Ta-Nehisi Coates’s long cover story in the June issue of The Atlantic is about reparations for slavery. Indeed, the piece is titled ‘The Case For Reparations.’ (It isn’t online yet.) The story has been buzzed about for a while now, and while I recommend that everyone get their hands on the essay and read it at once, Coates’s argument shouldn’t be too controversial. But it will be—which is another sign of the sorry state of racial discourse in America.
Coates was wise to focus the essay less on the evils of slavery and more on the systemic and institutional ways in which African-Americans have been beaten down, discriminated against, and terrorized over the past 150 years. Rather than being left to their own devices—something America prides itself on doing for its citizens—blacks were forcefully kept down by government and private institutions, federal laws and private banks. (The piece closes with Bank of America’s recent behavior.) It is a powerful argument with some superb storytelling.
But prescriptively? Here is Coates, with some big ideas that really shouldn’t sound all that earth-shattering: