Monday, June 9, 2014

Why we need reparations: because without them, deep, race-based economic inequality will persist

Recently, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a powerful cover essay for The Atlantic making the case for reparations for black people. My response to his essay can be found here. I concur that reparations are a moral and political necessary. Deep, race-based economic inequality is not going away, and in many troubling ways it is getting worse, not better. I agree with Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree's prescription for reparations in the form of a broadly based social democratic agenda that, in Coates' words, “takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races.” We won't come close to achieving racial equality in this country until structural economic issues are addressed as well.


  1. I think Ogletree has the right idea, but I also believe that in order for it to work, it has to be seen and acknowledged as the form that reparations will take. It can't simply be another "welfare" program designed to ameliorate the effects of poverty. Society as a whole will need to recognize it specifically and directly as an admission of our societal and institutional oppression of African slaves and their descendants, an acknowledgement that the oppression was immoral and unethical, and that the funds used to finance such an agenda do, in fact, constitute payment to make amends to the oppressed group. It won't work if white individuals see it as payments made to African American individuals. One of the first points of resistance among white people is to suggest that they themselves didn't oppress or enslave anyone, and therefore they shouldn't be made to suffer for crimes they didn't commit; it's crucial for white people to begin to see that they are part of a society that did do those things, and that therefore, society should admit culpability and make restitution to whatever degree is possible. It isn't about white individuals paying black individuals, but about the whole society doing something to make up for what the whole society indisputably did before. I'm not sure that I have articulated this well, but for what it's worth, there it is.