Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Case for Reparations

Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the case for reparations to African-Americans much as Germany paid the Jews in The Atlantic.

Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.

1 comment:

Ballard Burgher said...

I posted this because I thought it was a provocative, interesting topic that raises a number of important issues. Coates’ entire lengthy article is worth a read.

1) It is easy, particularly for white people, to dismiss the idea as “150 years after the fact.” Not so fast. This argument requires amnesia concerning 100 years of Jim Crow terrorism in the south and a number of practices common to the north that can only be described as economic apartheid. The article provides numbing detail of the abuses heaped on African Americans since slavery was abolished.

2) Coates acknowledges that putting a numeric figure to such a question may well be impossible. One of his strongest points is the moral value of the discussion’s implicit acknowledgement that white supremacy has been an essential feature of American life. Coates from another article:

"I view white supremacy as one of the central organizing forces in American life, whose vestiges and practices afflicted black people in the past, continue to afflict black people today, and will likely afflict black people until this country passes into the dust.

There is no evidence that black people are less responsible, less moral, or less upstanding in their dealings with America nor with themselves. But there is overwhelming evidence that America is irresponsible, immoral, and unconscionable in its dealings with black people and with itself. Urging African-Americans to become superhuman is great advice if you are concerned with creating extraordinary individuals. It is terrible advice if you are concerned with creating an equitable society. The black freedom struggle is not about raising a race of hyper-moral super-humans. It is about all people garnering the right to live like the normal humans they are."


3) White American racism is hardly confined to one minority group. White America has been an equal opportunity oppressor of every other ethnic group. Its poor treatment of Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and Jews is well documented.

4) Why does the acknowledgement of wrongdoing Coates pushes for matter? Because ours is a country that prides itself on certain founding beliefs:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Sound familiar? How can we as a nation say those words with a straight face while winking at centuries of practices that make a mockery of them? Just how serious are we about defending those “values” we love to boast about?