Sanders campaign defends opposition to slavery reparations

Story highlights

  • Earlier this week, Ta-Nehishi Coates, the author of the 2014 Atlantic article "The Case for Reparations," took Sanders to task for opposing reparations to black Americans who descended from slaves
  • "Sanders understands that African-Americans in this country have been victims of systematic and institutional racism," countered Sanders spokeswoman Symone D. Sanders

Washington (CNN)Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign on Thursday defended his record on fighting racism after being attacked by a prominent advocate of slavery reparations to African-Americans.

"Senator Sanders is the most progressive member of the United States Congress and has unabashedly advocated and promoted policies that overwhelmingly benefit the Black community," Sanders' National Press Secretary Symone D. Sanders told CNN.
"During this election, no other candidate has so boldly spoken out on the issues of race, police brutality, income inequality or criminal justice reform. Sen. Sanders understands that African-Americans in this country have been victims of systematic and institutional racism," she added. "He gets that and has proposed both legislation and policies in attempts to address it."
Earlier this week, Ta-Nehishi Coates, the author of the 2014 Atlantic article "The Case for Reparations," took Sanders to task for opposing reparations to black Americans who descended from slaves.
The Vermont senator called the proposal "very divisive."
"First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be very divisive," Sanders told Fusion earlier this month.
"The real issue is when we look at the poverty rate among the African-American community, when we look at the high unemployment rate within the African-American community, we have a lot of work to do."
Coates responded, saying Sanders has "failed" in the "fight against white supremacy."
"Sanders is a lot of things, many of them good. But he is not the candidate of moderation and unification, so much as the candidate of partisanship and radicalism," Coates wrote this week.
"Unfortunately, Sanders' radicalism has failed in the ancient fight against white supremacy. What he proposes in lieu of reparations -- job creation, investment in cities and free higher education -- is well within the Overton window," Coates wrote, using a phrase that describes commonly accepted parameters of political discourse. "His platform on race echoes Democratic orthodoxy."
But some have come out in defense of Sanders or at least attacked the merits of Coates' argument.
In a CNN Opinion piece, Columbia University professor John McWhorter argued that Coates' assessment of Sanders is "bordering on slander."
"To declare a socialist who has spent his life committed to helping the poor to be someone who gives comfort to 'white supremacy' because he doesn't support as fragile and unpromising a notion as a new round of reparations for black America is hasty, uncivil, and bordering on slander, reminiscent more of Fox News than James Baldwin," McWhorter wrote.
Hip-Hop artist Killer Mike, a Sanders supporter who supports reparations, defended the presidential hopeful, saying he is "sensitive" to "other things that can/will help Black people."
Killer Mike called it "bulls---" that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton's stance on reparations isn't being questioned.
"The fact that blacks have to even justify the case for reparations is shameful. The fact that only 1 candidate is being called to task is," Killer Mike tweeted.

"Bulls---. Especially when that candidate is the only one with policy (proposals) that directly (affects) the black community if elected," he tweeted later.
At the recent Iowa Brown and Black Forum, Clinton did not directly answer a question about whether she would support reparations.
"I think we should start studying what investments we need to make in communities to help individuals and families and communities move forward," she said. "And I am absolutely committed to that."