Divide and Conquer Against The Reparations Movement

In a prior Medium article I pointed out that recently it appears as though reparations has become an issue that is being used to divide African people. That particular article seems even more relevant to me now. After I finished watching the hearings I really began to see how the two main reparations movements are being maneuvered against each other and how this is hindering the reparations struggle as a whole. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) and the American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) movement have been engaging in a back and forth over the issue of reparations for several months now, but after watching the hearing I understand more than ever the importance of building a united front on the reparations issues because those who oppose reparations can and will exploit differences among reparations organizations in an attempt to derail the entire effort. I would argue that this exploitation is already taking place between N’COBRA and ADOS.

When it was announced that Danny Glover and Ta-Nehisi Coates would be speaking at the hearing, they were immediately criticized by people within the ADOS movement. Antonio Moore recorded a video in which he criticized Coates and Glover. Professor Black Truth went so far as to call these two sellouts.

I didn’t understand why there was such a hostile response. Coates helped to bring national attention to the reparations discussion with his piece from 2014 titled the “Case for Reparations.” Selecting Coates was an understandable choice because of the national attention that he garnered on the reparations issue from that piece. Carnell and Moore have a sizeable social media following, but they don’t have the mainstream recognition that Coates has in the national reparations discussion. I don’t agree with all of Coates views, but he is someone who firmly supports reparations and he demonstrated as much when he spoke at the hearing.

As for Danny Glover; Moore tried to dismiss him as an actor, but we also have to remember that Glover is a political activist as well and has been one for several decades. Glover has also been involved in the reparations discussion for several years as well. I am not suggesting that Glover was the ideal selection for a hearing of this nature, but he is someone who has been involved in this cause. This clearly was not the same as when the Obama administration brought in rappers like Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj to discuss his My Brother’s Keeper initiative. Glover may not necessarily be a scholar who has done detailed research on the issue and has all of the data required to support a case for reparations, but this is a cause which he is passionate about.

What was especially puzzling to me is somehow leading up to the hearing there was more criticism for Coates and Glover from those in the ADOS camp than there was for Burgess Owens and Coleman Hughes, the two Black men who went to the hearing to speak against reparations. I understand completely that Democrats have not been fighting hard enough for reparations and that the HR40 bill which Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee introduced isn’t even a true reparations bill. Rather, it is a bill to initiate the study of reparations. But it seems rather strange to me that a movement which purports to be fighting for reparations has such strong criticisms for those who also support the reparation. In my previously mentioned Medium article I pointed out that Roland Martin is someone who has defended the idea of reparations, yet he has received a lot of criticism from Tariq Nasheed and others in the ADOS movement.

I am not sure what the ADOS movement thinks it will accomplish by criticizing those who also support reparations for Black Americans, but the reality that ADOS needs to confront is that it simply cannot afford to alienate itself from others in the reparations fight. Rapper Talib Kweli is among those that have been targeted by the ADOS movement, and he too supports reparations. The question is why does ADOS appear to have stronger criticisms for those who support reparations than for those who work against it?

N’COBRA has been working with John Conyers to get this bill passed for several decades, but the support simply is not there in Congress. The hearing was a nice gesture and N’COBRA’s efforts were recognized at the hearing, but the reality is that N’COBRA simply does not have the support that it needs to accomplish its goals and never has. Yvette Carnell, in particular, has been very dismissive of N’COBRA’s work over the decades. I think such a dismissive approach is somewhat unfair, especially given that ADOS is in a similar situation as N’COBRA in terms of lacking strong political support for its efforts.

Like N’COBRA, ADOS is trying to use the legislative process to get their vision of a reparations bill passed. Unlike N’COBRA, however, ADOS does not have the same political influence and political connections, which is why Yvette Carnell has complained that she and Antonio Moore were not invited to the reparations hearings. In the Tweet shown above Carnell asked: “What work?” At present, N’COBRA has at least done enough work to be part of the Congressional discussion on reparations. The co-founders of the ADOS movement may have built a following for themselves on social media, but they simply do not have the political connections that N’COBRA has built up over the years, nor do they have the same level of national recognition as Ta-Nehisi Coates. In short, there is not real political power behind ADOS, so at present their criticisms of N’COBRA are empty because ADOS really is not in a position to do much better than what N’COBRA has been able to do thus far.

The co-founders of ADOS clearly want to be in the position that N’COBRA is in, which is having a direct connection to people in Congress and being directly included in this discussion. In the video below, an ADOS supporter confronts Rep. G.K. Butterfield to suggest that Moore and Carnell (the leaders of ADOS) be included in the reparations discussion. I also wish to point out here that Rep. Butterfield is someone with Bermudan ancestry. I mention this because the ADOS movement, particularly Tariq Nasheed, has a habit of criticizing Black Americans for having Caribbean ancestry, yet the video below shows that the ADOS movement needs the support of people like Rep. Butterfield to accomplish its aims.

As I noted before, ADOS has worked to alienate itself from those in the reparations movement that do have the political connections that ADOS seeks to establish. ADOS has criticized Danny Glover, Coates, N’COBRA, and even Dr. Claud Anderson who has also been on the frontlines of the reparations issue for many years as well and has also spoken before Congress on this issue. ADOS has especially been critical of Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee.

In typical ADOS fashion, Tariq Nasheed has even attempted to use Rep. Lee’s Jamaican ancestry as a point of attack against her. My question is of all of the people in the House that Tariq could criticize, why he is going after one of the few who actually supports reparations? I am not saying that Rep. Lee is perfect, but if not her then who else in the House is willing to take up this issue? I am not sure if Tariq himself is planning to run for office so that he can push for his own reparations bill as a Congressman. In other words, the ADOS criticisms of Rep. Lee are also empty criticisms because ADOS is not able to identify an alternative. I am not suggesting that the ADOS movement should accept Rep. Lee’s bill without question or criticism, but I just don’t see the strategy behind criticizing the one politician who is working to push through any sort of reparations bill.

Given how strongly supporters of the ADOS movement have spoken against immigrants, perhaps the best way to ensure that the ADOS movement does not support a reparations bill is by placing a Jamaican to co-sponsor that bill. Of course, the bill itself is not an actual reparations bill. The HR40 bill is not an actual reparations bill, but a bill meant to initiate a study into the issue of reparations. Nevertheless, what alternative does the ADOS movement have at the moment in terms of any sort of reparations legislation? Who else in Congress is sponsoring a reparations bill?

We have to be honest about the fact that trying to pass a reparations bill through Congress is a very difficult struggle, especially given the current political climate. Republicans clearly oppose reparations for slavery, which was clearly articulated by Mitch McConnell’s remarks about reparations. At present the Republicans are in control of the Senate, so if a reparations bill were to pass through the House it would be defeated in the Senate. I also doubt that President Donald Trump would actually sign a reparations bill into law if one ever reached his desk. The two current frontrunners among the Democratic candidates — Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden — have also expressed opposition to reparations. They aren’t the only Democrats to express opposition to reparations. Rep. Alexander Ocasio-Cortez, who is multiracial, has attempted to confuse the issue by asking “who is black?”

Some have rightfully criticized this as an attempt to erase Blackness in America, but on a deeper level we should understand this as Rep. Ocasio-Cortez employing some of the same tactics that have been used to mask racism in many Latin American nations, such as Brazil. The logic being that in a country where everyone is multiracial, there are no Black people and therefore no racism. This is one of the reasons why Brazil has professed itself to be a “racial democracy” in spite of the racial oppression that Afro-Brazilians endure. I am not suggesting that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is arguing that there is no racism, but she is employing the tactic of using multiracialism to dismiss legitimate justice claims by Black people by suggesting that identifying who is Black is a difficult task. In fact, it is easier in America than most places because of America’s history with the “one-drop” rule which has ensured that anyone with visible African ancestry was subjected to racial discrimination.

Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker have expressed support for reparations, but there is some question regarding how far their support for reparations goes. For example, Booker, who also spoke at the hearing, has discussed introducing the Senate version of the House’s HR40 bill. As I noted before, HR40 is not a reparations bill. Harris also supports HR40 for the purpose of studying the question of reparations, but Harris has refused to take a position on how reparations should be paid out.

There is also the matter of public opinion. The polls show that the majority of Americans oppose the idea of reparations. As many as one-third of African Americans also oppose reparations — a stat which Hughes referenced at the hearing. There isn’t just significant political opposition, but the public opinion is against reparations as well. Divisions within the reparations movement will only serve to make the fight for reparations more difficult than it already is.

As a Pan-Africanist I don’t advocate for unity among African people for the sake of doing so. I do so because disunity among African people has always been one of the tactics which Europeans have used to oppress us and to halt our advancement. The latest push for reparations is also the latest example of why unity is important. ADOS and N’COBRA both want to see some form of reparations legislation passed, but it is becoming apparent that individually neither movement has the political power to do so.

Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store