Ta-Nehisi Coates Discuses “The Case for Reparations” with Ezra Klein

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic broke the internet a few weeks ago with his latest offering titled “The Case for Reparations“. The piece serves as The Atlantic magazine’s cover story for this month, and it has had the internet on fire with discussions. The beauty of the piece is that it doesn’t actually make a case for reparations; nor does it even address slavery. Instead, it focuses on how white supremacy as an institution supported by government has existed much to the detriment the advancement of African-Americans. The idea here — at least to me — is, that African-Americans would’ve made faster strides towards equality if it were not for racist government policies. Namely, as Coates points out, through housing discrimination as a policy of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA).

For me, the irony of this is that the racial wealth gap has widened in the wake of the Great Recession. In case you may have forgotten, the economic crash was due in large part to minorities being exploited by predatory lending policies by banks who profited heavily from said practices.

In an interview for Vox with Ezra Klein, Coates explains “If you say that African-Americans have an inferior culture, have cultural pathologies that they’re carrying with them, it seems to me you have to ask why that would be?” Coates’ uses the simple math of racial history as it relates to the African-American experience. “The period for which our enslavement in this country lasted was 250 years,” he says. “Freedom’s only lasted 150 years, and that freedom has been really halting. At least 100 of those years, you can question how much freedom it actually was. We have 50 years of kind-of trying to fix 350 years.” He continues, When you think of it that way, I’m not sure how it becomes much of a question.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates and son
Ta-Nehisi Coates and son

Surely this is a point of contention for the many privileged folk. Folks who would rather view racial inequality as an example of yet another pathology associated with being black. That would be, that black folks in America would be better off if they stopped complaining chose to work harder. The problem with that, however, is that the descendants of African slaves have (and still continue to) worked harder to survive than is morally required. Coates’ view — as well as that of many in the African-American community — may not be widely accepted by dominant culture. However, one can only hope that by reading his latest work, American dominant culture, if only for a slight moment, may develop a conscience. Perhaps, by doing so, they too can realize that the cost of their racial privilege is and has always been driven mostly by government policy. That said, check out the interview above and tell me what you think. Heck, I’m only asking you to be human and recognize African-Americans and our lived experience as a very real andhuman experience.