by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier
Before the Civil War, during America’s westward expansion, the Democratic Party was split over whether the western territories would be slave or free states. The southern faction, led by Jefferson Davis, wanted slavery in all the new territories, and the northern faction, led by Stephen A. Douglas, promoted “popular sovereignty.” Douglas said the local people in each territory should decide the matter through a referendum. The Douglas Plan was popular among the settlers in the western territories, but Douglas actually opposed slavery. (This is debated by historians.)
Politics, along with popular support, is the art of compromise.
In 2016, President Barack Obama had a message for the Democratic Black voting bloc that supported his historic tenure. Obama said he would be disappointed if the “Black vote” didn’t come out in record numbers for Hillary Clinton like it came out for his 2012 re-election bid. Obama left office deeply disappointed. According to the Pew Research Center, the Black voter turnout rate in 2016 declined for the first time in 20 years.
Between 1964 and 2012 the “Black vote” was the demographic the Democratic Party counted on the most but over the years it slowly became the least courted. Reparations appears to be the re-courting plan for most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.
In a March interview, South Bend mayor and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg was asked if he supported reparations for slavery. Buttigieg said, “I haven’t seen a proposal for a cash transfer that people would be able to come together around and view as fair.”
In other words, no.
Buttigieg added, “But I absolutely believe that we need to have some kind of accounting for the persistent racial inequalities today. (Which are) there by design because of past and present racism.” When it became news that a Black man was shot by the police in South Bend, Mayor Buttigieg was criticized for firing the city’s first Black police chief earlier in his political career.
Then by popular demand, Buttigieg announced The Douglas Plan as an example of reparations. The 18-page proposal, inspired by Frederick Douglass, is a “comprehensive and intentional dismantling of racist structures and systems combined with an equally intentional and affirmative investment of unprecedented scale in the freedom and self-determination of Black Americans.”
It also states, “Mayor Pete understands that racism is not a Black and White issue, and that we also need to address the unique challenges facing other communities—from Native communities confronting poverty and dispossession to the Islamophobia impacting Middle Eastern, Arab, and South Asian communities, to dehumanizing immigration policies that stereotype Latinos and overlook their vital contributions to our economy.” This inclusive language prevents singling out a “special needs” group among the Democratic Party’s “constituents of color,” but it’s more like the Civil Rights Act instead of reparations. The details of The Douglas Plan aren’t worth mentioning because it re-words the same popular promises offered during the time span when the “Black vote” was the most counted on but least courted by previous Democratic candidates.
Each section of Buttigieg’s 18-page plan for Black America began with a quote from the Republican abolitionist Fredrick Douglass, but the most important quote was missing. Just before the Civil War ended, Frederick Douglass told an audience: Everybody (Whites) has asked, “What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Give the Negro a chance to stand on his own. Let him alone, do not disturb, your interference is doing him a positive injury. Let him fall if he can’t stand alone.
So, which historic figure is Mayor Pete’s plan for Black America named after, the Douglass that was opposed to positive injury or the Douglas that compromised for popular support?
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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