Ta-Nehisi Coates Revisits The Case For Reparations

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Written by Ann Brown
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Photo via Flickr: Author Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke to a packed house at Oregon State University on Feb. 2, 2017. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

It’s been five years since acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote the groundbreaking article “The Case for Reparations,” in The Atlantic.

“When I wrote ‘The Case for Reparations,’ my notion wasn’t that you could actually get reparations passed, even in my lifetime,” Coates said.

Now in an interview recorded for The New Yorker Radio Hour with David Remnick, Coates revisits the idea of reparations.

In “Case” Coates wrote about the long history of the call for reparations. “The case I make for reparations is, virtually every institution with some degree of history in America, be it public, be it private, has a history of extracting wealth and resources out of the African-American community. I think what has often been missing—this is what I was trying to make the point of in 2014—that behind all of that oppression was actually theft. In other words, this is not just mean. This is not just maltreatment. This is the theft of resources out of that community. That theft of resources continued well into the period of, I would make the argument, around the time of the Fair Housing Act,” he recently told Remnick.

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When asked about the more than 20 Democratic Presidential candidates running of which 8 of them have said they’ll support a bill to at least create a commission to study reparations, Coates responded:

“Uh, it’s probably in some measure all four of those things. It certainly is symbolic. Supporting a commission is not reparations in and of itself. It’s certainly lip service, from at least some of the candidates. I’m actually less sure about [this], in terms of the Black vote—it may ultimately be true that this is something that folks rally around, but that’s never been my sense.”

Coates says he feels Elizabeth Warren is probably the most serious about her reparations plan. “I think she means it. I mean—I guess it will break a little news—after ‘The Case for Reparations’ came out, she just asked me to come and talk one on one with her about it.”

Prior to her announcing her bid for president, Warren spoke with Coates about his “Case” article. She had read it. She was deeply serious, and she had questions. And it wasn’t, like, Will you do X, Y, and Z for me? It wasn’t, like, I’m trying to demonstrate I’m serious. I have not heard from her since, either, by the way,” he said.

Coates added he thinks the public is finally noticing the discussions about reparations. “Yeah, I think people have stopped laughing, and that is really, really important. Does it mean reparations tomorrow? No, it doesn’t. Does it mean end of the fight? No, it doesn’t. But it’s a step, and I think that’s significant,” he said.