Ta-Nehisi Coates's Atlantic cover story on slavery reparations was released on Thursday. Because I had written about the piece, I was invited to discuss the larger subject of reparations on "The Steve Malzberg Show," a radio talk show on conservative outlet Newsmax (video below). The conversation shined an interesting light on the conservative position regarding many racial issues today. Let us count the different pathologies:
1. An Inability To Stay Off The Subject of President Obama
Malzberg began by stating that Obama would be in favor of reparations "if he could." (Obama says he is opposed to reparations.)
2. Complaints About Racism Are Really An Attack on America
Malzberg quoted this bit of Coates's piece:
What I'm talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage.
About this, Malzberg stated immediately that "it sounds like he has a problem with America in general." I replied that he was merely calling for an understanding of history. Malzberg then told me that the Fourth of July was a day of celebration, and that Coates was exhibiting a dislike of the United States. I again explained that talking about American history is not a sign of disliking America, and that Coates was simply calling for a more honest appreciation of history.
3. Democrats Are Just As Bad as Republicans
Malzberg then continued with Coates's quote from above, in which Coates says, "Reparations would mean the end of yelling 'patriotism' while waving a Confederate flag." I interrupted him to say that this was reasonable. Malzberg then immediately attacked Bill Clinton for being soft on the Confederate flag, which I couldn't tell if Malzberg was happy or sad about.
4. Change the Subject
Malzberg then asked me a fair question that I didn't have an answer to: specifically, did I believe in financial reparations, and if so, how big should they be? When I said I wasn't sure, but also that our racial problems were still acute, he asked, "So you think slavery is responsible for blacks' problems today?" I responded to this charmingly dumb question by saying that years of slavery followed by years of other sorts of repression might, oh, I don't know, breed societal problems.
5. Other Countries Are Bad Too
Malzberg then made what I thought was his most absurd comment, when he said it was important to mention that "slavery was not invented by the United States," and, furthermore, that African countries practiced slavery hundreds of years ago, and still do to this day. This was what might be called a non sequitur. I said as much, but Malzberg responded that Americans were somehow being victimized because Coates was focusing on us. I pointed out that Coates was an American writing a piece about Americans.
6. Blame Affirmative Action
Malzberg was then set off when I said that slavery was at least in part responsible (even if indirectly) for various problems today. Malzberg disagreed, and said that America had tried to right those wrongs, including via affirmative action. Since I can guess that Malzberg doesn't believe affirmative action actually helps anyone, I don't see the force of his point.
7. Cluelessness About How Government Works
Things got even weirder when Malzberg said he didn't see anything that could be done to "remedy" what was done in the past. I mentioned steps to stop discrimination, whether in housing or policing or criminal justice more broadly. I also mentioned the quality of schools that many African Americans attend, and the quality of healthcare that many African Americans have access to. He then exclaimed, "anyone can get health insurance," which was odd because he is an Obamacare opponent, and he seemed to be stating this with pride in his country.
But then he changed course, asking, "Should we just give people health insurance?" I answered yes. He seemed aghast by the idea. I mentioned that he already helped pay for people's health insurance via taxes. "I am not talking about that. That's something completely different," he told me when I mentioned Medicaid. He then said it was outrageous that I brought up racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He said he couldn't respond if I didn't have facts.
The conversation eventually ended when I accused him of being less interested in actual racial problems and more interested in stirring up trouble.