Saturday, May 24, 2014

(What's Dope) Ta-Nehisa Coates: The Case for Reparations

Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole”[1]
I’ve read my fair share of essays from a great deal of writers from William George Orwell to Gore Vidal but Ta-Nehisi Coates “The Case For Reparations” is easily one of the best I’ve read.

For good reason “The Case for Reparations” has been lauded by his peers and beyond as it was powerfully written and argued as it succeeded in portraying the horrors and injustice of slavery and the shockingly racist and debilitating government policies (including the much praised New Deal) that systemically thwarted the economic and social progress of African-Americans for decades.

The power of the piece is profound, thought provoking and, if you have morsel of affinity with human race, horrifying as Coates unapologetically shines a light on a number of sins that are well documented but notably not discussed in the public sphere or even that much among black intellectuals.

While argument for reparations are rarely heard or made in public sphere by black intellectuals, it’s even rarer to read one of the fiercest and convincing cases for the measure yet penned by someone who not too long ago was against it. In his piece “Inverse nationalism”, Coates actually argued against reparations and had scathing but thought provoking remarks regarding Henry Louis Gates, a prominent African American scholar, who was ironically making and argument against reparations by citing the role of Africans in the slave trade[2]

Coates, none too pleased with Gates targeting the role of Africans in the slave trade and others who had “commit the fallacy of judging the sins of the past via the racial tribalism of today”, cited his distaste at Gates’ argument against Africans as he, like others, are guilty of apportioning blame as he wrote:

“Gates is not interested in ending "the blame-game," as much he's interested in fiddling with the foul-count. The vocabulary of blame is key--instead of speciously blaming  white Americans for the crimes of their presumed ancestors, Gates speciously blames Africans. The vocabulary of blame proceeds from a simplistic morality play in which someone, by virtue of simple biology, must play the villain and someone else must play the victim. Gates has no problem with the play, he just wants new actors for the roles”[3] 
Coates went on to address directly the roots of his opposition against reparations by pointing at the element blame attached to the measure that seems almost unavoidable but as we see in “The Case for Reparations”, Coates makes it a point not to point the finger but detail a number of actors, institutions and policies that cumulatively engaged in the systematic degradation of African American promise, clearly a decision he made when writing this piece and stands as one of the many strengths.

Even in “Inverse Nationalism” where he stated his opposition to reparation, the roots to his change of heart is present as he saw the element of blame he stated that the issue of blame forces us to look backwards at past sins rather than address their consequences when he wrote:

 “From my perspective, the most interesting and provocative modern questions around America's racial dilemma, like any societal dilemma, do not necessitate blame. To put it differently, I am not concerned about gender equality because I think I'm to blame thousands of years of sexism, I'm concerned about  gender equality because it matches my moral center. Blame is irrelevant. In the context of race, the question isn't "Who is to blame for the Middle Passage, slavery, and Jim Crow?" it's "What, tangibly, can we do to counter its generational effects?"“[4]

In sum, “The Case for Reparations” is a brilliant piece of journalism and confirms Ta-Nehisi Coates as one of the better writers on the black and indeed the American experience.

Read the brilliant "The Case for Reparations" here.

connect with The Carnage Report on Twitter @TCRblogspot.

[1] T.Coates, 2014, The Case For Reparations,
[2] T. Coates, 2010, Inverse Nationalism,
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid

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