A few days ago, I snarkily tweeted, “Give the southern states to African-Americans as part of reparations.” I was not proposing a separate African-American republic, but Doug1943 took my remark that way and commented that this was a 1930s Comintern position. I did not know that, but it turns out to be true. An extended history of the matter, “The Communist Party and Black Liberation in the 1930s” with a map, even, was published in the now-defunct International Socialist Review in 1997. (That archive may not last. If you care about such things, download a copy.) The idea of a black country, which turns out to be called black separatism, was not only a Communist one. It has a long history and survives to this day as part of the ideology of the Nation of Islam. The broader idea of black nationalism – that African-Americans ought to see themselves as one people, and organize to support each other – has a history that goes to the founding of the USA and, in some sense, is part of the thinking of most African-Americans.
Doug goes on to object to what he calls “identity politics,” complains it is a destructive project, and goes on to complain that the left is using it to attack patriotism. To which I say that most powerful identity politics in the USA has always been white identity politics, that it has been present in the USA from the very beginning, and that what the left can do and say has been nowhere near as destructive of US patriotism than white supremacism and the treason of the Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Trump, all strongly supported by their party.
So, back to the South.
My original remark was sarcasm, but I would like to take it seriously, at least for the purposes of this post. Ta-Nehisi Coates, the current leading advocate of reparations (his 2014 article in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” is important, and you should read it) argues for financial compensation for acts against African-Americans. There are fortunes and estates in the South surviving from the times of slavery. These could be confiscated and offered to African-Americans. It would be difficult. There would be enormous practical problems with doing so – who gets this property, who administers this property? Coates addresses some of these in a subsequent article, “The Radical Practicality of Reparations” but it would not be an easy project.
The project also raises broader questions. If African-Americans are owed reparations, what about Native Americans? What reparation even is possible to Natives? So much of history is expropriation of one people’s land by another people. So many peoples have claims and counterclaims. Still, studying the question and proposing solutions would be worthwhile. If the whole of the injustice cannot be remedied, which I think is probably the case, what remedies are possible?