I recently had the pleasure of reading one of the most amazing and transcendent essays I’ve ever seen in my life, “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The only way I can describe his article is by calling it “unexpectedly brilliant”, not because I’m surprised that an awesome journalist like Coates could write such an illustrious piece, but because he took an old topic and gave it a refreshing take. In a world where “there’s nothing new under the sun,” Coates delivered a thesis on reparations that is so intricately woven, it makes you wonder ‘how the hell did I not see that?’ And he achieves this by clearly laying out how Blacks have been robbed of their foundational wealth through illegal and extralegal acts of aggression and terrorism AFTER slavery was abolished. This is far from the typical “my family were slaves, so cut the check” type of reparations articles we’ve seen before – this was an in-depth look at how African-Americans were socially, politically and violently removed from participation in this nations greatest post-slavery period of wealth accumulation.
Truthfully, I’ve never been a fan of the idea of reparations. I wasn’t a hardliner who believed that “we should all forget the past and move on!” but I definitely believed that the reality of expecting reparations was so ridiculous that it would be a waste of time to even consider how every Black person would get their 40 acres and a mule. My views shifted in the past couple years when a friend, an activist for the improvement of education standards in inner cities, told me “reparations do not have to just equal money in hand.” After hearing that from her, my mind switched, but after reading Coates’ essay I have found myself believing that reparations are not only the right thing to do, but can be achieved in a few ways.
Before we get into the brass tacks, a few points must be made.
1. This is not about being “fair” to the federal government. If you are expecting me to take into consideration how the government will be affected by this and formulate a win-win strategy, then you are reading the wrong article. The point of reparations is to give victims retribution for a tremendously horrific action. Let’s be clear, the terrorism that African-Americans have experienced post-slavery is almost impossible to quantify with a dollar amount, and when you add the lasting effects of slavery, it’s mind-numbing to calculate. On Twitter, Bomani Jones stated that as much as he loved Coates’ article, the one thing he really wanted to see would have been a numeric estimate representative of a reparations payment, especially knowing that the number could easily reach into the trillions. How does one repay the loss of trillions of dollars? How can we ever quantify what is truly fair?
2. This is not about correcting all of today’s problems. We face daunting social issues in the Black community today, but to expect that reparations will alleviate all concerns is childish and short-sighted. Issues such as gang violence, out-of-wedlock childbirth, and domestic violence cannot be solved by reparations – because that’s not what reparations are even meant to do in the first place. Some argue those issues mostly stem from our collective mistreatment at the hands of structural racism, and others will argue that those are simply our own social ills. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, this article is NOT about creating a magic paint brush to automatically erase everything broken about the Black community.
3. The people eligible for reparations would be anyone who indicates that they are either Black – or mixed with Black – on a new and improved census. Race is a tricky issue, so there’s almost no fool-proof way to ensure that all Blacks receive these benefits and no one else does. My contention is that containing this problem (which may ultimately be a very minimal issue) is better than deciding not to enact reparations at all.