Mitch McConnell Has Thoughts About Reparations. They Are Humble, Generous Thoughts Just Kidding!
June 19 is also known as "Juneteenth," the day in 1865 when former slaves in Texas learned, a couple years late, that they were free. The House will mark the occasion with its first hearing in a decade on the subject of reparations. It's a complex issue. How does America even start to make good on centuries of racial discrimination, including but not limited to slavery, and ... wait, why are we talking to Mitch McConnell about this?
McConnell is literally the devil incarnate but without honor, style, or a neck. Reporters asked the Senate majority leader about reparations yesterday, and he seemed to think we were all fully reparated already.
Republicans had a hissy fit when Rep. Ilhan Omar referred to 9/11 as that time "some people did something." Now McConnell yadda-yaddas slavery as "something that happened 150 years ago." He also feels it necessary to remind us that no one who was around then is alive now. Thanks, senator, we get that vampires don't exist.
MCCONNELL: 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.
Barack Obama was part of black people's settlement? We love the brother but we'd still have preferred the 40 acres. Always go with land. Besides, didn't Obama also save white people's asses when he rescued the economy George W. Bush cratered? He wasn't just "our" president, although McConnell and other Republicans certainly treated him that way. Now, McConnell wants to claim Obama as evidence of how far we've come? He didn't even take Obama's phone call when he won re-election. We never expected him to roll over for the first black president, but he didn't have to make his life hell, either. There was a middle ground.
State-sanctioned discrimination continued well after slavery ended. McConnell acknowledges this when he refers to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The senator was alive at this time, because he is very old. He should remember Jim Crow, segregation, and separate but (un)equal.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is scheduled to testify today before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. His now legendary "The Case for Reparations," which appeared in The Atlantic, was so compelling that David Frum's only real rebuttal was "well, what about the Obama daughters?" (It wasn't much of a rebuttal.) Coates didn't just talk about slavery, which sucked, but also the following decades of Jim Crow and racist housing policies. Martin Luther King himself addressed how the government openly aided white people during the 20th Century while actively hobbling black people.
MCCONNELL: I think we're always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for [slavery], and I don't think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it.
The focus on slavery is a hand wave. No one's talking just about slavery. However, the descendants of slavers are collectively better off than descendants of the enslaved. How'd that happen? Accumulated wealth over generations is something Republicans love and fight to keep from being taxed at a reasonable level. It's also why there is such a tremendous wealth gap between black and white families. It's not just because Jared Kushner is brilliant.
Elizabeth Warren, who is awesome, has plans on top of plans directed at addressing this gap.
McConnell also pooh-poohed reparations because "it would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate." Yeah, that is a stumper. Maybe you start with black people, Mitch. Aside from the stray Rachel Dolezal, we're not that difficult to locate and identify.
MCCONNELL: We've had waves of immigrants as well who have come to the country and experienced dramatic discrimination of one kind or another.
We're not falling for that banana in the tailpipe. We're not going to play oppression Olympics. America has fucked over multiple minority groups in multiple ways and we all deserve our cut. As Warren says, "Sometimes, you just got to do what is right." We agree, even if McConnell would know nothing about what's right.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.