Check It Out: Ta-Nehisi Coates on “The Case for Reparations”

June 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


If you haven’t read it yet, check out the article by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” in the June issue of The Atlantic (available at the newsstand or online at

Coates starts off his article with these sentences:

250 years of slavery.
90 years of Jim Crow.
60 years of separate but equal.
35 years of racist housing policy.
Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

What follows is a deep and searing look at the the oppression of Black people in the United States of America—an indictment that makes a case for reparations. The just demand for reparations—that the descendants of slaves in the U.S. be given some kind of compensation—has been debated since the end of the Civil War. Coates says the very idea of reparations threatens “America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world.” And his article has set off a whole new round of much-needed public discussion in these times—of mass incarceration, the killing of Trayvon Martin, and police murder and brutality.

Coates goes deeply into the profound consequences of 250 years of slavery in the United States. He gets into how the enslavement of Black people was so foundational to this country that “those who sought to end it were branded heretics worthy of death.” He painstakingly chronicles how Black people in this country have been systematically treated as “sub-citizens, sub-Americans, and sub-humans.” And he says that perhaps no statistic better illustrates this “enduring legacy of our country’s shameful history” than the wealth gap between Black and white people.

In these times, when we got a Black president constantly blaming the youth for their predicament and pointing the finger at “bad fathers,” Coates' argument for reparation says:

“The early American economy was built on slave labor. The Capitol and the White House were built by slaves. President James K. Polk traded slaves from the Oval Office. The laments about “black pathology,” the criticism of black family structures by pundits and intellectuals, ring hollow in a country whose existence was predicated on the torture of black fathers, on the rape of black mothers, on the sale of black children. An honest assessment of America’s relationship to the black family reveals the country to be not its nurturer but its destroyer. And this destruction did not end with slavery. Discriminatory laws joined the equal burden of citizenship to unequal distribution of its bounty. These laws reached their apex in the mid-20th century, when the federal government—through housing policies—engineered the wealth gap, which remains with us to this day. When we think of white supremacy, we picture Colored Only signs, but we should picture pirate flags."

We encourage readers of Revolution to not only read “The Case for Reparations,” but join the conversation and debate. Talk to others and write to Revolution about your thinking on this important issue.

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