Elections, Reparations and Beyonce: Class Politics in Black America
Founder of BreakingBrown.com Yvette Carnell and BlackAgendaReport.com columnist Pascal Robert joined us for a rousing round table discussion of leading topics of the day.
JARED BALL, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.
Joining us now to discuss a bunch of stuff related to black politics and beyond, from reparations to the 2016 presidential elections, and maybe even a little bit about Beyonce and more, are two extremely thoughtful and provocative guests. First, she is a former Congressional aide to Barbara Boxer. She is a political writer and founder of BreakingBrown.com, and that’s Yvette Carnell. Welcome, Yvette, to the Real News. Also joining us is columnist with BlackAgendaReport.com, whose work and interviews have appeared everywhere from RT to Alternet is Pascal Robert. Welcome, Pascal, to the Real News.
PASCAL ROBERT: Thanks for having me, Jared.
BALL: So again, wanted to get to a lot of different things, as much as possible, with the both of you in the time that we have. Yvette, if we could start with you, and with this particular question. You have made it clear for some time now that you, you don’t think that Bernie Sanders will be the nominee of the Democratic party. And I’m just wondering if last night’s news of New Hampshire, of his New Hampshire victory and his tough showing in Iowa, have changed any of that for you.
YVETTE CARNELL: Well, I think it, I think it does make it tougher. I think this shows me that this is a tougher road going forward. Putting those kinds of, kinds of points on the board lets me know that this is going to be a tougher road for Hillary Clinton. I don’t think she and–I don’t think she necessarily anticipated this. But I still would not, you know, we have a long way to go. So I still wouldn’t count Team Clinton out at this point. I think the wind is blowing in the direction of Bernie Sanders, but it’s too early for me to say, you know, it looks like Sanders is going to be the nominee. There’s too much invested in it right now for me to say that.
BALL: But do you support his campaign? Where are you on his campaign, and in general with supporting mainstream dominant electoral politics at this point?
CARNELL: Well, I haven’t supported, I haven’t supported any candidate, and I haven’t supported Bernie Sanders either, partly because of the way I view the political landscape. I believe the, view the political landscape, the American political landscape is already captured by financial interests. And I fell, you know, most anyone, unless people actually sort of rebel and get involved in movement politics, I don’t see any particular candidate doing something to benefit, materially benefit the people in this country, especially poor people, without something like that happening. So I haven’t come out in favor of Bernie Sanders for that reason. Not because of him, in terms of how I see him as an individual candidate, but in terms of how I view the political landscape.
BALL: Do you think there’s value in supporting alternative parties? Or the building of alternative parties as a potential eventual opposition?
CARNELL: I think so. I think, I think there is a value in supporting, you know, I know people who support the Green Party, I think, and other parties. I think there is a value in that. But let me be honest, I think there’s a value right now and to some people who are supporting Bernie Sanders. I think there’s a value in what Bernie Sanders is bringing to this conversation.
BALL: Pascal Robert, let me ask you the same question, starting with your thoughts on Bernie’s victory last night in New Hampshire. And you know, I wanted to say on air that, that you know, we want to have a regular, you know, segment with you just so we can call it the Robert Report here at the Real News. But give me your thoughts, and please feel free to respond to anything that you heard from Yvette.
ROBERT: Well, once again, thanks for having me, Jared. I think that Sanders’ victory in New Hampshire yesterday was definitely something that was significant. Not so much because he won, because it was expected that he won, but he won by over a 20 point margin, which was pretty, pretty shocking. And I think it was very much devastating to the Clinton machine that he won with such numbers. I think the fact he tied her in Iowa, and as a matter of fact according to some numbers he may have beaten her, but due to some shenanigans he basically ended up in a tie when it would have been even better for him and set it off and running in a much more advantageous way.
I also do not support the Sanders campaign, but somewhat maybe for different reasons than Yvette. It’s that I do not support the Sanders campaign because his foreign policy can be seen to be a deviant from the traditional American imperialist kind of global hegemonic world view that I see most American presidents sharing. And for me, someone who was not only, you know, born and raised in the U.S., but of Haitian parentage, foreign policy is a major issue to me. And for, you know, Bernie Sanders to be talking about how he’d use the Middle East from the same perspective as Hillary Clinton and neocons does not [inure] me very well to his candidacy in any way.
So that, you know, for me, as much as I may be a fan of his economic policy, the fact that his socialism stops at the water’s edge basically does not really make me feel any more motivated to support him based on that reality, as well. In terms of what can Bernie Sanders–.
BALL: Just real quick, Pascal, I want you to finish that thought, also. Because if anyone is concerned about foreign policy, and Haitian history and politics, they would also not be able to support Hillary as well, right?
ROBERT: Listen, Hillary Clinton for me, electorally, is anathema. There’s no question at all. I mean, you know, in terms of what’s going on in Haiti right now, the recent president who basically had to leave under unceremonious circumstances, Michel Martelly, the only reason that puppet is in power is because Clinton, the OAS and the Obama administration put him in power and basically disregarded the electoral desires of the Haitian people to put him in power, to basically extricate resources from Haiti to the international elite and the Clinton global initiatives.
The Clintons have been using Haiti as their personal ATM card for over 20 years. You know, they basically rule–there was an article that came out called the King and Queen of Haiti, talking about Bill and Hillary Clinton. So it’s ironic to me that a country that is perceived to be so poor in the Western hemisphere, why is it that the most significant Democratic power couple of American history is so interested in being entangled in the country that seems to be so poor and has no economic value? Maybe it’s because there are things there that have economic value.
So for me in terms of the Clintons there was no question at all that Hillary Clinton and her political family to me are a non-starter. And before we even get to just Haiti, I question the fact that now, African-Americans are being considered as Hillary Clinton’s firewall. I do not know how anyone could be a serious student of American political history, or even if you’re not a serious student of American political history, how anyone in their right mind in the black community could actually support a Clinton presidency, when in my opinion, and I’ve said this publicly, there is no president in the post-civil rights history, perhaps even going back to Woodrow Wilson, that has more, done more damage to black people than Bill Clinton. From deregulating finance capital and causing the sub-prime mortgage crisis that [extricated] more black wealth than perhaps any time in modern history, putting more black men in prison than any president in the post-civil rights history of the country by, by scapegoating poor black women with welfare reform, by running a racist campaign in ’92 basically premised on separating the black–Democratic party from the issues of the black community.
The whole rise of the Clinton candidacy, this is a great article that was in the, I think [us], there was a publication that says how the Clintons, you know, the Clinton political fortune started up based on white supremacy. The whole rise of the Clintons as a political enterprise, as the mainstay of the Democratic party, was based on creating the DLC to alienate blacks and progressive issues, particularly in the wake of what Jesse Jackson beating Al Gore in the South Carolina primary, I think in ’84. That is the, that is the crucible within which the Clintons come to their rise in power. And for people to now be saying that the black community are the Clinton’s firewall in the face of that history–and I said, I’ll say it again, I do not believe there has been a president who has caused more damage to black America than Bill Clinton since perhaps Woodrow Wilson, and I will stand by that comment. And for me it’s an egregious political malpractice on the part of African-American elites and the African-American community overall.
BALL: So just very quickly, before we go back to Yvette, where are you on the issue of alternative party building, in terms of electoral politics?
ROBERT: I think that crushing the two-party bourgeois elite system is crucial. Third-party alternatives are the way to go. I do support the Green Party. I think that forming, finding some way to get people of like, of political ideology and economic interest to basically abandon a two-party system and form alternatives, you know, third and fourth party options, the more parties the better and the larger numbers the better, and destroy the hegemonic control of the two wings of the same vulture is crucial.
BALL: So Yvette, you know, between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bernie Sanders we’ve heard more conversation about reparations, it seems in the last couple of months than we have in a long time. Where are you on this, and how does this, how does the issue of reparations for you dovetail with broader issues of race and class?
CARNELL: Well, listen. I would tell anyone that I am in favor of reparations. But reparations for me looks a lot like what Bernie Sanders defined. Reparations for me is massive investment in poor communities. And for me the whole problem with Ta-Nehisi Coates and what he, and what he did, what he did to me was really intellectually bankrupt. Because what he’s asking black people to do is follow this kind of identity politics, this kind of black identity politics, everything has to be about us being black people as opposed to everything being about us being poor people, disproportionately poor. And he wants us to follow down that road which really is a road to nowhere, leads to a goose egg.
You know, the most interesting thing to me about what Ta-Nehisi Coates said in terms of how he defined reparations is that he never really defined reparations. And he, and when you ask him about, hey, what does reparations look like and what is it supposed to be he says, well, I don’t have all the answers. Well, what you really don’t have is an argument. You’re happy to define reparations for yourself, but you’re telling me that what Bernie Sanders has here doesn’t go far enough.
And I would, I would ask, like he says, you know, he said in a more recent piece, he says, you know, black people have more concentrated poverty. Black people are even more poor than white people, than white poor people. That’s who we are. Well, that’s true. But that goes, that really guts his case. Because if you really know how poor we are as black people then you know that, okay, cutting us a check ain’t going to get it, and what we need is real infrastructure and real investment from the government. Everything from healthcare, everything to, everything from free college education. I mean, when you look at Flint, Michigan right now, that’s just perfect for me. You can’t, you can’t give black people a check for Flint and say, okay, deal with your stuff. That’s some, this is something that’s going to take massive investment from the government to fix.
And so the real, the real intellectually bankrupt part of Coates’ argument is that he doesn’t define an argument for himself other than say, you know what, black people are really, really poor. And socialism doesn’t go far enough. This sort of socialism stuff doesn’t go far enough. Well, that’s really not good in terms of a salient argument, is it, if I say that this doesn’t go far enough. It goes very far, and you haven’t defined how it should go further. The only thing you’ve really said, and the only thing Ta-Nehisi Coates has said, is he says that this sort of socialist politics does not vanquish racism. Those were his words. Well, my response would be nothing vanquishes racism. And we shouldn’t be concerned with vanquishing racism. I’m not concerned whether or not the white guy across town loves black people, or whether he hates black people. What I’m concerned with is the material consequence of racism. And the only way to help alleviate or ameliorate those consequences is through massive public investment that looks a lot like what [Sanders] is talking about.
BALL: So Pascal, is that where you, in a moment ago were talking about the socialism of Bernie Sanders ending at water’s edge, as opposed to, well, simply put, the differences rather between revolutionary and democratic socialism. Wouldn’t a full-blown socialist project in many ways alleviate, as Yvette was saying, the concerns over the material treatment, or the material impact on black people of white supremacy and capitalism?
ROBERT: Well, I think that the biggest problem that I have with, with Coates’ piece is not even so much him challenging Bernie Sanders for him not supporting reparations. I didn’t have a problem with that, per se. I think that’s fine. I wish that he would have been more unanimous in terms of challenging Clinton and Obama for not supporting reparations as well. But for me the most offensive part of what Coates was doing is that he basically was challenging the value of socialism as an economic project to black people in America. And for me, someone who considers myself a student and an acolyte of the black radical left, I feel, I was like, well, what exactly is Ta-Nehisi–is he basically throwing cold water on the work of Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, of the Cubans who helped apartheid come to its end in South Africa. You know, those, you know, Patrice Lumumba.
I mean, the way he was trying to frame socialism as if this thing that has no utility for black people to me flies in the face of the fact that we have an over century-long tradition of radical black activists in the Black Panther Party, the Malcolm X grassroots movement, the Colored Farmers’ Alliance, the black Communists of the early 20th century, Paul Robeson or even Du Bois, who use forms of anti-capitalism ranging from various types of socialism to challenge capitalism, which is premised on a requirement of white supremacy and racism. And for him to basically say, well, socialism, which is a project that has–international socialism, that has been completely demonized, gutted, and destroyed by the international imperialist arm of the United States in the Western world, and the project has obviously not been able to complete its job in ending the evils of racism, white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, sexism and all those other things.
And for him to say, well, you know, this, you know, it can’t really fix the problem. I say, well, maybe one of the reasons it can’t fix the problem is because any time someone tries to present it someone like Coates says, well, it’s never going to work. It’s never going to work because the international resources of global finance capitalism have always tried to ground any type of socialist international solidarity to challenge the way in which global imperialism worked to the detriment of people of color around the world. They usually work to ground those forces to powder. And for Coates to make socialism seem like something that’s this kind of alien fruit of the radical left, you know, that really serves black people no good in the face of people like, you know, Kwame Ture, Stokely Carmichael, and you know, going back all those years, the fact that, you know, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King spent their lives fighting racism. But it wasn’t until they challenged capitalism, talking about socialism, that they died.
So for me, for Coates to make these broad, sweeping analyses of the, the futility of anti-capitalist, materialist analysis to black people is a major, major disrespect to the black radical tradition. And I wish I saw more brothers who are in line with tradition, that tradition, challenge Coates on those terms.
In terms of what Bernie Sanders offers as socialism as a means of, of ameliorating the racial disparities that we have in the United States, I definitely think there’s no question. But the bottom line is when we’re talking about reparations that we’re still talking about material allocations of either capital, i.e. money, or resources. So I would like to ask Ta-Nehisi Coates to actually explain to me, how does he think in a system of global finance capitalism, giving, say, every black person in America even $1 million apiece for reparations, you think that’s going to end racism or white supremacy in the system of global finance capitalism that exists in the world today? Are you serious–the Chinese right now as a country, of its magnitude, are wrestling with global finance capital. So you think that giving 42 million black people a million dollars apiece is going to end racism in the world today, in the way in which the international tentacle of the finance capitalism works.
Because you are saying that reparations is the, is the essential tool in fighting white supremacy. So what exactly is going to stop those economic resources from being recirculated back into the global economy that’s controlled by mostly Europeans, anyway? And I think that Coates fails to make that the expression, express that argument, as to how exactly does reparations end racism or white supremacy.
Now, do I believe that reparations is morally sound on its face, that there was an extraction of wealth caused by slavery, Jim Crow, to African-Americans? Absolutely. There’s no question about that, absolutely. There’s no question. For me it’s a matter of practicality. If you’re going to suggest it, suggest a way to get it. If you’re just talking about getting it without suggesting a way to get it, to me you’re just kind of, you know, you’re selling [inaud.] tickets. You know, so–go ahead.
BALL: Unfortunately–as much as I hate to say it, we unfortunately are going to have to wrap this conversation up. But before we go I did, I mentioned it in the intro, Pascal has said off the air that he didn’t really have that much to say on the subject. But I can’t let it go without asking you, you know, Yvette, the [beygency] as Saturday Night Live once said, really got after me yesterday for a comment I made, or a meme I created. What are your thoughts, if you have any, on Beyonce’s presentation as extending or paying homage to the Black Panther Party during her most recent performance in the Super Bowl and with her new video ‘Formation’?
CARNELL: Well, listen. I, my perspective on the whole Beyonce thing, and people were like, oh, she’s pandering, Beyonce is pandering. And I say, listen, isn’t that what capitalism does? Isn’t that what capitalists do? They co-opt something that’s important to you and build a product around it, right? So, so what she is reflecting back to us, though is that this is, this is what’s hot in the streets. This is what’s important to black people right now. Black people are, black people are concerned about, you know, black people being shot in the streets. We’re concerned about, you know, racial profiling. We’re concerned about the police. But what she’s doing is wrapping that up in a package neatly and presenting it to people who don’t know any better as revolution.
What Beyonce is doing is not revolution, she’s selling a product. But I think there is something to be taken from that product in terms of–there is something to be taken from that performance in the sense of it’s getting back to them, you know, that this is something that’s important to us. It’s just like I said about Nike. Somebody said, well, Beyonce’s pandering. I said, well, capitalists pander. You know, Nike, when Nike said, just do it, do you really think they were concerned about your workout, and they were really trying to make a product to make your workout better? No. They were, they were, they were building a product around something that’s important to you.
And so I think, I think this should tell people, real activists in the street, not talking about Black Lives Matter, that hey, what you’re doing is, what we’re doing is, you know, having an impact. What writers are doing in terms of putting focus on these sorts of things, these things are having an impact. That’s the only kind of semi-positive takeaway I can [have] away from it. But though there’s nothing revolutionary, there’s nothing revolutionary about that video, there’s nothing revolutionary about that performance, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a weather vane for me.
BALL: Yvette Carnell, Pascal Robert, I can’t wait till we do this again. Thank you both very much for joining us here at the Real News.
CARNELL: Thank you.
ROBERT: Thanks for having us.
BALL: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network. Again, for all involved, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore saying, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.
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