America's legacy of post-slavery racism and the case for reparations

Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Case for Reparations is an important, compelling history of the post-slavery debate over reparations, running alongside the post-slavery history of US governmental and private-sector violence and theft from the descendants of slaves in America. Coates's thesis -- compellingly argued -- is that any "achievement gap" or "wealth gap" in American blacks is best understood as an artifact of centuries of racial violence and criminal misappropriations of black people, particularly visited upon any black person who expressed ambition or attained any measure of economic success.

As Coates demonstrates, a series of deliberate government policies, continuing to this day, ensured that unscrupulous American businesses could raid the savings and loot the accumulated wealth of black people. From the millions who were terrorized into indentured servitude in the south to the millions who were victimized by redlining and had every penny they could earn stolen by real-estate scammers in the north, the case for reparations is not about merely making good on the centuries-old evil of slavery. It's about the criminal physical and economic violence against black people in living memory and continuing to today.

This is a long and important read, and the "reporter's notebook" sidebars cast further light on the subject from unexpected angles. Coates makes a compelling case that the racist violence against black people in America is of a different character than other class war and other racist oppression, and deserves unique consideration.

In Chicago and across the country, whites looking to achieve the American dream could rely on a legitimate credit system backed by the government. Blacks were herded into the sights of unscrupulous lenders who took them for money and for sport. “It was like people who like to go out and shoot lions in Africa. It was the same thrill,” a housing attorney told the historian Beryl Satter in her 2009 book, Family Properties. “The thrill of the chase and the kill.”

The kill was profitable. At the time of his death, Lou Fushanis owned more than 600 properties, many of them in North Lawndale, and his estate was estimated to be worth $3 million. He’d made much of this money by exploiting the frustrated hopes of black migrants like Clyde Ross. During this period, according to one estimate, 85 percent of all black home buyers who bought in Chicago bought on contract. “If anybody who is well established in this business in Chicago doesn’t earn $100,000 a year,” a contract seller told The Saturday Evening Post in 1962, “he is loafing.”

Contract sellers became rich. North Lawndale became a ghetto.

The Case for Reparations [Ta-Nehisi Coates/The Atlantic]

(via Making Light)

Notable Replies

  1. dobby says:

    The people are dead but corporations are not, the United States is also a corporate entity which enforced slave return laws right up until the civil war. The US loves to live in the privelaged seat of it has been too long, the crimes comitted 50, 100, 150, or 200 years ago cant be held against us. Unequal treaties with native americans lacking a nuclear arsenal are so much toilet paper.
    News flash, the world didn't come into existance ex nhillo in 1948.

  2. It sounds like you didn't read the article, but have a slew of rhetorical questions intended to imply... what? That reparations are impossible and not worth discussing? I think a lot of people are already convinced of that. Frankly, I'm surprised to see a serious article that challenges this status quo.

  3. I'm for it, I mean we've got all sorts of money for banks and investment firms that tear this country down and not one thin dime for the descendants of those who put in the (unpaid) work into building it up.

    While we're at it reparations for Native people too. Some shitty patch of dirt and hassles from the BIA don't quite make up for all the shit we put them through.

  4. mtdna says:

    I'm not a particularly intelligent person. I'm insensitive, and I'm kind of a troll. I'm also a masochist. But even I'm not dumb enough to piss on this third rail of a discussion.

  5. "We inherit our ample patrimony with all its incumbrances; and are bound to pay the debts of our ancestors."

    Works for me. I'm a scion of Greek and Irish immigrants who perhaps never directly profited from the slave trade, but I live with the knowledge that for all my fears and faults, unless I absolutely lose my shit and completely flip out...society will almost certainly give me a pass if screw something up. Because Straight White Male.

    I know this to be true because I have experienced it. Drunk driving, picking up prostitutes, drugs etc. My experience with authorities has been "You are So Bad! I will give you such a Slap on your hand and the sternest talking-to you have ever had!! Now go free and sin no more." It helps that I have been polite and contrite in those situations...but what helped more? My skin color.

    There was an article I read not long ago from some guy who said living as a SWM is like playing your favorite video game on 'easy'. Well, in this country...and in much of the world, that is assuredly the case. Nobody assumes that I'm going to steal or make trouble, No one is afraid of me particularly, my credit union keeps wanting to give me loans at reasonable rates, etc.

    Even in my world travels, clumsy well meaning White Man has carte blanche: sometimes the reaction is 'scram, whitey' but more often 'welcome to my place of business, please spend money!' I have seen enough ingrained discrimination against Black people specifically that I know if my mind was the same but my heritage African...I could not live nearly as well as I have in this society. I have done nothing to deserve the not insignificant benefits of my heritage.

    Land of the Free, All Men Created Equal are just words. Nice ones that make us feel good. But not really descriptive of how we live. Not that being White is that easy, it's just being anything else is undeniably harder. Of course if you are dumb, unlucky, sick, addicted, broke; the world is a terribly difficult place for anyone. I see more than my fair share of messed up white folks around town...but this (long, depressing, well researched, necessary) article lays down the truth about America's almost continuous insistence on a tiered society, and I for one wish something could be done about it in a constructive way.

    But how exactly? 40 acres and a Cadillac? Cash payouts? Educational grants? Public housing done right this time???

    As the article seems to state, just bringing it up, having the discussion and being honest with ourselves about how this unfair and unequal situation came about is a start. I have one more suggestion:

    End the War on Drugs. That and the Prison Industrial Complex which for all intents and purposes is the solution to a diabolical question "How the hell do we put those Negras back in chains?"

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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