Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Reparations" sounds too backwards-looking

Sometime in 1944, my grandfather pulled a cord, and a 500-pound bomb fell on a barracks full of sleeping German soldiers. And that was only one of the many times that he blew up German people during World War 2, as a bombardier/navigator in a medium-range bomber. Now, blowing people up is not a nice thing to do (and my grandpa, who became a pacifist after the war, always felt bad about it). But that's not what this post is really about.

The German regime known as the "Nazis" killed an awful lot of my extended family - one time some relatives of mine tried to make an extended family tree, but it ended up looking like its branches had been burned in a fire. I guess I could be mad about that. Some people still are. But I'm not. To me, it's water under the bridge - I like Germany, I have good friends whose grandparents were Nazis (actual Nazis, in the SS), and I'm not at all upset about the Holocaust. Ancient history. A cautionary tale for the world, but nothing more.

But how would I feel if my grandpa hadn't blown up all those sleeping Germans?

If "Germany" was one tribe and "Noah's extended family" was another, and if World War 2 was a fight between those tribes, then between that grandpa and all my other relatives of that generation who fought in the war, my tribe clearly killed more of them than they killed of us. And if "The Allies" is my tribe, then the asskickery was even clearer. If I ever read about the Holocaust and did get mad, I could just say "Well, motherfuckers, see what you get! What's up now, huh?"

But suppose there had been no World War 2? Suppose that the Nazis had instead been taken down in a civil war, by Germans opposed to the Holocaust? And suppose that for centuries after the Nazis lost that civil war, anti-Jewish policies remained - no death camps, just a steady stream of official discrimination and vigilante intimidation. And suppose that even after the vigilantism had been quelled and the official discrimination removed, there were German people who went around saying that the Nazis had had it right, that Jews could never be real Germans, etc. And suppose that the German police continued to harass Jews, and normal German people continued to connive to keep Jews out of their neighborhoods, despite official laws on the books that were supposed to stop that kind of thing.

And most importantly, suppose I lived in that Germany, instead of in the United States.

Then, I think, I might have a very different outlook on the evils of the past.

I imagine that this is a bit how Ta-Nehisi Coates feels, when he studies the history of all the bad things that the United States has done to African-Americans. I don't really know, of course, but I imagine it's a little bit like that.

Coates wants "reparations", but he's not clear on what "reparations" means. The dictionary definition of "reparations" is:
the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.
So whatever specific policies Coates sees "reparations" as entailing, it seems like a backwards-looking thing. The idea of "reparations" is for America - as an entity, as a collective, as an institution - to somehow make amends to African Americans for slavery, for Jim Crow, for lynchings, and for redlining. Maybe that would involve cash payments, maybe other kinds of wealth transfers. Maybe it would involve pro-active integration programs, big anti-discrimination efforts, or affirmative action-style attempts to boost African Americans to greater economic equality. But whatever "reparations" would be, the point of it would be to make up, at least partly, for the harms of the past.

But I think this is not the right attitude to take. Yes, America did bad things to African Americans in the past, and no, it never paid the price the way Nazi Germany did. But I think that no matter what "reparations" we do, it will never seem to have righted the wrongs of the past.


Reason 1: Because there will always be assholes in America who say that slavery was good, that black people are inferior, etc. etc. (A couple of these scum will probably show up in the comments section of this post.) That means that even if the American government tries to make amends, the totality of the American tribe will never declare, in one full-throated unified collective voice, that America did wrong and that it's sorry.

Reason 2: Because African-Americans, by definition, are still here. One key, essential reason that I don't feel bad about the Holocaust is that I don't have to live in Germany - I am in no way, shape, or form beholden to the German state. But African-Americans, by definition, still live in the country that historically persecuted them. And that will never allow them to have the kind of closure that you get if you live far away from the place where all the bad things happened.

Reason 3: Because good things can never make up for bad things 100%. I think this is just how human psychology works. If your parents beat you and then buy you ice cream and apologize then no matter how much ice cream they buy you, or how much they apologize, there will always be that memory of them beating you.

So I think that "reparations", whether the policy ideas end up being good or not, is the wrong way to frame the issue, because the past can never be fixed. And I didn't even mention all the negative effects of a real effort at "reparations" - the fact that many Americans are descended from immigrants who never participated in any atrocities against African Americans, and who feel that they have never personally benefited in any way from past or present discrimination against black people. Asking people to pay, or even to apologize, for other people's misdeeds might salve some old wounds, but it creates new ones at the same time. American society needs to heal, not to be torn apart by well-intentioned efforts to fix the past.

So what's the alternative?

I think the alternative is just to focus on improving the lives and the situation of African Americans going forward. That means material improvement - more wealth, more income, more security, better living conditions. It means ending discrimination by police and judges. It means making African Americans feel that they have a stake in the institutions of the country.

Those policies might be very similar to what Ta-Nehisi Coates would call "reparations", or they might be different. I don't know. The point is that the framing is different. Instead of looking backwards, look forwards.

And maybe we shouldn't focus so much on all that unpleasant history. George Santayana said that "those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." But something isn't right just because George Santayana said it. Maybe focusing too much on history is what condemns us to repeat it. I don't mean we should erase anything from the history books, but I think we should do our best to realize that history is...well, history. It's in the past. It's done. The only really important thing is what happens from now on.

Over the years, I've come to realize this: Escape is the only true revenge. If African Americans can live good lives, and can be fully incorporated into the fabric of American society and American institutions, then the bad guys lost.

And that's got to be good enough. Or else nothing will be.


  1. Sometimes you are a real moron. Reparations may not be a good policy, but your argument is stupid. Shorter version: "Reparations won't make up for all the shitty stuff we did, so we should just not talk about it all that much, pretend it's not still happening, and oh yeah, you African Americans should just live the good life despite all the shit this country is still doing to you."

    I'm pretty clueless, and yet even I can see your argument for the idiocy it is.

    1. Oh shit, you're right. How could I have been so stupid?

    2. Anonymous6:10 AM

      I like your policy prescriptions, but there is power in acknowledging historical injustices and what has happened today because of them.

      Last night I suggested that you sometimes let nerd emotional narrowness worsen your arguments, which was perhaps not fair of me, but this post is a real stinker.

      People actually seem pretty emotionally flexible to me, given some distance from stress and antagonism. That's the essence of the point I think you're trying to make. This is what makes your reasoning so lousy:

      1. Is a full throated/unified voice necessary. Why would it be? Reasonable acknowledgement should be achievable.
      2. Black people in America don't seem to hate America, they seem to be more concerned about the circumstances of their lives like basically everyone else, going back to the point I think you were trying to make.
      3. Why would 100% be necessary? Why would you claim this?

      Bonus: I think revenge is the probably the best revenge. I think you'd have to delve pretty heavily into hand-waving to try to prove your version.

      Phillip is basically right.

    3. Historical grievances are the gift that keeps on giving; perpetually. While we are at it, have the modern African nations along the Ivory Coast whose forbears captured and profited from the sale of their brothers into slavery pay reparations as well. Even better, have every single tribe/nation whose forebears have ever enslaved/conquered/forced tribute provide compensation to the descendants of the vanquished instead of this selective enforcement.

    4. Anonymous7:32 PM

      The derpery slope of grievances, where will it end?

  2. David Khoo5:55 AM

    I think Coates' point in his article is quite clear. Reparations are an attempt to make right the sins of the past, but the problem with America is that these sins are not yet in the past. They are ongoing, and have been ongoing in an unbroken line from before independence through the civil war and even unto the recent subprime crisis, and being committed by all levels of society from the highest lawmakers to the lowest lynch mob.

    Monetary reparations are the wrong approach, because it makes no sense to hand African Americans money and consider the account settled, when there is still a persistent pattern of economic victimization he expertly documents that will take that money right back, and more besides in the future. The "reparations" he demands are simpler -- repentance. He wants the continuing victimization to be explicitly recognized by society at large and finally stopped. No money needs to change hands, just stop taking from them for the first time, please for the love of god. That is his message.

    1. If it is on-going then clearly no repentance can be real or effective... Which is one of the points Noah made...

  3. Phil Koop8:12 AM

    I am far from persuaded by Coates on all points; in my opinion, he has yet to find the coherent formulation that would answer all his critics. But the trouble is, you haven't even engaged with his arguments. He isn't advocating reparations as a morbid, backwards-looking obsession, but as a necessary precondition to look forward. He is saying that African Americans are doing their best just to live well every day, but will never succeed until America has publicly acknowledged and atoned for the wrongs it has done to them. Of course, he may be wrong about that. But you have done nothing to demonstrate this.

    In terms of your personal anecdote, what if Germany had never done anything to acknowledge the wrongs it had done, never punished even a token number of the highest-ranking Nazis, never paid reparations to Israel, never built Holocaust museums, never dealt with the facts of history in its school curriculum? Then perhaps you would now feel differently about Germans and Germany, even though you don't live there.

    Yes, Germany yet harbors a few unreconstructed Nazi *individuals*, just as a few racists turn up in your comments from time to time, but the *state* has taken responsibility for its actions in a way that America has not.

    1. "will never succeed until America has publicly acknowledged and atoned for the wrongs it has done to them"
      An odd sort of argument. Japanese Americans seemed to be alright after "Yellow Peril" laws & internet but before the government apologized. I actually can't think of any example of a group's success being contingent on an apology. You don't apologize because you think it's going to have some transformative impact, you do it because you think it's the right thing to do (something more meaningful when the person actually responsible for the wrong acknowledges it & apologizes).

      Musing on the difference between the U.S and Germany, we've had a continuity of government here. There hasn't been "regime change" since the founding of the republic. We have a sort of national myth of being founded in liberty and always upholding truth, justice & the american way yada yada yada. Bad things can be blamed on our vanquished enemy in the south, but the country as a whole is esteemed. Coates wants to change that by holding the country as a whole culpable for its wrongs, but that's less likely to happen in the absence of regime change.

    2. Anonymous1:13 PM

      @TGGP Japanese Americans don't face continued institutionalized discrimination the same way African Americans do

    3. Anonymous3:42 PM

      We have a black president. We've never had a Japanese president.

    4. I will state up front that the current situation of Japanese Americans is in no way comparable to that faced by African Americans. But they did face historical discrimination, and Coates is concerned with that. And in terms of "institutions", college application committees rather blatantly discriminate against asians. It is chiefly they, rather than whites, who lose out as a result of affirmative action. But to reiterate, I agree these are very different situations.

      To the second anonymous, we have a president whose father was a Kenyan who went to college in America. We've never had a president descended from those who suffered the historical wrongs Coates is writing about. And since I brought up affirmative action earlier, it's beneficiaries tend to disproportionately be those who are not descended from slaves but rather immigrants from the west indies (like Colin Powell or Eric Holder's parents) or Africa, and often as not raised by white parents in white communities (like Obama). Jamelle Bouie has written in Slate about the importance of such neighborhood effects (which might justify the Texas model of accepting the top X% of students from each high school). SCOTUS has ruled that the benefits of diversity are the justification for affirmative action in higher education. If it was crafted to address historical injustice and the hurdles faced by disadvantaged students today, it might be reshaped.

  4. Anonymous8:14 AM

    Come on, Noah. This was badly argued. I get the feeling you didn't read all the way through. I know his piece was long but he really clearly stated what the point of his essay was:

    "And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans."

    To Coates, reparations are primarily about America accepting its sordid history, coming to terms with it, ending the discrimination that goes on even today and forging a more just and wise future society. Your analogies to Germany are flawed - for one, Germany paid literal reparation money to Israel (as Coates mentions), and also it is very clear that modern Germany has come to terms with its Nazi past and has successfully modelled itself as a better society because of it. You will always have a few racist loons but America as a society is still afraid to critically examine its history. This should really change.

  5. I think to some extent this misses the point of reparations. They are an official recognition of past wrongs. They are an acknowledgement of the injuries dealt, and a formal recognition that there is damage that needs to be offset.

    Further, reparations are a rebuke to those in America who continue their virulent anti-black racism. They will always exist, but an official move to say their racist voice is the illegitimate one, not the voice of blacks, is an important policy position in itself.

    A continued refusal to apologize collectively *is* a policy position, and one that implicates all white Americans. Until we offer that apology, linked to material reparations, we cannot avoid implication for the crimes of the past.

  6. Some of the racist harm takes generations to repair. Some of the racist harm is still taking place. There are still separate but unequal schools. No longer segregated by law, but segregated by location and privatization. This is ongoing and no one wants to pay the money or shift resources to correct it.

    Racists policies such as redlining have prevented blacks from more broadly sharing in wealth accumulation through home equity gains and have more often suffered losses through white flight. The recent housing bust was more wealth destruction.

    The US has policies that advantage the wealth and disadvantage the poor. These policies disadvantage poor people of color to a greater extent. To correct the policy bias, reparations, or something along those lines is needed. Of course the wealthy fight such policies tooth and nail and by divide and conquer which is why we don't make progress.

    Bottom line is the rich people owe their fellow citizens who helped them get rich and took care of the things that needed doing much more than they have given. Mention that distribution of wealth is unfair, and suggesting that the system be made more fair by reparations or other policies is a legitimate complaint.

  7. No reparations because there's *no such thing as personal identity*. Humans shed persons the way snakes shed skin. We have ancestral and descendant selves that, at each moment, inherit most of our former self, but after long stretches of time, we move on. And the world moves on too.

    1. "No reparations because there's *no such thing as personal identity*. Humans shed persons the way snakes shed skin."

      So you're saying "Any snake will do"?

  8. William Faulkner — 'The past is never dead. It's not even past.'

  9. whetstone11:58 AM

    I think you're misreading Coates's piece. He specifically uses Germany as an example, and Germany paid reparations. Germany is very good at educating its citizens about its recent past; the history of structural racism Coates recounts from about Reconstruction on is not very well known among Americans outside of history and sociology departments. The history of structural racism in the North isn't well known; note that all the notorious figures you cite are Southern.

    And Germany was a beneficiary of the Marshall Plan, a recognition that an economically devastated country could fall prey to communism (as Germany fell prey to the Nazis after the economic destruction of World War I). The Marshall Plan was obviously forward-looking, but it was grounded in history. It's really astonishing how quickly Germany went from total moral and economic collapse to functional democracy.

    I think the broader point Coates is making--and why he's not interested in laying out a policy framework, beyond the fact that it's not his expertise--is that he thinks the current dialogue on race, culture, and poverty, has not and won't produce good public policy.

    And this: "history is...well, history. It's in the past. It's done." It's not, though, or at least that's the point he's trying to make. And why he cites Thomas Shapiro's research on generational wealth. My family went from piss-poor Appalachians to upper-middle-class in a couple generations in part because of opportunities offered to whites that weren't offered to blacks in the same numbers: specialized training during World War II and the GI Bill in particular. They worked hard, too--but it helped.

    It's clear that Coates sees a lot of essentialism in explaining black/white achievement/income/whatever gaps--"assholes" might blame race, but people more in the mainstream blame "culture." Not recognizing the history Coates lays out runs the risk of essentialist explanations, and if those explanations are wrong or insufficient, you're going to get crap policy.

  10. Anonymous12:21 PM

    Noah, how on earth did you read Coates’ article and think it was mostly about soothing hurt feelings for historical wrongs?

  11. I can't know, but I suspect that TNC in responding to this will at least agree that reparations are about moving forward, not about changing the past, which is impossible.

    I'm not quite sure what the hangup is witht the term "reparations", but I really don't think what it is called is the least bit relevent. It seems to me that a cumulative economic, educational, and social deficit because of opportunity costs and the inability to make good economic use of centuries to accumulate resources. That deficit can be repayed in some way and to some extent. The important question is how, and really having a clear view of the harm done in the past should help as a motivation to make economic adjustments moving forward.

    TNC tweeted this video a few days back. In it Christopher Hitchens argues the case that reparations ought to be made, and I think it is a very good argument.


    People can make many arguments about how difficult it is to make reparations, how any attempt will fall short. That's fine. Hitchens' answer to that is "Don't let the best be the enemy of the good". Your argument that we can't do things in the best possible way is not an argument to not do something good. And effectively you seem to be agreeing that something good should be done for the future. The word we use to name it seems to oddly evoke discomfort with many people. Why that is seems to be the real mystery here.

  12. Anonymous2:39 PM

    If African Americans can live good lives, and can be fully incorporated into the fabric of American society and American institutions, then the bad guys lost.

    A quaint notion.. about 150 years old. Will you ever reach a point when you can admit that this will never happen?

    1. I don't understand why it would never happen. The Chinese were openly murdered in the late 19th century. Additionally, if you consider what makes America America (culturally) the contributions of African-Americans are more important than their numbers (or their wealth) would cause you to expect.

      The question is 'why hasn't it happened yet' and considering that Jim Crow ended less than 50 years ago, I think it is fair to think that we need to continue efforts towards equality including ending the war on drugs/etc and it will happen.

    2. well, and as Coates explains at length, there was plenty of discrimination post-Jim Crow, especially as it related to housing. Housing wealth was and is one of the biggest sources of middle class wealth in the country. And as Coates also explains, this discrimination may no longer be de jure, but it absolutely continues de facto to this day.

    3. Anonymous11:06 AM

      Coates's argument seems to be that blacks are hurt economically by living in proximity to other blacks. Blacks are the only group in America that makes this claim. Koreans in Korea Towns do fine economically around other Koreans; same with Jews in Jewish neighborhoods, etc.

  13. In Hebrew: shum d'var lo ishtaney.
    In French: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

    Noah is right, but not because he thinks African Americans should "look forward". I am willing to bet that human nature does not change (unless the sentient computers at some point take over the decision making process).

    "Reparations" are only paid when the victors impose it on the defeated. Period.

  14. Anonymous4:16 PM

    Jesus Christ, Noah, did you even read the article? It is entirely forward looking. And starting of with a trip to the dictionary to look up reparations? Christ.

    1. Anonymous12:25 PM

      For real though, did you just read the title of his piece, look up reparations, and riff on what you found there? Or are you actually reacting to TNC's piece? In one case you are lazy, but not very difference than other bloggers, in the other I have to question your reading comprehension.

  15. It was called affirmative action and the assholes said that it hurt their fee fees, so let us including them pay reparations for what we stole.

    And yes, paying reparations means paying money.

    1. Anonymous5:55 PM

      This was going to be my point as to Noah's policy prescription. They killed even affirmative action....

  16. Yes, America did bad things to African Americans in the past, and no, it never paid the price the way Nazi Germany did.

    True enough but the United States is paying a high continuing social and economic cost for its treatment of African Americans.

    On the other hand, any African American who truly felt hard done by could move to another country. But we don't see a lot of that. We do see a lot of Africans in the here and now wanting to move to the United States.

    There is, as Noah points out, a question of who should be paying reparations to who. Statistically it is a virtual certainty that some of my ancestors were Vikings and some were Irish slaves taken by the Vikings. Should I be paying reparations to myself?

  17. Anonymous5:47 PM

    I just read Coates' piece.

    If Noah did actually read it, he shows little sign of comprehension. Since coming to this country from afar, I have always been struck by a look in the eyes of many African Americans: a look that tells the story of a people, whose peaceful and noble roots, lost in antiquity, somehow manages to show through the centuries of disrespect and dis-ownership of value.

    This blogpost from Noah is of poor quality. Like him I am also Jewish (Eastern, not Ashkenazi). What exactly is Noah advocating? That since his grandfather dropped bombs on the Germans, it cancels what the Nazis did? More importantly, Noah, why don't you sit down, do some research with your economic models and estimate a value for all the atrocities and value extraction exacted on Blacks (This has actually been done already, but it is worth pursuing it on your own to get a sense of what the fuck you are talking about!). Your position, sounds eerily similar to that of a Bloomberg view writer, who proposed something like meditation and yoga for the struggling families in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis.

    Anyway, re-iterate a comment made earlier that said : plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

  18. Shadow_Nirvana6:56 PM

    There have been millions of people dead, maimed, homeless, starving and economies shattered because of America's intervention in Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan etc. Maybe the current ongoing crime against humanity should be dealt with before thinking about reparations for the past. Maybe America should gtfo of other countries completely.

    By completely, I mean no agents left behind to organize uprisings to support new regimes that destroy the lives of people but give America a trade advantage, of course.

  19. Anonymous9:33 PM

    Noah, posting a rambling, inept, half-baked critique of Ta-Nehisi Coates' argument for reparations is NOT going to get him to respond in your comments section. And you look a bit foolish trying.

  20. Anonymous9:57 PM

    Noah, I wonder if this post would've been different had you been Armenian.
    As you probably know, the Armenian Genocide remains not only unrecognized, but also systematically denied.
    So as a Jewish person, it's easy to not be mad at Germany - They've accepted what they did and have tried to make amends for it. Yes, like you said, doing as many good things wont ever make up for the bad things. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do any good things at all.

    This doesn't mean I support what Coates' is saying
    (FWIW: I havent read Coates' article so I don't know exactly what he is saying. Seems hard to properly give reparations to people you cannot directly trace the crimes to...as opposed to a nation which directly did suffer because of X crime).

    But I think you're being WAY too dismissive about the reparations claim.
    You look backwards in order to move forwards - not the other way around (looking forward in order to not look backward).

    1. One of the problems of the idea of reparations as some sort of compensation for past wrongs is that taken as a whole, and on average, African Americans descended from slaves are probably more closely linked genetically to slave owners than they are to the people they want compensation from.

  21. Humans didn't start doing nasty shit to each other in recent or even recorded history, it's been around as long as we have. Where do you draw the line? In fact, it's the underlying story of biology. As a song might say, even algae in the Archean did it.

    Exploitation is the story of biology. What is different about humans is that we are able - to an unprecedented degree - to forgo the immediate individual benefit of exploitation for greater gains via group benefit, though it takes little more than a bit of stress or a good to revert us to the reptilian take on the world. Personally, I support this tenuous move to sociability and even civility and think we should sustain and enhance it. However, requiring every wrong to be righted as part of this grand project is misguided and simply unachievable.

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  23. Anonymous10:55 AM

    Two comments:
    1. As a person from a developing country, I think it is unforgivable to condone German atrocities committed against not only Jews, but other communities such as Poles, Ukrainian, Belorussians, Russians, and others. To be not upset about the Holocaust is not something a human being can be proud of.
    2. Similarly, one cannot forget the atrocities committed against Native Americans, people of Japanese origin (during WW2), etc. The story is not only about African Americans, although it is a very visible and legitimate case for grave concern. I find it strange that no one has mentioned this in their comments.

    1. History is full of horrors.

      Who is entitled to compensation for past wrongs and who is obligated to pay? The direct victims and perpetrators are all dead.

    2. Anonymous5:32 PM

      Bad stuff happens... hand wave hand wave... therefore I don't need to think too hard about the accounting. Way to punt on the issue.

  24. Anonymous12:44 PM

    Vile and repulsive argument. Jews have been historical "Jew"elers because diamonds were portable wealth and non-jews were constantly looking to confiscate their wealth. Behind the Nazi ersatz shtick, they were simply a confiscatory movement that looked to confiscate Jewish wealth. This is a pattern that has happened in Spain, England, etc. where Jewish wealth was confiscated, net worth 100% tax style, by envious non-Jews. People who are serious about fighting anti-Semitism should be obsessed with property rights, not left-wing fetishism.

    The Holocaust looks a great deal like the French Revolution, where aristocratic wealth was confiscated. Regarding, reparations, there was a suit against German banks that recovered 5 billion confiscated from wealthy Jews. Again, this is not something you would expect because you would rather focus on German "Aryan speak" when the Nazi's were simply socialist style wealth confiscators. "Schindler's List" deals with this in depth and it is no coincidence that the guy who produced Shindler's List is a rabid Tea Party follower.

    1. Anonymous5:41 PM

      First assume a spherical society... therefore gliberatopia!!!!

      So what if you have to ignore a bunch of to get to your result...

  25. Anonymous11:09 PM

    pretty sure everyone commenting here is white.... most likely a white male...

  26. How about this as a start?


  27. Gordon9:56 AM

    I'm surprised at you Noah. Two articles ago you wrote a good piece on Millennials and racism. You point out all the areas in society where African Americans have been or are wrongly treated and how something should be done to rectify the situation, then in this article you say "no" to reparations. Part of the reason Germany has more effectively moved past the Holocaust than we have past slavery, Jim Crow, and Red Lining is that it made reparations to the Jewish people it persecuted. By doing that, German society admitted its wrongs and made efforts to make things right. That rebooted, in a sense, the relationship between the victims and the aggressors. We've never done that in the USA and it needs to happen so we can all move beyond. The size and scope of any reparations would be tricky to quantify but doable. It's a similar problem to quantifying the value of all the free labor enslaved people provided over hundreds of years and the resulting growth of wealth from the profits of said labor. And, for all those of you who disagree and say black people get reparations due to welfare payments, that doesn't count because white people get the same thing and they were never enslaved, nor suffered from Jim Crow segregation, never lynched, nor red lined.

  28. Noah, Your point seems too sophisticated and nuanced to be understood by some of the fools here who can barely type. I thought it was straight forward. We can't change the past (as much as we may regret our nations shortcomings), we can change what the future will be for the better. How is this so controversial?

    Noah did not say "no" to reparations, he said it was a poor way to frame the discussion. Obviously, his recommendations imply reparations as well as political and cultural changes. If being able to read is this controversial, perhaps we do have a shortage of skilled workers in the labor market.

    1. Gordon6:34 PM

      Larry, Thank you for pointing out my poor sentence structure and the fact that Noah did not say "no" to reparations. My comment was based more on the tone of the article. It seems to be about moving forward with the right attitudes and not spending more time looking at the past. My point is that unless we embrace the past fully, we'll never effectively leave it behind. For years our society has been telling African Americans that the people who enslaved their ancestors are all dead so they should just move on. That's not getting the job done. The legacy effects us all to this day. The Ta-Nehisi Coates article lays out many of the particular instances where this is shown.

      There's no need to be so insulting when making your point. And, watch out for the fools who can barely type. They hardly know when to use the plural or possessive when making their point.

    2. Gordon, My comment was not meant to insult you. Internalizing the guilt of our predecessors is not a way forward. There does exist an incredible amount of latent and active racism in America today, but the folks who manifest this racism are unlikely to "...embrace the past fully..." and move in a positive direction. We need to open the gate and move them forward, with or without repentance. (I think I got a "C" in typing class in 1972, so I was probably too snarky.)

    3. Anonymous2:40 AM

      The "guilt of your predecessors" is not just about slavery, but all kinds of discrimination actively promoted by this government, within your lifetime. The question that Coates poses is this: why is the theft against the black population acceptable, and why is the concept of reparations taboo? We are talking about theft of wealth, theft of inheritance that has gone on for hundreds of years, and the theft that has gone on in your lifetime continues to promote social ills among black people.

  29. Anonymous10:52 PM

    It seems to me that reparations in a depressed economy would lead to intensified racial resentment. I don't know if Coates discussed timing. But scarcity makes people more conflict prone and more suspicious and we are in a period of scarcity now.
    One of my issues with identity politics (and I am a liberal) is that there is too much attention to entitlements and not enough to prosperity. I think we need to fight for broad based prosperity. The decline of the middle class is correlated with the rise of identity politics and no, I'm not a white male. we got what we fought for: lots and lots and lots of identity based movements and these have made positive change. But we didn't fight for broad based prosperity and hey: clue. I'm poorer for that and so are you. So are Black people. The bottom fell out for less educated Black males when industry decamped from the northern cities to the South, China, etc. I know this because I grew up with deindustrialization and no I'm not Black but I grew up in an integrated northern inner city community that suffered intensely from white flight. I saw decay that identity politics and civil rights could not fix. Clue: social programs do not jobs make. Neither will reparations. I am not against identity politics (or reparations) but whoa, the priorities are way way off.