Here’s a really interesting conversation on the Remix with Dr. James Peterson with Dr. Adolph Reed, one of the most prescient, brilliant commentators on left-wing politics, race, and activism. I highly recommend you listen to it; it’s less than a half hour.
I don’t agree with Dr. Reed on everything. In particular, I’m much less critical of the #BlackLivesMatter protests than he is. I am typically annoyed by left-wing criticisms of actually-existing protest movements in favor of some theoretical better protest movements. We’ve got people in the streets, doing real mass protest actions in response to immense injustice, and that’s inspiring to me. But if anyone has credibility to criticize, it’s Dr. Reed, who has not only vast academic background on these issues but a long history of street-level organizing and activism. A few thoughts.
1. I am pro-reparations because I think that American racial inequality is fundamentally economic in nature, first and foremost, and even those aspects of inequality that are not first-order economic are perpetuated by black America’s lack of economic power. Cutting checks to black people would do more to defeat structural racism (and improve quality of life) than most other reforms. However, as Dr. Reed himself is, in the most basic sense of reparations as payment for historical crimes, I’m agnostic. The means testing that genealogy-based reparations would require, as Dr. Peterson mentions, would be incredibly onerous, would leave out some black people who surely suffer from structural disadvantage, and cause enormous unhappiness. In contrast, broader-based social democratic reforms that redistribute wealth in a variety of ways are likely far more politically possible (even if they seem remote right now) and would likely have equally beneficial results for black America. So I favor reparations in the sense that I think it’s just and right if the government cuts checks to black Americans, but only as part of a larger sense in which I think redistributing wealth is a key component of moral and economic progress.
2. I think that pop culture is inherently political, and there’s all kinds of political resonances and lessons that can be drawn from pop culture. But as Dr. Reed suggests, there is a kind of made-up quality about cyclical pop culture political battles that distorts and exhausts. Iggy Azalea vs. Azealia Banks is not politics; it’s a politics-like substance that mostly serves to steal attention and energy away from real political and racial issues.
3. The analogy of certain kinds of political practice, and particularly social media politics, with kayfabe is brilliant.