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A couple of years ago, my sister, who follows black social media more closely than I do, asked me what I thought of #ADOS. “What’s that?” I asked. nytimes.com/2019/11/08/us/…
“ADOS stands for the American Descendants of Slavery,” my sister said. They believe that black Americans should have their own ethnic category, distinct from African and Caribbean immigrants. “What do you think?”
She said it was controversial because ADOS believes that well-off black immigrants take affirmative action slots at jobs and schools that should be for the descendants of slavery. “I’ll check it out.” I said. It turned out to be the most polarizing subject I’ve ever covered.
Supporters of ADOS spoke of it with spiritual emotion. Critics were equally vehement about its dangers. I'd never had so many people try to talk me out of writing a story. “It’s just a hashtag.” “It’s a front for the far-right.” "It's a hate group" “Why give them oxygen?”
Of course, that only made me more curious. Who are they? What does their existence say about America today? I came to see ADOS as part of a broader debate about black poverty, populist politics, and American identity. Here's what I learned reporting the story:
#1 ADOS is more than a hashtag. I interviewed people who said they had started chapters in LA, Atlanta, Ohio + elsewhere. They were mostly new to politics, but started monthly meet-ups after watching YouTubers Yvette Carnell (former DNC staffer) + Antonio Moore (lawyer).
#2 ADOS has a populist flavor. Carnell is the child of factory workers. Moore’s parents were teens when they had him. They attack the black elite for failing the poor. They attack Democrats for caring more about new immigrants than blacks who've been here for centuries.
#3 The message resonates with the working-class. Of the 1000+ people who paid their own way to attend an ADOS conference, I met a truck driver, a beautician, a handyman and many veterans. They were tired of being told that if they worked hard + went to college, they'd be ok.
#4) ADOS encourages black people to embrace America as their homeland, not Africa. They demand reparations for slavery but hold out the promise that once that debt is paid, blacks will be full citizens. Many ADOS followers have American flag icons on social media.
#5) There was more anger at the black elite at the ADOS conference than anyone else. Immigrants were hardly mentioned. Cornel West told the audience that after MLK + Malcolm X died, black leaders that replaced them were “polished professionals” who stopped fighting for the poor
#6 ADOS includes immigration in the long list of federal policies they say hurt black people economically, dating back to the Irish/Italian laborers who got jobs that were denied to newly emancipated slaves. Sometimes the tone ADOS strikes on immigration sounds like Trump.
#7 ADOS attracts attention by attacking black celebrities and politicians, including Obama and Kamala Harris. They have promoted boycotts of the Harriet Tubman movie + CBS show Bob Hearts Abishola about a white guy who falls for a Nigerian nurse.
#8 A lot of people are afraid of ADOS. It was heartbreaking to hear a friend of mine who's dedicated her life to civil rights say that she is afraid of being attacked because her parents are Jamaican. ADOS says it wants immigrant allies but a lot of immigrants don’t feel that.
#9 ADOS is calling on followers not to vote for president in 2020 unless the Democratic nominee supports reparations. I interviewed a lot of ADOS followers who said they planned to leave that part of the ballot blank and that they were prepared to see Trump reelected.
#10 This has led a lot of people to conclude that the group is a puppet of the right. Citizen investigators have tried to prove that ADOS is funded by conservatives. So far, I haven't uncovered or seen any proof of this. No one I spoke with who said they had proof really did.
#10 Although Carnell served on the board of Progressives for Immigration Reform, an anti-immigration group, the IRS paperwork lists her salary as zero. The executive director told me she "never received a dime other than reimbursement for expenses" for attending meetings.
#11 As much as I love a good conspiracy, I also know black women are fully capable of making up their minds without funding from white men. Unless I see evidence, I accept Yvette Carnell as a true believer in what she is saying.
The real question is how many black Americans agree with her. Is American-ness is more central to identity than blackness? Does the path to political power lie in withholding black votes until one party or the other agrees to pay reparations?
The promise to secure reparations is a powerful lure in communities where so many are one paycheck away from eviction. Those folks say they are tired of hearing that reparations are a pipe dream, or that DACA should be their most important priority.
Many black people seem very thirsty for the message that this country values them as full citizens, and that being an American still means something in a globalized age. To many working class blacks (and whites) US citizenship is their sole inherited advantage.
My reporting suggests that it is this thirst for recognition as Americans, not hatred for immigrants, that motivates most who identify as ADOS. But the hashtag is also associated with a lot of vitriol against immigrants. And the GOP + Donald Trump are eager to capitalize on it
I want to thank everyone who took time to speak to me. I spent hours talking with supporters and critics. 1,800 words can't scratch the surface of complex topic. I hope to do another piece about how and why we reported the story. nytimes.com/2019/11/08/us/…
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