Ta-Nehisi Coates shed some light onto what America owes the African-American community (image via The Atlantic)
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Ta-Nehisi Coates shed some light onto what America owes the African-American community (image via The Atlantic)

A look into Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article, “The Case for Reparations,” and why reparations should be in the minds of all Americans.

Remember when Germany gave reparations to the Jewish for the atrocity of the Holocaust? Well, America hasn’t done the same for the atrocity of the African Holocaust, otherwise known as slavery. According to ABC News, the U.S has paid reparations to Japanese Americans for the deplorable internment camps, while the same justice has not been done for those of a darker skin tone.

Reparations has been the subject of on-going discussions for years. Many people think that this is a new phenomenon, when in reality the conversation on this matter has not reached an answer since, at least, 1989. France even paid reparation to Holocaust survivors and their “heirs,” offspring of Holocaust victims who has never experienced the tragedy itself.

Yet, the debate on recipients of reparations met an impasse simply because all slaves have passed. It is just an excuse to not remember that America does have a very dark and savage history attached to its pride on “home of the brave, and land of the free.”

In his article “The Case For Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, puts forth many of his thoughts and reasons for why reparations are needed in an emotional and an informational aspect. These concepts can not be analyzed separately because they interconnect and have intersectional qualities: Coates backs up the emotional aspects with information based conditions.

Broadly speaking, most of the reasons come down to the basis of an emotional condition for reparations. In other words, Coates argues that reparations are needed because African-Americans in the U.S were stolen through systematic and blatant oppression.

Coates’ most prominent argument is that America is ignoring “the sins of the past” and has not paid for what it has done to the livelihood of African-Americans from the time of slavery until recently. Coates believes that most Americans are fearful or wary of reparations because it would mean that America is essentially not what it perpetuates itself to be, which is a democracy for all with inherent human rights.

The physical acceptance to a crime committed by the country could compromise current values of the USA. There is also the fear that the name of the country would be tarnished and the “American consciousness” would have to recognize an ugly part of its history.

Coates brought up the case of Germany as an example for his argument: Germany did pay reparations to Israel, addressing and making an honest attempt to reconcile a very prominent issue in history. Coates does not want America to look away and ignore the “sins of the past” because that will, in turn, become ignoring sins of the future. His claim has shown itself in history: the housing discrimination and the story of Clyde Ross.

According to Coates rational, housing segregation was due to the failure to fully address segregation as an ideology. What is not seen before will most likely not be seen in the future. Disavowing racism in America instantly makes slavery and segregation insignificant. This color blindness ensures that white people do not need to address racial issues of the past and present because race is not an issue for them. This idea of color blindness is an exact replication of what Coates is addressing when he says that America ignores its everlasting racial battle. This produces a continuous neglect and separation of the two races.

Coates then makes his case for reparations by bringing in the matter of segregation and the damage it has done not only to African Americans, but America as a body. Segregation has cost many African-Americans many opportunities for development and achievement of equality in the society. According to Coates, segregation has prevented African-Americans from reaching a certain standard of living and job access.

Why do you think that so many Black individuals live in impoverished areas such as Camden, and Detroit? This is because of the blatant redlining of AfricanAmericans who were confined to live in extremely overpriced and under-maintained areas. In other words, African Americans were essentially being legally cheated on by white home salesmen who thought that making the monthly payments steep would eventually force the African-American family to forfeit their house. This theft also means that thousands of African Americans in need of housing could never truly own one because they were always paying off dues. The unfair furtive segregation cost them thousands that they could never re-obtain.

Terrorism, a physical and emotional imprint that has plagued the African-American community for decades, constitutes reparation according to. They first had to survive the brutality of slavery, then 90 years of Jim Crow and 60 years of segregation afterward.

With all this discrimination came violence toward African Americans. Mobs, murder and assault of any kind were all fair game. Although there is no way to repay for someone’s life, Coates finds these acts of terrorism compelling evidences for reparations. Coates mentions that African-Americans were attacked for not removing their hats, for fighting labor contracts and for quantity control—the white Americans to make sure that there were not too many African Americans in an area.

Coates claims that the “roots of American wealth and democracy” were in tearing apart African American families by taking one’s life or separating the family from one another. There is no way to measure the grief of African-American population, and reparation is the least people can do. With proper understanding of the amount of brutality that went into the terrorism of the African-American community and slaves, we can sympathize with the longing for reparations that families have. For many whom slavery and segregation was never imposed upon, such sympathy may be hard to achieve.

The essence of Coates argument for reparations is that for African-American people, their life was stolen against their will. According to Coates, African-Americans were “financial assets” that received no payment even though early American economy was built on their labor. Much of what America is today was built by slaves, and many people do not realize that because so much of their contribution was taken for granted or otherwise destroyed.

African-Americans’ success was destroyed in 1921 when “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa was ravaged by a white mob because the city was performing exceptionally well for a predominantly black community. Coates’ arguments shed light to the injustice that African-American suffer when their progress is criticized and any programs to help them be successful are looked down upon. The number of opportunities they were denied warrants a reparation.

People tend to think that reparations can only be paid in the form of cold money, but it may come as funding into schools for the black community, more programs for self growth and development of black communities. Reparations do not stop at solid cash. If America is going to be great then maybe it’s time to start living America’s creed instead of saying it, and if we are going to do that shouldn’t the start be with reparations?

Writer Profile

Maahfio Otchere

Villanova University
Global Interdisciplinary Studies and Communication

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