Ta-Nehisi Coates argues in a lengthy cover story in the Atlantic that America must at long last take up the question of making reparations to black people. He focuses not just on slavery, however, but also on the following 150 years of systemic racism—with banks working in collusion with the government—that have kept African-American families back. Coates isn't prescribing specific remedies, but he thinks a good start would be to pass a bill offered every year by Michigan Rep. John Conyers that calls on Congress to study slavery and its effects, along with recommendations for "appropriate remedies." In 25 years, it's never made it to the House floor.
"Perhaps after a serious discussion and debate—the kind that HR 40 proposes—we may find that the country can never fully repay African Americans," writes Coates. "But we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion—and that is perhaps what scares us." Coates knows the idea of reparations will be dismissed by many as a "harebrained" lefty scheme, but no matter:
- "What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling 'patriotism' while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history."
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, which concludes with the recent penalties
against Bank of America and Wells Fargo for predatory lending practices against minorities, a reminder that the kind of institutional racism Coates is talking about is still alive and well. (Read more John Conyers