Ta-Nehisi Coates: Black Progress Rests 'On a Shaky Foundation'

The Atlantic writer says distributing reparations is not what scares America.

Posted: 05/23/2014 10:25 AM EDT
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Black Progress Rests "On a Shaky Foundation"

Throughout history, Blacks have tried to obtain reparations from the government for enduring the 250 years of chattle slavery that built the early-American economy. During these conversations, the biggest questions have always been how much would be paid and who would get paid?

But Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in "The Case for Reparations" for The Atlantic that distributing reparations is not what scares America it's the idea that reparations "threatens America's heritage, history and standing in the world."

Coates's 10-chapter feature provides an overview of the history of individuals who pursued the case of obtaining reparations and says that slavery isn't the only injustice for which African-Americans should be compensated he highlights the 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal and 35 years of racist housing policy that Blacks also faced.

He also adds that although life for Blacks in America is better today than in the past, the progress made "rests on a shaky" foundation. 

Coates writes

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.

Won’t reparations divide us? Not any more than we are already divided. The wealth gap merely puts a number on something we feel but cannot say — that American prosperity was ill-gotten and selective in its distribution. What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.

Read the full feature here.  

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