The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates stopped by the Colbert Report on Monday to discuss his extensive and thoroughly researched “Case for Reparations” and America’s ongoing history of institutional racism.
The 10-chapter, 15,000-word article is featured in The Atlantic’s June 2014 issue, and tackles far more than what some simplify as “slavery reparations.”
Instead Coates shows us a country that has profited from disadvantaging its black citizens, not just through slavery, but also the failure of Reconstruction, Black Codes, Jim Crow, widespread land theft, forced sharecropping, exclusions in the New Deal, Social Security, and the G.I. Bill, and government sponsored terrorism and housing discrimination.
“Do you think the best way to heal nation is to bum people out?” Colbert asks. “Because this well argued and I understand it but I don’t want to understand it.”
To that, Ta-Nehisi replied, “I think it’s our history. And I do think it’s necessary to bum people out sometimes to heal people. You go to the doctor and maybe you have a knee injury and you’re not sure what it is. It’s better to know that you tore something than for the doctor to just tell you ‘oh it’s gonna be alright.’ But we have to know it’s wrong in order for there to be any healing in the first place.”
Continuing to explain the case he says, “Anytime you talk about reparations people think you’re talking about people who are long dead but in fact, there are people who are alive who have been injured by policies that were done in our name… That damage is such that is doesn’t go away when we don’t talk about it.”
Though Ta-Nehisi may be willing to focus squarely on currently unknown post-slavery damages, in 2000 Harper’s Magazine estimated that it “could require $97 trillion to pay for the hours of uncompensated work done during the slavery era” alone, according to the LA Times in 2008.
Enjoy Ta-Nehisi’s back and forth with Colbert and if you haven’t read “The Case for Reparations,” you have some catching up to do.