To ignore the fact that one of the oldest republics in the world was erected on a foundation of white supremacy, to pretend that the problems of a dual society are the same as the problems of unregulated capitalism, is to cover the sin of national plunder with the sin of national lying.
Yesterday, The Atlantic published Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest article: ‘The Case for Reparations’.
It is a phenomenal piece of writing: read it and feel layer upon layer of pain and outrageous injustice build up. If you can get through it without feeling the bile swirling in your gut and the tears pricking at your eyes, then, I really don’t know what will make this reality hit home.
Perhaps after a serious discussion and debate—the kind that HR 40 proposes—we may find that the country can never fully repay African Americans. But we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion—and that is perhaps what scares us. The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper—America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world…
The popular mocking of reparations as a harebrained scheme authored by wild-eyed lefties and intellectually unserious black nationalists is fear masquerading as laughter…
And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans.
It got me thinking about some stuff that’s good for going with it. So here you go:
‘Fear of a Black President’ – Coates’ 2012 essay on Obama
You should also read his blog at The Atlantic – from race, to political theory, to the history of the twentieth century, to learning French – everything is a beautiful, powerful, thought provoking read.
This American Life did a two-parter last year about life at Harper High, a school in Chicago. It’ll give you a different, particularly focused angle, on what Coates is writing about – and why.
Part One and Part Two.
The quite simply stunning Twelve Years a Slave is now out on DVD. It’s incredibly powerful, and you should watch it.