‘Survivor’s Remorse’ recap: Making a case for reparations Wealth, philanthropy and the question of ‘good’ white people

Season 4, Episode 7 | “Optics” | Oct. 1

Talk about perfect timing.

The writers and executive producers of Survivor’s Remorse must be cackling with glee at how prescient its latest episodes have been. Last week was the furthest the show has gone in exploring Cam’s nascent interest in athlete activism, pitting him in a possible showdown situation with his team owner and boss.

This week’s episode is about the harder to see, and harder to acknowledge, byproducts of white supremacy. It starts with M-Chuck, who, after getting invited to a private, advance tour of Atlanta’s new Museum of African-American Life with Chen, raises her trademark ire.

They haven’t even finished walking across the parking lot when she does it. M-Chuck (Erica Ash) is pissed that Atlanta’s new museum of African-American history is called the Leonard Moskowitz Museum of African American Life. Her rant about the building’s name is essentially a skewering of narcissism and a need for, if not absolution, loudly signaling that you are one of the “good” white people.

Atlanta’s fictive museum of African-American life is a stand-in for the newly opened Blacksonian, where the Walmart brand appears prominently in the lobby. But the message of Optics is broader than that. It argues that white people are often guilty of taking something that’s supposed to be about blackness and black people and making it about themselves, status and reputation-building. And the wealth that allows them to do this, of course, is a side effect of the advantages bestowed by the omnipresence of white supremacy. (This is why it was so important that Brad Pitt and Plan B understand the value and importance of getting out of the way.)

M-Chuck, incensed by the fact that Moskowitz (Saul Rubinek) has plastered his name across the front of the museum, presses Chen (Robert Wu) for a meeting with Moskowitz.

“How would you feel if you went to the Holocaust Museum and it said ‘Brought to you by Tyler Perry?’ ” she asks.

Moskowitz gets defensive, telling M-Chuck that Jews were also oppressed by “whiter white people” (true) and were also enslaved by Egyptians (also true). He brings up common arguments: Your brother is rich, how could he possibly be oppressed? And: You’ve had a black president, which means black people are clearly doing better. Plus, Jewish kids are obsessed with hip-hop. Black kids are not going around milly rocking to klezmer, he argues.

The most powerful, subversive and truthful thing that Survivor’s Remorse writers did was to put these words in the mouth of a man who sees himself as an ally, rather than a swastika-waving, “blood and soil”-chanting, tiki-torch-wielding racist. Optics offers a critique of white liberalism that echoes Get Out, Brit Bennett’s essay for Jezebel, I Don’t Know What to Do With Good White People and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail.

[Mike Wise: Gregg Popovich’s speech about white privilege felt like a personal rebuke]

Recently, I had a wonderful conversation with writer and professor Crystal Fleming about this topic. Fleming is an associate professor of sociology and Africana studies at State University of New York, Stony Brook, and author of Resurrecting Slavery and the forthcoming How to Be Less Stupid About Race.

“White supremacy … exists not only on the right among conservatives or Trump supporters, it exists on the left. It exists pervasively and systematically throughout our society,” Fleming said. “What tends to happen is, even in the so-called liberal discourse, is a focus on progress, is a focus on things that have changed, rather than a focus on, No. 1, the fact that, again, white supremacy continues to exist and, two, that it doesn’t just exist in certain pockets of society or, you know, in a Klan rally.”

As M-Chuck faces off with Moskowitz, she tells him, “This museum is not yours. It’s ours. So if you’re going to give it, give it graciously.”

Moskowitz fires back: “And if you’re going to receive it, receive it graciously.”

Oof. Wasn’t Jelani Cobb just talking about how “ungrateful” is the new “uppity”? It’s one thing to see the words. It’s another to see the idea reflected on a screen.

It takes another white person, Moskowitz’s wife, to persuade him that his actions were both wrong and offensive. M-Chuck telling him wasn’t enough.

These ideas also show up in the B-plot of the episode, as Reggie (RonReaco Lee) is trying to persuade Chen to give him access to his real estate deals. Reggie is hosting the weekly rich guy poker game in his basement (the same group to which he lost enough money to buy a house).

After Reggie has once again taken a beating in the poker game, he pressures Chen to let him invest in his business deals. And here, things get complicated. Chen informs Reggie that the relationships he has with his millionaire friends are “friendships of convenience.” His relationship with Reggie and his family, on the other hand, is personal and valuable to him in a different, much more priceless way. He doesn’t want to destroy that. Reggie still wants in on Chen’s next development deal, despite the fact that the stakes are much higher for him if things go wrong. The chasm between Reggie’s upper-middle-class net worth and those of his poker buddies is a great example of the difference between being rich and being wealthy. Or, as Chris Rock would say, “If Bill Gates woke up with Oprah’s money he’d jump out a f—ing window.” It also illustrates how difficult it is to bridge this wealth gap if you’re starting from behind. It’s damn near impossible.

White supremacy is not just the practice of neo-Nazis but also “the social and political and economic dominance of people socially defined as white,” Fleming said. “So we’re talking about systemic access to resources, and that this is something, again, that even … among Democrats and liberals, people don’t want to talk about it. It’s easier to talk about racial disparities without admitting which groups are actually being systematically disadvantaged and advantaged by those disparities.”

The folks behind Survivor’s Remorse have already aired an episode called Reparations. Off the strength of Optics, I wouldn’t mind seeing them attempt to make a case for them. Then again, maybe they already have.

‘Survivor’s Remorse’ recap: The family secrets start to spill out Missy learns about a prenup and Chen finds out the truth about Father Tom

Season 4, Episode 6 | “Reparations” | Sept. 24

Well, this was a little uncomfortable.

Survivor’s Remorse has begun to unleash the Big Questions of its fourth season. And the ones presented by the Reparations episode are good ones: Just what are our obligations to our fellow man? And how do we determine them?

Written by Victor Levin and directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Reparations looks at those questions from both personal and existential angles. Let’s run them down, relationship by relationship:

Missy and Reggie

We know that Missy (Teyonah Parris) and Reggie’s (RonReaco Lee) marriage is not a relationship of full transparency, given how little Missy knew about Reggie’s father before he turned up bleeding in the hospital. But that lack of communication seemed more about respecting boundaries: Reggie didn’t want to be bothered with his father, and he didn’t want to bother Missy with him, either. It didn’t seem to matter to him that they all share the same last name, or that Missy and Reggie’s relationship has clearly been affected by Reggie’s relationship with his father.

But now we’re getting into trickier territory: money. Reggie lost $123,000 in a high-stakes poker game and called it a “business expense.” He didn’t hide it from Missy, but he didn’t discuss it with her either.

That was enough to spark an eyebrow raise until Reggie dropped a bomb: Missy’s father made him sign a prenuptial agreement, and neither one of them told her.

So now we’ve got questions about Missy and Reggie’s obligations to disclose things to each other, and also about whether Missy’s parents are obligated to treat her like an adult. Missy’s parents, played by Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Vanessa Bell Calloway, think they don’t need to treat her like an adult until she starts behaving like one. Their reasoning is that they’re protecting the wealth they’re planning to pass down eventually. It will be hers one day, but it isn’t yet, and to them, Missy hasn’t done much to demonstrate her adulting abilities. She quit her job as a lawyer to play housewife to Reggie and work the charity circuit. Or, as Missy’s mother put it: “You might call yourself a feminist, but you live like an Eisenhower-era wife.” And that raises yet another question: What are Missy’s obligations to her own feminist principles?

Cam and the world

Cam (Jessie T. Usher), doesn’t really belong to a person. Sure, he’s dating Allison (Meagan Tandy), but Cam belongs to Atlanta. He belongs to his teammates. He belongs to black people. He belongs to a whole list of larger groups before he’s accountable to Allison in the way Reggie and Missy are accountable to each other. Part of that is because Reggie and Missy are married and Cam and Allison are not. But it’s also because Cam really is a sort of public servant. He sees himself, his celebrity and his wealth as tools for improving the world on a range of issues, be it “frozen nostril” kids, prison reform, clean water or his latest cause: pensionless black ballplayers who were the victims of a racist basketball league.

Cam feels obligated to everyone because of his large fortune. His role as a franchise player makes him uniquely suited to serve as team representative (an official intermediary between players and team management) because he has some clout. And because of that clout and his money, Cam can help the black ballplayers who came before him and have no retirement fund.

As Reggie reveals, Cam is spending nearly 25 percent of his pretax income on charity. He’s doing it not just because it makes him feel good but because he’s started thinking about his legacy. Reggie, on the other hand, would prefer it if Cam started thinking more about his obligations to himself.

Cassie, Chen and God

The great thing about the relationship between Cassie (Tichina Arnold) and Chen (Robert Wu) is that it feels like a relationship between equals even though Chen is a billionaire and Cassie’s son Cam is merely one of many on his payroll. Still, it’s clear that Cassie is struggling to fully trust Chen, even after he defended her to his kinda-racist parents and repeatedly demonstrated his devotion to her.

The more M-Chuck (Erica Ash) delves into the history of who fathered her, the more Cassie has burrowed into her Catholicism. And because Chen wants to make Cassie happy, he’s happy to indulge in spending on various saintly statues, even if he doesn’t know why he’s buying them.

But this week, thanks to M-Chuck’s big mouth, Chen now knows why Cassie’s recommitted herself to her faith: She’s leaning on it to help deal with the emotions dredged up by the revelation that she was raped by three boys when she was 17, a gang rape that resulted in M-Chuck. How much of that is Cassie obligated to tell Chen? Obviously, it’s up to her what she wants to reveal and when (or it would have been, had M-Chuck not inadvertently spilled the beans).

But on some level, Cassie’s trauma isn’t just hers once it affects her relationship. Chen only worried that Cassie was cheating on him because he didn’t know she’s been seeing and texting her priest. And he didn’t know that because then Cassie would have had to explain why she’s been seeing Father Tom so much. OK, so leaving your partner in the dark when you’re in a committed relationship seems unfair. But what exactly is Cassie’s obligation to Chen, especially if they aren’t married? Is anyone ever completely honest in a relationship? Should they be?

O.J. Simpson gets parole and other news of the week The Week That Was July 17-21

Monday 07.17.17

Country rock artist Kid Rock is still pretending to run for U.S. Senate. Professional model Jeremy Meeks, better known as viral star “Prison Bae,” offered this advice to former football star O.J. Simpson: “Stay out of trouble.” The Carolina Panthers fired general manager Dave Gettleman, and instead of receiving heartfelt messages from his former players, Gettleman was laughed at, given the side-eye emoji, and called a “snake.” An American Airlines spokesperson clarified that it was mechanical issues and not a passenger’s passing gas that forced the evacuation of a plane the day before. Walmart apologized for a third-party vendor describing the color of a wig cap on the company’s website as “n—– brown.” A D.C. crime robot drowned itself. Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who is hated by many despite rocking a fade haircut, said the first thing embattled quarterback Colin Kaepernick needs to do to repair his image is to “cut his hair” and “try to be presentable.”

Tuesday 07.18.17

Kaepernick posted the definition of “Stockholm syndrome” to his personal Twitter account. According to a new poll, 22 percent of Americans say they would still support President Donald Trump if he “shot someone on 5th Avenue.” Dallas Cowboys receiver Lucky Whiteside was reunited with his dog by Texas rapper Boogotti Kasino; in a profanity-laden video posted to his Twitter account, Kasino, who’d previously made a video demanding $20,000 for the dog’s safe return asked, “F— I look like stealing a god damn dog, bro?” In gentrification news, a new “Instagrammable” New York City restaurant sells $12 cocktails alongside a “bullet hole-ridden wall,” a supposed remnant of the “rumored backroom illegal gun shop” of the previous ownership (the bullet holes are not real). A Republican mayoral candidate in Florida told an opponent, who is white, and “your people” that if they want reparations they should “go back to Africa.” Chipotle is getting people sick again.

Wednesday 07.19.17

Wu-Tang Clan member RZA was tapped as Chipotle’s newest spokesman in the face of the company’s latest food safety crisis. Rats fell from the ceiling at one of the company’s Dallas restaurants. Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has the top-selling jersey in 14 states, including South Dakota and Alaska. In one of WWE’s most daring stunts since “blowing up” CEO Vince McMahon’s limousine in 2007, the wrestling executive’s son, Shane, was in a helicopter that made an emergency landing in the Atlantic Ocean. Inmates at a Florida correctional facility are being denied toilet paper. In the name of science, FiveThirtyEight, who forgot to send an invite, got drunk off of margaritas. The showrunners of Game of Thrones, a show that has more computer-generated dragons than black people, have been tapped to create a Civil War-era series that “takes place in an alternate timeline, where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal.” Trump said French President Emmanuel Macron “loves holding my hand.”

Thursday 07.20.17

Former O.J. Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey is now broke, lives with a 62-year-old hairstylist and works as a consultant upstairs from his girlfriend’s salon. O.J. was paroled. A Texas woman, who is about to snitch, was caught with $2 million worth of liquid crystal methamphetamine after she thought it would be a good idea to drive over the speed limit. New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown, who has a career 18-42 record, said the “future is bright” for the team, which went 5-11 last season. “Despacito,” the most streamed song in music history, was banned in Malaysia because of raunchy lyrics like “you’re the magnet and I’m the metal.” Rapper Meek Mill said he was “off the s—s” when he ignited his beef with Drake back in 2015. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze abruptly resigned from the school after it was revealed he used a university-provided cellphone to dial a number associated with a female escort service; four days earlier, Freeze tweeted, “Dear God, I worship You today for the forgiveness of my sins, a love like no other, grace and acceptance, and the blessing of life!!”

Friday 07.21.17

Freeze was offered “lifetime access” to adult-themed webcasting website CamSoda (Warning: NSFW); the site said “camming is a healthy alternative to escorts and the next best thing.” Leonardo DiCaprio, a courageous, humble and common man, will take a commercial flight instead of a private jet to his environmental foundation’s gala. A tweet by R&B singer SZA that simply read “Lol nah” received 20,000 retweets and nearly 27,000 likes. In a move that will prove most damaging to Saturday Night Live, White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned. Thirty years after Spanish artist Salvador Dalí’s death, his famous mustache was still intact after his body was exhumed to perform a paternity test. Professional golfer Sergio Garcia, competing at the British Open, sent his tee shot near some bushes and hurt his shoulder after swinging his club at the offending shrubbery. A Chicago Cubs writer tweeted that Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana “took LSD into work today and said he wasn’t even sure where the players’ entrance was to Wrigley.” LSD is also a Chicago street.

This Juneteenth, #40Acres40cities is reclaiming land as a form of reparations No one is getting a mule, but a free people can occupy land

Monday marks Juneteenth, otherwise known as freedom on CP time.

Yes, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. But it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that the word made it to Texas, in the form of an order read by a Union Army general.

“Blacks greeted the news with the overwhelming joy that accompanies receiving the answer to a life-long prayer,” wrote Judson Jeffries, professor in the African American and African Studies Department at Ohio State University, in “Juneteenth, Black Texans and the Case for Reparations.”

White Texans, on the whole, were not as elated. One celebration of the newly freedmen was interrupted, Jeffries wrote, “when a (white) sword-wielding man nearly cut a black woman in half on the street.” In another instance, a black man who “leapt high in the air to express his delight” was shot between the legs by his slave master.

The reparations of 40 acres and a mule promised to freed people? It never arrived. This year, the Black Land and Liberation Initiative wants black folks to collect on that debt — not in the form of the beast of burden, but the one thing that they’re not making any more of.

On this Juneteenth, in cities across the country, black people will reclaim places and spaces as part of #40Acres40Cities, a direct action coordinated by the BlackOUT Collective and Movement Generation. Reclamation could take the shape of a pop-up park or a community festival in an empty lot. Or it could be the takeover of a space with contested ownership.

Black people’s connection to the land is as deep as it is tenuous. We farmed the land, reaping crops and generating profits for slave owners, profits that undergird families and businesses that exist to this day.

Yet at the same time, we are vulnerable, be it to gentrification, predatory lenders, subprime mortgages or government policies that discriminate against black farmers. The #40Acres40cities action focuses on the South and Midwest, where the concentration of black people is higher. And while the Movement for Black Lives’ website lists some of the participating cities, the exact location may stay secret until the direct action occurs.

“You can’t say, we’ll be at this corner for an occupation,” said Chinyere Tutashinda, co-director of the BlackOUT Collective. “For black folks, when we think about liberation and equality, we have to understand that capitalism won’t get us free,” she said. “In order for it to continue to exist, someone has to be oppressed. … And because of racialized capitalism, it will almost always be black people.”

So while the Black Land and Liberation Initiative’s action Monday is about building communities, the larger mission is to confront the systems, institutions and people who built their wealth on the exploitation of black bodies and labor.

Speaking of wealth, just this month, the Federal Reserve announced that household wealth is up for the first quarter of this year, to $94.8 trillion. But rising tides have never lifted all boats. For every $1 of wealth the average black family has, the average white family has $13, a racial wealth gap that has grown since the Great Recession ended.

But the tropes that conservatives usually rely on to explain this disparity fall short. Here’s what doesn’t close the racial wealth gap, according to a 2017 report: attending college, working full time, spending less or raising kids in a two-parent household.

“We find that white adults who don’t graduate high school, don’t get married before having children, and don’t work full time still have much greater wealth at the median than comparable black and Latino adults — and often have more wealth than black and Latino households that have married, completed more education, or work longer hours,” wrote researchers in “The Asset Value Of Whiteness: Understanding The Racial Wealth Gap.”

Home ownership is often a path to wealth creation, but just over 40 percent of black people own their home, compared with 71 percent of white people.

Not surprisingly, the racial group that benefits most from the status quo believes little should be done. Just over 65 percent of black people but only 21 percent of white people believe the country’s wealth today is “significantly tied to work done by slaves,” according to a 2016 Marist poll. And 58 percent of blacks and 15 percent of whites believe the U.S. government should pay reparations to the descendants of slaves.

If what we’ve done has gotten us what we have, then it would take something almost unimaginable to repair the gap. Something like reparations. While reparations are usually visualized as a check for the descendants of African slaves, land is a suitable option, said Jeffries, who, with several others, started the first Juneteenth celebration in Lafayette, Indiana, 16 years ago.

Every year for more than 20 years, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, has introduced legislation to study the impact of slavery on African-Americans and suggest remedies — such as reparations.

His bill fails every year, and there’s no reason to think his 2017 bill will be the exception. Right? “I don’t see any reparations on the horizon,” said Jeffries, “but I didn’t see Obama on the horizon either.”

The fight for reparations can be a useful decoy in solving America’s racial wealth gap ‘Baby bonds’ is a more politically viable answer to the disparity in black and white wealth

Reparations can help close the racial wealth gap — just not the way you might think.

America’s racial wealth gap should leave us all gloomy. For every dollar owned by the median black household, the median white household owned $13. And for every dollar owned by the median Latino household, the median white household owned $10. Those numbers are from a recent study, The Asset Value of Whiteness, produced by researchers at the think tank Demos and Brandeis University, based on data from 2013.

Our path to this inequity began centuries ago: Slavery. Segregation. Redlining. We don’t appreciate how much programs like the GI Bill disproportionately helped white World War II veterans attend college and buy homes with guaranteed mortgages. This and other federal policies intentionally bolstered a largely white American middle class while crippling that of people of color.

A country in which wealth is so unevenly distributed along racial lines reproduces racial stratification generation after generation. As the study notes, if “a substantial racial wealth gap persists, white households will continue to enjoy greater advantages than their black and Latino neighbors in meeting the financial challenges of everyday life and will be able to make greater investments in their children, passing economic advantages on.”

Crucially, the report refutes theories that a lack of personal responsibility explains the gap. Minorities should just attend college more. Raise their children in two-parent households. Get full-time jobs. Spend less money. None of these appreciably closes the racial wealth gap, though.

How can we ameliorate this situation? I see two ways forward.

One way is to champion universal policies that help all racial groups but disproportionately help people of color because they disproportionately lack wealth. An idea called “baby bonds” is the best version of such a policy.

The other way is to push for race-conscious policies such as reparations. The former provides a more viable route, given political realities, but reparations can be a strategic decoy that eases the acceptance of baby bonds. We must walk both paths if the racial wealth gap is to ever be closed.


William “Sandy” Darity Jr., a Duke economics professor, and Darrick Hamilton, an economics professor at The New School in New York, came up with the idea for baby bonds.

Each newborn child would be granted a bond, a federally funded trust fund of sorts. The poorest child would get, say, $60,000, with the amount dwindling to nothing for the children of the richest families. The money would be put in an interest-bearing account that becomes accessible upon adulthood and could only be used for wealth-building activities, such as going to college or putting a down payment on a home. They figure the program would cost about $60 billion per year, which, Darity and Hamilton wrote in an academic paper, is “less than 10% of the non-war spending budget for the Department of Defense.”

Some might contend that baby bonds, by focusing on wealth rather than race, unsatisfactorily address a racial problem. But, Darity and Hamilton argue in their paper, “Since the distributions of white and non-white wealth are so disparate — 85% of black families have wealth holdings below the median white family — wealth can be an effective non-race-based instrument to eliminate racial inequality.” Darity told me he thinks baby bonds “could go a long way toward closing the racial wealth gap.”

The universality of baby bonds also gives it the potential to attract support from an interracial coalition of working-class people pursuing their own economic self-interest. Such a coalition could form a base that a political majority can rest upon. A poor white person in West Virginia would have as much reason to support this program as a poor black person in rural Alabama. Baby bonds might get people to appreciate their commonality with others who, because of race, rarely think of themselves as having the same interests.

Given our political climate, many will be pessimistic about the likelihood of forming such an interracial coalition. Although that sentiment is understandable, we have reason for optimism.

The current era in American politics can be compared to Southern Redemption, the period when white supremacist politicians regained power after Reconstruction. In the wake of Redemption, however, Southern populist movements in the late 1800s gained traction, getting poor white folk to ally with poor black folk by explicitly arguing that powerful white elites kept them both in poverty. These populist politicians carried a consistent and truthful message: White elites used racism to separate white and black folk who were mired in destitution yet could be lifted together through responsive lawmaking.

These times call for a similar movement, which will admittedly require a gargantuan effort. But the fact that politicians in the 1880s, two decades after the end of slavery, were able to join working people of different races should give us hope. Baby bonds — particularly because they focus on what people are most concerned with, the future of their children — can be a policy that drives this movement.


Reparations are the most prominent race-conscious means to address the racial wealth gap. But when can we conclude that a seed will never germinate? Black folk have been working the reparations land for more than two centuries with little to show for it.

During the Revolutionary War, Peter, a free black man behind British lines, was enslaved by William Steel, an American officer. Peter was freed after six months, but years later he sued Steel for back wages, one of the first claims for reparations for the atrocities visited upon black people. The court held that he articulated a viable claim but awarded him no money.

Toward the end of the Civil War, when black folk who freed themselves cried out for land of their own, Gen. William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 provided them a loaned mule and 40-acre plots on the Southern coastline. President Andrew Johnson later revoked it, however, returning the land to its original white owners.

In 1894, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would have paid a lump sum of at most $500 and monthly pensions ranging from $4 to $15 to formerly enslaved people and their children. This and comparable bills never received floor votes in either house of Congress, and the “pension movement” fizzled once World War I started. Reparations arguments bubbled up again during the 1960s. And in every congressional session since 1987, Rep. John Conyers has introduced a bill that would form a commission to study the effects of slavery and American apartheid and “recommend appropriate remedies.” This bill has gone nowhere. The struggle continues, but the goal is still far away in the distance.

Reparations were once just about slavery. Its proponents have updated the claim to include harm from Jim Crow, 19th- and 20th-century white-over-black governing and 21st-century racial discrimination. The underlying claim is simple: A series of evils have been inflicted on black people, causing various lacerations requiring healing. That healing, under the most-discussed scenarios, would come in the form of taxpayer-funded payouts. And therein lies the issue — the belief that white folk would ever take billions out of their pockets to specifically remedy the harm perpetrated upon black folk.

The reparations movement has never managed to get around that impasse, as many white people are loath to do right by black people without also reaping a benefit.

To flesh out the point, let’s examine Sherman’s field order. He devised it not to champion black interests but to aid himself: He needed a way to discard, while also providing for, the freedmen who had followed his troops during their march from Atlanta to the Atlantic Ocean. And he desired to punish the Confederates who started the war. He achieved both with one move. If he thought the order would have helped the freedmen but undercut the Union’s interests, Sherman would never have championed it, and President Abraham Lincoln would never have endorsed it.

Besides doing nothing to close the racial wealth gap regarding Latinos, reparations provide little to black folk — because it’s a dream that will never come to life.


Despite my pessimism about reparations, the movement can act as a strategic decoy to help popularize a policy like baby bonds.

Think back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement triumphs. He was one voice among many petitioning for racial equality. Several of the others who registered nationally came from his political left. Malcolm X and black power advocates like Stokely Carmichael helped King because they made his militancy appear moderate. King’s desire for black folk to be equal partners in American democracy departed dramatically from the status quo, yet he looked judicious in a sea of more militant aesthetics.

Advocacy for reparations can have the same effect: It can be the radical idea that makes baby bonds seem like a moderate panacea to the racial wealth gap.

Even so, reparations should be sold differently to be a better strategic decoy. Al Brophy, a law professor at the University of North Carolina and the author of Reparations: Pro and Con, told me that, “one time I flippantly suggested we should [put forward a reparations bill] in Congress and call it the ‘White Supremacy Maintenance Act.’ Call it something that will be acceptable to the voters and put something else in it.” I concur with Brophy’s main thrust. The times perhaps call for a marketing shift that plays to many white folks’ self-interest.

That new rationale for reparations should focus on how centuries of racism has created a market inefficiency that harms everyone. American capitalism underperforms since black folk, 13 percent of the country’s population, are unable to contribute as much as they should because of a lack of wealth. The injustices that black folk have suffered hurt all participants in our economy, not just black folk. Perhaps an unemployed white man from Cincinnati, for instance, would have a job if a black woman had the money to start a small business. Reparations for black folk, in other words, would redound to everyone’s benefit.

According to a 2016 YouGov poll, two-thirds of Americans oppose reparations. I don’t expect this new rationale to drag reparations across the all-important “50 percent in favor” threshold. This is a smart tactical shift, nonetheless, for two reasons. First, it could make reparations more popular, coaxing its opponents to favor a less radical idea like baby bonds. Second, selling reparations like this teaches white people to cease thinking about wealth as a zero-sum game — more wealth for people of color doesn’t necessarily mean less wealth for them.