Loud and Wrong: Some Rebuttals to the Latest ADOS Smear

The following are thoughts on some of the chief claims put forward by a recent “Media Matters” article, nearly all of which seem to neatly recapitulate the criticisms that could be found in the alleged N’COBRA memo, “ADOS Exposed.”

1.) American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) is an organization that is campaigning for reparations.

False. Or, at the very least, imprecise and breathtakingly reductive. ADOS is not an “organization.” It is a bourgeoning political movement made up of a specific group of American citizens who’ve begun self-identifying around what is easily the most consequential factor of their personhood; namely, that their lineage is rooted in the American institution of chattel slavery, a practice which not only sought to deny those enslaved individuals any personhood in the first place, but which—because of the trans-generational nature of its economic injustices—has effectively ensured that same negation of humanity be extended and conferred upon their descendants. They’re not just “campaigning for reparations,” either. That is, without a doubt, the most superficial, simplistic and journalistically-lazy read of the political project. It is exactly the sort of thing that someone who was told to write about ADOS—but who has no interest in actually researching the movement—would write. What ADOS is doing is what oppressed groups have always done in movement politics, which is emphasize the singularity of their struggle and advocate as a collective for redress specific to those harms and damages. If, at this juncture, ADOS is “campaigning” for anything, it is to have the group’s particular experience of enduring centuries of persecution through private racism and anti-black federal policy recognized as that which is theirs and theirs alone. They are “campaigning” for why—in the context of justice for black America—only they deserve reparations specific to that history and lived experience.

2.) There is evidence that ADOS is advancing a right-wing agenda, and while it calls itself progressive, it pushes pro-Trump, anti-immigrant views.

There is evidence that ADOS is advancing a black agenda; that is, an agenda specifically drawn up with the aim of avoiding precisely those pitfalls involved in doing partisan-oriented politics that lump together disparate and—in the case of ADOS—often competing interests which have traditionally tended to appropriate the black struggle for its moral value and leave off the need to provide that group with tangible results in exchange for their ballot punch. The ADOS agenda is a response to the failures of that model of (non)co-operative advocacy and a clarion call to instead foreground a particular set of issues that are most relevant to the community and its uplift. And insofar as one of the most salient aspects of ADOS life is the steadily depressed rates of participation in the labor market since the advent of liberal immigration policy, it stands to reason that the group would support legislation that helps reverse that trend. The fact that ADOS gets attributed to it the same base prejudices and needless bigotry that actually does characterize a particular anti-immigrant attitude on the Right—when in fact the movement has consistently presented a far more nuanced and rational argument supported by evidence that shows a correlation between the prospects for working-class blacks and immigration (and has staked out its position exclusively on those grounds)—reveals nothing so much as the startling inability in our immigration discourse to accommodate dissent, and an observably illiberal state of affairs in the Left wherein adopting anything less than an explicitly pro-immigration stance is reflexively perceived as being xenophobic. The most that could be said about ADOS “pushing” certain views on immigration is that it pushes back on a status quo that—while consistently ensuring that ADOS has been excluded from enjoying the kinds of opportunities that immigrants typically come here to access—now demands they support policies that make it even easier for those groups to come here and further compromise the potential for material gain in the black community. There is, moreover, another, even more pernicious aspect of contemporary immigration policy to which ADOS is right to object; namely, the false impression of progress within black America that is created when foreign-born blacks—who routinely have come from a class position that Sandy Darity recently described as “exceed[ing] not only the average black American, but [that of] the average white American”—arrive in the United States. Leaving aside the issue of those immigrants’ typically contemptuous attitudes toward native blacks in America, the way in which their presence distorts and masks the alarmingly persistent and deliberate underdevelopment of the native black community is an obviously grave matter for a group whose ability to make an argument for their justice claim by pointing to the data on black life in America is, in effect, undercut by a growing number of upper-class, prosperous black immigrants in their midst. That reparations for American chattel slavery is, for this non-native group, largely a politically irrelevant matter, lends further credence to ADOS’s principle critique of contemporary immigration dogma: that it is an issue which, presently, is too fraught with contradictions for the group, and which must be resolved in a way that’s beneficial to them before they can advocate on behalf of other populations to come here.

3.) ADOS attacks other supporters of reparations, apparently for the benefit of Republican politicians.

ADOS is understandably vexed and offended by “other supporters of reparations” who demand that the group uncritically support politicians who themselves do not support reparations.1 Or whom (insofar as certain politicians do endorse reparations) nonetheless evince a thoroughly misguided understanding of what the word needs to mean in order to effect meaningful justice for American Descendants of Slavery. Reparations for ADOS is not a soundbite; and being a committed pro-reparations advocate means more than writing two rap lyrics about it over the course of seven years.2 For ADOS, it is the central, organizing principle in their eleventh-hour effort to be made whole and participate in a recognizably normal manner in the political, economic, and civic processes of the country that was built off the theft of their labor. It is their Hail Mary pass. And the fact that it has come down to a Hail Mary pass for black America in the year 2019 is such a fucking monumental failure of justice that it’s no wonder they respond with outrage when they’re chided with some faux-sage political counsel that recommends restraint, prudence, and a willingness to postpone their demand to receive redress. ADOS—like nothing before it—provides the group with such a truly empowering and necessary thing: not only a political, but existential anchoring through which they can pursue justice with the same singleness of aim and purpose with which injustice has, for centuries now, been done to them. So pardon the group for not running hangdog back to the Democratic Party where—if history is any indication—their being forsaken for a slew of other causes all while being told to surrender their vote without complaint for their own good is a fait accompli. That’s the alternative to ADOS not doing self-interested politics in 2019. And so is it really any wonder that the specter of four more years of Trump fails to sufficiently persuade them to fold on what they (rightly) understand is the group’s only recourse to gain some footing in the contemporary U.S.? Maybe that conviction and determination is better understood less as a matter of them carrying water for the conservatives, and more as the dawning consciousness of the Democrats being essentially a placebo party for ADOS, a trap-nest that for the past half a century has observably chosen to commit to paying—not reparations to ADOS—but only the most patronizing lip service to their suffering.

4.) ADOS has been promoted on Twitter by right-wing bigot Ann Coulter.

With respect to ADOS, Ann Coulter has literally only ever commented on what she feels would be a superior arrangement of the movement’s initials. To imply that she has been actively tweeting support for ADOS is just one of any number of examples of sloppy, misleading and just downright abysmal political journalism in the article.

5.) There is evidence that white supremacists have jumped on board with ADOS and that 4chan posters may be using the movement to sow division.

The ‘evidence’ posted was from a user with a Canadian flag icon, and whoever the person is doesn’t even know what the initials of the movement stand for. Go home, Media Matters. There is evidence you’re drunk.

1. The exchange that is cited exclusively in the “Media Matters” article took place between Yvette Carnell and Talib Kweli on the 3rd of March 2019, a time when Bernie Sanders had been unequivocally opposed to the idea of reparations for slavery.

2. For whatever reason, Talib Kweli has become the focal point for commentary on ADOS’s apparent hostility toward “other supporters of reparations.” In his Medium piece “Why #ADOS is Trash. Receipts Attached,” the rapper submits as irrefutable evidence of his advocacy for the cause of reparations two (2) lyrics that he wrote between the years 1997 and 2004, one of which he bafflingly misquotes: “They call it reparations (he means I call it reparations), they call it extortion.” Leaving aside the question of how a person whose whole life is words ends up misquoting himself on an issue he is apparently deadly serious about (it’s almost as if he has someone else writing his Medium articles!), if one is left scratching their head at how this qualifies as substantive reparative justice advocacy, I promise you that you are not alone. Kweli does, for the record, also cite having once “worked closely” with a grassroots organization, though whatever ‘working closely’ actually entailed is left entirely unspecified.