Thursday, May 22, 2014

In descending order of importance

-I suppose as a not-black American, I'm supposed to have a contrarian take on Ta-Nehisi Coates's "The Case for Reparations." But from what I could tell, reading it quickly late last night, it seems quite reasonable. Yes, other groups in the States, including my own, have faced racism, not just abroad but here. But anti-black racism is the racism in this country; if you doubted this, a good place to begin would be Coates's article. Or N.J. Transit. The only objection I could see having to the overall idea is if, on the whole (as much as this can ever be assessed of any group), African-Americans themselves find the idea off-putting. Anyway, curious to know what WWPD's readers, whatever your origins, thought of the piece.

-Banana Republic is for peasants. This was the not-all-that-between-the-lines message of Alexandra Jacobs's Critical Shopper column. I remember a scandal a while back, when a different Critical Shopper fat- and class-shamed J.C. Penney. Here, it's a bit of a different angle - Banana Republic is, after all, a somewhat expensive store. How expensive I couldn't say - like Jacobs, I haven't shopped there in years, but from what she writes, my guess is, she didn't just switch over to Uniqlo when that cheaper-and-better chain became a possibility. (Actually, we sort of know this.) But Jacobs's grievance seems to be with - for lack of a better term - mall stores:

“The Heritage label: what does that mean?” I asked one associate, who was talking smack about her boyfriend as she listlessly folded a stack of capri pants by the so-called concierge desk. 
“What do you mean?” she said with a blank look.
Horrors! That, and there's vanity-sizing. Of course, the question at this point is, compared to what? At this point, it's all mall stores, many lower-end than BR but others higher-. Basically anywhere you're going to get day-to-day clothing in Manhattan has a branch in at least one New Jersey mall. If you're a bit more fashion-y, maybe you choose J.Crew or Zara over Banana Republic or Ann Taylor, but these are the stores in even the most fashion-y parts of New York (ahem, lower Fifth). So this isn't even a YPIS of Jacobs - I'm genuinely curious where, if not stores like Banana Republic, anyone shops for most items.

-A rabbit has taken up residence on the patch of grass outside the living room. Squirrels are in mating season. I don't think the poodle can handle this.


caryatis said...

Re: Coates, I skimmed the thing, because come on, slavery and lynchings are not news, nor particularly interesting. He devotes pages to rehashing what everyone already knows, and dismisses the crucial point, which is the practicality of reparations, in one paragraph.

If the reparations money is going to come from the government, we can't afford it. Paying it would mean increasing the national debt, which harms the economy, and guess who feels harm to the economy first? Poor blacks. If the reparations money is going to come from whites, good luck getting that bill passed, and what about all the people who "identify as" black despite being genetically 50%+ white?

Plus, why would we think that a random check out of the blue would actually make blacks better off over the long term? People don't do very well with unexpected windfalls, see: 90% of lottery winners, and poor people are especially bad at managing money.

Non-money reparations are another possibility, but much harder to execute. Attempts to improve public schools, welfare, and affirmative action already disproportionately benefit blacks. Not to say these programs are successful, but I see no reason why a new explicitly race-based program would be more successful.

Not to mention Coates's failure to address the public interest in racial harmony (more important, if you ask me, than some abstract interest in justice.) After any feasible reparations, it's hard to believe the longstanding black sense of grievance would disappear. And white antagonism to blacks would skyrocket. We don't want race riots.

Phoebe said...

Ah, the debate begins!

"slavery and lynchings are not news, nor particularly interesting"

There's knowing and there's knowing. My impression is that many not-black Americans don't get the continuity (slavery to Jim Crow to N.J. Transit passengers not sitting next to black men), nor the difference in degree of anti-black racism in this country vs. other forms of bigotry.

It's possible to read Coates's piece as less a call to actual reparations (note that he has no concrete plan in mind), and more a provocative call to acknowledgement of African-American history. As in, maybe the answer would be keeping the same sorts of programs/costs, but being more explicit about the racial injustice they're meant to remedy. Or maybe it would just be a case of how struggles in black America are looked at by outsiders.

Re: your last point, one thing I was thinking about, after posting this, was the analogy to the Holocaust and German reparations to Jews/Israel. In a sense, that worked out, but in another, not so much. Jews and Israel stand accused of playing the victim, of profiting from victimhood, etc. That pretty much *is* contemporary anti-Semitism. So, sticking with Coates's analogy, if African-Americans got reparations, there might be some initial earnest agreement (at least on the left) that this is righting a wrong, but it would eventually lead to still-greater resentment-racism.

David Schraub said...

Re: Phoebe's last point , while anti-Semites adopt this rhetoric (Holocaust reparations are an example of Jew playing the victim), I think it's very difficult to actually buy reparations as the cause of anti-Semitism so much as a conveniently available cloth which -- were it not present -- would be replaced by something else. We don't have a counterfactual for Holocaust reparations, but we do for "Jews are hated because of Israel." When Israel is present, people hold Jews in contempt because of how horribly racist they are for having their own state. When Israel is not present, people hold Jews in contempt because of how stunted they are as malformed people, cosmopolitan and rootless. Even though the rhetoric shifted, the fact that anti-Semitism proceeded without really missing a beat pre- versus post-Israel is indicative that Israel's existence doesn't really have a causal role.

So to with racism, and caryatis' post inadvertantly gets to why. Reparations would harm "racial harmony"? But we're in the midst of a multi-decade experiment of not having reparations, and racial resentments remain stubbornly persistant. I have no doubt that were we to have reparations they'd be blamed for racial disharmony going forward, but that doesn't actually establish the causal link. See also people blaming affirmative action for people not trusting the "real" qualification of blacks, as if in the pre-AA days black applicants were seen as prized catches whose merits were unimpeachable.

caryatis said...

" Reparations would harm "racial harmony"? But we're in the midst of a multi-decade experiment of not having reparations, and racial resentments remain stubbornly persistent."

...But they could get a lot worse. We don't have race riots anymore.

David Schraub said...

Well, we do sometimes. Crown Heights 1991, Watts 1992, Oakland 2009. But in any event, once again, race riots occurred just fine without reparations. It would be strange to attribute any future ones to reparations.

caryatis said...

No doubt hypothetical future race riots would have a complex set of causes, as in the past. But the difficulty of proving causation is not the issue.

My point is, given that race relations could be worse, we should avoid policies likely to make them a lot worse (and whose benefit is likely to be ultra short-term). Common sense tells us that non-black people will get pretty angry when they see they have to pay a special reparations tax. Especially at a time of widespread resentment for the government, and when people don't feel they have any money to spare, and especially since everyone from Latinos to Asians to Jews to gays to white ethnics has their own story of oppression to tell.

(The riots you refer to were started by blacks. We haven't had white-initiated race riots such as the 1919 Chicago one or the 1900 New Orleans one for a while.)

Phoebe said...

Point taken, David, re: the continuity of anti-Semitism, and its tendency to reappear in new forms. And yes, the relevant comparison seems more to be "Israel" than "Holocaust reparations," given that Israel's popularly (if not quite accurately) understood as reparations for WWII.

But even if some hatreds are, in a sense, eternal, they do ebb and flow. That, and there's something potentially more dangerous about a bigotry grounded in resentment than one grounded in a feeling of superiority.

In the end, though, I'm not even sure how much it matters whether we're talking about concrete reparations or a reckoning. Resentment seems to come mostly from the mere sense that one is asked to account for an injustice along these lines.

Which brings us back to Caryatis's point - "everyone from Latinos to Asians to Jews to gays to white ethnics has their own story of oppression to tell." Now that identity advocacy has so expanded beyond the black-white divide, it's more difficult to convey what makes anti-black racism in this country *the* bigotry. Particularly to those who've arrived recently, who've dealt with other forms of bigotry abroad, and who don't immediately see how they could be benefitting from white or non-black privilege, or any sort of privilege, really. It's not that this case can't be made - I think Coates made it! - but it's difficult.

Ponder Stibbons said...

Online shopping. I have never visited the physical stores of most of the brands I have clothing from.

Miss Self-Important said...

I LOVED that Banana Republic review and sent to it all my friends. It was so bad it was good. That is all.

Phoebe said...

Ponder Stibbons,

I want to do this but find it inefficient for anything where fit is important. If I see clothes in person, I can immediately eliminate much of what would have looked good online. In the store, I can figure out what has potential and try whatever it is on in multiple sizes.


It was pretty bad-good, fair enough.