Miranda: Short (well, it started short!) reflection just to kick this off:
I adore what Ta-Nehisi Coates is doing. He never talks about policy without calling on history; he never fails to shed light on the difference between the rhetoric of determinism and the America we really live in.
I grew up in the Rust Belt knowing race and poverty were connected but without understanding why. Poverty closest to me was explained by individual failings: my distant relatives were "distant" because of their issues with drugs, their mental health problems, their 10th grade educations. That my parents made it out was proof that "bootstraps" are real. When that's your frame, the correlation between race and poverty started to seem explainable, though in ways I knew better than to ever say aloud.
Maybe the missing pieces are so big we don't see them: policy and history. (Those bootstraps were made of free childcare my grandparents could provide because they had pensions and Social Security, federal student loan guarantees, union-negotiated health insurance ... and that they are unequivocally white). Turns out there are links between poverty and race, and while they are old, they are deep and they are raw and the part that's individual is so small. That's what Coates is bringing to light for people, for all their education and consciousness and responsibility, who should know this.
Brittaney: (Not so short, but bear with me!)
Miranda, I totally just latched on to your comment about the bootstraps; they are not what many people believe they are. Those figurative bootstraps are made of personal determination, yes, but they are also made of government policies that enabled many Americans to do well for themselves, and I think that's something to be celebrated. If it weren't, what would be the reason for us coming to policy school? But it's so easy to forget how those very "bootstraps" that helped a lot of white Americans build wealth and ascend to the middle class were used to hold back African Americans with the same aspirations.
Thinking about Suz's question--what our roles as policymakers should be in all of this--I think Ta-Nehisi gets at it. He's trying to redefine what we think of as reparations; we can't just think of it as repayment anymore. Repairing all the economic, social and mental injuries inflicted upon African Americans is inextricably tied to collective acknowledgment of those injuries, and I don't think we have done that. We (and I mean a collective, American "we") keep trying to make policy that addresses problems experienced in African American communities without actually addressing how those problems came to be. I think that's what the 'race vs. class' argument is really about. We don't want to do the mental legwork of deconstructing the ugly, racist identity that we are still wrestling with as a country because it's uncomfortable. We can't discuss slavery without discussing forced labor of African Americans at the turn of the 20th century. And you can't discuss forced labor without unpacking the mass incarceration of African Americans today, which makes us all complicit. So we think of class as the catchall antidote for racial disparities, even when we have a solid historical account that tells us that class-based policies can be subverted to leave out (or even willfully harm) African Americans--that's exactly what the Social Security Act, the G.I. Bill and the National Housing Act did.
So if I had to think about where we, specifically, as policy students and practitioners should start, I think it would be there--with acknowledging (read: studying) the damage that our public policy has done to African Americans. This is a huge piece of our history, and it should be highly relevant to the work that we aspire to do. How else will we be able to build consensus and gain support for policies that would actually serve as 'reparations'?
Corey: Woah! How provocative, spot on and informative.
I echo everyone's sentiments about how the complicated narrative on race versus class has tangled up our analysis of current outcomes as they pertain to historic policies. I will offer that the story he offers here in contextualizing and personalizing the impact of policy goes a lot further than any data set, model or formula I've come in contact with. His account of how these policies disenfranchised an entire generation of African American people was both uncomfortable and enlightening but it surprisingly left me with a breath of fresh air. I kept thinking that this where policy meets the person, and I'm now wondering why we don't make a bigger push for offering the human side of things in any type of "rigorous" "formal" "traditional" analysis. Moreover, I must admit that I wasn't naive about any of this history except for the contracts portion, but even that wasn't all that unbelievable.
In offering a point of departure from this historical account, I think that the role of participatory action based research, planning and analysis asserts itself as a viable contender in public policy education and training for the very reason that we all found this narrative compelling. Any responsible policy professional should be intentional about leaving their desk, closing their excel document, and putting those STATA commands on hold to go out, look around, ask questions and engage everyday people. This is important and necessary for the public policy professional that aspires to be responsible, effective and fair.