Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘The Case For Reparations’ Takes Top Spot For Best Journalism Of Decade By New York University

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘The Case For Reparations’ Takes Top Spot For Best Journalism Of Decade By New York University.  In this Wednesday, June 19, 2019, file photo, author Ta-Nehisi Coates attends a hearing at the Capitol in Washington. Coates’ first novel, “The Water Dancer,” is among the nominees for an Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence. Winners will be announced Jan. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Ta-Nehisi Coates has made his mark as a writer and now one of his most popular works is being recognized among the greatest journalism of the last decade. Coates’ renowned essay, “The Case For Reparations,” tops a new list recognizing the most impactful works published from 2010 to 2019.  

Created by New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, the list’s purpose is to “honor really great work that has already stood the test of time,” said Professor Mitchell Stephens, who organized the project, in a The Washington Post report. It was judged by 24 NYU faculty members and 14 outside judges.

Coates’ article on reparations ranks at No. 1 on the list. Judges called it “the most powerful essay of its time.” His work “influenced the public conversation so much that it became a necessary topic in the presidential debate,” they said.

Published in “The Atlantic” in 2014, Coates’ 15,000-word essay lives up to its title by making a robust, historically-based case for why Black Americans are owed reparations for the horrific institution of slavery and the systemic racism that still persists.

“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole,” the sub-text reads under the title of Coates’ “Case”.

Coates went on to outline with painstaking detail how strategically slavery, and the systemic racism that permeates American society, have robbed Black Americans of attaining wealth and prosperity as an overall group.

“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,” Coates said when he revisited his ‘Case’ article during an interview with David Remnick on The New Yorker Radio Hour. “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.”

The amount of feedback Coates received on ‘The Case’ also caused the U.S. Congress to call him as an expert witness in 2019 during a hearing for House bill H.R. 40, which proposes to start a commission to study reparations for slavery in hopes of finding a viable solution.

Some believe Coates’ “Case” helped the House bill receive the traction it needed to bring the hearing to fruition.

“A country curious about how reparations might actually work has an easy solution in Conyers’s bill, now called HR 40, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. We would support this bill, submit the question to study, and then assess the possible solutions. But we are not interested,” Coates wrote when the bill was struggling to gain a foothold, despite having been introduced annually by then-Congressman John Conyers Jr. for over 20 years. “That HR 40 has never – under either Democrats or Republicans – made it to the House floor suggests our concerns are rooted not in the impracticality of reparations but in something more existential.”

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Stephens called the works on the list “the most precious kind of journalism because it changes how we think and how we look at the world.”

NYU tweeted a quote from New Yorker editor David Remnick saying, “‘In the past 10 years there’s been no greater piece of journalism’ than Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘The Case For Reparations.'”

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Case for Reparations” is still a go-to for those looking to gain insight on the subject. He is currently a writer-in-residence at NYU, however, had no influence on the judging.

Other Black writers with works on NYU’s list include:

  • Isabel Wilkerson for “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” at No. 2
  • Michelle Alexander for “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” at No. 5
  • Various writers from New York Times’ “The 1619 Project” at No. 8
  • The Washington Post’s database of articles on police shootings at No. 2, which includes articles by Black journalist Wesley Lowery.