Beating the House: #ADOS, Reparations, and Liquidating the Debt of Whiteness

With respect to the singularity of the ADOS experience in the United States, our political discourse has thus far proven itself capable of accommodating exactly one truth: the group’s ancestors were not immigrants. And however salient the caveat may be that ADOS’s ancestors were not among that category of people who voluntarily opted into America, when beyond it declarations of convergence and equivalence crowd out a space for further contrast between those legacies of the groups that arrived here as immigrants, and that of the group that was brought here as captives, what’s achieved is not so much a recovery of truth—which is what the affirmation of that initial capital-D Difference ostensibly sets out to do—but a covering up of the scope of that truth, a papering over of the sweeping implications of the dramatic and enduring Difference that was forged specifically for ADOS in the crucible of our nation’s beginning.

Indeed, there’s no real courage required to simply (though always solemnly) aver that ADOS didn’t choose this place, because the speaker seldom if ever aspires to have us behold the more appropriately panoramic view of the sprawling impact of that Difference: how that first choicelessness in matters of national life that had characterized the group as chattel property likewise came to characterize their children and their children’s children and so on, even as they exist as apparently free and autonomous men and women, invested with the full rights of citizenship. In our present political moment, courageousness would—maybe above all—be not getting squirmy and irresolute when that panoramic view reveals how the transmission of that Difference through the generations has always provided a space through which the globally disadvantaged could gain access to a piece of American possibility in a way that has never been permitted to ADOS; a space through which centuries of group-specific material theft could be sublimated into (and perversely celebrated as) an ethos of freedom and opportunity for all.

And so is it any wonder that after four-hundred years of the kind of targeted oppression that makes possible (that makes certain!) a situation in which ADOS are being socio-economically lapped by groups that have been here for a mere fraction of the time as they have—a time during which ADOS has been engaged in a tooth and nail fight for inclusion and authentic belonging—that they wouldn’t feel content with just having an asterisk next to the country’s slogan of Immigrants Built This? One which utterly fails to acknowledge how those other groups’ contributions—however valuable they might be—were ones that were made entirely possible by the wholesale extraction of agency and denial of access of their group, the ones who really did Build This. Do the critics feel that ADOS are not human enough to feel narked by that? Are they so unjustified in pointing out the specific contours of their oppression?

Because what #ADOS has always understood is that advocating for authentic repair and for what they are owed as a group necessarily requires the development of a new vocabulary of comparison, one that is actually capable of revealing how the production of their particular group’s failure has been, for the U.S., a project of some considerable upkeep since its inception.

Predictably, the response to #ADOS’s bid for recognition as a uniquely disadvantaged group in America—and the attendant demand for reparations—has been a policing of that endeavor to the extreme. And since that new vocabulary of comparison is one that unsettles otherwise fixed notions of marginalized identities—notions which ultimately hold very little promise in resolving (or even attempting to account for) the fact that while the composition of blackness in America has grown more rich than ever, ADOS alone remains its poorest expression—the movement has been labeled as ‘anti-immigrant’, ‘xenophobic’ and ‘nativist.’ Such reproach, however, signals nothing so much as a complete unwillingness to deal in good faith with the historical situation of ADOS having been made to occupy an always subordinate position in society relative to recent arrivals, and a total disinclination to honestly grapple with the matter of how or why that situation has been made to last right up into the present. It is a mentality that simply cannot allow for any significance in the group’s attitude toward immigrants as being not at all grounded in their coming to America from a different place, but rather their coming to America from an altogether different history—a history that #ADOS has, it bears mentioning, never once argued does not entail the immigrant’s own experience of marginalization and basis for pursuing justice, but which is one that is necessarily separate from, and non-contiguous with, the history of sprawling disadvantage wrought in this country specifically for ADOS by the manufacturers of white hegemony in America.

And this is the point: the charge of #ADOS being ‘xenophobic’ or ‘anti-immigrant’ seems to—in a way that is strangely at odds with its apparent intent—perpetuate some pretty foundational attitudes and assumptions of traditional American white supremacy; namely, that there is no validity to be granted the perspectives of American descendants of slavery when it comes to their oppression, and that they, as a group, shall have the terms of what is and is not systemic American racism set for—and in no way defined by—them, its principal victims.

But if what it means to be white in America is simply the absence of what it has meant in a material sense to be ADOS—if that is Normal—then immigrants who merge into America from a position outside of that history enjoy a very straightforward advantage in becoming Normal. Certainly the well-documented disparity in outcomes between the native-born black community and the foreign-born attests to that proposition. And maybe in rushing to rescue the immigrant from his or her customary fate as scapegoat for misplaced anxieties and grievances—the victim of a reactionary lashing out that is exactly the sort of thing that critics of #ADOS feel white supremacy in America needs in order to fracture solidarity and sustain itself—those individuals are overlooking the ways in which they might be providing in fact more of the only thing that white supremacy in America actually does need to survive, some more of that thing that the immigrant has him or herself probably always recognized and has presumably by sheer natural instinct for survival as an individual competing for position in a society with limited resources sought to leverage; that thing, namely, is for the Difference and absolute abnormality of the blackness that was chattel slaveried into the ADOS lineage to endure in meaning, a Difference to which they and only they were subjected.

You can read all the hatred and irrationality that you want into a stance that rejects the continuity of that scenario. But shouting at them that they are ‘xenophobic’ and ‘anti-immigrant’ won’t change the fact that much of what animates and impels ADOS’s present uncompromising assertion of their Difference is exactly that same aforementioned sheer natural instinct for survival that has, heretofore, led immigrants to exploit it. Because even in our most generous conception of what’s possible in America today, the disease of Difference which the country developed for and infected ADOS with in order to inoculate its white population from capitalism’s indiscriminate and ruthless need for failure somewhere in the system, has in turn produced an obviously terminal state of affairs for the group. We live in what is now effectively the United States of Wealth Transfers. And for all the promise of racial justice that supposedly inheres in the universal policies being put forward on the presidential candidates’ campaign trails (policies for which ADOS—in not receiving them with rapturous delight—are being chided by their supposed comrades and shown the most extreme demonstrations of contempt), the fact is that we have so completely and uniquely gutted possibility for ADOS in this country that anything less than reparations at this point will essentially function as a mere restructuring of the tremendous debt we owe them for our, at bare minimum, being able to participate in American life in a recognizably Normal way. And one of the absolute biggest fallacies being sold to the national audience from up on those debate stages is the idea that by not paying reparations to ADOS while we pursue a suite of class-based redistributive policies, we will not, in turn, be restoring some liquidity into a white supremacy that then could (and absolutely will) claw its way back from a place of lesser influence to continue its normal operation of producing evermore ADOS failure. It is a belief that history tells us is wildly and frighteningly out-of-touch with what actually happens when whatever universal or quasi-socialist initiative reshuffles the cards of opportunity and access in this country: ADOS is still dealt a losing hand. The house—which is to say whiteness—always wins.

Doubtless #ADOS will continue to be lazily and erroneously portrayed as an intolerant mob that is pushing a white supremacist agenda—a group that is ensuring the house continues to win. But for a movement that has worked so tirelessly to in fact promote an understanding of whiteness in America as being an expression of the cumulative debt owed specifically to ADOS—and through those very efforts having made it so much more knowable and assailable as such—that certainly seems like a real curious accusation; particularly since reparations, which would function to liquidate that debt, would (by ADOS’s own definition!) also function to liquidate whiteness. One is left wondering how it is, then, that the supposed agents of white supremacy are out here committing their whole beings to getting a critical mass to rally around the fact that their identity is the most damning and actionable indictment against it?