06 April 2019

Reparations for Slavery: Fair or Folly?

We are offline due to a much-needed research period this winter/spring, so we've decided to re-publish some earlier pieces that you might have missed the first time.

With 'reparations for slavery' back in the news thanks to presidential hopefuls such as Kamala HarrisFrancis 'Beto' O'Rourke, and Liz Warren, here is some data we were able to find on the subject back when Ta-Nehisi Coates last floated it. We hope you find it as interesting as we did.  


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[Re-post, original post here.]


Having addressed Atlantic editor Ta-Nehisi Coates' wish for reparations for red-lining, we now turn to another of his claims: That descendents of U.S. slaves deserve cash payouts for their forebears' suffering.

There is the question of both a) the legitimacy and b) the practicality of such a scheme. We shall only discuss the former, because if it is truly worthwhile, the latter can always be worked out.


Poring through Coates' 17-page article, we have guessed that he objects to U.S. chattel slavery on the following grounds:  1) Its very existence was unconscionable, 2) It was unusually inhumane, 3) It destroyed the Afro family, and 4) It helped create the large black-white wealth gap we see today.

We shall address his points one by one.



11 February 2019

Reparations for Redlining?

We are offline due to a much-needed research period this winter, so we've decided to re-publish some earlier pieces that you might have missed the first time.

With 'reparations for red-lining' back in the news thanks to the plucky Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, here is the data we were able to find on this thorny question back when Ta-Nehisi Coates last tossed it in the punch bowl. We hope you find it as interesting as we did.  


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'Ingenious and powerful,' 'important and compelling''stunningly ambitious;' it has 'broken traffic records and vanished from newsstands,' 'setting ablaze' social media.  What is it?

It is 'The Case for Reparations,' Atlantic's June 2014 cover story by editor Ta-Nehisi Coates.



The idea has been tossed around since Emancipation, falling out of fashion as of late. Coates brings it roaring back in this long-form piece, calling on Euro-Americans to 1) publicly express their guilt about past oppression, and 2) pay reparation money to their Afro countrymen.  Does his argument hold water?

The 17-page article covers much ground, but it seems Coates seeks redress for three major wrongs:

  • Slavery
  • Land theft
  • Red-lining

They are three quite different topics, and should be treated as such.  We shall begin by addressing the most recent: so-called 'redlining.'

Coates tells the story of Clyde Ross, son of Mississipi sharecroppers who came to Chicago in the Great Migration:
'Three months after Clyde Ross moved into his house, the boiler blew out. This would normally be a homeowner’s responsibility, but in fact, Ross was not really a homeowner. His payments were made to the seller, not the bank. And Ross had not signed a normal mortgage. He’d bought “on contract”: a predatory agreement that combined all the responsibilities of homeownership with all the disadvantages of renting—while offering the benefits of neither. 
Ross had bought his house for $27,500. The seller, not the previous homeowner but a new kind of middleman, had bought it for only $12,000 six months before selling it to Ross. In a contract sale, the seller kept the deed until the contract was paid in full—and, unlike with a normal mortgage, Ross would acquire no equity in the meantime.'

Why was Ross obliged to buy a house 'on contract'? Because he could secure no regular mortgage financing. Chances are, in large part because he was Afro-American.