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Reparations Debate Reveals Black Ethnic, Political Schisms

The ongoing reparations discussion among 2020 Democratic presidential candidates has revealed concerns among a contingent of Black voters who argue that few, if any, contemporary American politicians have exclusively served the interests of American descendants of slavery (ADOS), a group that suffers from the residual effects of the “peculiar institution” and present-day disenfranchisement.

As members and supporters of the ADOS movement gear up for an inaugural conference in early October, founders Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore continue to carve a space for Black Americans whose ancestors suffered enslavement and shoot down what they describe as attempts to muddle ADOS’ causes with that of other constituencies.

“There cannot be a Green New Deal when there hasn’t an ADOS New Deal,” Carnell said earlier this year on “Breaking Brown,” her YouTube program that has more than 62,000 subscribers.

In the Feb. 13 episode of “Breaking Brown,” Carnell, a Howard University alumna, referenced the increasingly popular set of proposed economic stimulus programs that tackle climate change and economic inequity. She argued that Black Americans who descend from enslaved Africans deserve a similar trillion-dollar package that directly addresses the socioeconomic deficiencies brought on by chattel slavery and subsequent policies that placed them at the bottom of the American totem pole.

“I keep getting people telling me that we can add an ADOS New Deal into the Green New Deal,” Carnell said as she framed global warming as a problem that global capitalism created. “When we’re talking about an ADOS New Deal, we’re talking about a domestic New Deal. This is something that happened in America [as] a consequence of American government, policies, action and inaction. We’re talking about something that hasn’t been redressed.”

Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), both 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro have embraced reparations for descendants of American enslavement, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) expressed his opposition.

Earlier this month, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) followed suit, arguing that reparations, legislation for which his former colleague John Conyers championed for decades, wouldn’t be feasible.

Outside of the Beltway political sphere, Carnell and Moore’s stance on reparations, and the need for restorative justice exclusive to American descendants of slavery, has elicited charges of xenophobia from Pan-Africanists who’ve been involved in reparations movement for decades.

Dr. Conrad Worrill, a longtime activist based in Chicago, has counted among those on the front lines of the opposition, characterizing ADOS as a movement lacking historical context.

Long before liberal media pundits mischaracterized ADOS members as Russian bots, Carnell and Moore, a film producer and practicing attorney, built a following among Black Americans resentful of former President Barack Obama, whose centrist policies they blamed on his disconnect from American slavery. Similar questions about lineage arose after Harris, a daughter of a Jamaican man and Indian woman, launched her presidential campaign on Martin Luther King Day.

Last year, in their efforts to further differentiate themselves from Black immigrants and other historically oppressed groups, ADOS members shifted their focus to the 2020 Census, particularly the controversial citizenship question.

As the Supreme Court gears up to deliberate on this matter, Carnell and Moore have said they welcome the addition as a chance for American descendants of slavery to be accurately counted and receive programs endemic to their issues.

Jeri Green, 2020 census senior adviser for the National Urban League, said she had a different take.

“I understand where these concerns are coming from but I also understand that the accurate count of all of our population of [African and Carribbean] immigrants is critical in funding what our community needs,” she said in late January during a teleconference about the 2020 Census.

“I don’t know if [the U.S. Census] is the vehicle through which these issues [about American descendants of slavery] can be addressed. I know we need those funds for affordable housing, healthy baby programs, and Medicaid,” Green added.

Subsequent Washington Informer articles, to be published in the coming weeks, will address other facets of the reparations discussion.

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