A look into Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article, “The Case for Reparations”


A look into Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article, “The Case for Reparations”

Maahfio Otchere

Remember when Germany gave reparations for the atrocity of the Holocaust? Well, America hasn’t done the same for the atrocity of slavery. But isn’t it funny that, according to ABC News, the U.S. has paid reparations to Japanese Americans for the deplorable internment camps? Where is the same justice for those of a darker skin tone? The subject of reparations has been discussed for years. France even paid reparation to Holocaust survivors and their “heirs,” the kids who never experienced the Holocaust. Yet, there is debate about who reparations will go to because all slaves have passed. Does this logic make sense? It is just an excuse to not remember that America does have a very dark and savage history attached to its “home of the brave, and land of the free.” 

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and critically acclaimed author, puts forth many of his thoughts and reasons for why reparations are in needed in his article “The Case For Reparations.” Reparations are comprised of an emotional aspect and an information-based aspect. The concepts can not be analyzed separately because both interconnect and have intersectional qualities. As a result, Ta-Nehisi 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’s crux is that reparations are based on the sole fact that African Americans in the U.S. were stolen from through systematic and blatant oppression.

Coates’s most prominent argument is that America is ignoring “the sins of the past.” This is occurring because America 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—a democracy for all with inherent human rights. Many people are fearful of the fact that the values that the U.S. currently could be compromised due to the fact that there would be physical acceptance of a crime committed by the country. There is fear that the name of the United States of America would be tarnished and the “American consciousness” would have to recognize an ugly part of its history. Coates brought up the fact that Germany did in fact pay reparations to Israel and did not back away from addressing and trying 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 an act of ignoring sins of the future. His claim of sins being ignored in the future has substance because it shows itself in history. Examples include housing discrimination and the story of Clyde Ross. According to Coates’s rationale, housing segregation was able to happen because segregation as a whole ideology was not fully addressed. What was 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 fear and color blindness 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 that, if offered, could have raised the African American community to an equal level of opportunity. According to Coates, segregation has prevented African Americans from attaining 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 African- Americans, who were confined to live in areas that were extremely overpriced and under-repaired. This meant that African Americans were essentially being legally cheated by white realtors who thought that making the monthly payments steep would eventually force African- American families to lose their house. This theft means that thousand of African Americans who wanted houses could never truly own them because they were always paying off dues. The furtive segregation cost African Americans thousands that they could never reobtain. 

Terrorism is a physical and emotional imprint that has plagued the African American community for decades, and Coates sees this as a reason for restitution. African Americans first had to survive the brutality of slavery, then 90 years of Jim Crow and then 60 years of segregation. With all this discrimination came violence toward African Americans. Although there is no way to repay someone’s life, Coates finds these unjustified acts of terrorism to be compelling evidence for reparations. Coates mentions that African Americans were attacked for not removing their hats, for fighting labor contracts and to make sure that there were not too many African Americans in an area. Extermination of African Americans was used for quantity control. 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. 

Terrorism as a case for reparations is one that could be taken as legitimate or one with little substance because there is no way to measure grief in a population. However, according to Coates’s platform, one must take into account the amount of brutality that went into the terrorism of the African American community and slaves. Without understanding this, it would be difficult to understand the longing for reparations that people have. To fully grasp this argument for reparations there must be a deep, inherent, emotional understanding that many people do not have because slavery and segregation were never imposed upon them.

The core or essence of Coates’s argument for reparations is that African American people were stolen from. Rights, commerce and livelihood were seized. According to Coates, African Americans were “financial assets” that received no payment, even though early American economy was built on slave labor. Much of America was built by slaves, and many people do not realizes that. Coates finds fault that there are no reparations because so much industry was taken for granted or otherwise destroyed. African American 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’s arguments lend light to the idea that African American success is criticized, but programs to help the African Americans be successful are looked down upon. Coates sees this destruction as the epitome for reconstruction.

People tend to think that reparations can only be paid in the form of cold money, but reparations can be putting more funding into schools with the minority as the majority, having programs for self growth or fixing up mostly 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?