Remembering not to forget
In the days leading up to the Memorial Day holiday, Atlantic magazine released an article by Ta-neshi Coates, one of its senior editors, who wrote a story with a provocative title called,“The Case for Reparations.”
In over 15,000 words, Coates who often focuses in his writing on the complexities of the United States racial history, anticipates counter-arguments to his main point by laying out historical evidence and detailing how African Americans have been systematically robbed of land, property and overall rights due to policy decisions by the federal and state governments as well as banks and other private business entities. His reparations’ story focuses on relatively recent history in Chicago. Using studies and evidence, Coates explains how the city was deliberately made into one of the most segregated areas in the country.
Abuses in the south led to the Great Migration during which six million blacks emigrated to the north. Although conditions were relatively better, official policies in northern states forced African Americans to live in what became known as ghettos. For decades, blacks were also denied the right to participate in securing legitimate mortgages making them vulnerable to predatory private lenders who could take property back without notice.
Supporters of reparations have acknowledged the difficulty of maneuvering around the practical aspects of disbursing compensation. After all, can a number really be put on 250 years of free but forced labor and subsequent decades of economic displacement and suppression?
Coates and others undoubtedly know reparations aren’t happening anytime soon in an atmosphere where screeching commences from both political sides whenever an apology for past sins is attempted and many people are unwilling to face the history of this country. For years, Congressman John Conyers has unsuccessfully pushed a bill to study the issue of reparations but many members of Congress refuse to even consider that.
Whether its timing was intentional or not, it’s appropriate that Coates’ story was published a few days before Memorial Day, a holiday that was begun in 1865 by blacks in Charleston, South Carolina to honor dead Union soldiers who helped emancipate them. Despite continued resistance, it is vital to remember and revisit the true history especially among African Americans who can often be complacent about what many view as an irrelevant past. We must insist on a continued need to push forward.