Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Country's 'Moral Debt to African-Americans'

Friday, May 30, 2014

This segment originally aired live on May 30, 2014. An edited version was included in a best-of episode of The Brian Lehrer Show on August 15th. The unedited audio can be found here. 

In this month's Atlantic cover story "The Case for Reparations," Ta-Nehisi Coates tracks the pervasive legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and housing discrimination -- and why it's time to even the ledger. Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author of The Beautiful Struggle (Spiegel & Grau, 2009).

A 1938 Redlined Map of Brooklyn (used by the Home Owners Loan Corporation)

The term "redlining" refers to the maps used by the HOLC and other agencies to make decisions about where to offer loans. The areas in red effectively shut out minority neighborhoods from homeownership. More maps from other cities available from Ladale Winling and here.


Comments [101]

Reemus from University of Kansas

I learned something listening to TNC in this segment. It is shameful that racism was codified in the way it was.

Still, as helpful and necessary as the education is, the idea of reparations is goofy. I for one will never condone the confiscation of money from those who had nothing to do with racist policies to pay for those who might *happen* to be descendants of those who might have been discriminated against.

The more you think about it the more stupid the idea of reparations becomes.

Jan. 02 2015 04:44 PM
gerald berke from United States

Black people could never escape their visibility.... they can be seen from a distance... which allows discrimination from that same distance... you and pretend you never even saw them....
There has been and yet remained systemic, pervasive, methodical discrimination against blacks in America...
On a bright note, it is about to disappear... intermarriage, where we become connected at the family level: there we are vested indissolubly....
As in traveling waters in a small boat, one can hardly see motion,,, but look behind and see the long cut into the waters, that long contrail... we have moved miles and miles away...and we are still moving, and strongly so: we have a black president who will at the end be recognized for his essential contribution to our success and survival....

Jan. 02 2015 02:06 PM

I have heard the arguments in favor and against reparations in the past. I am generally familiar with the flagrantly discriminatory policies of the distant and recent past; the social conditions they created or exacerbated; and the historical context in which they took place.

Most of the perpetrators and victims have passed on, though not all have. Their lives have become our political burdens.

But, my 'nay' vote was not changed by this interview. It was a thoughtful and good discussion. It is rightly among the Best of Brian Lehrer.

I look forward to reading the article.

Aug. 18 2014 10:41 AM
john from office

This guest is the reason blacks will never excape their own paranoia and why all other groups, including black immigrants, surpass african americans and their culture of victimhood. Axe anyone!

Aug. 15 2014 02:45 PM
APRIL from Upper West Side

FDR also cut aid or cut the area of the Harlem community. New York was segregated then and it is now the most segregated city in the the country. Caribbean blacks haven't had the same experiences as American African Americans, not having had the same experiences, so they're more successful. I asked Reverend Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, at the NYC Historical Society, "Is there still segregation in New York City?" A collective gasp. He began, "In Atlanta." Did a double take, then began, "Yes: in housing, in employment, in transportation, in schooling, and in churches. Though a wonderful black man told me there's an integrated church on B'way and 70 something: 79th or 72? Giuliani's well named, "street crimes unit" killed an unarmed black man every few weeks under Bratton, who's now in power again under de Blasio. One of the worst things I've heard is when then negro troops returned from WWII, they were in a segregated train car, with no heat, no lights, no food, no drinks. Behind German prisoners of war who had everything.

Aug. 15 2014 10:46 AM

Mr. Coates is thinly disguising his own racism. American history is blighted with racism, so are many many other countries. There is genocide going on still in the world. Victimhood is never moving forward and reliving the past. Mr. Coates's argument would hold more weight if he was actually alive during these times and suffered under these conditions. He has a nice career.

Aug. 15 2014 10:41 AM

Mr. Coates, you can always move back to Africa. I personally know immigrants who have been dissastified with America and moved back. Get your DNA checked, find out what area of africa you come from and then move there. Problem solved. But to expect in 2014, the tax payers and public who were NOT involved with slavery and early 20th century racism is ludicrious.

Aug. 15 2014 10:39 AM
w from NJ

While we're going back into history, lets not forget that slavery has been in an institution in Africa imposed by African leaders since way before America was founded. Not that anyone was right in trading in slaves but maybe the Governments in Senegal or Ghana can donate to these stupid reparations

Aug. 15 2014 10:37 AM

this is a ridiculous conversation. slavery still exists in areas of the world. Now this caller wants to never pay taxes again? WOW. the native indians were here first and the settlers killed them into oblivion. its a totally different situation. Why doesn't this guest try and get reparations from the Africans WHO SOLD THEIR OWN PEOPLE INTO SLAVERY??? As a first generation american i find this argument the guest is pushing as ridiculous.

Aug. 15 2014 10:36 AM
Linda from Manhattan

I've heard white people say if reparations are cheaper than affirmative action -- just pay the one time fee and no more special favors.

Any thoughts?

Aug. 15 2014 10:30 AM

LOL, meanwhile every immigrant that comes to america is able to move ahead. is he claiming that this past affects their future? because it's a ridiculous assertion. Every immigrant family's kids have to take care of their parents. my father still cant understand most things mailed to him.

Aug. 15 2014 10:18 AM

"I "axed" him..." like the gong show, the hook should come out from the side and pull this clown off the stage. Please, if you can't speak like a normal person, your point will not be heard.

Aug. 15 2014 10:14 AM

@chris roemer from summit, NJ - exactly. women are still second class citizens in a lot of the world. this discussion is ridiculous. it's like when jewish people still harp on the holocaust, where stalin killed 20 million of his own people and now the israelis are the oppressors of the palestinians. the past is the past, move on people.

Aug. 15 2014 10:11 AM

i'm first generation american. my parents struggled to get what they got. i don't understand how an american born black person in 2014 can't get ahead. all this old racism, although terrible, is the past.

Aug. 15 2014 10:08 AM
chris roemer from summit, NJ

Reparations? Um, let's start w/ women. The rise of Christianity and the witch hunts etc. we have 1600 years AT LEAST of terrorism against women.................

Aug. 15 2014 10:07 AM

Has Mr. Coates contacted Kenneth Feinberg to elicit his thoughts on this project?

Jun. 05 2014 11:07 AM

@Adel from Queens

I think you missed the point. Far more than the slave-owners benefited from slavery...and the financial exploitation took place long after slavery nominally ended. It still takes place today. The Dredd Scott Decision of 1850 established that Blacks have no rights.

"...that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit."

This stood as law until the 13th and 14th Amendments were passed. The benefits that accrue to the nation from this systematized theft benefit far more than just the slave-owner. To contend that 'My ancestors didn't own slaves' is a dodge.

After slavery ended, the systematic mistreatment of minorities provided benefits to the non-minority citizens AND immigrants. So no one is without some stain of the 'original sin'. Nowadays this discussion is handled under the rubric of 'white privilege'. Tim Wise speaks more completely about the subject than I ever will.

Rather than talk about how former slaves should be 'repaired', we can talk about the degree that American minorities have been injured and what we will do (or not do) to end further exploitation and abuse.

Why was 'stop and frisk' - a pretty clear 4th Amendment violation to my mind - considered fair treatment for so long? Why do so many minority children get expelled for incidents that would get another child time in the principal's office? Why (until recently) was the average age at death for black American males one year lower than the Social Security retirement age?

Jun. 02 2014 11:55 AM
Adel from Queens

"Reparations" to decedents of slaves by whites in this country would not only perpetuate racial distinctions in our country but be unfair to those whites who were not part of slavery on our country. I suspect "Reparations" is an attempt to get free, unearned money. It is un-American.

Jun. 02 2014 11:17 AM
Adel from Queens

Reparations for slavery 160 years ago to be paid to decedents of slaves by whites would only perpetuate racial distinctions among our people. It would also be unfair to whites who are not decedents of slaver-owners, either because their family immigrated to US after slavery was abolished or opposed slavery. I think "Reparations" is just an attempt to get free-money.

Jun. 02 2014 10:58 AM
coffeefoot from Hudson Valley, NY.

It is interesting how people can comment on the article without understanding the main thrust of it. And why do people opposed go straight to bashing cash payments, when clearly there are many other points to examine. How about just trying to get to an accounting of what was stolen, denied, etc ? Wouldn't this be necessary simply for a telling of the truth ?

Jun. 02 2014 01:23 AM


"...exactitude, if possible, will require further analysis. And analysis is what is required now, to produce the full accounting of what happened and its ripple effects, that adequate understanding, repudiation, restitution and reconciliation require."

There can never be exactitude. Too much time and history has passed. There can only ever be an 'estimate' of 'potentials'...Not really actionable in a court, is it. In the absence of a case by case legal morass, we apply a political solution - probably via tax policy - and end up giving benefits/reparations to folks who really don't deserve or need them.

An interesting subset of the problem has occurred on this board...Would reparations be enacted to balance 'white privilege' or instead for some form of recompense for those who were once considered property? If for the ancestors of slaves, who pays? Everybody or just the descendants of slaveowners?

Jun. 01 2014 04:40 PM


"...if anything they face MORE discrimination! Kind of annoying to see African-Americans always dismissing Caribbean-American achievements."

My own grandfather emigrated from Montserrat. That being said, I see absolutely NO COMPARISON between African-Carribbean emigre's who choose to come here to push their education and open the possibility for higher achievement and the descendants of generations of Africans who were essentially sold and used as property. Our State Dept ensures that legal immigrants have education and means. The policies of our government and fellow citizens have only acted to keep us in poverty.

Jun. 01 2014 04:29 PM
fuva from harlemworld

RUCB_Alum -- This is the risk that (validly) invoking reparations runs: We get fixated on solutions at the expense of properly defining the harm/problem...The source of the ripple effects that continue to confront black folks began more than 246 years ago. It's why Ta uses the '350' number. Though, exactitude, if possible, will require further analysis. And analysis is what is required now, to produce the full accounting of what happened and its ripple effects, that adequate understanding, repudiation, restitution and reconciliation require. And this process must initially be black-controlled, within the black community. This may be lost on Ta, but it is so.

Yes, many, many other groups have suffered, if differently than black folk. Nothing about addressing what has happened to the latter precludes addressing harms suffered by the former...

OK, I really, really am through.

May. 30 2014 06:12 PM


Then it becomes a much larger question than civil tort law could handle. Who are the exploiters and who are the exploited? Native Americas, Chinese railroad workers, Jews, Irish, women....They are all in the class of people whom America has a 'moral debt' to repay.

May. 30 2014 03:33 PM


"...if Israel is reparations to the Jews, are the dozens of independent black African states reparations to American blacks?"

Do you really see an equivalency between Germany compensating the victims of their racial policies and the recognized right of self-determination? Really? (or are you just bomb-throwing again!?)

Sorry about your Mom's ordeal. Humans shouldn't treat other human in that way.

May. 30 2014 03:14 PM

Gary from Queens-

Good points ... and good to see you back. (LOL, the peanut gallery here hasn't gotten any smarter in the interim.)

May. 30 2014 01:43 PM

Blacks in the Caribbean were also enslaved so I really hate this excuse that high achieving Caribbean blacks are somehow privileged. How? They had to the face the hurdles against immigration Latinos and Asians face and then they face the racism against blacks that all African diaspora people face in the United States, so if anything they face MORE discrimination! Kind of annoying to see African-Americans always dismissing Caribbean-American achievements.

May. 30 2014 01:42 PM
Claire from Bed-Stuy

Everyday systemic racism: That the MTA shuts down subway lines for entire weekends in neighborhoods which are predominantly African-American and Afro-Caribbean. That would never happen on the 6 train in Manhattan. And who works on weekends and needs transport to their places of business? A lot of folks in those neighborhoods. Good luck trying to get to an opening retail shift on Sunday morning at 8am on an unreliable and over-crowded MTA shuttle bus.

May. 30 2014 01:10 PM
brainiac3397 from USA


That's great. I enjoy your opinion. Now for the topic on hand. Where is your data?

May. 30 2014 12:29 PM
c. hudgins from philadelphia,pa

I am black,born in this country with ancestors who were slaves.When I was young like your guest I was gung ho for reparations.As Ive`d aged I have become less gung ho. It will never happen and I don`t think it should.At this time in our country there are other groups who as deprived as we are and who are just as deserving. I mean the poor,uneducated people who are found everywhere.Poor people have a common problem-discrimination.That segment of the population who enjoy power,money and own all that goes with those things are successfully keeping the rest of us fighting each other so that their lives will remain the same.I don`t exclude our law makers from that privileged group.
We are not the only people who can claim slavery in our history. Slavery is not dead. It is still practiced in other parts of the world.

May. 30 2014 12:25 PM

@gary from queens

"...the first affirmative action president. He was nominated against more experienced Dem white candidates, and elected president against a more experienced senator, and essentially all because he was black...

And no one would *really* expect you to see it any other way, Gary.

Obama was nominated because he won the most primaries. The primary system was set up outside of racial considerations. However, it was created in America and *must*, therefore, have some racial aspects. Any Democrat would have been elected in the general election because the GOP officeholder before him was such a monumental cock-up. (it didn't hurt that the Barbie from Wasilla that McCain chose as a running mate turned out to be such a boob.)

You are making stuff up to suit your less than equitable point of view. God, it must be painful to eat at your dinner table.

May. 30 2014 12:24 PM
fuva from harlemworld

RUCB_Alum ---

• If you're confining reparations to enslavement, then you seem to be missing a major part of Ta's point.

• It's longer than 246 years.

• There has never been "targeted recovery".

OK, I'm really through.

May. 30 2014 12:19 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Ignorance all over this page also includes ignorance about language, huh? You must think you're speaking the English spoken 500 years ago? Or the Queen's English? You don't know how much jokes the English have for even the most 'erudite' American parlance. You don't know that language is living and ever evolving and highly, legitimately affected by experience; it's how language works. As usual, yall don't know what yall don't know, and the arrogance of the ignorance continues to be pathetic.

OK, I'm through.

May. 30 2014 12:13 PM

@Taher from Croton on Hudson

"Where the hell is the money going come from?"

That's easy. The reparation could come in the form of multi-year 'assignable' tax credits. A bona fide descendant of a former slave would qualify. You'd have to earn in order to claim them on your own return. Since the credits are assignable, a grantee could sell them to the highest bidder. A secondary market for other taxpayers (individuals, corporations, etc.) seeking a higher tax credit could ensue. This would work better if Fed tax policy didn't already give so much away to the Rich and corporations.

There are probably other ways to 'pay back' without direct money grants. You just have to think it through.

May. 30 2014 12:11 PM
John A

The insanely simple solution is to ditch trickle down economics and have sane progressive tax rates, which would include 0 tax for many poverty groups. Since congress is not moving on this, we instead get any and all angry voices. Bad times, I'd agree.

May. 30 2014 12:06 PM
gary from queens

Martin mentioned affirmative action as something that's not considered. But include Obama himself as the first affirmative action president. He was nominated against more experienced Dem white candidates, and elected president against a more experienced senator, and essentially all because he was black. White people were guilted into voting for him, because white people in the US, who never owned slaves or never descriminated against people by race are guilted by liberals into feeling responsible for past wrongs----JUST FOR BEING WHITE!

So now we have an inexperienced president, who naivette and inexperience left us with obamacare anda failed foreign policy. Just look at this latest foul up:

Exposure of CIA Station Chief Spotlights Administration’s Immaturity
May 27th, 2014 - 10:24 am

May. 30 2014 12:04 PM
fuva from harlemworld

John A., thanks for honest, good faith dialogue.

Yes, it's time to disabuse ourselves of barren economic concepts ('trickle down', 'meritocracy', etc.) to effectively address poverty and income/wealth inequality. But, even though wealth definitely intersects with race, don't make the prevailing mistake of conflating these; they are distinct and must be dealt with separately. We must also disabuse ourselves of the instinct to deny race terror and it's unaddressed ripple effects...Rich black people are still suffering from it. Blacks are disproportionately poor because of it.

May. 30 2014 12:04 PM

but brainiac3397, that's not the way you used the word. masked as it was, it was easy to see through, which I sure you meant it to be. however, the vast majority of folks receiving welfare are not of African descent. bad example that reveals more about you than you'd like... and that's really sad.

May. 30 2014 11:58 AM
Theresa Piazza from staten island

The fact that you have a whole party of people who are trying to delegitimized the President shows thats racism is alive and well. The push to make voting harder for people of color as well as geremandering are further examples of the this evil. When you have a Supreme Court who sidewith rich people who want to continue to make pay low wages to people and take away the safety net and unions we are on our way back not forward in time.

May. 30 2014 11:57 AM

Mr. Lehrer, thank you for asking my question on air. I was very disappointed with Mr. Coates' flippant and content-free response. I've been a long-time fan of his work, but either you're concerned about injustice on principle, or you just want a bigger piece of the pie for yourself. I'd always thought he was in the first camp, but evidently not.

May. 30 2014 11:53 AM

Hey, Martin Chuzzlewit - Mr. Coates is not successful? He's a senior editor at the Atlantic. Not bad even by "white" standards. But really, how would you feel about him living next door to you?

May. 30 2014 11:52 AM
Amy from Manhattan

The pronunciation "aks" goes as far back as "ask" in English. I've known some very educated people who say "aks," & I've learned to understand it as just part of their accent (or should I say "askent"?).

May. 30 2014 11:50 AM
LJ Cotes from Duchess County, NY

I enjoy WNYC most of the time, but it seems that the 15% of the USA population in black Americans takes something like 1/3 of all programming on PBS as a whole. Frankly, yes, slavery was and is despicable, but when a Cotes or anyone like him continues to look for reparations beyond the fact that the USA population is expected to continue to kowtow to black Americans forever, is getting old and sickening. Have the Armeinans gotten reparations for being murdered by the Turks? Did the Mongolians have to provide anything to the Chinese for whipping out some tribes in the dark ages? Need we go back to all the atrocities committed by humans against other humans and continue to whine about it?

If Cotes and any angry man continues to demand money and things, they are missing the point that has proven successful with other cultures that have been murdered and oppressed for centuries. Pull-up your pants and get to making the changes yourself. The Africans that were brought to the "New World" were often sold by other tribes in Africa, which continues to suffer the same travesties and barbarism of that tribal make-up. The misinformation and need to shame the non-black population in the USA is getting old and building up an entitled attitude that is portrayed so clearly in Cotes' attitude and article and all those who promote it's contents. What about Irish Americans who were rested brutally when they came to these shores? What about Italian Americans and I can go on.

Will we continue to hear about the plight of black Americans in the 22nd century? I'm guessing we will since it's easier to demand payment than working and creating. Perhaps Cotes should consider that focus instead of crying about the injustices that millions have suffered before the black African trade created a minority that can't seem to get out of it's own way and loves to point fingers at everyone for what happened, but ignores what is happening.

May. 30 2014 11:49 AM
brainiac3397 from USA


They is everybody getting welfare benefits. I'm going to go out on a limb and assume African Americans receive welfare as well as any other American who needs it and gets it.

May. 30 2014 11:48 AM
gary from queens

I would love to get gov compensation for the losses my father and grandfather experienced in various illegal scams, including the stock market!

But the avenue to compensation is tort law. That's where you prove you were a victim and where THE VIOLATOR does the compensating.

So those blacks should be suing the banks, and those states that enforced Jim Crows should be sued, and not taking money from me and millions of americans who were immigrants that were themselves hardshipped.

The Jews who received reparations were the actual victims or next generation thereof. But they had to prove that. The number of actual descendants of slaves are small, and it would be hard to prove. expect scams galore.

May. 30 2014 11:47 AM
Zoe Morsette from LIC, NY

I feel obliged to respond to the woman who commented on air that Native Americans don't pay taxes. She has no idea what she's talking about! All Native Americans are subject to federal income taxes just like everyone else. If they don't pay taxes, it's because their income is so low that they don't owe any.

May. 30 2014 11:45 AM

@MC -

"LOL, and some of us (much) later immigrants worked hard to EARN that "privilege" despite having particular discrimination aimed against us as well."

The jokes on you, Sparky, if you think that coming to America AFTER the Civil War makes you any less complicit in the systematic discrimination against the progeny of former slaves. Immigrants could frequently 'assimilate' into 'normal' society in ways that Blacks never could.

Your laughter only reveals how caught up you are in your own whiteness.

May. 30 2014 11:45 AM
Rowena from Connecticut

Fantastic guest...I am a white women -- raised in an Irish Catholic family -- from Chicago and moved to Baltimore...I agree with your guests assertions that the black community is still suffering from the horrors of slavery and there is a need to improve the opportunities, self-esteem and break the cycles of destruction.

May. 30 2014 11:44 AM
fuva from harlemworld

See, Ta, the ignorance all over this sorry page exemplifies the need for TRUTH and UNDERSTANDING as part of the process. But, again, dealing with the black community first.

May. 30 2014 11:44 AM

K, maybe if reparations had been provided then all that you complain of would never have happened.

May. 30 2014 11:44 AM

SKV - great point. women still have a glass ceiling. Im from an immigrant italian family. italians were discriminated against in the late 19th and early 20th century.

i say reparations for all! Where's my check?

May. 30 2014 11:44 AM
Mike from ny

I look fwd. to reading the Atlantic article. What a brilliant man! A breath of fresh air to hear someone who is so articulately in favor of progressive action. Kudos, Bran!

May. 30 2014 11:43 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Yes, Ta, it MUST come from the ground up.

May. 30 2014 11:42 AM

"welfare they benefit" They??? Who's They? And I bet you go around thinking that you're not racist.

May. 30 2014 11:42 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Reparation is a fantasy certain African-American intellectuals have had for years. Where the hell is the money going come from? The declining American middle class, the poor, or may be billionaires will cough up the money?

May. 30 2014 11:41 AM
K from Brooklyn

Is this guy for real? Men who impregnate women and don't support their children? Women who engage in relationships with such men? Such is not evidence of irresponsibility? Yes there are other groups that engage in this type of behavior, but the fact of racism does not alleviate blacks of the obligation to behave responsibly toward themselves and each other.

May. 30 2014 11:40 AM
brainiac3397 from USA

So I'm assuming all this welfare they benefit from doesn't count towards reparations?

May. 30 2014 11:40 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Wow. Not surprised that the beat down and indoctrinated 'black' man caller is a member of CORE.

Things Ta may not understand:
• The substantial differences between the Jewish and the black experiences.
• The extent of the injury and ripple effects suffered by all black people, even those without singularly dramatic stories.
• That he probably should have started this discourse within the black community, to block out the kind of noise on this page and in this segment, and also to heal/develop us to the point that we can really LEVERAGE reparation. Reparation MUST be connected to a black controlled black empowerment movement.

May. 30 2014 11:40 AM
genejoke from Brooklyn

The caller just referred to a ridiculous notion that I've heard before - that African Americans should be allowed to stop paying taxes.
That is absolutely ABSURD.
Imagine the crippling economic effects when 50 million individuals cease paying taxes. Imagine the focused resentment and RAGE that would explode across the country toward African Americans from everyone else.
Time to put that idea to rest!

May. 30 2014 11:38 AM

@John from the office

"I say the destruction of several American cities, Newark, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, Watts, New Orleans, I can go on and on, makes this discussion moot. What we have is a wash, the tally is even."

And I'd say your head is so far up your fundament that you really don't know which way is up. White flight drained the capital out of these metropolises but they have been by no means 'destroyed'. They just don't look like places you would want to live. And for the most part the citizens in those cities are better off without you and your racist BS.

FYI - 'ax' is actually how Anglo-Saxons originally pronounced 'ask'. Get a clue before you make yourself look even dumber.

May. 30 2014 11:38 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Tom, if Israel is reparations to the Jews, are the dozens of independent black African states reparations to American blacks?

But Israel was actually returned to the Jews by the League of Nations after WWI, but most Jews did not go to Palestine between 1920 and 1938, and by 1939 it was too late. Most Jews did not want to go live in Palestine in the 1920s and '30s.

But my mother refused to take "blood money"even though her baby and my grandmother and her two brothers, and her first husband and the rest were all murdered in cold blood, and the ancestral home and business all lost, while she just barely saved by Christian farmers who put here and four other Jews in a pit in the field for 18 months. It was only at age 80 that I finally managed to get something for her when the Germans announced their "last call" for a monthly stipend which I did get for her until she died at age 89. So she managed to get the equivalent of $35,000 over the 60 years since the end of the war and her death.

But children of survivors like me get nothing. Even those of us born in the refugee camps after the war. WE get nothing and will get nothing. Why should we?

May. 30 2014 11:38 AM
Yosif from Manhattan

What does reparations in America look like? Can we give back to an African American family that has been disenfranchised for years and distinguish between a Nigerian immigrant that came here in 2013?

May. 30 2014 11:37 AM
Catherine from Hamilton Heights

I am a white woman. My master's thesis at Union Theological Seminary in 1994 was the case for reparations for slavery. It was called "Justice Too Long Delayed." I laid out why it should happen and how. I argued that it should be in the form of things like educational benefits and money for entrepreneurial ambitions. I argued that to be eligible, someone would have to be able to trace a relative back to 1900 who was of African descent (I detail in the paper why that is my logic -- partly because tracing one's history to an actual slave could be very difficult). One thing I love about my plan is that white people would go running to prove that they had a black ancestor. Another is that it is not reparations for being black -- black people don't automatically get it, and white people are not automatically excluded. I'll try to get an electronic copy of it to send to the author.

May. 30 2014 11:37 AM
C.G. from Manhattan

Wow. The miscommunication involved in the discussion with the Black conservative seems to show how the term "reparations" undermines Mr. Coates's effort. The caller seemed to link reparations to slavery and therefore to claims of victimization that the caller viewed as outdate. Mr. Coates responded with wonderful examples of recent and ongoing powerful harms, e.g., redlining, but failed to let the caller grapple with and respond to how remedies for such enduring harms are not the same as reparations for slavery. He needed to be pressed for an answer of how to address current harms.

May. 30 2014 11:36 AM

"White privilege exists - not as extreme as Eddie Murphy portrayed in that SNL skit - but it does exist."

LOL, and some of us (much) later immigrants worked hard to EARN that "privilege" despite having particular discrimination aimed against us as well.

Sorry that we happened to be "white", Sparky.

May. 30 2014 11:35 AM
Alex M. from NY

At least you've run out of words and ideas and are repeating yourself, Beatrice! Maybe this will open up a space in which to reflect, instead of rehearsing the same biases.

May. 30 2014 11:35 AM
dan k from Park Slope

As a good friend said, with the exception of Native Americans, we are all immigrants to America, new and old. Anyone coming here, from anywhere abroad, comes here for the hope and opportunity built both on the backs of great leaders and entrepreneurs of the past, as well as the backs of slaves, seizure of Native lands, internment of minorities, etc. The idea is that you buy into the promise of America, as well as her past debts, when you choose to move here. So yes, even new immigrants owe African Americans a debt.

May. 30 2014 11:35 AM
Joe from Staten Island

Mr. Coates is right. When you follow the money its more than apparent that racism is endemic and ingrained in this society. Its actually so in our faces that we have to ignore it or do something about it. We have as a society chosen to ignore it. I think many of the posts above prove that.

I would like to see a truth and reconciliation movement that includes reparations.

May. 30 2014 11:34 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Tome, if Israel is reparations to the Jews, are the dozens of independent black African states reparations to American blacks?

But Israel was actually returned to the Jews by the League of Nations after WWI, but most Jews did not go to Palestine between 1920 and 1938, and by 1939 it was too late.

And my mother refused to take "blood money"even though her baby and my grandmother her two brothers, her first husban and the rest were all murdered in cold blood, the home the business all lost, and she just barely was saved by Christian farmers who put here and four other Jews in a pit in the field for 18 months. It was only at age 80 that I finally managed to get something for her when the Germans announced their "last call" for a monthly stipend which I did get for her until she died at age 89. So she managed to get the equivalent of $35,000 over the 60 years since the end of the war and her death.

But children of survivors like me get nothing. Even those of us born in the refugee camps after the war. WE get nothing and will get nothing. Why should we?

May. 30 2014 11:34 AM
Beatrice from Westport,

Axe, really?

May. 30 2014 11:32 AM
Alex M. from NYCC

Beatrice--seriously? You want to grid *that* axe? Happily there's more in language, identity, and reality than is dreamt of in your philosophy.

May. 30 2014 11:32 AM
Sonia from Manhattan

This Caribbean, just misses the point. African Americans deserve restitution for the systemic system of racism that continues to keep them down. Reparation is the correct terminology for correcting the injustice inflicted on African Americans.

May. 30 2014 11:31 AM

Please ask Mr. Coates if he thinks women are owed reparations for the long history of misogynistic oppression, lack of right to vote, own property, have sovereignty over their own bodies, etc.?

May. 30 2014 11:31 AM
Alex M. from NYC

Reparation for women of all races and ages. Reparation for targets of ageism. Reparation for abused children. Reparation for every member of every race that has been discriminated against. Reparation for the differently abled. And on and on. By your arguments, those should be instituted too. Dehumanization of PEOPLE, for whatever reason, by whatever means, to whatever degree *presently* readily identifiable as part of a nation's history and identity--THIS is our enemy. THIS is what is wrong. WAKE UP, or we are all going down.

May. 30 2014 11:29 AM

So for you, MC, forty years of targeted recovery makes up for 246 years of theft of services that was American chattel slavery (1619-1865) for nine-tenths of the African-Americans brought here and the 100 years of post-slavery Jim Crow-isms and segregation and discrimination that was our "American Experience". Am I being fair to your argument to encapsulate it as "It hasn't worked. Why bother trying?"?

White privilege exists - not as extreme as Eddie Murphy portrayed in that SNL skit - but it does exist. What's your plan to deal with it?

May. 30 2014 11:29 AM
BLS producer

Please remember to keep the conversation on this comments page civil and on-topic. Thank you.

May. 30 2014 11:29 AM
John A

I saw the earlier Moyers interview with Mr Coates and he seems to have been coached to use 'white supremacy' less often in his arguments fir this interview. Economic Supremacy, as the problem I will accept, segregation as being from (any) whites to (all) blacks misses so much of what has been done, and not done for the poor.
Fuva, thanks for weighing in.

May. 30 2014 11:28 AM

How can a literary person such as this writer, use the word AXE? And don't tell me its appropriate ....
its just wrong.

May. 30 2014 11:28 AM

seriously, you're letter a CORE activist speak on "race hustle"? They are the most craven, disingenuous, mercenary group in the history of civil rights. A right-wing insult to the struggle.

May. 30 2014 11:27 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

OK, you want reparation at this stage in American history? Then you will probably get mass violence directed toward African Americans by not just white but by many. Sorry that reparation train left the station a long time ago.

May. 30 2014 11:26 AM

seriously, you're letter a CORE activist speak on "race hustle"? They are the most craven, disingenuous, mercenary group in the history of civil rights. A right-wing insult to the struggle.

May. 30 2014 11:26 AM
Burtnor from Manhattan

Yes, racism is and has been responsible for horrific injustices. But I don't see how the argument for reparations is feasible.

Really, justice would demand that we give the country back to Native Americans; that we compensate all the immigrant groups in the US that have been and still are systematically discriminated against; and that we compensate women for centuries, really millennia, of unpaid labor and outright slavery, exclusion from economic systems, rape and so many other forms of violence, and persistent, pernicious sexism.

A truth and reconciliation discussion and serious efforts to address bigotry would be helpful and other efforts could be discussed.

May. 30 2014 11:26 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Anyone who has ever come here and leveraged American resources (built on the theft from and brutality of black folk) is implicated...

I would not use "reparations," but it is what it is, and part of this process is about dealing with the unadulterated truth.

But, Ta, nah, Obamacare can't be reparations.

(And keep keeping it real, bruh, with how you talk and your whole presentation.)

May. 30 2014 11:23 AM

What?! Exclusive use of the n-word is not sufficient reparation?

but seriously, to judge from the comments, americans aren't racists. They're moneyists.

May. 30 2014 11:20 AM
john from office

What will the African tribes who sold people into slavery have to pay??

This is an example of a smart person who could make money if he applied himself to another pursuit, not to a lost cause.

Axe him that Brian

May. 30 2014 11:16 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

What is more important is for "ALL AMERICANS" to have living wage employment. A nation that is willing to dismantle institutional apartheid which affects many not just African American. This idea of reparation is a fantasy that will go no-where. The train is long gone. Why are we wasting time with this nonsense?

May. 30 2014 11:16 AM
Leo A from NJ

We, my family and I, moved here when I was 8 with nothing. My sister and I are both professionals now. What's everyone elses excuse

May. 30 2014 11:15 AM

(Oh, please, Brian.
Yes, we read the whole article ... not just pandering goody-good white boys like you.)

This is all a very interesting history of past discrimination, but if reparations isn't the central point, why use it in the title ... other than to be provocative?

May. 30 2014 11:15 AM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

Cool story, bro.
Like the terrible things in your anecdotes that you're boring us with (and much, much worse) haven't happened to any other group of people since the beginning of time?

May. 30 2014 11:13 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Just printed the article and haven't read it yet, but...

No surprise that the regular clueless posters here don't even know what reparation (restitution, a major tenet of American jurisprudence) EVEN IS; that it is NOT social programs available to EVERYONE, that DON'T compensate for losses suffered; that it HAS NEVER HAPPENED.

(And, Mark, think you're confusing TaNehisi with Stanley Crouch from a whole other generation.)

May. 30 2014 11:11 AM

Do the reparations come out of taxes from all people including recent refugees and immigrants making a life from nothing, arriving here to join a communal guilt they did not share?

May. 30 2014 11:11 AM

wait, did he just say "he axed..."? time to go to the next segment.

May. 30 2014 11:11 AM
Dan K from park slope

As a Jewish American, I cannot reconcile the idea that any Jew, Native American, or any other group who has fought for reparations for the exploitation of their forebearers, should not get behind African American reparations. If it's not possible to assign funds to individuals, the amount of unpaid labor and punitive damages should be collected in a fund to provide scholarships, housing, healthcare, etc. for all of those descendants of the exploited.

May. 30 2014 11:09 AM

YYYYAAAAAWWWWWWNNNNNNN. my parents are immigrants from italy and sicily. there was slavery in those countries too. move along.

May. 30 2014 11:08 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Let’s be clear, so New Americans, immigrants and generations that had nothing do with slavery and institutional apartheid- are asked to pay for a white ruling class’s sins? That historical train left station a long time ago.

May. 30 2014 11:06 AM
John A

If what you say about jazz is true, it might make me take (another) step back from TNC. Sometimes magazine writers are just used to rabble rouse and not make level headed statements. If I could ask, what is Marks choice for best prog jazz album of the last 20 years? 75-70 was a great period for jazz.

May. 30 2014 10:59 AM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

What, no points for having a black president?

May. 30 2014 10:57 AM

Didn't the author once diss Miles Davis' later fusion projects as selling out to white people? Screw that dude. Davis could sense jazz was becoming museum relic and was doing his best to keep it relevant. Jazz has become a dusty curiosity that fascinates scholars but has no currency with youth. It's true jazz fusion eventually became quite an abomination but those old fusion projects were the last time jazz breathed a healthy breath without the aid of a National Endowment For the Arts or other charitable iron lung.

May. 30 2014 10:03 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To John

Why should African Americans keep their British, Scottish or Irish names like Smith, Washington, Clinton, etc.? Many Jews, especially in Israel, jettisoned their European names and took ancient Hebrew names. Why keep the names of your enslavers or persecutors?

But as for reparations, I think it is way too late for that. I don't ask the Germans to give me anything for being born in a DP camp in Germany or for murdering my relatives. The only ones who got German restitution monies were those who were directly affected and not their children or grandchildren. That is going to far. When the last of the Holocaust survivors is dead, very soon, no more German monies will be going out to the children or grandchildren of survivors.

May. 30 2014 10:01 AM
John from office

Martin I actually agree with most of your posting. Brian is not qualified to do this interview, because he would fear asking hard questions. Brian is actually writing a check as we speak.

The question as to who qualifies for these funds would be impossible, who is black??, what if you are 1/8th slave, what do you get??

I say the destruction of several American cities, Newark, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, Watts, New Orleans, I can go on and on, makes this discussion moot. What we have is a wash, the tally is even.

May. 30 2014 08:25 AM

OK, since a day without being called a racist here is like a day without sunshine, here we go -

A disappointing article with the standard list of tug-at-the-heartstring examples of African-American stagnation, a litany of past wrongs, a requisite comparison to Jews and Germany, and only the vaguest of notions as to what additional “reparations” might be and what they would achieve that current reparations haven’t. Even the sympathetic reviews of this piece in the media couldn’t bail him out with anything more than an emotional huzzah.

The most concrete proposal he mentions (from 1970) is to calculate a number in billions for the wealth inequality between African-Americans (and who would that include?) and the rest of us, whereupon “that number could be added to a reparations program each year for a decade or two.” Presumably, in 10 or 20 years, the Latinos, Asian Americans and the remainder of this 21st century nation of immigrants would then be off the hook (Finally, really?). Mr. Coates, as the Left reminds us daily ...... it’s a different country now.

The last 40 years of countless jobs programs, urban “opportunity zones”, income redistributive tax policies, almost universally available food stamps, Medicaid, welfare, affirmative action at universities/high schools/workplaces, OEO advocacy, Department of Justice enforcement, etc. etc. ... all accelerated under Obama (a black President, if you hadn’t noticed) resembles the broad reparations effort that Coates seems to cry out for yet again. His disappointment, frustration and even embarrassment with the lack of success is understandable, but he makes no real case for doubling down on more of the same under a new, sure-to-be-divisive label.

May. 30 2014 07:53 AM

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