2020 Democratic hopefuls embrace new meaning of reparations
By ERRIN HAINES WHACK
AP National Writer
Tuesday, February 26
Several Democratic presidential candidates are embracing reparations for the descendants of slaves — but not in the traditional sense.
Over the past week, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro spoke of the need for the U.S. government to reckon with and make up for centuries of stolen labor and legal oppression. But instead of backing the direct compensation of African-Americans for the legacy of slavery, the Democratic candidates are talking about using tax credits and other subsidies.
Long defined as some type of direct payment to former slaves and their descendants, the shifting definition of reparations comes as White House hopefuls seek to solidify their ties with African-Americans whose support will be crucial to winning the Democratic nomination. But it risks prompting both withering criticism from Republicans and a shrug from black voters and activists if the proposals are seen as an empty gesture that simply renames existing policy ideas as reparations.
“Universal programs are not specific to the injustices that have been inflicted on African-Americans,” said Duke University economist William Darity, a veteran advocate of reparations. “I want to be sure that whatever is proposed and potentially enacted as a reparations program really is a substantive and dramatic intervention in the patterns of racial wealth inequality in the United States — not something superficial or minor that is labeled as reparations and then politicians say the national responsibility has been met.”
Montague Simmons of the Movement for Black Lives, which has pushed for reparations, said the debate is “not just cash payments.”
But “unless we’re talking about something that has to be systemic and transfers power to the community, it’s not likely going to be what we would consider reparations,” he said.
For now, that’s not how most Democratic presidential contenders are talking about reparations.
Harris has proposed monthly payments to qualified citizens of any race in the form of a tax credit. Warren has called for universal child care that would guarantee the benefit from birth until a child enters school. Families with income less than 200 percent of the poverty line would get free access and others would pay no more than 7 percent of their income.
Those benefits would likely have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans. But except for longshot candidate Marianne Williamson, no Democratic White House hopeful has called for financial remuneration for blacks.
Harris told reporters in Iowa on Sunday that “we have to all acknowledge that people have not started out on the same base and have not had equal opportunities to success.”
Castro told The Root, a black online news site, that America “would be better off” if the government addressed the issue of reparations, which he said he would explore if elected.
And in New Hampshire on Friday, Warren said the U.S. needs to confront its “ugly history of racism” and “talk about the right way to address it.” Asked whether she would support reparations for Native Americans, she responded: “It’s an important part of the conversation.”
Warren has been criticized for claiming Native American identity early in her career and apologized recently to the Cherokee Nation for releasing DNA test results as evidence she had Native American in her bloodline, albeit at least six generations back.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, asked at a CNN town hall Monday about his position on reparations given Warren’s and Castro’s comments, said, “What does that mean? What do they mean? I’m not sure anyone’s very clear.” He said the U.S. must put resources into distressed communities to improve the lives of people affected by the legacy of slavery.
Sanders did not support reparations during his 2016 presidential campaign.
In terms of a direct payment, reparations could be a tough political sell. In a Point Taken-Marist poll conducted in 2016, 68 percent of Americans said the country should not pay cash reparations to African-American descendants of slaves. About 8 in 10 white Americans said they were opposed to reparations, while about 6 in 10 black Americans said they were in favor.
Republican strategist Whit Ayres said the issue of reparations is “symptomatic of the fundamental debate that is roiling the Democratic Party today.”
“There is no doubt that issues of race have been and remain critically important in American society,” he said. “But the idea that you resolve those issues by taking money from white people and giving it to black people will make race relations worse, not better. Republicans would love to have that debate.”
Pressed on “Fox News Sunday” on whether reparations would ultimately end up in the Democratic platform, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said the issue is “something that will be discussed during the course of the presidential nominating process.”
Even if Democrats are rethinking the definition of reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who sparked a national debate over the issue with a 2014 essay in The Atlantic, said the recent chatter is promising. He noted that a Dave Chappelle comedy skit mocked the idea in 2003.
“It has generally been dismissed as utter lunacy,” Coates said. “It’s not being mocked now. Step one is to get people to stop laughing.”
When Barack Obama ran to become the nation’s first African-American president, he opposed reparations. But in an interview with Coates in the final days of his presidency, he didn’t question the legitimacy of the concept.
“Theoretically, you can make, obviously, a powerful argument that centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination are the primary cause for all those gaps,” Obama said, referencing the racial disparities faced by black Americans today.
“That those were wrongs done to the black community as a whole, and black families specifically, and that in order to close that gap, a society has a moral obligation to make a large, aggressive investment, even if it’s not in the form of reparations checks, but in the form of a Marshall Plan, in order to close those gaps,” Obama said, referring to the American initiative to provide economic assistance to Western Europe after World War II.
Still, he said it was politically difficult to achieve such a goal.
If presidential candidates want to prove they’re serious about reparations, some proponents say they should back H.R. 40, the Reparations Study Act first introduced by former Michigan Rep. John Conyers in 1989. He reintroduced the bill every session until his resignation in 2017.
Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee took up the legislation after Conyers’ departure and reintroduced the bill in 2018, but it has not been introduced in the current Congress.
“It’s not wrong to say we need to cure cancer — which is what I take the support of reparations to actually be — but we don’t have a full diagnosis yet,” Coates said. “If you can actually get a study that outlines what actually happened, what the needs are, what the debt actually is, and how it was incurred, then you can design programs to actually address it. That gets you out of the vagaries of just saying you support reparations.”
Whack is The Associated Press’ national writer on race and ethnicity. Follow her work on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/emarvelous.
3 things schools should teach about America’s history of white supremacy
February 27, 2019
Author: Noelle Hurd, Scully Family Discovery Associate Professor in Psychology, University of Virginia
Disclosure statement: Noelle Hurd does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Virginia provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
When it comes to how deeply embedded racism is in American society, blacks and whites have sharply different views.
For instance, 70 percent of whites believe that individual discrimination is a bigger problem than discrimination built into the nation’s laws and institutions. Only 48 percent of blacks believe that is true.
Many blacks and whites also fail to see eye to eye regarding the use of blackface, which dominated the news cycle during the early part of 2019 due to a series of scandals that involve the highest elected leaders in Virginia, where I teach.
The donning of blackface happens throughout the country, particularly on college campuses. Recent polls indicate that 42 percent of white American adults either think blackface is acceptable or are uncertain as to whether it is.
One of the most recent blackface scandals has involved Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, whose yearbook page from medical school features someone in blackface standing alongside another person dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam has denied being either person. The more Northam has tried to defend his past actions, the clearer it has become to me how little he appears to know about fundamental aspects of American history, such as slavery. For instance, Northam referred to Virginia’s earliest slaves as “indentured servants”. His ignorance has led to greater scrutiny of how he managed to ascend to the highest leadership position in a racially diverse state with such a profound history of racism and white supremacy.
Ignorance is pervasive
The reality is Gov. Northam is not alone. Most Americans are largely uninformed of our nation’s history of white supremacy and racial terror.
As a scholar who researches racial discrimination, I believe much of this ignorance is due to negligence in our education system. For example, a recent study found that only 8 percent of high school seniors knew that slavery was the central cause of the Civil War. There are ample opportunities to include much more about white supremacy, racial discrimination and racial violence into school curricula. Here are three things that I believe should be incorporated into all social studies curricula today:
1. The Civil War was fought over slavery and one of its offshoots – the convict-lease system – did not end until the 1940s
The Civil War was fought over the South’s desire to maintain the institution of slavery in order to continue to profit from it. It is not possible to separate the Confederacy from a pro-slavery agenda and curriculums across the nation must be clear about this fact.
After the end of the Civil War, southern whites sought to keep slavery through other means. Following a brief post-Civil War period known as Reconstruction, white southerners created new laws that gave them legal authority to arrest blacks over the most minor offenses, such as not being able to prove they had a job.
While imprisoned under these laws, blacks were then leased to corporations and farms where they were forced to work without pay under extremely harsh conditions. This “convict leasing” was, as many have argued, slavery by another name and it persisted until the 1940s.
2. The Jim Crow era was violent
While students may be taught about segregation and laws preventing blacks from voting, they often are not taught about the extreme violence whites enacted upon blacks throughout the Jim Crow era, which took place from 1877 through the 1950s. Mob violence and lynchings were frequent occurrences – and not just in the South – throughout the Jim Crow era.
Racial terror was used as a means for whites to maintain power and prevent blacks from gaining equality. Notably, many whites – not just white supremacist groups like the Klu Klux Klan – engaged in this violence. Moreover, the torture and murder of blacks was not associated with any consequences.
During this same time, white society created negative stereotypes about blacks as a way to dehumanize blacks and justify the violence whites enacted upon them. These negative stereotypes included that blacks were ignorant, lazy, cowardly, criminal and hypersexual.
Blackface minstrelsy refers to whites darkening their skin and dressing in tattered clothing to perform the negative stereotypes as part of entertainment. This imagery and entertainment served to solidify negative stereotypes about blacks in society. Many of these negative stereotypes persist today.
3. Racial inequality was preserved through housing discrimination and segregation
During the early 1900s, a number of policies were put into place in our country’s most important institutions to further segregate and oppress blacks. For example, in the 1930s, the federal government, banks and the real estate industry worked together to prevent blacks from becoming homeowners and to create racially segregated neighborhoods.
This process, known as redlining, served to concentrate whites in middle-class suburbs and blacks in impoverished urban centers. Racial segregation in housing has consequences for everything from education to employment. Moreover, because public school funding relies so heavily on local taxes, housing segregation affects the quality of schools students attend.
All of this means that even after the removal of discriminatory housing policies and school segregation laws in the 1950s and 1960s, the consequences of this intentional segregation in housing persist in the form of highly segregated and unequal schools. All students should learn this history to ensure that they do not wrongly conclude that current racial disparities are based on individual shortcomings – or worse, black inferiority – as opposed to systematic oppression.
Americans live in a starkly unequal society where health and economic outcomes are largely influenced by race. We cannot begin to meaningfully address this inequality as a society if we do not properly understand its origins. The white supremacists responsible for sanitizing our history lessons understood this. Their intent was clearly to keep the country ignorant of its racist past in order to stymie racial equality. To change the tide, we must incorporate a more accurate depiction of our country’s racist history in our K-12 curricula.
Alexandre Hocquet, Professeur des Universités en Histoire des Sciences, Visiting fellow at the Science History Institute, Université de Lorraine: Thank you for this necessary piece. As a foreigner, I wonder what are 92% of American high school seniors believing was a central cause to Civil War, if not slavery ?
Newly discovered cold-tolerant plants from Siberia could promote clean bioenergy
February 26, 2019
Author: Charles Pignon, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Disclosure statement: Charles Pignon is affiliated with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.
Climate change is an urgent threat to societies around the world, driven by carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels such as oil. One of the most effective ways to curb emissions is to replace these energy sources with others that are carbon neutral or even carbon negative – that is, technologies that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they put in.
Bioenergy, or energy derived from organic matter, usually plants, is an attractive option. The U.S. already derives 5 percent of transportation fuel from bioenergy, mostly corn. Even jet fuel could be produced from specially engineered crops, potentially balancing out 3 percent of the world’s human-made emissions.
Because the world population and its demand for food continues to rise, there might not be enough conventional farmland to grow crops for both food and bioenergy. One solution is to grow bioenergy crops on marginal land, which isn’t good enough to grow food. The logical conundrum: If this soil isn’t good, how can we grow anything on it that is reasonably productive?
Miscanthus, the candidate bioenergy crop
That is where Miscanthus x giganteus comes in. This species, also known as elephant grass, is incredibly productive – 59 percent more productive than corn in the midwestern U.S. It grows well on marginal soils with minimal fertilization. M. x giganteus is a perennial, meaning it stores nutrients in underground stems called rhizomes and uses them to regrow from one year to the next. These rhizomes, along with the plant’s roots, store atmospheric carbon dioxide underground and keep soil in place, preventing carbon dioxide loss from erosion. M. x giganteus may be able to sustain significant bioenergy production to replace fossil fuels, while being grown on marginal lands that do not compete with food crops.
M. x giganteus is a naturally occurring hybrid: Despite performing well in experimental trials, it was never designed to be a bioenergy crop. It is produced by crossing the Asian grasses Miscanthus sacchariflorus and Miscanthus sinensis, popular ornamental plants whose flowers form beautiful feathery plumes. M. x giganteus is sterile, and can propagate only clonally – that is, instead of seeds, a rhizome from a M. x giganteus plant can grow into a new, genetically identical plant. A single clone of this hybrid, now called “Illinois,” has been the focus of most trials of Miscanthus as a bioenergy crop in Europe and the U.S.
The incredible productivity and resilience of the “Illinois” clone, especially since the first U.S. agronomic trials at the University of Illinois in 2000, propelled M. x giganteus to prominence as a leading-candidate bioenergy crop. Yet the “Illinois” clone was produced by accident. What if parent species M. sacchariflorus and M. sinensis, growing in the wild in Asia, had even greater resilience, that could be used by plant scientists to breed M. x giganteus hybrids that perform even better than “Illinois”?
Miscanthus, mosquitoes and more cold tolerance
I am a plant physiologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My job involves understanding how plants work in order to develop improved crops that can mitigate climate change, in this case by developing improved hybrids of M. x giganteus for bioenergy production. I teamed up with Professor Erik Sacks to study some of the plants he had recently collected during a trip to the eastern reaches of Siberia.
In the summer of 2016, Sacks’s team of fearless plant scientists, guided by two adventure ecotourism guides turned amateur botanists, braved the flooding and mosquitoes of eastern Siberia to gather one of the world’s largest collections of M. sacchariflorus plants. The team was interested in collecting plants that could withstand cold better than M. x giganteus “Illinois,” which struggles to photosynthesize, a process where plants use sunlight to capture carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into biomass, when temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Eastern Siberia is the coldest part of the world where Miscanthus grows. One species, M. sacchariflorus, was found growing in areas with a minimum October temperature as low as 26°F, compared to 41°F in central Illinois. Most of the region where plants were collected had a continental climate, with severe winters and big temperature swings in the spring and autumn, suggesting these plants can thrive under a wide range of temperatures.
With this diverse Siberian collection, containing 181 accessions, or groups of genetically related plants, Idan Spitz and I, plant physiologists from Professor Stephen Long’s lab, decided to look for M. sacchariflorus with exceptional tolerance of photosynthesis to cold conditions. These cold-tolerant specimens could then be brought back to the U.S. and used to breed more cold-tolerant, and therefore more productive, M. x giganteus.
From many, three
We filtered 181 genetically distinct accessions from Siberia down to a handful displaying the greatest photosynthetic cold tolerance. To identify the best cold-adapted plants, the entire collection was grown in an outdoor field at Aarhus University, Denmark. M. x giganteus “Illinois” was grown alongside as a control. During a cold spell, when temperatures dropped below 54°F, we measured leaf fluorescence on individual plants to identify those that were the least stressed by these low temperatures. Fluorescence is a minuscule amount of light emitted by key leaf components and can be measured to detect when the leaf has sustained damage.
We brought the most promising M. sacchariflorus plants to the University of Illinois to grow along with M. x giganteus “Illinois” in an indoor environment with precisely controlled light, temperature and humidity. In two successive experiments, we regularly monitored photosynthesis as plants were exposed to severe chilling at 50°F for two weeks. We then raised the temperature to test how well they could recover. Our team measured photosynthesis by tracking absorption of carbon dioxide into the leaf from the surrounding air.
Although photosynthesis slowed in all Miscanthus plants during chilling, we were excited to discover three genetically unique M. sacchariflorus specimens that sustained much better activity during the cold than M. x giganteus “Illinois.” The first one maintained photosynthetic rates double that of M. x giganteus “Illinois”; the second quickly recovered photosynthesis when temperatures were increased, a useful ability that could maximize photosynthesis during intermittent warm periods in the early spring. The third stabilized photosynthesis during chilling; in contrast photosynthesis in the “Illinois” clone dropped steadily during the two weeks.
In the Miscanthus plants studied here, improved photosynthesis during chilling was supported by the ability to maintain activity of photosynthetic enzymes that are essential for absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but slow down when temperatures drop. M. x giganteus “Illinois” adapts to cold by producing more of these enzymes to counteract chilling. The new M. sacchariflorus plants we discovered in Siberia may be even better at turning up production of these enzymes at low temperature.
Identifying these useful traits is just the first step. Next, scientists at the University of Illinois will use these three genetically unique accessions to breed new hybrids of M. x giganteus that perform better in the cold. By breeding Miscanthus with improved photosynthesis during the chill of early spring and late autumn, we can develop new hybrids that yield even more than M. x giganteus “Illinois.”
In addition, Miscanthus is a close relative of sugarcane, so Sacks is breeding the Siberian M. sacchariflorus specimens with sugarcane to develop energycane cultivars that can be grown farther north than current commercial sugarcane in the U.S.; currently sugarcane production is limited to southern parts of Florida, Louisiana and Texas. The goal is to create new bioenergy crops that can withstand cold temperatures to produce more biomass, and ultimately, more bioenergy.
Jon Richfield, logged in via Facebook: Ummm… Interesting certainly, and I earnestly support the work and many lines of research that may arise form it, but given the degree of faith that the Faithful demand concerning AGW, I would have thought that heat-tolerant plants might be more welcome. Mind you, some people are never happy unless they are miserable, and they are not even happy then; even as we debate or work for the future, the Jeremiahs are bewailing the lower quality of crops produced at high temperatures and CO2 concentrations.
Mary Keitelm: Planting an exotic plant around the world– outside the ecosystem in which it evolved– results in a lack of food for native wildlife– in particular birds. Birds are wholly dependent on protein which they get almost completely from insects: they cannot survive without insects which they find in synch with their reproductive life.https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/29/books/review-the-moth-snowstorm-and-other-natural-bliss-outs.html
Why does this happen? Local insects cannot digest or use exotic plants.
What does this mean? An exotic crop provides a food desert for native wildlife, and its result is a collapse of local ecosystems due to loss of those small organisms that are fundamental to a healthy, working ecosystem: insects and spiders, and the animals that thrive on them including frogs and other amphibians.
The result of planting exotics is the same as a foreign monoculture anywhere: few if any native insects will live there.
What do we get instead? Ecological collapse, a loss of our pollinators: butterflies, bees, bats, other insects and birds. Human life cannot survive loss of pollinating insects or loss of our native ecosystems around the world.https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/importance.shtml
Not just because we’d like to be nice to butterflies and tigers, and the millions of other interdependent organisms in the wild, but because if we don’t manage our own numbers, we won’t have a world for ourselves?https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sixth_Extinction:_An_Unnatural_History