On the Case for Reparations of Ta-Nehisi Coates

What’s wrong with this phrase, the Case for Reparations? Well, not that there is no case for reparations. For there is. One needs hardly more than a quick look at the history of our country to see just how over and over again a whole people, in this case the Blacks, has been unjustly (horribly and cruelly) treated by the Whites.

What’s wrong is that while the case can be made, as Ta-Nehisi Coates does in his “blockbuster” essay, The Case for Reparations in the Atlantic, — what’s wrong is that reparations for our treatment of the Blacks, even as Coates sees them without a dollar sign, will never be made.

Why? They can’t be made because they demand much more than dollars, they demand that the American people undergo nothing less than a spiritual awakening. And when was the last one of these? Has there ever been one? Perhaps something like that but not really at the time of our own Revolution? During the various Christian renewal movements or Great Awakenings of the 19th. century? Perhaps along with the glow, the joy coming from the resounding defeat of the Axis powers at the end of WWII? Or the Fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and just two years later the breakup and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991?

But all these events and accompanying questionable spiritual renewals such as they were, were easily achieved compared with that which Coates is asking of us now. In his own words:

“Reparations — by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences — is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckon us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is — the work of fallible humans.”

This won’t happen. Although in support of the spiritual awakening he asks for, there is the much slower awakening, or change brought about continually by Darwinian evolution. For Darwin’s great discovery is changing/awakening us today, no less than in the past, perhaps even more, although the actual mechanism of change may no longer be genetic but cultural.

And it would seem that we are changing in the direction Coates would have us go (that end of history of which some speak?), in particular rejecting the hubris of the past in our dealings with other peoples, and instead seeing ourselves, our country, and our country’s history more clearly, as not always admirable, but as always the work of fallible human beings.

But in respect to our shameful treatment of the Blacks during some 400 years of our history, the Emancipation Proclamation, the eventual although not complete rejection of Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement of the last century and still not over, along with a few other of our past and ongoing present actions, are and will probably remain for the foreseeable future the greatest corrections (but not reparations) that we have yet applied to our wrongful past treatment of a whole people, hardly different from ourselves.


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