"I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Son, let this woman be a bride to you in the restoration of my people. Let her be a mother for these people, regenerating souls through the salvation of spirit and water.'" (Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Black Lives are Sacred Day 27: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Reparations

Ta-Nehisi Coates' in-depth, brilliant article on reparations for racism made news when it came out in 2014 and again earlier this year when Georgetown announced its plans to begin addressing its roots in slave labor and sales. It is a long but clear and very important read.

Coates has also published several shorter pieces as the dialogue about reparations has continued, including an analysis of Bernie Sanders' opposition and one linking reparations to successful decarceration.

Most recently, he argued cogently that even having a significant investigation and discussion of reparations could be a start toward real progress in countering the deadly legacies of yesterday's racist systems in today's.

Nevertheless, the most striking portion of Drum’s rebuttal is not his obsession with divining an installment plan for a debt he has no interest in paying, it is the preciousness of his worldview. Drum blithely asserts that “few people” deny that “black labor and wealth” had been plundered for centuries. He offers no evidence for this sweeping generalization.

That isn’t because there’s no evidence to be found. Indeed in 2014, a YouGov and Huffington Post poll revealed (unsurprisingly) that the vast majority of white Americans—75 percent—opposed reparations in all forms. White Americans did not oppose reparations because they were flummoxed by the practicalities of making good on the debt. They opposed them because, ultimately, they didn’t think the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow were any longer that big of a deal. Seventy-eight percent of White Americans said that the legacy of slavery is either a “minor factor” or “no factor at all” in today’s wealth gap. Sixty-four percent of whites thought the same of Jim Crow.


Drum’s argument implies that before any of this can be answered—or even really asked—a detailed plan of repayment must first be constructed. It suggests that assailants should only consider paying compensation after their victims have offered spreadsheets detailing how best to dispense it. Drum believes that the problem with the bringing pirates to justice is the distribution system. I believe the problem is piracy itself, and grand piracy always extends beyond the act of theft. It requires the construction of an elaborate architecture to either justify the theft, or to justify non-compensation for the theft.

I have always believed that one of the great benefits of considering reparations lies in their potential to expand the American political imagination. Before there could be a Republican Party, abolitionists first had to imagine emancipation. A country that could actively contemplate atoning for plunder, by devoting significant resources to compensating its victims, would be a very different nation than one we live in now. You don’t get to that different country by waiting to talk about it


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