Ta-Nehisi Coates On Biden, Bernie, Kamala And Reparations

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates participates in the first-ever theatrically staged reading of his prize-winning book “Between the World and Me” at the Apollo Theater on Monday, April 2, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Donald Traill/Invision/AP)

NJournalist and New York Times bestselling author Ta-Nehisi Coates never thought he’d see a Black president in his lifetime.

Then he says he underestimated the response activist groups and the left wing of the Democratic Party would have to the Trump administration.
Now he’s inspired by the pressure they have been able to exert. He’s less pessimistic.

“I wouldn’t have predicted that we’d even be talking about reparations, right now,” Coates said during a New York Intelligencer interview.

“Trump is in the White House, dude,” Coates added. “Old man white supremacist is in the White House. The Democratic Party is as far left right now as it’s ever been in my lifetime. If we’re not gonna talk about reparations now, then we’re never going to talk about it.

The point of reparations, Coates said, “is to destroy white supremacy, not displace its emphasis.”

In his book, “The Case for Reparations,” Coates wrote, “What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.”

The Black Lives Matter movement has influenced how mainstream Democrats talk about race, and how they approach questions of criminal justice, Coates said.

Here are some of Coates’ views on reparations and other issues among some leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates:


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Bernie Sanders

Sen. Sanders has hand-waved reparations away “like it’s nothing,” Coates said. Sander’s attitude is problematic when he says, “’I think there are better ways of dealing with (reparations) than writing a check,’ … especially to those who have had their checks taken from them,” Coates said. However Coates acknowledges that Sanders’ candidacy for president in 2016 was an inspiration:

“One of the things I thought that was so exciting about 2016, when Bernie ran, was like, ‘Yo, okay, the imagination’s expanded now. There’s shit on the table that I never thought was going to be on the table. We’ll fight for it.’”

With reparations more central to the 2020 Democratic campaigns, it’s different this time around. “I think it’s fair to question whether Bernie, and more importantly the people around him, even understand the illness which they think they can treat through class-exclusive solutions,” Coates said.

Joe Biden

Biden is really popular right now among black voters, Coates said. Like Sen. Kamala Harris, he embraced some version of “tough on crime liberalism” earlier in his career and that could be problematic for him in the run-up to the 2020 election. Biden led the charge for expanding mandatory minimum sentencing throughout the 1980s, and co-authored President Bill Clinton’s crime bill in the 1990s.

“I think Biden has more than just criminal-justice baggage when it comes to race,” Coates said. “Biden said, ‘My goal is to lock Willie Horton up.’ He’s literally on the record making the case for why his crime bill is tough …
This was actually an attempt to get to the right of Republicans.”

Biden is defending his record on civil rights after The Washington Post revisited a 1975 interview in which the then-senator opposed slavery reparations and school busing.

Kamala Harris

Her reparations talk has been vague and unspecific, Coates said. He also can’t forget how she threatened to prosecute and incarcerate the parents of kids who skipped school.

“The idea of threatening mothers — and in most cases, because of how the families were set up, it was gonna be mothers, minority black and brown mothers — with jail, under the notion that you ultimately want to help them? I find that chilling,” Coates said. “… it sits in a line with … the punitive aspects of the state, under the notion that it’s actually going to help black people. Whenever people start talking about that, I get worried.”



About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubai Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.