Drawing from his article titled "The Case for Reparations," why does Ta-Nehisi Coates think that reparations are important?
In his June 2014 article in The Atlantic titled "The Case for Reparations," African American journalist and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates traces the history of one particular African American family, with special attention to Clyde Ross, born and raised in formally segregated and thoroughly racist Mississippi. Ross's birth in 1923 coincided with the passage and implementation of what were known as "Jim Crow" laws, formal statutes passed by state legislators across the American South, that institutionalized racist policies like the mandatory use of separate restrooms and water fountains. As Coates notes in his article, however, the inferior and often violent treatment of African Americans extended beyond the Jim Crow laws that governed a huge chunk of the country. Those laws and policies extended to the federal government, which systematically discriminated against African Americans in its implementation of social welfare policies ostensibly intended to serve all American citizens irrespective of ethnicity, race, or religion. Discussing New Deal programs to aid Americans during the depths of the Great Depression, Coates describes one such effort as follows:
"In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA insured private mortgages, causing a drop in interest rates and a decline in the size of the down payment required to buy a house. But an insured mortgage was not a possibility for Clyde Ross. The FHA had adopted a system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability. On the maps, green areas, rated 'A,' indicated 'in demand' neighborhoods that, as one appraiser put it, lacked 'a single foreigner or Negro.' These neighborhoods were considered excellent prospects for insurance. Neighborhoods where black people lived were rated 'D' and were usually considered ineligible for FHA backing. They were colored in red. Neither the percentage of black people living there nor their social class mattered. Black people were viewed as a contagion. Redlining went beyond FHA-backed loans and spread to the entire mortgage industry, which was already rife with racism, excluding black people from most legitimate means of obtaining a mortgage."
As Coates continues to trace Clyde Ross's history, he also continues to emphasize the formidable and sometimes impossible obstacles confronting not only Ross but millions of other African Americans as well. From slavery to the brutality of the Ku Klux Klan to the Jim Crow laws of the South to the prejudicial practices of governments at all levels (e.g., federal, state, and local), to the treatment of blacks in supposedly egalitarian institutions like the Armed Forces, African Americans have endured horrific levels of racial prejudice throughout American history. Financial services industries systematically discriminated against African Americans, as did most other industries. The net effect of that prejudice was the creation of an underclass denied opportunities available to others and overrepresented in the nation's criminal justice system.
This, then, is the context in which Coates and others argue for reparations. Coates believes that reparations are important because of the substantial benefit that would accrue from financial remunerations. Among the subjects Coates discusses at length in his article is the history of efforts by African Americans and others on their behalf for some form of reparations—efforts that trace to the nation's founding, all without success. Coates believes such compensation is fully warranted by virtue of the history of racial discrimination and terrorism to which African Americans have been subjected. More than merely being denied opportunities, the author emphasizes, they were blatantly robbed of what was rightfully theirs. Land owned by African Americans was stolen, and fines and fees were inappropriately levied on them. African Americans, Coates argues, should receive compensation for what was taken from them without compensation in the first place, as well as for the legacy of being denied wages and other benefits on par with those provided to others.