Watch: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Asks ‘Who Is Black?’ in Response to Reparations Question
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) sort of weighed in on the subject of slavery reparations — an issue that has begun to loom large in Democratic politics — at this weekend’s South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference & Festival by delivering a lengthy response to a question about the “political cost” of such a policy, a response that included the rhetorical question “who is black, and who isn’t?”
AOC was interviewed Saturday at the festival by The Intercept Senior Politics Editor Briahna Gray, and the subject of race-specific policies versus more general class-based remedies came up.
Gray noted the “political conundrum” of supporting race-based policies in a country that is “still 70 percent white,” and asked “What is the political cost… of saying you’re going to throw your hat in with a program like reparations, how much do you think those considerations should be made?”
After a pause, Ocasio-Cortez launched into a lengthy response:
Well, you know it’s a good question, I think that one of the things that we’ve seen her from early polling, actually, is that I think that we should distance ourselves and start getting away from this idea that that we should only care about ourselves. Because when we really do start to assert and believe and understand and see how how our destinies are tied, it doesn’t, you kind of get away from this idea that only people of you know people of color care about other people of color, and only white people care about other white people, and so on.
There are a lot of systems that we have to dismantle, but it also it does get into this interesting area of where we are as a country, about identity. Because, like, what does it mean to be black, who is black and who isn’t, especially as our country becomes more biracial and multiracial.
Same with being Latino, same thing… it brings up all these questions like passing, and you know, things like that. But I do think it is important that we have to have substantive conversations about race beyond beyond, like, what is racist and what is not, and if someone says something racist does that make them racist, like, we need to get away from talking — well, not that we have to get away from talking about racism, it’s important that we talk about racism — but because we talked about racism so much, we actually aren’t talking about race itself. And we aren’t educating ourselves about our own history to come to the conclusion that I think we need to come too.
The issue of reparations has become central to the Democratic primary race, with candidates like Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) expressing support for some form of reparations for slavery and Jim Crow, while Julian Castro has promised to form a “task force” to explore the issue. Bernie Sanders has consistently said he doesn’t support reparations, favoring aid to “distressed communities” of all races.
During a January interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates at the annual MLK Now event, Ocasio-Cortez told Coates “People think reparations is reparations for slavery, but really, economically speaking, reparations are for the damage done by the New Deal and redlining because that is where we saw a compounding of the existing inequity from the legacy of slavery, where we drew red lines around black communities.”
Although she didn’t get around to a specific position at SXSW, her response to Coates seems to indicate a position similar to Warren’s, which seeks to address racial gaps in housing.
Watch the clip above, from SXSW.
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