In his extraordinary article, “The Case for Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates stated, “What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal … a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.”
In a more recent piece, Coates criticized Bernie Sanders for dismissing the concept of reparations for the wrongs done to African-Americans, saying, “Reparations is not one possible tool against white supremacy. It is the indispensable tool against white supremacy.”
The latter article left me questioning both men. As Coates pointed out, Sanders engages in the selective magical governance by considering universal, single payer healthcare politically doable but reparations for blacks politically impossible. Both are political unicorns in this America.
Coates, on the other hand, seems steeped in a universalist, civil rights era vision that this country left behind long ago, and which I question whether the majority ever accepted in the first place. Seeking an American ‘spiritual renewal’ via acknowledgement of America’s crimes against Afro-America sounds uplifting. However, this is a country in which, per The Washington Post, “white perceptions of anti-black bias have diminished to the point where [whites] are more now likely to think anti-white discrimination is a bigger problem than bias against blacks.”
A society in which whites now believe that they, not African-Americans, are the real victims of racial discrimination is not one in which reparations for blacks are on the horizon. To suggest that we must nonetheless push for reparations in order to foment a “revolution of the American consciousness,” and finally align American realities to American ideals smacks of putting too much emphasis on the moral betterment on the majority, and too little on our own needs.
The idea that reparations is the indispensable tool against white supremacy rests on an unsound premise. Is our goal to free whites from their centuries-long embrace of white supremacy? Or is our goal to free ourselves from whites’ embrace of white supremacy? These are two very different goals.
Americans are woefully ignorant of the facts of our racial history. We recently had a national “debate” as to whether or not the confederate flag was the symbol of race hatred that it is, or an expression of “southern pride.” America’s great crime is taught in schools and presented with mainstream contexts as a temporary aberration of the few, instead of a permanent mindset of the many.
In his book, “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” Cornell history Professor, Edward E. Baptist writes:
Textbooks segregate twenty-five decades of enslavement into one chapter, painting a static picture. Millions of people each year visit plantation homes where guides blather on about furniture and silverware. As sites, such homes hide the real purpose of these places, which was to make African Americans toil under the hot sun for the profit of the rest of the world. All this is the “symbolic annihilation” of enslaved people, as two scholars of those weird places put it.