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Welcome to Betrayalville: Biden, the Left, and Student Debt Forgiveness.

I.

You could be forgiven for thinking he’d forgive every cent. Joe Biden was a lifeguard afterall. And here you are drowning, if only figuratively.

You expected to be saved. Really and truly saved. Brought up onto the rescue tube, the voice speaking to you, reassuring you that it was all going to be OK as you were rolled over onto your back, towed to the pool’s edge and then taken from the water and laid gently onto the sun-baked concrete, an altar of deliverance and renewal. You expected that. You expected to be saved. And instead what happened is you watched in a kind of horror-disbelief as Joe Biden observed you drowning and just sort of leisurely descended the lifeguard chair, did a couple of cross-arm stretches, walked over to where the pool skimmer stood leaning up against the side of a wall and then held it out over the water and just starting jabbing at you with it, prodding you.

You did what anyone would do. You clutched onto it. Or tried to anyway. You flailed about and clung onto it in despair but it kept slipping from your grasp. Or rather it was pulled from your hands, repeatedly. And then you realized it—the thing that maybe you should have known all along: you were not going to be saved; you would first need to be evaluated on your victimhood, on your suitability to be saved. And so you stopped trying to seize onto the pole because it was useless. You let yourself be prodded, assessed, surrendering to the criteria.

You knew a decision had been reached when you felt the pool skimmer pressed into your armpit and you were simply shoved off towards a slightly less deep area of the pool. There, as you kick to keep your head above the water line, you can now sometimes feel your big toe graze against the grout of the pool’s bottom. Your gratitude for that small kindness is expected. You are one of the lucky ones. See. Look. You are surrounded by others still convulsively thrashing around in the water.

Sure, you could be forgiven for thinking he’d save you. He was a lifeguard and lifeguards are the kind of people who make certain pledges and who take those pledges seriously.

Welcome to Betrayalville U.S.A.

II.

Long a hypersegregated enclave through which runs the expressway of broken campaign promises, Betrayalville is where people deemed expendable by Democratic leadership are left to languish. They’re simply regarded as a captured group that will dutifully show up and vote against whatever dark specter threatening civilization the Party whips up. Lately they’ve been solely responsible for Saving Democracy, despite the fact that their participation in that very system is rewarded by continued neglect. So they’ve been saving it for others. For us, essentially. We thank them, verbally, and then we wish them well in Betrayalville with its contaminated water and whatever else they have to deal with there.

And but just like that, Betrayalville has taken on a very different racial and class character following the announcement that—unlike his pledge to “forgive all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from two- and four-year public colleges and universities”—Biden will just be forgiving $10,000 for those making less than $125,000.

The new influx of folks are largely white. Many enjoy incomes that exceed Betrayalville’s median. And I think that, given those things, as well as if the above tweet (which is indicative of a much broader sentiment) portends anything, there is going to be a serious effort to gentrify the road out of Betrayalville before the next election.

There is, of course, only one road out of Betrayalville, and it is called Down Ballot Way. There are no shortcuts. It is the sole route, and to walk it is discouraging and onerous. Just ask Yvette Carnell, Antonio Moore and the #ADOS movement who, since 2019, have worked against all manner of resistance and calumny in order to shepherd their group out from Betrayalville along that very road. And to the extent that the fresh arrivals of progressives in Betrayalville are looking to do something similar in leveraging their votes come 2024, they should be aware that the demand is reparations and that they should not try to gentrify that.

I know the notion that you are not the kind of people who are supposed to end up in Betrayalville will deepen your sense of the injustice you’ve suffered. And I don’t doubt that as interest handily recoups the forgiven amount, that sentiment will harden. But the people who’ve been made to live in Betrayalville for generations largely don’t even have school debt. Higher ed hasn’t exactly been an option. And so you will be effectively asking a group that is presently owed trillions (trillions!) of dollars to consider the ways in which the $10,000 you were just given by the government is a real slap in the face. There is nothing you can say in either moral or economic terms about student debt forgiveness that doesn’t only further accentuate those exact same dimensions of the ADOS case for reparations, and—let’s be honest—their case is way more compelling, profoundly more urgent.

III.

Far from collapsing the possibilities for solidarity, this situation strikes me as in fact precisely the kind of opportunity that progressives need in order to forge real and lasting sympathies with a group whose core issues have all too often served as merely ornaments of progressive movement politics. Maybe, just maybe, this is how you begin to actually build that coalition and start to effect the kind of transformational change in American society for which you ostensibly yearn but consistently fail to ever realize.

At the very least, consider this. The only group who cannot say they didn’t get exactly what they asked for when it comes to Biden’s student loan forgiveness is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. They asked for $10,000, and Biden’s response is perfectly consonant with their demand. Even the Congressional Black Caucus’s student loan forgiveness ask was five times that amount. But, of course, the Congressional Black Caucus’s constituents are in Betrayalville. Hell, the CBC helped put them there, and Biden has written them off accordingly. He’s told them so literally to their faces. And he had every reason to believe that, regardless of what he did with student debt, Black voters would dependably show up and vote for him in 2024. He could not, however, be so sure about Hispanic voters, many of whom have been running to the GOP as of late. They are, as Biden has put it, “incredibly diverse” (read: quite open to voting conservative!). In fact, 47% of Hispanic voters opposed any student debt relief that wasn’t $10,000 in forgiveness tied to a specific income level.

And so this represents a sort of a win-win for Democrats who are ideologically only a pubic hair’s length left of absolute center and who are dead set on chasing Hispanic voters. With this bare minimum forgiveness, Democrats get to erase the entire debt of nearly half of all Hispanic borrowers (only a quarter of Black borrowers are afforded the same), and, at the same time, not piss off and totally alienate the 47% who would surely exact electoral retribution via the ballot in 2024 if Democrats sought anything like unhooking student debt relief from being means-tested or a greater dollar amount to be forgiven.

But I think that’s the ceiling from here on out then. That’s the upper limit in terms of possibility in progressive movement politics so long as the coalition rejects leveraging the #ADOS demand of reparations and actually using that to inspire fear in the Democrats concerning their political future. Absent that, it’s pretty obvious that you will get the absolute minim in terms of progressive policy because Democrats have chosen Latinos—a progressive-ish and, at the same time, not insignificantly conversative voting bloc—as their political muse. That’s the apple cart, folks. And Democratic politics will, for the foreseeable future, be governed by a rigid principle of doing whatever they can to not upset it. After all, Biden has said—again—explicitly, “[America] can’t do well if [the] Latino community doesn’t do well.” Hear that? Not ‘the black and brown community;’ not ‘communities of color.’ No, America’s ability to succeed and prosper is tied, in Biden’s eyes, to the Latino community.

There is no doubt that sentiment is shared among Democratic leadership more broadly. And as a political movement, it seems strategically stupid to let the Democrats continue to feel zero pressure by not foregrounding the immediate needs of the one group in your coalition who, by voting down ballot, can actually scare the Party into a more ambitious position. As a progressive political movement you should be offering these people the antidote to the political establishment’s basic assumption that they will simply fall in line. The very last thing you should be is yet another force assuming that ADOS will do as they are told; that they will conform to prevailing thinking within the movement. They won’t; nor should they.

Obviously any serious progressive movement in America is going to have to come through Betrayalville to get where it claims it’s headed. The misconception, though, is that, once there, Betrayalville isn’t necessarily a point of reprioritization for the movement. The ones who have for so long been cast aside and left behind should now be empowered to take their rightful place at the vanguard of inclusion and change.

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“Throw ‘African American’ in the trash, fam.” …Or no, actually, put it in the reparations report.

Earlier today, Chad Brown from the National Assembly of American Slavery Descendants (NAASD [pronouncedˈnæsti]) tweeted this.

In it, Chad tries to justify the California Reparations Task Force’s (approved) recommendation that ‘Black American’ be replaced with ‘African American’ in the committee’s report. This decision by the Task Force was met with zero censure or rebuke from activists like Chad, someone who has previously (on many, many, many, many, many, many, many occasions!) explicitly denounced the latter term.

And it was deserved denunciation.

After all, ‘African American’ denotes only that, as a Black person in America, either you or one of your ancestors drew their first breath of life somewhere on the world’s second-largest continent. That’s it. Doesn’t matter how you or your ancestors got here in America; doesn’t matter what happened to you or your ancestors while you were all here; nah, just check the one available box on the form please and thank you.

The implications of that catch-all identity for a group whose very survival depends on a politics that insists on the singularity and dissolubility of what their and their ancestors’ experience has in fact been in this country should be obvious. For too long now whenever that word appears in U.S. public policy it has been an open invitation to vulturize what is owed only to the descendants of American chattel slavery. And so the cry and the cause of specificity, which originated and is now carried by the #ADOS movement, became at once inviolable.

When within a small faction of that movement vanity and egotism were prioritized over a coordinated, lockstep approach to reparations advocacy, those who defected appeared to uphold that commitment to specificity (upholding it while, of course, deliberately marginalizing those who had developed its entire lexical and theoretical framework). But now, all the sudden, the inclusion of ‘African American’—a word that was once verboten—in a government-issued report purporting to make recommendations for reparations is, apparently, completely unproblematic. It comes as quite a surprise, particularly since—just a year and a half ago—Chad Brown was exhorting his 4.5k followers to “[t]hrow ‘African American’ in the trash, fam.”

To hear Chad tell it, though, despite the use of ‘African American’ throughout the Task Force’s report, the proper recipient group for reparations in the state of California is guaranteed. And that’s because, as he argues, AB 3121 “contains the language ‘AA who are descendants of persons enslaved in the US (sic).'”

In other words, according to Chad, when all is said and done, Californian lawmakers will be able to look at the category of African American in a more nuanced (that is to say, lineage-based) way and specifically (and legally!) sort out those who descend from the specific harm/institution in question. To support that claim, he references the bill whose passage a functional AB 3121 actually depends on: AB 1604.

AB 1604, as I’ve written about before, is merely this year’s re-issue of last year’s AB 105: the Upward Mobility Act of 2021. That bill—whose chief purpose was to ensure diversity among employees of California’s civil services system—included a small section that would charge state agencies with collecting data on the state’s African American population in such a way that mandated identifying discreet groups within that broad category (i.e. African Americans who are descendants of persons enslaved in the U.S. as opposed to, say, African Blacks or Caribbean Blacks). That particular section was drafted by NAASD and Coalition for a Just and Equitable California (CJEC), and a chief aim of it was meant to equip the state with a legal standard for actually doing lineage-based reparations. Chris Lodgson, founding member and lead organizer for CJEC—one of the Task Force’s “anchor organizations”—put it very straight-forwardly: “The outcome of [AB 1604] is two parts. One, that when we design policy for our people, it actually has a chance to get to our people—benefits of policies actually have a chance to actually get to our people. And two, it’s gonna help us figure out who will be eligible for reparations here in Caliornia.”

And so there seems to be an assumption that AB 1604 will do the requisite legwork when it comes to establishing legal principle in the state for disaggregating African American-ness. And that peppering the race-specific term ‘African American’ throughout the Task Force’s report is ultimately nothing to fuss about. But this attitude ignores the fact that the likelihood of AB 1604 actually becoming law is virtually nonexistent. The bill’s predecessor, despite making it out of the California State Senate, was summarily vetoed by Gov. Newsom on the grounds that other sections of the bill threatened to violate existing constitutional requirements. (You can read Lodgson decry the governor’s decision to veto the bill here). There was also Newsom’s mention of the apparently exorbitant price tag carried by AB 105 , a figure in the tens of millions, which, well, if he thinks that dollar amount is prohibitive, then I absolutely want to be in the room to see him go catatonic when he sees the cost of reparations.

In sum, whatever promise AB 1604 may contain, it remains part of a compromised piece of larger legislation that is essentially concerned with providing symbolic representation in positions of civic leadership rather than the actual material uplift of the state’s poorest citizens. And without that established mandate to precisely identify those particular residents of the state, the question is, then, simply, what becomes of AB 3121? Does it become a report laden with the phrase “African American”? If that’s the case, then when it comes to who can make a claim for reparations, do you potentially have a scenario where groups other than the “descendants of chattel enslaved people living in the U.S. before the end of the 19th century” can have access to compensation? Does it not even get that far and it just remains a report on the anti-Black harms suffered by all African Americans in California?

These are questions to which I certainly don’t have answers. But there’s reason to suspect the outcome might be grim. It’s hard to see how, if state agencies cannot collect specific, lineage-based data, the initiative proceeds in a way that is both functional and true to the original legislative intent. Or who knows, maybe I’m wrong. And in a certain way—in a very real sense—I kind of fucking hope I am. Because imagining a moment wherein some of the victims of such an enduring atrocity finally receive a measure of justice is, well, it’s incredibly satisfying. I don’t think this is that moment though. And I think what happened was that people who have absolutely zero understanding of power decided to go chase a bright, shiny object instead of keeping their eye on the ball and now actual power is just having a bit of fun with them, letting them play at some kind of elaborate history report. Pride, after all, goeth before destruction; and in reparations advocacy, I think we’ll see that vanity geoth before a veto.

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What was “Disinformation creep”?

A few months ago—after she’d been alerted by a colleague to a rumor that I’d apparently written (but had yet to publish) an ‘attack’ article about her on my big, scary blog—Mutale Nkonde spent an afternoon stress-tweeting about a 100% nonexistent post of mine to her 12,000 followers.

Instantly, progressive white women, like a fleet of rescue vessels rushing toward the lurid glow of distress flares launched in the distance, sprang into action. And as Nkonde continued to tweet for hours about an entirely imagined plot against her, they all convened in the comments, safespacing the threads with heart emojis and somber pledges of their boundless allyship.

Nkonde—bracing for the impending persecution—gave them all a solemn thanks and told them to join her in awaiting what was to come.

In a way, you can sort of see this as Nkonde creating her own kind of Garden of Gethsemane moment. Consider the words of Christ as He walked with Peter, James and John, knowing the hour of His betrayal drew near: “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

But of course wherein Christ there is righteousness, in Nkonde only wretchedness—an absolutely foul, vulgar and hostile lust for prestige which comes at the expense of the truly and enduringly persecuted. That, after all, is exactly what her Disinformation creep article was.

It was conceived purely to obliterate a great cause on the move; a movement that in just its birth alone had imbued America’s bottom caste with a sense of possibility that vastly surpassed what the frail and doddering ‘pro-Black’ organizations of the past fifty years have evidently been capable of inspiring this whole time. It was conceived to help rob that same caste of their due inheritance; to deny them their right to even think they might aspire to real freedom in the country that their shackled ancestors were made to build—a country that would seek to continually remake their condition of exclusion and draw it out as long as possible. That was the goal that Disinformation creep—with its pages upon pages of outright lies—aimed to support. And wouldn’t you know that those same decrepit organizations—the ones that make such a grand spectacle of their apparent inward hatred of bigotry and anti-Blackness in all forms—applauded it? They cheered and praised that despicable effort to put the leash of white supremacy in the grubby hands of validation-starved POC and instruct them to go and give the prong collar around ADOS’s neck a quick, sharp yank and remind them of their place.

But it failed. And it failed in direct proportion to the perseverance and drive of the activists who today are united in cause and need like never before.

And so then let the retraction of Disinformation creep—the formal declaration of that categorical failure to effect the masters’ wishes—be the first of the pike-mounted heads that have been sent by white supremacy toward the wall of the ADOS organization. Let it be an advertisement of what awaits those whom white supremacy next invites to feel for themselves the supposed thrill of giving ADOS a taste of the lash. And lastly let the movement itself continue to be a cleansing and devouring flame in a landscape teeming with Mutale Nkondes, with Shireen Mitchells, with Jess Aiwuyors, and let that flame eventually consume the whole loathsome, sprawling apparatus into which all of these cretinous things so desperately try and plug.

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On pole vault politics

It is interesting that—while he lectures #ADOS on their evidence-based position on immigration policy and scolds them for not uncritically accepting the claim that the unrestricted movement of people into the U.S. has zero implications for their group’s employment prospects in discreet economic sectors—Hassan Ahmad has assembled a team of professional litigators that seems to showcase exactly the kind of ethnic-first thinking that he rabidly decries as reactionary and immoral.

True enough, ethnic nepotism in the workplace is not necessarily indicative of a person’s broader and perhaps more egalitarian political committments. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to overlook the complete absence of a Black attorney at Ahmad’s immigration law firm given his opinion (so zealously and adamantly expressed on Twitter) of how Black Americans are supposed to feel about that particular issue.

Re: the overall situation on Black lawyers in America, it ain’t great. Not that that’s what this post is about, but it was reported this past summer that Black representation in the legal field—now at 4.7%—continues its downward trend. Oppositely, for Asian-American lawyers nationwide, their numbers have more than doubled since 2000 and they are the largest minority group in major law firms.

Like much of the demographic shifts that occurred in America after the mid-century, the largest wave of Pakistani immigrants to the U.S. was made possible via legislation that came out of the ADOS-led, Civil Rights-era advocacy efforts to relax national immigration policy. Unsurprisingly, the class character of these arrivals was of a decidedly higher echelon, and was made up of “generally well-educated and financially comfortable graduate students and professionals, such as doctors, engineers, and scientists, who emigrated for educational and economic opportunities.” The present-day median income of Pakistani-Americans—which, at $87.51K, well outstrips the national average—attests to how the group’s professional class seedings went on to facilitate the healthy, generational economic development that is enjoyed by every group but one in the United States: the American Descendants of Slavery.

None of this is particularly revalatory. And you really can do this with any immigrant group in America when evaluating against ADOS. Go ahead: make a graph where x is time in America and y is median income. No other ethnicity even remotely maps onto the absolutely sclerotic and stunted line that represents the ADOS experience. That line doesn’t even so much as quiver until around the early ’70s. That’s of course when the other groups start cropping up. And from there the ADOS line doesn’t climb so much as it just kind of like lurches forward, a totally un-dynamic slog while the people of color line begins its ascent. For Black America there’s another faint tremble of ‘improvement’ just around the millennium, but by that time the POC income slope is already entering territory that ADOS have never, ever (like, to this day) realized. From that point on, well, a headline of a 2016 WaPo article tells you just about everything you need to know: African Americans are the only racial group in the U.S. still making less than they did in 2000.

So I mean that’s the situation. And it seems to me that if there’s anything more appalling than the total lopsidedness of progress that has defined ADOS & minority economic development in America, it’s watching the blue checks like Hassan Ahmad all posse up and pick a fight with #ADOS because the latter are (just maybe!) beginning to feel like they’ve been cast(e) as the fall guy. Really, how are these people so seethingly mad at #ADOS for having done a basic appraisal of what a half-century of coalition politics has actually resulted in for them? Like, how do you become so intensely and keenly hateful toward people for interpreting reality? Were they just never supposed to figure out that the ‘politics of inclusion’ in effect reproduces the same basic hierarchy they’ve been trying to get out from under for the past four-hundred years? Are they supposed to remain silent while the grandeur and the specificity of their historic struggle just gets kind of crudely grafted onto this group or that group? I’m asking this sincerely: how can you possibly not expect ADOS to oppose more people coming into the country when literally every arriving group has used them to pole vault into a version of American life that they themselves have never accessed? They are the pole in this scenario. And it just seems obvious to me as to why they’d look for another way of doing things when you are screaming at them that the pole will eventually make it over the crossbar when, in fact, no, it never will, because it’s not supposed to.

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let’s indeed see what goes down

Not “famous people,” no.

Just belly-slithering frauds like yourself who merely (and perversely) aspire to some kind of useless and pathetic notoriety at the direct expense of a people whose struggle made your grubby-handed, bag grabbing existence here in America possible.

That’s what gets you picked.

And you can bet your bottom grant dollar that if and when I ever do decide to sit down at the desk with you on my mind, you won’t be ready for what follows.

But tell whoever told you I was coming for you that they got it twisted. Why would I need to come for you? There’s an entire movement going through you right now. Do you not see it? I can see it. I can see it when you panic tweet like this for an entire afternoon. And I know it’s just a matter of time before I’ll be watching you mourn your disgraced reputation in the movement’s wake, the sad and wretched and obscene little techno-grift that you tried to make for yourself.

The movement is already writing your ending, Mutale. I’m just here as a reader.

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And each with their slingshot drawn took aim.

Check out the hero’s journey in the Twitter bio of Mary Drummer.

Are you impressed? You’re supposed to be.

Mary is impressed. She is stuffed with self-regard, and she literally cannot imagine you feeling anything but the same sense of marvel and reverence and admiration that she feels when she reflects on her being “Harvard published.”

It’s sort of like when a toddler grabs your hand and drags you off the couch toward the toilet. How they are almost horizontal to the floor and saying “C’mon! C’mon!”, so eager to show you the poopie they made. Pointing at it with sheer excitement and looking up at you, searching your face for evidence of amazement and approval.

But of course Mary is not a toddler. And so it seems that, in her third decade of life, the felt need to show off to people the poopie she made manifests as just sort of humblebragging in her Twitter bio and wearing cartoonish eyewear that is meant to pre-empt and neutralize anyone’s idea that she takes herself too seriously or that she might be the sort of person who desperately clings to status markers like Harvard University.

Except that that is exactly the sort of person that Mary Drummer is. She is aware enough to know the dictate of crafting an ironic detachment from her deep-seated feelings of superiority, but not quite aware enough to know how completely transparent that whole calculated affectation is to everyone who is not in the little club that she’s in.

Ah, but the beauty of being in that club is that you get to be made to feel that the truest, most indisputable thing in the world is that those people who are outside of it simply do not matter whatsoever. That what those outsiders believe and what they say— despite whatever evidence they may submit to support their criticisms—does not warrant a mote of your concern because, as a member of the club, you know you have the full backing of an institution that’ll do whatever it needs to do in order to keep up the absurd farce that what you’re a part of isn’t purely a vehicle for sponsored opinion.

Mary Drummer is among those who are first in line when the call goes out for beings who place affiliation before principle. That’s the only way to honestly characterize those who—as Drummer was— were involved with Disinformation creep, a journal article so breathtakingly stupid and wholly contra to reality that its publication should fill you with a kind of disgusted fascination before emptying you of all faith in academia. The existence of a journal like Misinformation Review (where Disinformation creep appears) ought to vanquish any suspicion that academia is not a site of graft and teeming corruption, and which is—beneath all the noble-sounding bullshit—simply a cesspit of strivers trying to realize their desire for social gain and popularity.

And when that reality is struggling to be brought up to the surface (as is now happening because of the #ADOS movement’s refusal to be lied on in front of the whole world without reprisal), being in the club means that Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center is there like a mother’s soft hand on its researchers’ cheeks.

Yes, the affiliation with Harvard assures these people that there is no need to acknowledge, no need to engage, no need to worry; they can be very secure in the awareness that they will never need to consider the fundamental dishonesty of what they’ve just done. It wraps them in a warm blanket of certainty that Misinformation Review‘s circulation is for people who have absolutely zero interest in looking for the actual facts of what’s presented to them in its pages, they only want their assumptions parroted back to them, and so go ahead and say literally whatever the hell you want as long as it helps kill whatever glimmering possibility of repair is happening outside of the official channels of power. Make shit up, confident that you are backed by the highly-extolled institution of topsider-wearing liberals and classes that explore African female power through the lens of a Beyonce album. Throw literally fucking anything at the wall and do not give a second’s thought to what it might mean for your credibility; being in good with the propagana appendage of Harvard Kennedy School means never having to say “I’m sorry.”

For the past week now, a staggering number of tweets have demonstrated how, in so many ways, Disinformation creep directly contradicts the journal’s own professed ethic of truth-telling. We should be absolutely amazed that we are even having a discussion about a retraction of the article, one which is so thoroughly contaminated with lies. The fact that it has gotten to this point is evidence of the utter failure of academia to perform its most basic function, and the ongoing reticence of Harvard Kennedy School and those at the Shorenstein Center attests to just how immensely disdainful and actively hostile they are to Black Americans seeking to tell their story and properly inform the public.

Calling for the retraction of a journal article is not as sexy as marching on Washington. It is tempting to think that this particular journal article’s goofy bullshit—its total lack of integrity—will be its own undoing and that it will simply go away. It will not, because that is not how the world is made to work. The gravitas of Harvard—artificial and empty though it most certainly is—will override and eclipse everything. And I promise you that if Harvard cannot be compelled to issue a retraction on something as verifiably bereft of fact as this, then the reparations project beyond this moment faces unimaginably grim prospects. The implications of this thing could not be more significant, and the movement has put in way too much work, and is at way too pivotal a moment right now, to throttle down on full-throatedly demanding that Harvard retract.

Make no mistake: Harvard set out to destroy the #ADOS movement. Let’s keep calling. Let’s keep e-mailing. Let’s keep faxing. Let’s keep tweeting. Harvard’s path to victory is paved only with the dismissal of such work.

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Forgive Us Your Sewage: Pan-Africanism’s Radical Program of Forgiveness for ADOS

Just a theory: the Pan-Africanists who hate #ADOS don’t hate #ADOS because of the latter people’s actual politics. Pan-Africanists hate #ADOS because the people who are involved in that movement are pointing out something that no one else will: that Pan-Africanism in 2021 feels like a response to a question that basically no one really even asks anymore. That for all of their grand pronouncements—the epic and almost mythic sense of their project’s historical certainty—it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore how Pan-Africanism today just sort of feels in a lot of ways like the soggy nub of a joint being passed around at a dwindling party.

Think about it. Does the strangely visceral opinion about #ADOS held and oft expressed by Pan-Africanists really spring from the former’s politics? Yeah? Really? Well, what is it about the #ADOS political agenda specifically that they so hate? Is it that they would like the U.S. government to continue holding onto the trillions of dollars that it owes these people? Is it that they approve of chemical plants and refineries and waste dumps being strewn throughout black American communities in such a way that basically ensures those residents—simply by going outside and inhaling oxygen—contract what are 100% lethal diseases?

Or is it more likely that these people feel somewhere deep down that ADOS are like some kind of apparently lower form of oppressed subjects? And that, as such, they simply aren’t entitled to (or even capable of?) determining their own fate. Is it that they feel ADOS are being insubordinate and unmanageable and refractory and childish? Is it that in their assertion of agency and in their unsparing critique of the international movement that has patently failed them ADOS are hurting the feelings of many people who are—let’s be honest—way too emotionally overinvested in what’s mostly become just a quaint area of scholarship in our universities’ Africana Studies departments?

Just a theory! But doesn’t that seem like maybe a more honest answer?

Maybe those Pan-Africanists just hate that #ADOS has been quite successful in its reparations advocacy despite the movement’s refusal to conform to Pan-Africanist orthodoxy. And maybe it’s that these Pan Africanists have a faint notion that wounded pride isn’t exactly a sophisticated reason to critique #ADOS, so they instead invent some bullshit political pretext about how #ADOS’s advocacy is ‘ahistorical’ or totally reactionary or that those in the movement are corrupted by a strain of American exceptionalism or whatever.

That, anyway, is the basic defensive crouch position from which Broderick Dunlap writes his recent article, “A Dose of Reality for the ADOS Movement”. Adhering tightly to what is now the standard formula for a Pan-Africanist-Critique-of-the-#ADOS-Movement think piece, Dunlap’s essay is deeply fucking boring, stiff, and backward-gazing. It is obsessed with identifying earlier modalities and pointing out the completely obvious fact that #ADOS’s approach does not correspond with them (which, given the failure of those forms of identity and resistance to offer a bulwark against something as basic as inadequate sewage treatment, let alone unify an entire continent, well, duh!). But mostly Dunlap’s essay just aims to persuade the reader that reparations isn’t about money; that the real and most vital question that black people in America need to consider (black people who are forced to live under regularly occurring boil water advisories, mind you!)—is: “what will it take for Black folks to forgive the United States?”

It is true that, in the #ADOS political literature, this inquiry into the capacity of black people to forgive their victimizer is never raised. It also seems true that it is difficult to imagine a less radical and more insulting position than that, but, anyway, I digress. Thirdly, the suggestion that the only thing that #ADOS is concerned about is a simple transaction of overdue funds—after which they just sort of dust off their hands and raise a glass to victory while beginning to contemplate their new investment portfolios—is totally absurd, very easily disproven, and yet another example of the strong tendency among Pan-Africanists to feel that it is their right to define the #ADOS movement however they like.

But if the demand for monetary compensation to be paid to their group is what makes #ADOS a supposedly purely avaricious movement—if that is why they must be vilified and opposed and viewed as a blasphemous and debauched form of a black liberation movement—then what is one to make of similar demands for material redress made throughout the diaspora directly to that nation’s former colonizer? Here’s one such example involving Barbados’s demand for the United Kingdom to pay it reparations. Or when Hilary Beckles, chairman of CARICOM’s reparations commission explains that the organization of Caribbean member states is “focusing [our reparations claim] on Britain because Britain…made the most money out of slavery and the slave trade – they got the lion’s share,” where is the prolonged outrage from the Pan-Africanists who would otherwise decry the omission of other diasporic groups from this one-nation-in-the-crosshairs look at who owes who what? Why don’t the people making the argument for those reparations get accused of merely wanting “crumbs” from the old imperialistic British pie or whatever? Again, we are asked to believe that the Pan-Africanist antipathy toward #ADOS is rooted in a fundamental political disagreement, or like some inviolable set of internationalistic beliefs. But when demands that are analogous to those of #ADOS receive effectively none of the hostility and outright disdain that the #ADOS’s demand for reparations appears to singularly attract from the rest of the diaspora, it sure becomes hard not to see a more cynical motivation at the core of the their ‘critique’ of the movement’s political aims.

Here’s what I think: I think that the refrain of reparations not being about money is a slogan that is 100% designed to sheepdog would-be serious reparations advocates into supporting business as usual forever here in America. I think once you say something like that you have been brought right into the Democratic Party’s orbit and the DNC will make short work of turning your little proclamation of righteousness and purity or whatever the fuck it is into a feel-good campaign of money-free ‘justice.’ I think the accusation that monetary reparations for ADOS are viewed by that group not as the seeds to self-determination but rather as the harvest itself is a lie concieved in malice and spite—that it is a mischaracterization that strives to bastardize a project that has only ever argued the need for a significant restructuring of the (highly group-specific!) maldistribution of wealth in America before their group could ever meaningfully participate in any kind of internationalism. But what I really can’t account for though is why ADOS saying that activates some serious lizard brain shit in a whole lot of people. Or why those people apparently feel the need to gussy up that brute emotional response in some bogus political principle that they can’t really criticize without hypocrisy: it is OK for CARICOM to explicitly exclude ADOS from their reparations claim against imperial powers (and merely refer them to another organization trying to make additional pecuniary arrangements for Caribbeans), but it is a cause for moral outrage when #ADOS tries to take their group’s case to the U.S. government? I don’t know. That sort of unevenness of application strikes me as people who are motivated way less by actual ideas and more by the people themselves who are doing what they’re doing. And what are ADOS even doing that’s so totally unconscionable anyway? Turning to one another and becoming passionately invested in their shared experience instead of performing a committment to something that is no longer really a relevant force in the world but which will get them meaningless approval by lots of strangers? Again, I don’t know. It just seems like a lot of the time that what governs opinion about #ADOS involves a lot more high school lunchroom behavior than what those people would like us to believe.

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love in the time of covid, mockery in the time of the vaccine: our attitudes toward ADOS across the plague’s divide.

With the vaccine rollout gesturing at a kind of normalcy in America, Saturday Night Live evidently felt there was no time like the present to gauge how the old stereotypes of ADOS now fit onto their audience’s new (and presumably refined) sensibilities about race in America. After all, its primary audience was surely among those out marching in support of black lives over the past year. We had devoured White Fragility and spewed out its limp doctrine on Zoom meetings during smalltalk with co-workers. We’d performed the requisite self-flagellation online, confessing the discriminatory filth of our unconscious and our destructive complicity in making this place one-hundred percent inhospitable to black people. We’d scolded our relatives and distanced ourselves from degenerate friends who didn’t speak in tongues of wokeness. We’d decolonized our children’s dollhouses, arranging little POC and white figurines together in mise-en-scènes of anti-racism. We became—it would seem—new collective subjects who’d undergone a genuine conversion in our values, attitudes, and our felt sense of duty in helping bring the machineries of injustice set upon ADOS for centuries now to a grinding halt.

But if this development in the social sphere generated any anxiety within industries whose revenue streams have always depended on there being a healthy absence of pro-ADOS sentiment in the consumer market, then this past week’s SNL must surely have inspired a great sigh of relief. And maybe that was the point.

Because insofar as there is a spectrum of possibility for how we can interpret, identify, and encounter the ADOS experience, then one manufactured pole of that is as a dependable punchline. The other is as an actual plight that is deserving of every single ounce of our energies, nothing of ourselves withheld as allies in the struggle for justice for ADOS. I don’t need to tell you who is in charge of managing popular perception of the ADOS experience, nor are you probably unaware as to which of those two extremes these executive committees prefer to hew when packaging it for our consideration. But if there was a dim promise for the post-covid, post-George Floyd landscape of America, it was that white liberals were tacking hard in the opposite direction. It was as if maybe we really had plumbed the depths of our experience and arrived at a point of authentic understanding that would, if properly guided, admit no alternative but a complete giving over to the cause of repair for ADOS. At the very least it seemed that we had moved into a space where the old derogatory tropes about ADOS—that their poverty is voluntary, that their lives are just long stumbling negotiations in ignorance, that they choose to be victims—simply were not going to have any further traction, no further purchase among whites whose consciousness of systemic racism had been so dramatically intensified and deepened in the early spring of last year. Such ideas about ADOS belonged to a benighted past and it was our responsibility now to rail against any effort to rid us or rob us of our awareness of how profoundly and enduringly vulnerable their group has been made to be. Or so it seemed.

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Given SNL‘s history as a venue for elite interests to announce whether it’s OK for white liberals to laugh in the aftermath of a reality-fragmenting event, it’s not surprising to see them trotting out anti-ADOS tropes as we haltingly piece society back together after the trauamtic interruption of the pandemic. No, no, not to worry now. SNL is here to inform us that the first order of business in a vaccinated America is an immediate revival of our quaint ridicule of the American Negro. In fact, post-pandemic America (SNL would like to suggest) provides us with a whole new environment into which we can now port our enduring national prejudices about them. Oh, those vaccine-averse blacks! Isn’t it just like them to knowingly avoid doing the Right Thing? Sigh.

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Here’s something to consider: the teeming possibilities of the face(s) of vaccine skepticism in America. Fully 1/3rd of the U.S. military expressed an unwillingness to receive the vaccine. Large swaths of the nation’s rural area residents (31%) are on record saying they would rather wait and see what happens before they offer a bare arm at a vaccine site. You could do Trump voters (47%), or Republican men in general (57%). White evangelicals? Yup: 40%. Hell, 50% of construction workers in America are declining to take the vaccine. You could talk about the failure of TikTok to adequately gin up vaccine enthusiasm in the youth. We have a whole menu of reluctants from which to choose and what do we do? We instead rush to pour scorn on the exact group of people whom we have just spent the entire past year trying to impress other liberals with our newfound awareness about (and apparent empathy for) how that group’s experience in this country has essentially been a four-hundred-year unfolding catastrophe.

Obviously the grotesque racism on display in the skit was repulsive. But it’s the surge of repressed anti-ADOS sentiment in this particular moment, and its warm reception, that evokes a real horror. If you are the sort of person who can transition from insisting on systemic racism as that which shapes every aspect of ADOS’s lived experience, to then laughing along with a late-nite comedy skit’s idea of those same people as being deserving victims, then you are a monstrous semi-human whose innate viciousness is all the worse because you make such an obscene spectacle of pretending not to be the absolute lumbering contradiction that you are. It is all the worse because you affect such moral panic one minute, and disclose your obvious complicity in the whole thing the next. I know that it’s comforting for you to see what that SNL skit offered—confirmation that it’s still acceptable to view ADOS as that which fundamentally exists to inspire mirth (what else could really signal the resumption of normal affairs in America!)—but the realities that it tried to lampoon are (warning: obvious point ahead) far more complex.

Who cares though, right? Yeah, who fucking cares. Let’s just hector them into getting the vaccine. Let’s subject them to a barrage of abuse—give it a comic gloss—until they do the sane and reasonable thing and take the damn substance that they are so foolishly refusing. Nevermind that many are not in fact refusing, but rather are falling victim to the same merciless, brutal, and rotten system that has sorted out their non-access to just about everything in America since their ancestors’ time on the plantations. Nevermind that they are the same group that the U.S. government, a century and a half ago, earmarked for a reconstruction effort that never took place and instead simply left them to a world intended to collapse. A world that is not your world but is one I guess you think you can laugh at when you’re not busy stroking your chin and filling up reams of paper with your thoughts about how oppressive it is and about your privilege in relation to it. A world that for you and I is unfathomably distant, a thing about which neither you nor I have really even a fucking fraction of actual understanding. A world that is full of people who have been made to bear the traces of their ancestors’ material ruination and whom (despite that!) we apparently feel no real unease of conscience when it comes to caricaturing them in skits as people whose decision-making apparatus is irredemably and hopelessly broken; to paint them as people whose thought-capacity is so crude and primitive it’s a wonder that cranial slime doesn’t just leak out of their earholes all day; ludicrous beings whose stories in this moment must not be shown to resemble actual occurences like this one: “As the nurse swabbed his arm, [Richard Hopkins] began explaining how he’d been trying to find the shot for months. Selma, the nearest town of any size, had run out of doses. Birmingham was too far, and he did not have a smartphone or Internet connection to secure an online appointment, anyway. ‘Seems like they looked over me some kind of way,’ he said as the shot went in the arm of a man who had been in Selma for the famous civil rights marches of 1965, and then moved to New York City, and then returned home, where he did not want to die of covid-19.”

We are the hopelessly broken ones.

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Let Us Now Praise ‘White Allies’

Is there is always some hideous aspect to white allyship? An appalling specular instinct? A need to experience ourselves as being seen through the eyes of others?

Sure isn’t a ton of evidence to the contrary. Consider the surging narcissism it takes to write those words: praised me.

Those words come from the ancient, fetid reservoir of attitudes and convictions somewhere deep inside the white ally. “White ally”. Seal it between scare quotes whenever referring to any one of us. Feel about us as you would an approaching flock of ragged vultures, flapping and colliding with one another in our rush to feed. Repeatedly inform us that our allyship is regarded as being one-hundred percent provisional and that we should probably go ahead and keep our coats on because there is every reason to believe that it is just a matter of time until one of us casually utters a phrase like “praised me” to—and about—black people.

Our fuck up quotient in this space is in a class all its own. It has been for centuries. And eventually, despite all the solemn avowals and heartfelt assurances of us being Not Like That, a bubble from the bed of the ancient swamp rises up and breaks on the surface like a sulfurous belch for everyone to see. I really just can’t get over all you blacks and how you used to praise me… It’s amazing how so very loved I once was by all of you.

What Gabriel so luridly demonstrates is that if you give us an inch we will make it our business to moralize about the movement and the psychologies of those in it. Let us perceive ourselves as having suffered the smallest of slights and we will declare the movement to have gone completely astray from the path of righteousness it once was on. We will whimper and agonize about how we were so badly abused and make pious attempts to steer the movement back onto its supposedly true course, which it seems is only ‘true’ insofar as it is fulfilling whatever wretched need(s) we may obscenely demand of it; only ‘true’ insofar as the likes and retweets and comments make us feel like we are the master-signifier; as long as they feed into the idea of ourselves as a fixed exemplar. If you let us carry on with that for too long, we will just create monsters.

And so may the banishment of whites who cannot slaughter their revolting need for adulation in the movement be swift, merciless and permanent. May we work to hasten their excommunication at the very first indication that they are here leeching online to ask ADOS for signs of their favor and not to ask them only how we fit into their political project. And may I—please God—be summarily purged if I ever begin interpreting myself as being ‘praised’ by the people in this space, people who deserve so much better than having a white person who is here because of some nameless, listless, attention-seeking boredom and who pats himself on the back for just doing the obviously right thing. Be sure of one thing about the person who talks like Gabriel: they are using this space to have you construct for them an idol of themselves, and that aim towers over any other goal.

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