Ta-Nehisi Coates Talks Reparations and Racism

ta-nehisi coates small Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Atlantic cover story on reparations has sparked reactions from outrage to enthusiastic agreement, and he sat down yesterday with Anne-Marie Slaughter of the New America Foundation to discuss how we can address three centuries of systemic racism. He builds his case on the story of a 91-year-old black man who fled Depression-era Mississippi and moved to Chicago, only to discover that he couldn’t get the government-sponsored mortgage that he needed to buy a home.

The Federal Housing Administration, which regulated home loans from 1934 to 1968, wouldn’t grant loans to people who wanted to buy in black neighborhoods or on blocks with black residents. Coates explained the practice, called “redlining,” this way: “If I and a couple of my friends move into a block, the whole block gets redlined. You can’t get a government-sponsored mortgage.”

Black people throughout the country are still living the effects of these racist housing policies, which helped create ghettoes in several major cities, Coates argues. That’s why we can’t simply pretend racism never existed, even if the laws that enabled discrimination were repealed half a century ago. But should we pay out reparations? And how would it work?

“We can’t shrink away from it because the politics are dirty and hard,” he said. “And it’s not that the state owes us something. We are the state; we built the state. We literally built the Capitol.”

The government is still paying pensions to the children of people who fought in World War I and the Spanish-American War. Coates notes that reparations paid to the descendants of slaves, and those who suffered from discriminatory policies like redlining, wouldn’t be so different. And in his essay, he compares the American case for reparations to Germany’s reparations to Israel after World War II.

Coates worked on the story for nearly two years. Get more details on how he reported it in this video via Vox:

Photo via Vimeo