about hope?" But hope is not very important in hip-hop. I mean, there are certainly hopeful songs, but if you listen to Illmatic, hope is not a very important sentiment. Hope has very little to do with Mobb Deep. I remember when Nas said on a Mobb Deep song, "Shoot at the clouds, feels like the holy beast is watching us." I don't know if Nas would describe himself as an atheist, but the music has a very atheistic, dark feel to it. That shaped me a lot.

Do you find something positive in exploring that darkness, even if it's not hopeful? Is it therapeutic to turn pain and loss and fear into a book like this?
There's hope in there. There's beauty in there. But it's not a bowl of sugar. It's dark chocolate. It's a little bitter. And that's how it's supposed to be. You listen to a song like Biggie's "Everyday Struggle," which is in many ways sad, but in the middle of it there's this beautiful scene where Biggie thinks he's sold all of his coke, and he's going to see his friend, and he says, "At last, I'm literally lounging black." He feels happy in the midst of this. And then it all goes wrong: "Then I got a phone call that couldn't hit me harder." I think hope that's not cut with some sense of struggle is false. The thing that I can't understand about this question is, what great art would we describe as primarily hopeful? I don't read The Great Gatsby and think "hope." I think it's about the need, oddly enough, to politicize writing, to effectively turn writers into Senate aides. I'm not a f*cking politician! I don't have to make people feel good at the end of the book. I don't have to do what Barack Obama does. That's not my burden. My burden is to try to describe things as precisely as I see them.

Do you listen to much new music these days?
I follow my son. He's 14, and he's pretty much my tastemaker now. When I was his age, I had so much time to dig – I spent as much time in Tower Records as I did in bookstores. And I just don't have the time anymore. I'm very sad about that. But my son will say, "Dad, you need to listen to this." I just listen to what he tells me to listen to. Flume, Kilo Kish, Travis Scott. "Drugs You Should Try It," that's a great f*cking song.

Have you heard Kendrick Lamar's album?
You know, I still haven't. I swear to god, I'm not putting it off, it's just that he deserves the straightest listen. I'm slow sometimes. It's no disrespect to him. If I ever get some time off, that's what I'm going to do: I'm just going to play a ton of music.

Yeah, I listen to a ton of old music. Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Smoothe da Hustler, Black Moon, Public Enemy, Rakim, EPMD. A lot of hip-hop. And the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio. They're old now, but they were young when I first came to New York. I like all of that sh*t.

"Forgiveness" is a word that's been in the news a lot lately – people talk about forgiving mass murderers. What do you think about that?
I think it would be good if the country was as forgiving of the folks who were upset down in Ferguson. If the country was as forgiving of the people who were upset down in Baltimore. If the country was as forgiving of the millions of people who find themselves incarcerated in this country because of some mistake they made when they were young. Forgiveness is not just for white supremacists. Forgiveness is not just for Dylann Roof.

A lot of people – maybe especially white people – see the fact that the Confederate flag came down as a sign of progress. Do you agree, or is that just a cosmetic change?
No, I think it's real progress. I think the very arguments that people used to take the flag down were rooted in the long work of historians, and in the long work of activists. That information had to be there in the first place for that to happen. I don't live in South Carolina, but god forbid I've got to walk to my job everyday and see the capitol – which I subsidize with my money – and see a flag of enslavement as I walk past, and for people to pretend as though that's not what it's about. I don't want any part of that. That adds unnecessary stress to my day. It makes my heart beat a little more fast. I don't deserve to have that in my life.

Do you think America is getting any closer to acknowledging the fundamental fact that our society was built on racist violence?
I think we are probably closer now than we were 50 years ago. The question is, will we actually get there? That I don't know.

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Re: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Hip-Hop and Being Praised by Toni Morrison
« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2019, 08:03:19 am »
H.R. 40 - Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act

« Last Edit: March 16, 2019, 08:09:41 am by Battle »

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Re: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Hip-Hop and Being Praised by Toni Morrison
« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2019, 07:27:02 pm »
Saturday, 13th April 2019
Reparations for Slavery, Shelved for Decades, Is on the Election Table
by Joshua Jamerson

The Rev. Al Sharpton asked Democratic presidential candidates the same question at his New York conference last week: Should the U.S. government research how to make amends for centuries of enslavement and oppression of African-Americans?

One by one, the candidates said yes.

“There’s a direct connection between exclusion in the past and exclusion in the present,” Pete Buttigieg—the mayor of South Bend, Ind., who is white—told a mostly African-American crowd gathered in a Manhattan ballroom. “That’s exactly why we need a rigorous, serious study.”

Studying reparations for slavery has moved from theoretical fodder for essayists, economists and historians into the mainstream of Democratic politics, a phenomenon owed to top-tier presidential candidates embracing the idea and the single bill in Congress addressing it. That legislation, known as H.R. 40, was first introduced in 1989 and for decades was ignored by presidents and congressional leaders of both parties.

H.R. 40 would establish a federal commission to study how slavery and Jim Crow impact African-Americans today. The bill’s language calls for suggestions to “remedy” slavery’s aftereffects.

Democrats aren’t ignoring it any longer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this year publicly endorsed the bill—something she apparently hadn’t done in her prior 16 years as House Democratic leader. Her office declined to discuss her past views on the bill. Of the 18 Democratic candidates running for president or openly exploring a bid, at least 11 of them support the measure.

“Absolutely, I would sign that into law,” former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke said last week with Mr. Sharpton.

The candidates aren’t explicitly calling for direct payments from the U.S. Treasury into the bank accounts of Americans whose ancestors were slaves—and, typically, that isn’t what many African-American congressional leaders say reparations must be. It could amount to formal government recognition that slavery was an injustice committed by the U.S., for example.

“Do I expect a bag of cash to show up on my door tomorrow? No,” said Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of Black PAC, a liberal organization that conducted polling and backed candidates during the 2018 midterm election. “But I do think that we have to be able to think about … how we address the past.”

Ms. Shropshire added that support for a reparations study would help candidates seeking to connect with black voters—and perhaps some whites—concerned about wealth inequities in the U.S.

Twitter mentions of H.R. 40 increased by 150% between January and February, according to an analysis provided to The Wall Street Journal by Storyful, a company that scours social-media services and can identify trends. Storyful is owned by News Corp, the corporate parent of the Journal.

During that time, the most early prominent example of a presidential candidate speaking in support of reparations was Feb. 11, when Sen. Kamala Harris of California appeared on the popular New York-based radio program “The Breakfast Club.”

Speaking to host Lenard McKelvey, known professionally as Charlamagne tha God, Ms. Harris said: “America has a history of 200 years of slavery. We had Jim Crow. We had legal segregation in America for a very long time.” Mr. McKelvey asked her if she supported “some type” of reparations. She said yes.

Since the start of the year Ms. Harris has been mentioned on 309 occasions on Twitter in connection with H.R. 40. About 88% of those mentions came after that radio appearance, according to the Storyful analysis.

In the weeks since that interview, the topic of reparations for slavery has been searched more on Google than at any time in the past decade, according to data from Google Trends. The recent surge in interest exceeds by far the last jump in searches, which followed an essay in 2014 by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic headlined “The Case for Reparations.”

Mr. McKelvey said he asked Ms. Harris about reparations after hearing other African-Americans, including listeners of his program, which reaches four million to five million people a week, express interest. But he said the subsequent conversation in the 2020 Democratic nominating contest has been short on specifics.

“The follow-up question should’ve been, ‘What does that reparations plan look like?’” he said.

Some elected Democrats have also expressed disappointment with the conversation. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey plans to introduce a Senate version of H.R. 40, but he said at a recent CNN town hall that inequities between blacks and whites has been “reduced to just a box to check on a presidential list, when this is so much more of a serious conversation.”

When Mr. Coates asked President Obama about reparations in 2016, the Democrat said:

“The bottom line is that it’s hard to find a model in which you can practically administer and sustain political support for those kinds of efforts.” A spokesman for Mr. Obama declined to comment. President Trump hasn’t addressed H.R. 40.

Several Republican senators say they have reservations about H.R. 40. GOP control of the Senate and the White House are the main reason Democrats in Congress, even some co-sponsors of H.R. 40, are skeptical it will become law.

Mr. Booker’s bill would face resistance on the Judiciary Committee, which would be the vessel for such legislation to see the Senate floor. “I think it’s too remote in time, I think it’s too divisive and I don’t think it’s good for the country, quite frankly,” Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said this week.

Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.), a Judiciary Committee member, said he doesn’t think anyone alive today should be held responsible for slavery. “I believe in personal responsibility,” he said.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas), lead sponsor of H.R. 40, acknowledged that her bill doesn’t top House Democrats’ agenda. She noted the House Judiciary Committee, which would consider it, is focusing on wide oversight over the Trump administration, including the Mueller report. “We’re able to do two things at once,” she said, but added: “I know that you get in the queue.”

Majority Whip James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, said in an interview he thought H.R. 40 could pass by year’s end.

The reparations bill appears affixed to the Democratic presidential primary, for now at least, as candidates court black voters. There is scant public polling on reparations, but two polls in the past four years show most African-Americans in support and most whites opposed.

It isn’t a sure bet that black voters would be moved by pledges around reparations. Jacqueline Foster, a retired educator from Queens, N.Y., attended the Sharpton conference last week and was skeptical of the candidates. “They said what they think a black audience would want to hear,” she said.

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Friday, 24th May 2019
What Reparations For Slavery Might Look Like In 2019

by Patricia Cohen

If you’re surprised that the issue of reparations for black Americans has taken so long to resolve, blame the president. President Andrew Johnson.

As the Civil War wound down in 1865, Gen. William T. Sherman made the promise that would come to be known as “40 acres and a mule” — redistributing a huge tract of Atlantic coastline to black Americans recently freed from bondage. President Abraham Lincoln and Congress gave their approval, and soon 40,000 freedmen in the South had started to plant and build.

Within months of Lincoln’s assassination, though, President Johnson rescinded the order and returned the land to its former owners. Congress made another attempt at compensation, but Johnson vetoed it.

Now, in the early phase of the 2020 presidential campaign, the question of compensating black Americans for suffering under slavery and other forms of racial injustice has resurfaced. The current effort focuses on a congressional bill that would commission a study on reparations, a version of legislation first introduced in 1989.

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have declared their support, including Senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

The reparations issue raises profound moral, social and political considerations. Still, the economic nuts and bolts of such a program have gotten scant public attention:

Who would be paid? How much? Where would the money come from?

Through the decades, a handful of scholars have taken a shot at creating a road map. Here’s what has to be reckoned with.

When James Forman, a civil rights pioneer who later served briefly as the Black Panther Party’s foreign minister, demanded $500 million in reparations in his 1969 Black Manifesto, he grounded his argument in an indisputable fact:

Unpaid slave labor helped build the American economy, creating vast wealth that African-Americans were barred from sharing.

The manifesto called for white Christian churches and Jewish synagogues to pay for projects like a black university and a Southern land bank. “We have helped to build the most industrial country in the world,” it declared, at the same time that “racist white America has exploited our resources, our minds, our bodies, our labor.”

Another civil rights leader, Bayard Rustin, responded, “If my great-grandfather picked cotton for 50 years, then he may deserve some money, but he’s dead and gone and nobody owes me anything.”

The question of reparations, however, extends far beyond the roughly four million people who were enslaved when the Civil War started, as Ta-Nehisi Coates explained in an influential essay published in The Atlantic in 2014. Legalized discrimination and state-sanctioned brutality, murder, dispossession and disenfranchisement continued long after the war ended. That history profoundly handicapped black Americans’ ability to create and accumulate wealth as well as to gain access to jobs, housing, education and health care.

For every dollar a typical white household holds, a black one has 10 cents. It is this cumulative effect that justifies the payment of reparations to descendants of slaves long dead, supporters say.

“Equality is not likely to be obtained without some form of reparations,” David H. Swinton, an economist and former president of Benedict College, wrote in the 1990 collection “The Wealth of Races.”

Nearly 47 million Americans identified themselves as black or African-American in the latest census. A vast majority are descended from slaves, but others are more recent migrants. So who would qualify for a payment?

William A. Darity Jr., an economist at Duke University and a leading scholar on reparations, suggests two qualifying conditions: having at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States, and having identified oneself as African-American on a legal document for at least a decade before the approval of any reparations. The 10-year rule, he said, would help screen out anyone trying to cash in on a windfall.

According to these criteria, Oprah Winfrey, who has traced her DNA to slaves captured in West Africa in the early 19th century, would qualify. Former President Barack Obama, the son of a white American mother and a Kenyan father, would not. Mr. Darity estimates that roughly 30 million Americans would be eligible.

Tracing genealogy back to the slave-owning era is difficult. But the search begins by comparing the 1870 census, when freed slaves were first counted by name, with the one taken in 1860, when they weren’t. Other sources include military service and pension records, slave-ship manifests, and estate and inheritance documents.
As for taking account of current wealth, a reparations program could link potential payouts to income and asset levels.

Attaching a dollar figure to a program of reparations resembles a “Wheel of Fortune” spin, with amounts ranging from the piddling ($71.08 per recipient under Forman’s plan) to the astronomical ($17 trillion in total).

Over the decades, some economists have tried to come up with a quantifiable basis for a fair sum. Mr. Swinton, for example, estimated in 1983 that 40 to 60 percent of the difference between black and white income could be attributed to past and continuing discrimination, and put the figure at $500 billion.

Some economists evaluated labor’s share of the slave system’s profits in cotton and tobacco. Others have looked at what slaves would have earned if they had been paid wages plus interest, after subtracting housing and food costs. One study looked at 20th-century statistics, estimating how much less blacks earned because of decades of discrimination. Another examined the value of black wealth lost or destroyed after slavery ended, through practices like redlining that denied lending or insurance to African-American communities, or organized riots like the 1921 rampage that leveled the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, known as “Black Wall Street.”

A recurring theme has been to return to that first official action promising 40 acres and a mule. Sherman drew up his order after posing this directive to a group of black ministers and leaders: “State in what manner you think you can take care of yourselves.”

Mr. Darity has been mulling that question for years, and is writing a book on reparations with Kirsten Mullen, due out next year. He begins with the cost of an acre in 1865: about $10. Forty acres divided among a family of four comes to 10 acres per person, or about $100 for each of the four million former slaves. Taking account of compounding interest and inflation, Mr. Darity has put the present value at $2.6 trillion. Assuming roughly 30 million descendants of ex-slaves, he concluded it worked out to about $80,000 a person.

To get a sense of the scale, consider that the United States budget this year is $4.7 trillion.

Of course, varying any critical assumption can add or subtract billions or trillions of dollars.

Thomas Craemer, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut, used the same starting point — 40 acres and a mule — but a different method in a study published last year. He used the current average price of agricultural land and figured that 40 acres of farmland and buildings would amount to roughly $123,000. If all of the four million slaves counted in the 1860 census had been able to take advantage of that offer, it would have totaled more than $486 billion today — or about $16,200 for each descendant of slaves.

Compensation programs can take many forms. In the United States, after a congressional study, people of Japanese descent who were forced into internment camps during World War II received $20,000 in 1988 and a formal apology.

Since 1952, Germany has paid more than $70 billion in reparations through various programs, primarily to Jewish victims of the Nazi regime, and continues to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Payments vary from a lump sum distributed to individuals to a monthly pension based on years working in a slave labor camp. Money is also given to organizations to cover home care for older survivors or for grants. A small portion goes for research, education and documentation.

A reparations program in the United States could likewise adopt a single method or several at once. Families could get a one-time check, receive vouchers for medical insurance or college, or have access to a trust fund to finance a business or a home. Mr. Darity argues that “for both substantive and symbolic reasons, some important component must be direct payment to eligible recipients.”

Other scholars have emphasized different features. Roy L. Brooks, a law professor at the University of San Diego and the author of “Atonement and Forgiveness: A New Model for Black Reparations,” has reservations about what he calls the “settlement model,” a legalistic approach that looks backward to compensate victims for demonstrable financial losses. He prefers what he calls the “atonement model,” emphasizing longer-term investments in education, housing and businesses that build up wealth.

According to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, the median wealth of black households is $16,000, compared with $163,000 for whites. Reparations are not likely to eliminate the racial wealth gap, but could narrow it somewhat. Low-income families, with the fewest assets, would benefit the most.
The biggest economic objection is that any meaningful program would be unaffordable. Like other government spending, reparations would ultimately be paid for by some kind of tax or fee, or borrowing, say, through government bonds. Such a program would almost certainly require increasing the federal debt and be structured over time.

Those less worried about a growing deficit could argue that reparations would be a boon over the long run — lifting people out of poverty, and improving their earning potential and buying power.

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« Last Edit: May 26, 2019, 07:19:49 am by Battle »

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Re: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Hip-Hop and Being Praised by Toni Morrison
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2019, 09:32:59 am »
Was watching C-SPAN3 where Mr. Ta-Nehisi CoatesMr. Danny Glover & many others appeared before the Slavery Reparations House Judiciary Subcommittee this morning in support of Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee's House Bill, H.R. 40, the Commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans.

"If Thomas Jefferson matters, so does Sally Hemmings"

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Re: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Hip-Hop and Being Praised by Toni Morrison
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2019, 01:21:47 pm »
Friday, 21st June 2019
Twice denied the freedom he'd earned, black Revolutionary War hero from Maryland to be honored at last
by Jonathan M. Pitt

He fought with distinction, historians say, in two of this country's formative wars.

He was given a medal for valor by one of the world's great generals. He met a president and at least one president-to-be.

Yet James Robinson, who was born into slavery in Maryland in the mid-18th century, was denied his liberty for most of his life, and he never got the military honors he'd earned.

That is to change this weekend.

Robinson, an Eastern Shore native whose 1868 obituary described him as "loved by all and venerated by all," will be given a military funeral Saturday in his adopted hometown of Detroit.

Sponsored by two military legacy organizations, the event at Historic Elmwood Cemetery will include an honor guard, a flag presentation, speeches, a 21-gun salute and the dedication of two bronze emblems representing the conflicts in which he fought:

the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

A handful of surviving references to Robinson point to him as a hero's hero:

the Marquis de Lafayette pinned a gold French military medal of honor on him for his exploits at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, and he was in the thick of the combat that helped Gen. Andrew Jackson rout the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814.

But as one of the more than 5,000 black people who fought in the War for Independence, and several thousand who took up arms for the U.S. in the War of 1812, his deeds were mostly lost to history, as records on African American soldiers were spottily kept.

Worse, he fought in both wars on the understanding that afterward, he'd be given the opportunity to live as a free American citizen.

Instead, he returned home each time only to be sent back into the "most grievous bitter bondage" - slavery - in which he spent at least 77 of his 115 years.

One historian who helped unearth Robinson's story says it epitomizes the plight of thousands of black troops who fought for the U.S. in two centuries' worth of wars, only to return to a land that denied them the freedoms they had secured for the nation.

"What more can you do to serve your country and to secure your rights, to secure equal citizenship, than that man did?"

asks Maurice Barboza, the founding director of the National Mall Liberty Fund D.C., a nonprofit group that aims to build a monument in Washington to black veterans of the Revolutionary War.

It was two years ago that Barboza met Elijah Shalis, an official with the Michigan Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and the organizer of Saturday's event.

The two have drawn on sources - census reports, news items, a Boys' Life magazine article, a history of Elmwood, even a newly rediscovered 64-page memoir Robinson narrated in 1858 - to construct a portrait of a man who fought bravely, who became embittered at the treatment he received, and who retained a craving for freedom throughout an incredibly long life.

Details about his Maryland origins are sketchy.

His narrative says he was owned by a man named Francis de Shields - or Francis Shiel, according to a different source - a colonel in Gen. George Washington's Continental Army who brought Robinson into the service with him.

Owen Lourie, a historian with the Maryland State Archives, said he could find no mention of Robinson or De Shields in the archives, but the enlistment scenario was plausible.

"We know that soldiers brought their slaves with them, and a well-off gentleman would never be seen without his body servant," Lourie said.

A private in a Maryland light infantry regiment, Robinson would have been one of about 755 black soldiers - and 95 black Marylanders - historians say served in the Continental Army.

His narrative - authored with a ghost writer and under the name James Roberts - describes Robinson scalping Indians and taking part in skirmishes on the Eastern Shore.

Other accounts suggest he fought at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777 and at Yorktown, where the British surrendered in 1781.

At Yorktown, he's said to have charged up a British rampart and killed three men in hand-to-hand combat en route to overtaking the emplacement.

The victorious allied leader, Lafayette, pinned on Robinson a gold medal of valor by virtue of his authority as a French nobleman.

"That was extraordinary, because very few medals were given for service in the Revolutionary War," Shalis said, adding that the moment showed "the French, even then, were more tolerant of minorities."

De Shields had promised he would free Robinson after the war, but he died soon afterward.

His heirs sold the married war veteran to Calvin Smith, whose plantation was either in Louisiana or Mississippi.

Robinson described Smith's place as "a slaughter-house of human beings" and recalled being whipped so badly he "could not keep the vermin out of my flesh for weeks at a time."

"I will now confess that, could I have foreseen what heart-sickening ills awaited me in the future, I should have been strongly tempted to make my way to Canada," he added.

Robinson was still Smith's property in 1813 when Jackson swept through the area to enlist men of every background - slaves, free black men, privateers, Choctaw Indians - in advance of the British attack on New Orleans.

In Robinson's words, "Jackson came into the field, chose out the ones he wanted, and then addressed us thus:

'Had you not as soon go into the battle and fight, as to stay here in the cotton-field, dying and never die? If you will go, and the battle is fought and the victory gained on Israel's side, you shall be free.' This short speech seemed to us like divine revelation, and it filled our souls with buoyant expectations."

Robinson, then 61, went into battle, and he describes losing his left index finger - and reacting by "taking the heads off" six redcoats - as part of a victory in which "sixty or seventy or more of the colored men" were killed.

Afterward, he recalls, he requested his reward from Jackson.

"'Before a slave of mine should go free, I would put him in a barn and burn him alive,'" he quoted the future president as saying before returning him to Smith.

Robinson somehow obtained his freedom in the 1830s; the 1840 census lists him as a free man in Ohio.

He later became a Methodist minister and married a woman named Curtilda.

In Detroit, the couple lived on Lafayette Street.

They had two sons, one of whom fought for the Union in the Civil War.

His last known descendant, a granddaughter named Gertrude Robinson, died in Ohio in 1983.

Robinson's memoir also has him traveling to Washington in 1856, at 103, seeking a military pension.
According to the narrative, he met with President Franklin Pierce.

"He told me that I was nothing but goods and chattels, like a horse or a sheep," Robinson wrote,

"that my master had got the pension, and was still receiving it, or his heirs.

He said it would be a disgrace to take it from the white man and give it to the negro … 'When you fought that battle, you was your master's property.'"

Lourie advises that the narratives of former slaves, while valuable sources, "need to be read cautiously," as the accounts often come filtered through those who arranged for their publication, usually abolitionists with "their own points to make."

But to those who might find it hard to believe that a former slave could have met such influential figures, Barboza and Shalis say it's likely that Robinson did, in fact, know Lafayette - one Robinson obituary says the pair met again in 1824 - and that would have opened doors for the veteran.

Shalis assembled much of the timeline of Robinson's life as part of confirming his eligibility for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution and the Michigan Society of the War of 1812, the groups sponsoring Saturday's ceremony.

Doing that research was a bittersweet experience, he says, in that a great American came into view, one who never lost his determination to be free, no matter how cruelly the country he served treated him for most of his life.

Shalis believes that 151 years after Robinson's death, his tale has as much resonance as ever.

"If someone like Robinson, as a minority, was able to accomplish all he did in the early days of our country," he says,

"it shows there's no reason people should ever have been held back by prejudices. Those barriers need to come down."

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Re: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Hip-Hop and Being Praised by Toni Morrison
« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2019, 10:30:05 pm »
Monday, 8th July 2019
mcconnell's entire family were a bunch of good-for-nothing, dirty slavers is why he oppose reparations for African Americans
by Eli Rosenberg

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a direct descendant of two slave owners in his family line, according to an NBC report published Monday.

James McConnell and Richard Daley, two of the Kentucky Republican’s great-great-grandfathers, owned at least 14 slaves in Limestone County, Ala., NBC reported, citing 19th-century census records.

All but two of the slaves were female.

McConnell, who grew up in the area of Limestone County, has said he opposes reparations, the process of giving compensation to the descendants of slaves.

The idea of reparations has recently animated the political debate surrounding racial injustice.

"...and gettin' away with sh!t."

“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, when none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea,” he said in June before a House committee held hearings on the matter.

“We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We’ve elected an African American president.”

McConnell did not return a request for comment from The Washington Post.

NBC reports:

Slavery experts have stressed that descendants of slave owners should not be held personally responsible for the deeds of their forebears. But they have also argued that the families that descended from slave owners, like McConnell’s, are likely to have benefited from the labor of slaves that propped up farm families in earlier generations — a point made by many reparations supporters, who have said that descendants of slaves were never compensated for the economic benefit their forebears made to white families.

NBC reported it did not find any record of McConnell acknowledging his family’s history, including in his 2016 memoir, “The Long Game.”

The book mentions slavery twice, including a chapter about Barack Obama that calls it the country’s “original sin,” saying it was a “proud moment” when Obama was elected.

NBC reported that Daley, the father of McConnell’s great-grandmother, Othella Daley, owned five female slaves between the ages of 2 and 22, according to the 1850 Census.

Four of the slaves were marked as having escaped, NBC reported.

In the next census in 1860, he was reported to own five slaves, three men and two women.

James McConnell was listed as having owned four slaves in the 1860 Census, all of whom escaped.

None of the slaves were identified by name.

A number of contenders for the Democratic slot for president in 2020 have come out in support of reparations.

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Re: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Hip-Hop and Being Praised by Toni Morrison
« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2019, 07:35:49 pm »
Thursday, 15th August 2019
If black families had white wealth, the economy would be $1.5 trillion bigger

by Irena Ivanova

The typical black family in America has one-tenth the wealth of the typical white family—and that gap has been widening since 2004.

Closing the racial wealth gap would add $1.5 trillion to the entire U.S. economy, according to a new report from McKinsey.

"This is not something that affects only one community," the report's author said.

The typical white family in America has 10 times the wealth of a typical black family—a figure that has barely changed in two decades and has actually widened in the current economic expansion.

This persistent, and growing, disparity has become a pressing issue for Democrats, with four presidential hopefuls making their case in June at the Black Economic Alliance Forum and a House Judiciary subcommittee debating reparations for slavery just this summer.

But it's also infiltrating corporate America.

The consulting firm McKinsey this week issued an estimate of just how much the historic and current discrimination against African-Americans is hurting the broader economy.

That estimate:

Somewhere between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion.

If black families were as wealthy as white ones, in other words, America's economy would benefit from the addition of "between 4 and 6 percent of the projected GDP in 2028," according to the report.

This gap shows itself in many ways.

The most valuable possessions the bulk of Americans own is their homes.

But black Americans, who were kept out of homeownership by local and even federal policy through much of the 20th century, are much less likely to own their homes today.

When they do own, black Americans disproportionately own houses in poorer neighborhoods with lower home values and get less favorable mortgage terms than white Americans.

"The racial wealth gap is a reflection of long-term policies and practices by both the public and private sectors that have systematically disadvantaged black, Latinx and Native communities in favor of white Americans," Nina Banks, a professor of economics at Bucknell University, said via email.

As the Atlantic reported this week, federally sanctioned farm policies throughout the 20th century dispossessed 1 million black farmers of their land.

Black people today have more college debt, less access to banking services and lower pay than their white counterparts.

All this contributes to the state of affairs in which the typical white family is worth about $171,000, while the typical black family is worth $17,600.

And because the wealth (or poverty) Americans are born into determine their earning power, wealth inequity carries across to incomes, with white Americans earning $1 million more over a working lifetime than their black counterparts.

This doesn't hurt just black Americans, McKinsey said, but creates an overall drag on the economy.

The upside is that reducing that inequity is likely to be an overall positive on the economy, said Jason Wright, a partner at McKinsey and one of the authors of the report.

"That's not just the money in black pockets, that's the entire economy — dollars in the hands of African-Americans, being distributed to people of all types, all businesses, all over the country," he said.

The fact that an elite corporate consultancy is taking up an inequality issue long relegated to nonprofits and community activist groups has caused a bit of surprise.

"It's an interesting moment that a group that most of us would think of as pretty mainstream and not having any particular agenda on this issue is highlighting it," said Sam Brooke, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center's economic justice division.

"The fact that they're taking it up shows how nonthreatening and beneficial to everyone these proposals can be."

However, Brooke went on, closing the gap won't happen without targeted policies—something unlikely to happen in the current administration, he said.

"We continue to see policies that are put in place that continue to have a disparate effect on black Americans," he said, including efforts to restrict access to public housing for people who have criminal convictions, as well as to make it harder to bring cases of housing discrimination.
"This is also an issue that government needs to get behind on. It's not something that we could look to the private sector and say, if only there were access to good [interest] rates, we would fix this."

Banks, the Bucknell professor, said it was "noteworthy that the issue of the racial wealth gap has been taken up by a mainstream consultancy," but added that the central concern should be on achieving racial equity—not economic benefits.

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Re: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Hip-Hop and Being Praised by Toni Morrison
« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2020, 10:05:56 am »
Friday, 17th January 2020 (originally published Tuesday, 5th November 2019)
This 89-Year-Old White Woman Still Receives Civil War Pension
by Moriah Gill

To this day there is a woman in Florida collecting Civil War pension.

She is the only individual to still receive any. 

Irene Triplett is 89 years old and she is the daughter of a United States Civil War veteran.

Irene Triplett is the daughter of private Mose Triplett (At times documented as Moses Triplett), who fought both a Union and Confederate soldier during the American Civil War.

He started off as a confederate soldier in the 53rd North Carolina Infantry in 1862 at the age of 16.

He deserted directly before the Battle of Gettysburg after escaping from a hospital.

He switched to fighting for the Union when he ended up in Tennessee the year after.

Irene Triplett was Mose Triplett’s daughter from his second wife, whom he married in 1924, Elida Hall.

Elida was about 50 years younger than her husband.

As drastic as that may sound it was commonplace in the twenties.

Irene, born in 1930, wasn’t even alive until after the Civil War had ended. 

When her father died in 1938, Irene was only eight years old.

Mose’s surviving wife and daughter both suffered from mental disabilities and did not support themselves.

The pair lived in government and private nursing homes in North Carolina until Elida, Irene’s mother, died in the late sixties.

Irene’s most recent move was in 2013 after breaking her hip.

She packed up and moved into a skilled nursing facility.

Since Triplett is the daughter of a veteran, she receives a pension check from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This is a direct effect of legislation that Abraham Lincoln passed offering confederate pension to those who served as confederate soldiers; something already offered to union veterans.

Irene is among the fewer than 100 pensioners from 19th-century wars.

She is the sole receiver, however of pension checks from the Civil War.

Her monthly checks from the federal government total to $73.13, roughly $880 per year.

The Civil War may have ended before she was even alive, but she’s a reminder that we must always pay the piper or, in this case, pensioners.

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Re: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Hip-Hop and Being Praised by Toni Morrison
« Reply #9 on: November 23, 2020, 03:13:11 pm »
Monday, 23rd November 2020
HBO Adapts Ta-Nehisi Coates' Best-Selling Book Into A Movie
heard on Morning Edition, NPR

Our critic says the movie — like Coates' book'Between the World and Me' — reveals the story of Black survival within the ugliness of America's white supremacy.


HBO is out with its adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates' best-selling book "Between The World And Me."

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's a story of Black survival within white supremacy.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Here is the true magic of acting - when a master performer turns a finely tuned script into a powerful personal experience. Consider Joe Morton delivering these lines from the very first chapter of "Between The World And Me."


JOE MORTON: (Reading) Son, I'm telling you this in your 15th year. I'm telling you because this is the year that you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes. You know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot for browsing a department store.

DEGGANS: Like the book, HBO's spellbinding film begins as a message from the author to his young son, a talk that too many parents of color must have these days. Here, Morton describes the boy crying after learning that the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., escaped prosecution.


MORTON: (Reading) I did not tell you that it would be OK because I never have believed that it would be OK. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me, that this is your body and that you must find some way to live within the all of it.

DEGGANS: Living with all of it is an apt description for the message of "Between The World And Me." It alternates between observation and instruction on surviving the all of being Black in a world that seeks to dominate and often extinguish Black bodies. The film unfolds like a tone poem - dreamily lyrical in some moments and brutally vivid in others. It features archival footage of icons like Angela Davis protesting the Vietnam War...


ANGELA DAVIS: I just want to know what war people out here are celebrating. What is there to celebrate?

DEGGANS: ..And connects with images of Davis speaking in the now, reading Coates' words about his skepticism of grade school lessons on the civil rights movement.


DAVIS: (Reading) I sense the schools were drugging us with false morality. Why were only our heroes nonviolent?

DEGGANS: Director Kamilah Forbes also developed a stage production of Coates' book for the Apollo Theater in 2018, and she delivers a visual masterpiece here. Clips from "The Brady Bunch" outline the mythical promise of suburbia; footage of Amy Cooper lying to a 911 operator about a Black man threatening her in Central Park shows the unexpected dangers. As the film turns to Coates' writing on Prince Carmen Jones, a Howard University student killed by police, Phylicia Rashad reads the words of his mother.


PHYLICIA RASHAD: (Reading) When he turned 23, I bought him a Jeep with a big purple bow on it, and I can still see him there saying, thank you, Mom. And that was the Jeep he was killed in.

DEGGANS: And then comes Oprah Winfrey, delivering what feels like the film's mission statement.


OPRAH WINFREY: (Reading) Here's what I'd like for you to know. In America, it is traditional to destroy the Black body. It is heritage. There is no uplifting way to say this.

DEGGANS: HBO's "Between The World And Me" is a meditation on the stubborn spirit of a people who thrive in a world too often determined to erase them. It's a fitting resource in a year where names like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have forced us to seek out Coates' wisdom yet again. I'm Eric Deggans.


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