Politics, Top Stories

Reparations and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Pyrrhic Victory

In 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates was catapulted to intellectual stardom by a lengthy Atlantic polemic entitled “The Case for Reparations.” The essay was an impassioned plea for Americans to grapple with the role of slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining in the creation of the wealth gap between blacks and whites, and it provoked a wide range of reactions. Some left-wing commentators swallowed Coates’s thesis whole, while others agreed in theory but objected that reparations are not a practical answer to legitimate grievances. The Right, for the most part, rejected the case both in theory and practice.

Although the piece polarized opinion, one fact was universally agreed upon: reparations would not be entering mainstream politics anytime soon. According to Coates’s critics, there was no way that a policy so unethical and so unpopular would gain traction. According to his fans, it was not the ethics of the policy but rather the complacency of whites—specifically, their stubborn refusal to acknowledge historical racism—that prevented reparations from receiving the consideration it merited. Coates himself, as recently as 2017, lamented that the idea of reparations was “roundly dismissed as crazy” and “remained far outside the borders of American politics.”

In the past month, we’ve all been proven wrong. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have both endorsed the idea, and House speaker Nancy Pelosi has voiced support for proposals to study the effects of historical racism and suggest ways to compensate the descendants of slaves. These people are not on the margins of American politics. Most polls have Harris and Warren sitting in third and fourth place, respectively, in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and Pelosi is two heart attacks away from the presidency.

Let me pre-empt an objection: neither Harris nor Warren has endorsed a race-specific program of reparations. Indeed Harris has made it clear that what she’s calling “reparations” is really just an income-based policy by another name. The package of policies hasn’t changed; only the label on the package has. So who cares?

In electoral politics, however, it is precisely the label that matters. Given that there’s nothing about her policies that requires Harris to slap the “reparations” label onto them, her decision to employ it suggests that it now has such positive connotations on the Left that she can’t reject the label without paying a political price. Five years ago, Coates, his fans, and his critics more or less agreed that it would be political suicide for a candidate to so much as utter the word “reparations” in an approving tone of voice. Now, we have a candidate like Harris who seems to think it’s political suicide not to. The Overton window has shifted.

In one sense, Coates should be celebrating. He, more than anyone, is responsible for the reintroduction of reparations into the public sphere. Most writers can only dream of having such influence. But in another sense, his victory is a pyrrhic one. That is, the very adoption of reparations by mainstream politicians throws doubt on the core message of Coates’s work. In his 2017 essay collection, We Were Eight Years in Power, Coates argued that racism is not merely “a tumor that could be isolated and removed from the body of America,” but “a pervasive system both native and essential to that body”; white supremacy is “so foundational to this country” that it will likely not be destroyed in this generation, the next, “or perhaps ever”; it is “a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it.”

Now ask yourself: How likely is it that a country matching Coates’s description would find itself with major presidential contenders proposing reparations for slavery, and not immediately plummeting in the polls? The challenge for Coates and his admirers, then, is to reconcile the following claims:

  1. America remains a fundamentally white supremacist nation.
  2. Presidential contenders are competing for the favor of a good portion of the American electorate partly by signaling how much they care about, and wish to redress, historical racism.

You can say (1) or you can say (2) but you can’t say them both at the same time without surrendering to incoherence. Coates himself has recognized this contradiction, albeit indirectly. “Why do white people like what I write?” he asked (italics in original) in We Were Eight Years in Power. He continued:

The question would eventually overshadow the work, or maybe it would just feel like it did. Either way, there was a lesson in this: God might not save me, but neither would defiance. How do you defy a power that insists on claiming you? What does the story you tell matter, if the world is set upon hearing a different one? [italics mine]

In Coates’s mind, the fact that so many white people love his work suggests that they do not fully understand it, that they are “hearing a different” story to the one he is telling. But a more parsimonious explanation is readily available: white progressives’ reading comprehension is fine and they genuinely love his message. This should be unsurprising since white progressives are now more “woke” than blacks themselves. For example, white progressives are significantly more likely than black people to agree that “racial discrimination is the main reason why blacks can’t get ahead.”

This presents a problem for Coates. If you believe, as he does, that the political Left “would much rather be talking about the class struggles” that appeal to “the working white masses” than “racist struggles,” then it must be jarring to realize that the very same, allegedly race-averse Left is the reason that your heavily race-themed books sit atop the New York Times bestseller list week after week. Coates’s ideology, in this sense, falls victim to its own success.

But a pyrrhic victory is a kind of victory nonetheless, and so, partly thanks to Coates, we must have the reparations debate once again.

*     *     *

First, a note on the framing of the debate: Virtually everyone who is against reparations is in favor of policies aimed at helping the poor. The debate, therefore, is not between reparations and doing nothing for black people, but between policy based on genealogy and policy based on socioeconomics. Accordingly, the burden on each side is not to show that its proposal is better than nothing—that would be easy. The burden on each side is to show that its preferred rationale for policy (either genealogy or socioeconomics) is better than the rationale proposed by the other side. And, framed as such, reparations for slavery is a losing argument.

For starters, an ancestral connection to slavery is a far less reliable predictor of privation than a low income. There are tens of millions of descendants of American slaves and many millions of them are doing just fine. As Kevin Williamson put it: “Some blacks are born into college-educated, well-off households, and some whites are born to heroin-addicted single mothers, and even the totality of racial crimes throughout American history does not mean that one of these things matters and one does not.”

Williamson’s observation holds not only between blacks and whites but between different black ethnic groups as well. Somali-Americans, for example, have lower per-capita incomes than native-born black Americans. Yet they would not see a dime from reparations, since they have no connection to American slavery. But should it matter why Somali immigrants are poorer than black American natives? Insofar as there is a reparations policy that would benefit the poor, should Somali immigrants be denied those benefits because they are poor for the wrong historical reasons? The idea can only be taken seriously by those who value symbolic justice for the dead over tangible justice for the living.

We can either direct resources toward the individuals who most need them, or we can direct them toward the socioeconomically-diverse members of historical victim groups. But we cannot direct the same resources in both directions at once. In 2019, “black” and “poor” are not synonyms. Every racial group in America contains millions of people who are struggling and millions of people who are not, and if any debt is owed, it is to the former.

Secondly, the case for reparations relies on the intellectually lazy assumption that the problems facing low-income blacks today are a part of the legacy of slavery. For most problems, however, the timelines don’t match up. Black teen unemployment, for instance, was virtually identical to white teen unemployment (in many years it was lower) until the mid-1950s, when, as Thomas Sowell observed in Discrimination and Disparities, successive minimum wage hikes and other macroeconomic forces artificially increased the price of unskilled labor to employers—a burden that fell hardest on black teens. Not only did problems like high youth unemployment and fatherless homes not appear in earnest until a century after the abolition of slavery, but similar patterns of social breakdown have since been observed in other groups that have no recent history of oppression to blame it on, such as the rise of single-parent homes in the white working class.

Nevertheless, there is a sense nowadays that history affects blacks to such a unique degree that it places us in a fundamentally different category from other groups. David Brooks, a New York Times columnist and a recent convert to the cause of reparations, recently explained that “while there have been many types of discrimination in our history,” the black experience is “unique and different” because it involves “a moral injury that simply isn’t there for other groups.”

I’m highly skeptical of the blacks-are-unique argument. For one thing, it’s not true that blacks have inherited psychological trauma from historical racism. Though the budding field of epigenetics is sometimes used to justify this claim, a recent New York Times article poured cold water on the hypothesis: “The research in epigenetics falls well short of demonstrating that past human cruelties affect our physiology today.” (For what it’s worth, this accords with my own experience. If there is a heritable psychological injury associated with being the descendant of slaves, I’ve yet to notice it.) 

But more importantly, if humans really carried the burden of history in our psyches, then all of us, regardless of race, would be carrying very heavy burdens indeed. Although American intellectuals speak of slavery as if it were a uniquely American phenomenon, it is actually an institution that was practiced in one form or another by nearly every major society since the dawn of civilization. As the Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson wrote in his massive study, Slavery and Social Death:

There is nothing notably peculiar about the institution of slavery. It has existed from before the dawn of human history right down to the twentieth century, in the most primitive human societies and in the most civilized. There is no region on earth that has not at some time harbored the institution. Probably there is no group of people whose ancestors were not at one time slaves or slaveholders.

And that’s to say nothing of the traumas of war, poverty, and starvation that would show up abundantly in all of our ancestral histories if we were to look. Unless blacks are somehow exempt from the principles governing human psychology, the mental effects of historical racism have not been passed down through the generations. Yes, in the narrow context of American history, blacks have been uniquely mistreated. But in the wider context of world history, black Americans are hardly unique and should not be treated as such.

Finally, the framing of the reparations debate presupposes that America has done nothing meaningful by way of compensation for black people. But in many ways, America has already paid reparations. True, we haven’t literally handed a check to every descendant of slaves, but many reparations proponents had less literal forms of payment in mind to begin with.

Some reparations advocates, for instance, have proposed race-conscious policies instead of cash payments. On that front, we’ve done quite a bit. Consider, as if for the first time, the fact that the U.S. college admissions system is heavily skewed in favor of black applicants and has been for decades. In 2009, the Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade found that Asians and whites had to score 450 and 310 SAT points higher than blacks, respectively, to have the same odds of being admitted into elite universities. (The entire test, at the time of the study, was out of 1600 points.)

Racial preferences extend into the job market as well. Last September, the New York Times reported on an ethnically South Asian television writer who “had been told on a few occasions that she lost out on jobs because the showrunner wanted a black writer.” The article passed without fanfare, probably because such racial preferences—or “diversity and inclusion” programs—pervade so many sectors of the U.S. labor market that any particular story doesn’t seem newsworthy at all.

Furthermore, many government agencies are required to allocate a higher percentage of their contracts to businesses owned by racial minorities than they otherwise would based on economic considerations alone. Such “set-aside” programs exist at the federal level as well as in at least 38 states—in Connecticut at least 25 percent of government contracts with small businesses must legally be given to a minority business enterprise (MBE), and New York has established a 30 percent target for contracts with MBEs. One indication of the size of this racial advantage is that, for decades, white business owners have been fraudulently claiming minority status, sometimes risking jail time, in order to increase their odds of capturing these lucrative government contracts. (A white man from Seattle is currently suing both the state of Washington and the federal government for rejecting his claim to own an MBE given his four percent African ancestry.)

My point is not that these race-conscious policies have repaid the debt of slavery; my point is that no policy ever could. For this reason I reject the appeasement-based case for reparations occasionally made by conservatives—namely, that we should pay reparations so that we can finally stop talking about racism once and for all. Common sense dictates that when you reward a certain behavior you tend to get more of it, not less. Reparations, therefore, would not, and could not, function as “hush money.” Reparations would instead function as a kind of subsidy for activism, an incentive for the living to continue appropriating grievances that rightfully belong to the dead.

Some reparations advocates, however, are less focused on tangible dispensations to begin with. Instead they see reparations as a spiritual or symbolic task. Coates, for example, defines reparations primarily as a “national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal” and a “full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences”—and only secondarily as the payment of cash as compensation. How has America done on the soul-searching front? As Coates would have it, not very well. For him, the belief occupying mainstream America is that “a robbery spanning generations could somehow be ameliorated while never acknowledging the scope of the crime.”

By my lights, however, we’ve done quite a bit of symbolic acknowledging. For over 40 years we’ve dedicated the month of February to remembering black history; Martin Luther King Jr. has had a national holiday in his name for almost as long; more or less every prominent liberal arts college in the country has an African-American studies department and many have black student housing; both chambers of Congress have independently apologized for slavery and Jim Crow; and just last month the Senate passed a bill that made lynching a federal crime, despite the fact that lynching was already illegal (because it’s murder), has not been a serious problem for at least half a century, and was already the subject of a formal apology by the Senate back in 2005.

If this all amounts to nothing—that is, to a non-acknowledgement of historical racism—then I’m left wondering what would or could qualify as something. The problem with the case for spiritual reparations is its vagueness. What, precisely, is a “national reckoning” and how will we know when we’ve completed it? The trick behind such arguments, whether intentional or not, is to specify the debt owed to black Americans in just enough detail to make it sound reasonable, while at the same time describing the debt with just enough vagueness to ensure that it can never decisively be repaid.

*     *     *

At bottom, the reparations debate is a debate about the relationship between history and ethics, between the past and the Good. On one side are those who believe that the Good means using policy to correct for the asymmetric racial power relations that ruled America for most of its history. And on the other side are those who believe that the Good means using policy to increase human flourishing as much as possible, for as many as possible, in the present.

Both visions of the Good—the group-based vision and the individualist vision—require the payment of reparations to individuals (and/or their immediate family members) who themselves suffered atrocities at the hands of the state. I therefore strongly approve of the reparations paid to Holocaust survivors, victims of internment during World War II, and victims of the Tuskegee experiments, to name just a few examples. Where the two visions depart is on the question of whether reparations should be paid to poorly-defined groups containing millions of people whose relationship to the initial crime is several generations removed, and therefore nothing like, say, the relationship of a Holocaust survivor to the Holocaust.

Among the fallacies of the group-based vision is the conceit that we are capable of accurately assessing, and correcting for, the imbalances of history to begin with. If we can’t even manage to consistently serve justice for crimes committed between individuals in the present, it defies belief to think that we can serve justice for crimes committed between entire groups of people before living memory—to think, in other words, that we can look at the past, neatly split humanity into plaintiff groups and defendant groups, and litigate history’s largest crimes in the court of public opinion.

If we are going to have a national reckoning, it must be of a different type than the one suggested by Coates. It must be a national reckoning that uncouples the past and the Good. Such a reckoning would not entail forgetting our history, but rather liberating our sense of ethics from the shackles of our checkered past. We cannot change our history. But the possibility of a just society depends on our willingness to change how we relate to it.


Coleman Hughes is a Quillette columnist and an undergraduate philosophy major at Columbia University. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Spectator, City Journal, and the Heterodox Academy blog. You can follow him on Twitter @coldxman

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  1. ganjagym says

    Apologies, have not yet read the article , but point would be about the comment section in general. Would Ms. Lehman and the IT team behind Quilette kindly consider to make the comments’ section searcheable please? It would be a generous gift to some simple folks, like me, who enjoy learning from some brilliant regular commenters of the site, but find it somewhat tedious to go through a lot of less erudite comments as well. Many thanks in advance for the consideration!

    • scribblerg says

      Ah – I have an even better idea. Let’s also suppress comments from people who haven’t read the article yet, and instead want to be a comment section school marm.

      @ganjagym – Maybe you need to read comments that are “less erudite” sometimes to help you with that massive arrogance of your’s. Just a thought. As well, you preening snob, your browser contains a search function that you can use to search this page for any word. Perhaps if you were more “erudite” yourself, you’d know you already have search capability you seek.

      • Christopher says

        That’s funny, I searched “hubris” and “unnecessarily hostile” and it repeatedly returned me to @scribblerg.

        ( I searched “wise-ass” and my name was among the large list of returns as well…)

        • scribblerg says

          @Christopher – Giggling at your absurdity. I accused of him of snobbery and arrogance, not being unnecessarily hostile or of hubris. But hey, you seem to have the critical thinking skills of 15yo, so please, carry on. It’s quite impressive. I mean, you have made such a strong contribution to the dialog here, please give us more!

          • Christopher says

            @scribblerg – You should be able to insult better than that if you’re gonna call me a 15yr old…

            Or do you hold a grudge against @ganjagym? Because your particular insult was as much of a contribution as mine.

            I guess lack of self-awareness would go hand-in-hand with slow wit.

          • Chris says

            Thought it was an interesting article, how about you kids go play outside and let the grownups talk about it.

          • Squidbert, Junglejim and Twofer; why don’t you join your local chapter of Jack & Jill and join the circle…Coleman

      • Phadras Johns says

        Why not just repress speech that you don’t agree with altogether?

      • Yeah, comments exactly like this. Well demonstrated.

      • Kauf Buch says

        YOUR snotty post looks more like YOU hadn’t read ganjagym’s post first! TALK ABOUT ARROGANCE…let alone irony!

        • Darwin T of BC Humanists says

          Thank you very much Mr. Hughes. The other point in your favour I think is the finite resources available. If reparations are paid as a group apology there will then be less available funding for other budgetary necessities. This gap will lead to America falling behind relative to their adversaries and the adversaries of democracy. Russian, Chinese, Iranian regimes for starters would absolutely adore for America to adopt this finish last in the contest prize for participation.

          Ask not what your government can apologize to you endlessly for but what you can do for yourself and your loved ones. Replicated enough times this approach can bring Change to America or anywhere.

          • Briana says

            That’s quite amusing considering the fact that the America didn’t seem to have a problem with paying reparations to Japenese Americans and Native Americans.

      • peanut gallery says

        This is unnecessarily abusive and unhelpful. You think you reached him with your boorish dunking on the unwashed? There’s some shade of truth to what you say, but I can’t blame them if they decided to ignore you.

      • Ge off says

        Um, unless he has edited his original comment, or unless you’re simply trying to be funny, your outburst seems totally misdirected. He calls himself simple, and never even gives a sniff of superiority or ego… he just prefers some commentors over others.

    • Heraklion says

      Press Ctrl+F on your keyboard and then search for instance “David from Kirkland” 🙂

    • Peter Schaeffer says

      ganjagym, It is true that Quillette provides no tools for searching the comments section. However, Google does provide such tools. I have been able to search the Quillette comments with no difficulty using Google.

    • John Lee says

      Another great article by mr Hughes!!
      I would love to be able to search on (for example) Ga Gamba and be able to start at the erudite, rather than the banal

      • ga gamba says

        That’s nice to say, John. Thanks.

        Heraklion covers one way.

        You may use google search too, which results all the articles meeting the keyword(s) specified.

        gamba site:quillette.com

        For example, gamba crime cannabis incarceration site:quillette.com

        The more words you use the more tailored the results. The search is useful for find past comments to check on updates to the comment thread, but you can’t remember the article’s title.

        • AesopFan says

          This tutorial on searching with Google is the most useful thing on the internet I’ve read all month. Thanks, Oh Erudite Ones.

    • david of Kirkland says

      I’d rather have the like/dislike buttons (aero?), and perhaps a way to fix a posting within some time period as often a posted comment doesn’t appear until later because of the async nature.

    • Rick Phillips says

      Just go to EDIT (upper LHS)… Find on this page…. type in your search word

    • Since all comments are displayed by default, why not just search on the page? command / control + f on desktop. But I do think the comment section could be more interesting. The StackExchange Network is a pretty good format for a sort of mutual pursuit of truth among peers, or even just a Reddit-style upvote/downvote system.

    • ganjagym says

      wow, what strong emotions my humble suggestion evoked? just as a foreword, I did not mean to belittle anybody’s thoughts shared in this section, but -mainly due to work commitments – fortunately or unfortunately I have less and less time to go though everything at Quilette. I agree with those suggesting me to read through the whole bunch, that it may open up my horizont etc., and that is indeed something I enjoy in case I have plenty of time. Also I agree, that the last thing I could be accused of is being IT savvy, not that I’ve ever claimed to be. Many thanks for the practical suggestions, just tried to CTRL+F Ga Gamba, lo and behold, it works. Cheers, wish every single one of yours peace and happy reading and commenting!

    • Vivian Darkbloom says

      I didn’t read the article and don’t really have anything to say.

    • Sten says

      Seriously tho, a Disqus/Reddit-style “best-rated comments” ordering option would be VERY appreciated. I find that comment sections everywhere are rarely worth are slogging through without such an option.

    • Being new here, I also took umbrage at your implied snobbery and made jest of it. But after riffling through the comments on the sensitive subject of race, the amount of ignorance, intentional and unintentional racism and bigoted tinged snark permeating the discourse, the impression I came away with is that many commenters on this flagship of the IDW are no better than the dregs that infest any given YouTube site. You were overly diplomatic in anointing some of these scrum as less erudite. Not that erudition is any guarantor of fact or wisdom. (See E. Olson on voter IDs)

  2. Arnaud says

    Another essential piece by Coleman Hughes, one of my favorites from the IDW, up there with the Weinsteins, Jordan Peterson, and Claire Lehman.

    I happened across this ranking of Intellectual Dark Web Twitter accounts about an hour before reading this article. It’s got Coleman Hughes ranked at only #15. An outrage!


    • Steve says

      I don’t agree with Coleman Hughes being ranked that low either. I’d rank Bo Winegard at #1 if I had my way, but I see that he’s at #3. Weinstein brothers at #1 and #2. That’s interesting. I love that they’ve got Zach Goldberg on one of the smaller rankings. He’s awesome. I love his graphs.

      • Andrew T says

        All five of those people on the “most aggressive and edgy” list are fantastic. I follow all of them. The work that Andy Ngo is doing is so important. Jonathan Kay has great wit. All five of those people are definitely worth following. Coleman Highes should be ranked higher and so should Steven Pinker. I’m not sure why they had to break it up into separate rankings though. That doesn’t make any sense to me.

        • Claudia says

          I probably follow most of the people on the rankings, and I don’t agree with how they’re being ranked. It should be more like this –

          Andy Ngo
          Claire Lehman
          Ben Shapiro
          Dave Rubin
          Jordan Peterson
          Christina Hoff Sommers
          Debra Soh
          Coleman Hughes
          Jonathan Kay
          James Lindsay

          That’s my opinion.

          • Elias P says

            I just started reading Quillette. I didn’t even know what the Intellectual Dark Web was a few weeks ago. These rankings are great for me because they’re ready-made lists of people to follow on Twitter. I just went down all the lists, entered their names into Twitter one by one, and followed them all. In one fell swoop, I feel like I’m following the best of the IDW.

            Is there an IDW person who is not ranked that I need to know about and should follow? Any additional names would be welcomed. Thanks!

          • Peter says

            @Elias P

            I did the same thing you did. I went through all the categories and followed them all. I had already been following some of them, but a lot of them I’d never heard of before.

          • Declan says

            @Elias P

            Gad Saad, Janice Fiamengo, Helen Pluckrose

          • Ge off says

            @ Elias – Sam Harris’s Twitter feed is t particularly exciting put his podcast is great… Kmele Foster is another in the mold, although maybe not yet a (pretend) card-carrying member of the IDW yet.

      • aservire says

        Don’t forget Camille Paglia. Peterson’s podcast interview with her is truly special.

  3. Edgelord says

    Steve Sailer’s piece “All is Fog” and Tucker Carlson’s chapter in his latest book dismantled Coates nicely.

    Coates really is proof of racism, a person so vapid and unimpressive that only white liberals could be drowning in enough guilt to pretend he can write or think as well as my cat.

    • Sentient says

      I wouldn’t mind reparations being paid – as long as the specific dollar figure is determined ahead of time, and it’s understood that it’s a one-time payment in exchange for ending any/all affirmative action.

      • Could we get a refund of the trillion dollars spent on affirmative action and welfare since 1965 as part of the deal?

        • Denny says

          I’ve been robbed at gun point by black guys before. How do I apply for reparations?

          • Ken says

            Just look at the robbery as involuntary reparations and you can let go of the guilt complex you should have if you subscribe to liberal orthodoxy. I don’t know how to help anyone robbed at gunpoint by white guys, maybe more gun control for law abiding folks.

          • Address your request to Santa at the North Pole, that should do it. Then hold your breath.

      • FMc says

        Making the repayment certain and finite forfeits the right to complain. So the goalposts will forever be mobile.

        What I don’t understand is how the descendants of Union soldiers, many, many of whom died in the cause of ending slavery, somehow owe? How will that be sorted out?

        • Tome708 says

          Union yes. And I would also say the dead confederate soldier also paid for his crime with his life. So no union soldier defendants, no confederate soldier defendants, The only solution is to relax immigration limitations and import people to pay the reparations. Then in 200 years we can pay their descendants reparations for in fairly making them pay reparations. Dear god I have just used that word more in their response than my entire life. Ok I am done with reparations

        • DrZ says

          I don’t want to pay. The earliest arrival of my ancestors to the U.S. was 1915.

      • stretch23 says

        As clear an understanding as we all had about Reagan’s illegal alien amnesty of 1986? In the real world there will never be an end to concessions.

    • MMS says

      Coates is an excellent writer and by that I mean one who weaves words together/ artist… Which is perhaps one reason why the Left loves him so. They do not hear what he is saying really because of the quality of his prose vs. the strength of his argument.

      He may well be a racist or at least a racialist (one who’s idea’s I take strong exception to) but he is a great writer…

      People like almost any message wrapped in pretty things…

    • MMS says

      Coates is a great writer when the definition is limited to one who eaves words together well/ artistically… This is one reason why the Left loves his work despite the underlying racism of its message. Coates may well be a racist if not the at least a racialist but the man can write.

      • MMS says

        Ahh seems I mis-clicked and shared a partial thought… Apologies…

      • John Drake says

        I believe the Ancient Greeks had something to say about this phenomenon . . .

      • Zalmar52 says

        “Coates is a great writer.” I’m sorry — this is a common misperception. Coates is generally terrible; his prose purple, typically fantastical, and significantly unedited.

        An example from his 2017 Atlantic article, “The First White President”: “To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies.”

        We might, given that paragraph, expect Lovecraft’s Cthulhu to make an appearance.

        No he is distinctly not gifted….but, not unexpectedly, he has a ton of fanboys. He is, however, very clearly a racist.

        • Agreed. That is terrible prose. It is linguistic exhibitionism reminiscent of WF Buckley who enjoyed exhibiting his vocabulary. However, when you got through Buckley his sentences made sense.

    • david of Kirkland says

      I enjoy Coates, but he is a racist, though perhaps racism isn’t really a sin, but an effect of your environment. If people pissed on me regularly, I’d likely hold a dim view of them, too. And in a micro-aggression world, feeling that you’ve been pissed on is more likely, whether real or imagined.
      Reparations is lousy because it’s paid by those who didn’t enslave, to people who were never slaves.
      And if wealth from slavery was real, then presumably the South is the richest part of the country.

      • Itzik Basman says

        I don’t think he’s a great writer. His prose is laboured and doesn’t flow: it’s like the competent prose of a graduate student. As well his ideas are shoddy, and his writing isn’t so mesmerizing that it overcomes that. Plus, his prose inclines to the colour purple. Just read his wannabe James Baldwin book, Letter To My Sign, where form and content merge, in a word, in the histrionic.

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        @d of K

        Has anyone here actually read the US House resolution calling for a commission to STUDY the issue of a national apology and possible reparations for slavery? It’s not that long; here’s the summary:

        H. R. 40 — To address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes. — https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/40

        Why does everyone [including Mr. Hughes] assume that reparations must involve cash payouts to individuals? Endowing scholarships at HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges & Universities] that are open to all lower-income students would be a great way to implement reparations, in my opinion. As a precedent, college scholarships were established for descendants of victims of the Tulsa race riot of 1921 by the state govt. [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsa_race_riot ] How about grants so that cities and counties can erect historical markers indicating public buildings [like the US Capitol and the UVa campus] that were built in part with slave labor? And a formal apology from the US govt. wouldn’t cost a dime.

        To be clear: I’m not in favor of cash payouts to the descendants of slaves. But a strong case can be made that compensation should be paid to victims of recent injustice, including racial injustice. This shouldn’t be controversial; typically, victim compensation funds are supported by those on the right.

        • A problem of course is that many more claim to be the victims of racial injustice than can prove it.
          Do you think a formal gov apology would satisfy anyone? Inflaming racial hatred just generates resentment.

        • Zalmar52 says

          No, I’d strongly disagree. There is no case whatsoever to be made.

          Certainly living, current injustice can and should and, in fact, is regularly addressed in the Courts. If we’ve been cheated, robbed, or abused in some fashion, the law exists to provide both punishment for the guilty and recompense to the victim.

          But injustices committed by the dead against the dead….generations past….no, absolutely not. Not in terms of cash payments, not in terms of tax breaks, not in terms of state endowments or scholarship funds, no. Nothing is owed by the living to the living for sins committed by the dead against the dead. That is insane.

          But reparations thinking is filled with such insanities.

          It would be insane to suggest that I should compensate you for crimes committed by Someone-Not-Me against Someone-Not-You. It would be insane for my government to use my money to compensate you for crimes committed against Someone-Not-You. It’s insane to even begin to think that the multi-millennial record of injustices (and they are infinite) CAN EVER or SHOULD EVER be addressed by anyone.

          They’re gone; they’re done. The dead are dead. We all move on. Every child born is innocent and debt free; how could it be otherwise?

          As for the nation itself considering an apology to itself for crimes committed by itself against itself hundreds of years ago…. it’s hard to imagine anything more pandering or asinine. No, again, I’d strongly reject such a collection of idiocies, especially if followed by any sort of big check (written either to individuals who look sort of like those individuals who suffered these sins….or to institutions to advantage the “look-similars”….or even to cities to erect formal apology stones).

          [Though actually, as I think about it, I do kinda like the idea of Apology Stones. We used to have mile markers on the highways….perhaps instead we just erect a tin-stamped “Mea Culpa — I’m Sorry”, every 5280 ft? 100 miles between NYC and Philadelphia: 100 apologies! How cool!]

  4. E. Olson says

    Another good thought provoking article from Mr. Hughes. It’s just too bad that it isn’t Mr. Coates writing an article about the best selling racial analyses books of Mr. Hughes.

    As for reparations, I believe Mr. Hughes is correct that a more diverse and less racial approach should be employed, and I propose the following program of fixing all U.S. victimhood. Thus any U.S. citizen or legal resident of any race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or income who thinks they have been mistreated by being shipped to the US or born in the USA can submit a claim to the IRS which lists: 1) documentation regarding the foreign homeland(s) of the victim (or DNA test showing the closest “tribal” match geographically), 2) their most recent 5 years of U.S. income (including welfare assistance payments, transfer payments, pension income, investment income, lottery winnings, etc.), and 3) the current cash value of major assets (home equity, car value, bank accounts, investments, etc). Then the IRS will compare the financial situation of the American “victim” with the age adjusted median income and wealth of a citizen of their homeland(s) (weighted average in cases of multiple homelands). For example, the income and wealth of an American “victim” with family roots in Nigeria, Haiti, Cuba, Japan, or Sweden would be compared to the median income and wealth Nigerian, Haitian, Cuban, Japanese, or Swedish citizens to determine the level of reparations owed to the “victims”.

    Thus if the IRS finds that income and wealth of the “victimized” Swedish-American or Cuban immigrant to America is $50,000 below the median income and wealth of current Swedish or Cuban citizens, the U.S. Treasury would send them a reparation check for $50,000 and their “victim” status would be officially abolished. And as a special reparation bonus for true victims of color who feel that U.S. White supremacy is an insurmountable barrier to their health and happiness, the U.S. taxpayer will further provide a one-way airline ticket to the homeland of the victim and cancel the victim’s “racist” U.S. passport as soon as victim clears their new home’s passport control. On the other hand, if the IRS finds the “victimized” Japanese-American or Nigerian immigrant is $80,000 ahead of the median Japanese citizen in Japan or Nigerian in Nigeria, then the “victim” turned US benefactor will be required to send $80,000 to the U.S. Treasury as an official reparation to America for whining about being a US “victim”.

    • stevengregg says

      Today’s whites don’t owe reparations to blacks for a crime whites did not commit and blacks did not suffer.

      • E. Olson says

        I agree stevengregg – that is why my proposal makes everyone eligible for reparations. Just because your family wasn’t even in the US during the slavery era or you are a blond blue-eyed Cherokee Harvard Law Professor doesn’t mean you can’t still be a victim.

    • peanut gallery says

      The only “reparation” that would truly satisfy the racialist ideologues that follow his Coate-tails, is handing them a whip and letting them enslave some white-folk.

  5. Morti says

    It’s all about power. Those who want to push those reparations count on blacks supporting them on their way to power. Everyone like to receive free shinies and such reparations would do pretty nice.

    Identity politics is powerful. No matter how politicians/activists/parties are corrupt, how they abuse power and how many scandals they are involved in, they still get votes because “they are villains, but they are OUR villains”. If you vote someone else you are a traitor of our race/gender/nation/faith etc.

    Identity politics is inevitable in a democracy because it trumps all other strategies.

    • Johan says

      @ Morti…Are you saying we can really never overcome that mankind is evolutionary tribal?

      • Morti says

        Best to accept it. It doesn’t mean that we’re doomed to slaughtering each other or that we should perform some ritualistic bloodletting from time to time. We can definitely find ways of coping with it and avoiding violence and hostilities. Just drop utopian social engineering.

        The problem is that liberal democracy certainly doesn’t help when combined with nihilistic individualism and multiculturalism. The ideological combo that’s running the west creates best conditions for it to fall apart into countless tribes without ways of reconciliation, since the essential conditions of a productive dialogue is having a common framework and goals.

        As seen in example here different groups have different understanding of even such a basic term as ‘justice’. In this case there can be no common legal system, standards, procedures etc. that all can agree with, so people come to courts to resolve disputes. Someone will consider if unfair because it violates his perception what justice should be.

        Just look at the Supreme Court. Justices are either progressive or conservative and the fight is who packs it with his people.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Bribery/corruption works… Even the stupid rich white will bribe half a million for their retarded daughter to get into a school she’d learn nothing from…
      Why do we have unbalanced tax systems? Because tax favoritism is modern-day corruption that avoids prison for politicians who create the problem to remain relevant and need of donations.

  6. Johan says

    Real reparations would be a shitshow. A bureaucratic nightmare. Nobody believes in it. Not even Coates.
    People like him…well, they use words to promote themselves. Getting by. Have a career. The left is all words. Pretty despicable were I come from. Action means change…Action is hard. Words easy.
    Mr Coleman Hughes…Hat off. Again.
    P.S Could it be, that when a society have such an unwordly debate as reparations, it is a sign of extreme complacency…The rest of the world is just around the corner. They don’t linger in the past. They go for it…Now! D.S

  7. The concept of reparations is based on the idea that racial or national injustices perpetrated against previous generations should be considered as crimes which require redress in the present. I can think of little else more dangerous and immoral. It demonises people on the basis of actions supposedly performed by their ancestors but actually by some nume rof people long dead who belonged to some arbitray group which is identified with a simalr modern grouping.

    The problem is that all groups have throughout history suffered from terrible crimes and oppression at one time or another. Accepting the concept of historic crimes requiring redress means that every nation peoples and race have many reasons to commit crimes in the present.

    Provide the means for the disadvantaged to help themselves.

    Do not accept the principle that children are responsible for the crimes of their parents and their parents parents on throughout the generations.

    • Paul Crossley says

      On the contrary, the thesis of Coates’ essay is that although he first did not endorse the idea of reparations precisely because they seemed only punitive, he was persuaded to support them because he saw that slavery, Jim Crow, etc continued to have real world consequences for black Americans.

      • Zalmar52 says

        But that makes the Coates thesis even more asinine….and actually that much more racist.

        Everything has consequences….good and bad, rippling out into forever. Consider yourself, your life, the one you’ve built over the last many decades.

        How much of your current social/economic/political/psychological/intellectual/cultural status can be attributed to …. what? your education? your parent’s economic/social/cultural status? the neighborhoods you grew-up in? your peer group influencers? the culture you inhabited? How much can be traced to your natural abilities…your height, your strength, your intellectual prowess (or lack thereof)? How much can be attributed to choices you made (or did not make)? The courses you studied (how much you studied)? The jobs you took? The skills you learned? How well you applied them? How much you developed? The way you think? The way you speak? the way you behave? The decisions you made to use or not use heroin? to rob or not rob the local liquor store? To break into (or not break into) your neighbor’s house? Or steal or not steal from your employer? How much of all that can then be traced further back to decisions your parents or grandparents or great grandparents did or did not make?

        The point is these are all absolutely impossible questions to answer.

        And to Coates point….hell yes, we are all unequal from the get go. We all have advantages and we all have disadvantages. We begin with unequal sets of genetic luggage. We walk into the unequal lives our unequal parents unequally created. All of those raw inequalities are consequences of an infinity of factors. How much of that infinity can be traced to Cause “X” (whatever “X” may happen to be)? How much of that can be traced to “X” when “X” occurred 200 years ago, somewhere else, to someone else? Whatever your guess, it’s wrong and it’s unprovable and untestable.

        The question is not are we all unequal. Of course we are. And all of those raw inequalities are totally beyond our control. The questionis: what will we do with the unequal lives we have unequally been given. And Coates would seem to be saying, if you’re Black you need special help with your raw inequalities. And that kind of condescension, my friend, is racist.

  8. Closed Range says

    Excellent article.

    I think something has to be said for why the left doesn’t want to pursue ethics based on socioeconomic circumstances anymore. And it gets to the core of what they call social justice.

    As I see it, the reason leftists don’t care about poverty among people of all races is that they are fundamentally racist and view whites and asians as less worthy and somewhat subhuman to blacks as well as being the root cause of all evil and controlling all of society. In many ways it resembles how Nazi Germany viewed the Jews.

    So they take pleasure, or Schadenfreude, at the sight of horrible conditions some poor people of the wrong color see hemselves in, and jeer at them to the tune of “deplorables”. They see it as some kind of cosmic justice. By that logic, why should they owe anything to those who are clearly punished by the cosmos for supposed crimes of their race. After all, being born to a crack addict single mother in a fly over state is a fitting punishment in their eyes. It is a disgusting ideology to think that justice is served in seeing innocent people suffer because they happen to have the same skin colors as a few long dead slave owners. But that is the essence of social justice.

    It is entirely possible for many white people to adopt this Marxist view, as people’s capacity for tribalism is close to limitless. People think racism (or more generally tribalism) is only possible across different skin colors. But to that I say look at what happened in Rwanda. Yet these white Marxists believe that their social activism of hating other white people is some kind of penance, that they have a special place which means they deserve to escape the social justice punishment of their skin. They are the bourgeois revolutionaries, the Lenins and Trotskys of our time, who must guide the movement.

    This is my from the hip attempt at explaining what is going.
    Frankly, their ideology is disgusting. Social justice is a synonym to vindictive racism and tribalism in my eyes.

    • Johan says

      @ Closed range…What you are describing is a Western disease. China, India, Russia etc…No such thing. Glorious countries all of them.
      This self-mortification is probably very dangerous for a society. Looking back instead of ahead…

    • Prof says

      You’re using the word “Marxist” simply as a slur. This has nothing to do with Marxism.

      • Optional says

        Actually, if you look at it, identity politics is the direct historical and intellectual decedent of Marxism. Marxism splits us into good and evil groups based on economic status, and identity politics (leftism) splits into good and evil groups based on what we look like. The rest of the philosophy remains the same.

        Marxism always struggled with the fact that, if you try, you can often change your socioeconomic status. You can fix your own problems.

        Identity Politics is far better constructed. You can never change your race – yourself.
        You must rely on your betters in government to fix that “problem”. And you must give them more power – to do it. And there is no metric for you to ever know “the problem” is fixed – so the identity politics purveyors can now (in theory) obtain unlimited power for unlimited time.

        It is pure genius really. And it is hard to imagine Marx would object to being associated with such a clever tweak to his schema.

      • Closed Range says

        I use Marxist as an accurate descriptive adjective of how the social justice ideology is a new twist on Marxist view of history as as struggle for control of power and oppression between competing groups, as opposed to a genuinely liberal view centered on the individual. As the other excellent reply below explains, social justice is directly descending from Marxism, both in the structure of the ideology and in terms of the people who came up with it. As I point out above, the loudest of the activists, many of themselves white, are today’s version of the Lenin’s and Trotskys, who were themselves part of the bourgeoisie and yet worked (successfully) to destroy their own group.

        • Rev. Wazoo! says

          Good stuff but short – sighted historically. The Jocobins sang the same song long before Marx published anything. Indeed, he trod the Jacobin path.

          Many before that did the same, I’m not apologising for Marx nor the horrors done in his name, (or in the name of Joshua of Nazareth called the Christ or anyone else whose words have been used after their death to justify slaughter) just pointing out that “US and Them” even socio-economically is muck older than Marx.

          He was just one in a long line…

        • Charlie says

          Pascal Bruckner in ” Tears of the White Man ” published in 1982 explains after the Chinese /USSR split in 1956, the latter coined “brown communism “. First world bad, third world good and all the problems of the latter are due to the former. It is called Third Worldism. Franz Manon’s ” Wretched of the Earth” with an introduction by Sartre in 1968 was published in 1968 and started this version of communism in France. Third Worldism was basically Maoism and China is using this ideology today.

          It would appear the evolution of Marxism is as follows:
          1 1848 Communist Manifesto
          2. Russian revolution and Lenin introduces the Cheka and the use of terror.
          3. The failure of the communist coup in 1919 in Germany leads to the development of Cultural Marxism under the Frankfurt School.
          4. Gramsci promotes cultural Marxism and taking over institutions of learning.
          5. Economic failure of communism and the Hungarian revolution leads to New left.
          6. Late 1950s maoist Third Wordism
          7. H Marcuse promotes the Oppressor and Oppressed in the late 1960s- the oppressed are homosexuals, women and African Americans.
          8. Manon’s Wretched of the Earth introduces Third Worldism in France. Baader Meinhof inspired by Marcuse, Frankfurt School and Manon. Palestinians are classified as Third World and Israelis First world. Post 6 Day war of 1967, Israel loses support of left and Palestinians taken up as cause , hence joint terrorist attacks with left wing groups Baader Meinhof, action Direct, Black Panthers, Red Brigade.
          9. Post Modernism taken up by French Marxists in 1970s

          I would suggest that the modern day left comprises elements of Cultural Marxism, Gramsci, 1960s New Left of Marcuse, Third Worldism and Post modernism. Basically it is a coherent attack on traditional Western Culture, Democracy, property rights and the individual. it appeals to middle class people, usually humanities graduates whose life does not meet their expectation and they want something to blame.

      • Lydia says

        Marxism is a slur. Marxism despises the “individual”. Except for those who see themselves as the oligarchs within a Marxist system, it seeks to make the rest of us lemmings.

      • Peter from Oz says

        The real concept is folk-marxism, i.e. marxism diluted and distorted by a multi generational game of chinese whispers into a new fight against oppression on the grounds of identity.

  9. codadmin says

    You can’t defeat the ‘reparations’ debate in isolation. The entire, racist, genocidal ‘original sin’ narrative the fascist left have constructed about ‘AmeriKKK’ has to be debunked with an aggressive pro-American narrative.

    Given human history, it becomes clear that America is uniquely good. It’s far from perfect, but compared to what, who, and when exactly?

    • Johan says

      @ codamin…Here is something for you…Serfdom…https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serfdom.
      1862 in Russia 40 million serfs were set free. They were all slaves. 1912 in China. 1959 in Tibet etc etc.
      America: The rest of the world is out there…doing things…

      • codadmin says

        @Johan There you go, at the very least, your list proves America isn’t ‘uniquely bad’.

        The point is, the ‘uniquely bad’ narrative of the fascist left has to be countered with a ‘uniquely good’ narrative. Going on the defensiv, all the time, is a losing strategy.

    • “Given human history, it becomes clear that America is uniquely good.”

      I can accept an argument that the west generally has bene uniquely good in abolishing slavery, having the concept of universal rights, introducing the concepts and practice of inetrnational relations base don law. What I find difficult is the idea that America is uniquely good except in the sense that every country has a unique history.

      • codadmin says


        The culture war, in essence, is a war of narrative, of story.

        The leftists don’t care about ‘facts’ when they construct their stories. The stories they construct about America and the West are works of fiction, designed to demoralise the people they want to conquer.

        When a successful coach is rousing his team after a dreadful first half, he’s not thinking about the facts. The plain facts don’t motivate, they don’t inspire.

        If we want to win this war, then you have to move beyond the ‘facts’. The facts should be the bedrock, but, there’s another dimension that must be utilised.

      • AJ. America is one of the few countries that has a very short history. It was essentially founded anew in a continent with few inhabitants and based on the precepts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

        Europe’s ‘s history goes back millennia filled with oppression, war, slavery and despotism. The same is true for Asia. American slavery was actually an European transplant.

        Take it from an immigrant, America is unique; it’s the core meaning of American exceptionalism.

  10. Boo Boo says

    Reparations have already been paid. Welfare. And look how that turned out. In other words, there will never be enough juice to fill this bottomless jug of victocratism.

    Isn’t it enough that the vacuous are given places at the head of the table? I’m thinking of that “academic” at the Classics Conference, who spends his time searching out racial injustice in terms of publishing in his field, rather than writing anything of substance in the field. Then he says he hopes the entire Classics discipline burns to the ground.

    The destruction of academic discourse wrought by these race-baiters will require reparations.

    Indeed, I want reparations for the damage done to academia, to civil discourse, and to the racism I endure daily living in a predominantly black neighborhood. I want reparations for the PTSD I still experience twenty years after a black student, steeped in his own racism, threatened to knife me for giving him a ‘C.’ And I want my white brethren to pay for it. They’ve got blood on their hands.

    • Zalmar52 says

      $22Trillion over the last 50 years in the War on Poverty.

      And added to that the infinite and unimaginable cost paid by the 365K dead and 282K wounded who fought & died to end the very thing that Mr. Coates says now requires MORE.

      It’s insane. That thinking and well-educated adults actually entertain such idiocy tells us only how far down the rabbit hole we’ve fallen.

  11. Pingback: Reparations and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Pyrrhic Victory | TrumpsMinutemen

  12. Daniel says

    Mr. Hughes delivers an excellent article, as always.

    One thought still unaddressed, though: there’s an argument to be made that reparations have already been paid. The Union made a huge sacrifice in obtaining the freedom of all the southern slaves. One estimate I saw put the cost of the war at $71 billion in today’s dollars.
    It would also be appropriate to include the cost of the war for the Confederates — they were defending the interests of the slave owners, after all. The South spent $35 billion on the war.

    So we have, loosely phrased, a $71 billion ransom that was paid to free the slaves, and a $35 billion fine that was exacted from the slave owner economy.

    I’ll allow that many will consider this argument to be a stretch, but consider this: the freedom of American slaves was bought with blood, too. 620,000 is an estimate for the total death toll of the Civil War. This is a cost that was all too real.

    A better demand than the reparations for slavery would be a demand for reparations for the socioeconomic conditions African Americans have been placed in that has prevented their advancement. LBJ’s great society’s policies would seem to be the prime culprit here, with their disincentives that negatively affected black families and work habits. How on earth are we going to quantify reparations for that?

    Changing gears: one thing that Coates senses correctly is the spiritual component to this whole problem. The appeal of his idea of reparations lies in the association with penance. It’s not just giving a hand to the needy, but a penalty to “the oppressors”. To use a fancy religious term, it’s an expiation of guilt.

    Where Coates falls short is that he doesn’t recommend a spiritual solution to the problem of racial discrimination (and any subsequent disparities). What would work much better than reparations would be forgiveness. If the most prominent voices coming from the black community were calling for forgiveness for the past wrongs of slavery and other forms of injustice, that would go a long way to healing the race-based problems in the US.

    • asdf says

      It’s a good point. People in the North were not responsible for slavery. They paid to end it with blood the treasure. Blacks did not free themselves. Nor were they generally free before their fellow blacks sold them in Africa.

      Blacks should be paying US for freeing them.

      Those that might owe them a debt, the planter class, were mostly wiped out in the war. Though if you think you can squeeze reparations out of the descendants of plantation owners give it a try.

      • Mike says

        “People in the North were not responsible for slavery. ”

        This is not really true. Plenty of Northerners both owned slaves and otherwise profited economically from the slave trade, and the Northern states officially/legally acquiesced to the maintenance of slavery when the nation was born.

        • Lydia says

          And some in the South, like me, are descendants of abolitionists who ran “underground railroads” over the Ohio River.

        • asdf says

          The slave population in the north was pretty darn low. I also don’t consider Northern profits from the slave trade to be that high. Most of the value was captured by the planters, and maintaining the slave economy actually placed costs on the North that it did no benefit from (such costs, such as the fugitive slave act, helped to cause the civil war). You could also perhaps call the entire Mexican American War a planter imperialist venture to increase slave power paid for with Northern blood and treasure.

          Whatever benefit the North may have received was obviously dwarfed by the costs of the Civil War.

    • Nicholas Decker says

      Dear Sir,
      I think you blaming President Johnson’s policies for black poverty is based more in a wish to blame liberal policies than good sense. You think it was the man who created the modern social safety net*, who opened the vote up to African Americans, who banned discrimination in all walks of life, yes, that’s the person responsible for black poverty? You don’t consider the full century in which blacks were reduced to second class citizenry, without the vote, without real property rights, without hope of self advancement, as perhaps being just slightly more responsible?

      I agree with you that reparations based on genealogy are not a good idea, and rather, that they should be focused on the socioeconomic status. The best way to do that, in my opinion, would be a universal basic income, with lower income people receiving more for the first five years, and then having that difference relative to the population taper off.

      Nicholas Decker

      *Without which, according to a study from the University of Columbia, our present poverty rate would be 16% points higher, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/study-us-poverty-rate-decreased-over-past-half-century-thanks-to-safety-net-programs/2013/12/09/9322c834-60f3-11e3-94ad-004fefa61ee6_story.html?utm_term=.876b4b65cfb4

      • Peter from Oz says


        That is a good point you make. The poverty of black americans has been reduced by welfare. But has the moral character of the black community also been improved? Has crime increased because of the huge increase in single motherhood arising from welfare?

        • Softclocks says

          That study is rubbish, but you shouldn’t discredit the value of a social safety net because of it.
          The goal is to help the black community two generations from now. Unless they’re something truly atrocious or miraculous you won’t see the effects of social policy until at least a decade has passed.

          As I choose to understand it, the purpose of welfare is to somewhat stabilize the living conditions of the -absolute- dead weight of society long enough for the children to become halfway decent citizens. As long as the government has the political fortitude to withstand the complaints of all these grievance study idiots, they have no endurance and their political activism should peter out in a two years or so, then these children will turn into members of society.

      • Stephanie says

        Nicholas, expanding the social safety net is indeed a major contributor to poverty. The study cited in the Washington Post article employs shallow analysis to make a bold claim. It simply compares poverty rates and government transfer payments. What it finds is that the government subsidizes a growing number of people to keep them out of poverty. That means the welfare programs have failed at giving people a hand up and becoming independent, instead reducing them to wards of the state in ever-greater numbers.

        The study also does not address what poverty would have been like if the economy hadn’t been crippled by ever-rising minimum wages, heavy redistribution and excessive regulatory burdens. Of course giving people money every month means they have more money every month, but there was no attempt to quantify job losses, wage losses, ect that come from disincentivizing work. The analysis is shallow as well because it doesn’t address the breakdown of the family structure caused by incentivizing single motherhood, the predominant cause of poor outcomes among black men.

        Universal basic income would exhasterbate the problem by incentivisizing sloth and discouraging productivity. I’m more ambitious than many but if I had to choose between receiving free money and spending time with my kids, or working hard and getting myself taxed heavily to pay for others to do so, I know what I would pick.

        To think you can render people dependent on the government for only 5 years is a pipedream. If UBI comes, it’s never going away. Just like every other redistributionist monstrousity that warps our economy and renders us dependent on the government like children.

        • E. Olson says

          Good comment as usual Stephanie – the only way to evaluate “The War on Poverty” is to examine trend-lines before and during the LBJ programs of the 1960s. Black marriage and two parent family levels were much higher before, black employment was much higher before, and black delinquency was much lower before the Great Society programs. On the other hand, the black-white gap in poverty remains substantially the same and welfare dependency has greatly increased during the War on Poverty. Spending on police, prisons has also substantially increased due to increasing delinquency, and it seems reasonable to believe spending that “crime fighting” money on better infrastructure or lower taxes would have had a substantially better effect on economic growth and poverty reduction. The only people that have benefited from the War on Poverty are the government bureaucrats that have administered the programs, and the Democrats that have used the programs to buy minority votes.

        • Rev. Wazoo! says

          Though I don’t rule out a Basic Income, I see little discussion of its obvious main problem: rents would simply rise to absorb it as has happened in London where housing was introduced.

          Can’t pay the rent I want on your wages? Go get housing benefit then you’ll be able to pay what I charge which is based on minimum wage/welfare plus housing benefit.

          Don’t see how UBI gets around this obvious in-5-years eventuality.

      • Brad Denton says

        I don’t agree with everything Mr. Decker writes, but I love the fact that he wrote it under his full name. Everyone should do so.

      • Mr. Decker:

        There is a slur attributed to LBJ about the Voting Rights Act that may be accurate and I will not repeat, but he did say this: “I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it. If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” The kindest interpretation is that Johnson was a calculating cynic.

        The Great Society welfare programs coincided with the introduction of the birth control pill, and, for some reason that has never been explored, both were followed by an explosion in the number of single parent (mother) families reliant on welfare.

        Before this African American adults had to work harder than white ones because their families (and, yes, churches) were the only certain sources of support they had.

        Several generations on, we have effective resegregation of public schools based on white/Asian flight to neighborhoods with “good” public schools and (exclusionary) higher home prices. We have children arriving at Head Start or pre-k whose parents, the “beneficiaries” of those same well-intended programs, have no idea what good schools look like.

        If there is a case to be made for reparations now, it is because of the terrible results of previous good intentions.

  13. Barney Doran says

    If reparations were paid, where do you think most of that money would end up in, say, five years?

    • E. Olson says

      No doubt a large portion would be used to create venture capital funds to invest in black startups and create black owned and managed versions of Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Tesla, and Berkshire-Hathaway. I would also expect historically black colleges and universities to receive a large number of gifts to endow professorship chairs, scholarship funds, and perhaps the establishment of think tanks devoted to social justice and black economic development.

      • Jim Gorman says

        You forgot establishing private primary and secondary schools for minorities with a low student/teacher ratio and the best equipment.

        • Lydia says

          After 40 years of forced busing in my metro area, the leaders decided that they now need segregated schools. Two segregated schools have already opened up. I can only imagine what’s next. Hopefully just basic choice.

      • stevengregg says

        Oh, please. Reparations funds would wind up in the pockets of race hustlers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and Black Lives Matters. What crumbs fell in the ghetto would be spent on liquor and big screen TVs.

    • Hubbub says

      And when would reparations end, if ever? Would not all blacks born today be entitled as well to reparations based on the ‘legacy of slavery’? Once started it would never end. Motto: “Not just for yesterday and today, but forever!” Such a stupidity would last as long as there is one black man and/or one white man left on earth.

      • E. Olson says

        Hubbub – perhaps some of the initial reparation money would be donated to the campaigns of future candidates promising even more reparation money.

    • Somewoman says

      If reparations should come to pass, i would invest in beats by dr Dre.

  14. scribblerg says

    Yet another “dissident voice” that can’t see the forest from the trees. The question we need to ask ourselves is where does the new hysteria about racism emanate from? For what reasons? To what end? The answers and history are very clear, yet most seem unable to face it.

    The “civil rights movement” became a creature of the Communists/Socialist/Marxist left in the U.S. the disruptive forces of the Frankfurt school ensconced themselves in the post WWII intellectual and academic space. If you think this conspiracy theory, you are simply ignorant. Do your own research on “The School for Social Research” and the numerous leading neo-Marxists and post-modernist junk they spread throughout our society. They sought revolution, not reconciliation. They turned a movement that many average, right wing Americans and Republicans supported and were far ahead of the Democrats on into demons to be overthrown.

    Don’t believe me? Look up Barry Goldwater’s actual life and history. In the ’40s and ’50s he was an anti-racism activist on the state level in Arizona as were most Republicans. Who were they fighting? Democrats. Who then did a 180 by 1964 and were then calling Goldwater (a ’64 POTUS candidate) a racist because he thought racial set asides and “public accommodations” were violations of our constitutional rights. Of course, he was correct in this. He also was very serious about opposing communism and the Soviets who were rabid at that time. The entire Left – Dems included – destroyed him as a racist and warmongering maniac. When he was nothing of the sort.

    I get it. Most of you have read none of this history. Doesn’t make it untrue, fyi.

    The U.S. has paid 10s of trillions to drive racial justice in our society. Between the civil war, welfare to poor black families, affirmative action at every level in society and the many, many charities and social organizations that try to help. If anyone was actually serious about reparations, the accounting would include all these monies. But of course they don’t.
    Minorities will always have complaints in any society. The dominant social group in any society with be an “ingroup”. Fortunately, we have plenty of evidence from sociology that ingroup preferences are mostly about positive feelings for your group versus hate for the outgroup, but in any event, it’s unavoidable. Humans form social groups that are exclusive. People of white, western-european heritage have been the majority group so anyone here not part of that group will feel like they are in an outgroup. If you don’t want to feel like that, you should move to a society where your ethnic/racial group is a majority and you will no longer feel like a bit of an outsider. But as long as you are from a minority group, you will not have the “social equality” you claim is your birthright.

    As for me? I’m done with the entire mess. Born in a white male in1962, my entire white life has been characterized about being a good person in terms of race and sex. My generation was ordered to be on the alert for any bigoted sentiment I might have and to squash it. Huge progress was made and it had begun hundreds of years earlier. The ’60s/’70s society I grew up in wasn’t like the caricature that so many millennials and others seem to believe it was. I rarely hear the “N word” spoken.

    In the high school I went to, blacks from a poor neighborhood were bused 20 miles to go to our school. Despite the fact that they self-segregated, didn’t have to homework, were anti-social to white students, I never saw one racist event in my high school. I never once heard anyone use a racial slur towards them. They weren’t victims of harassment or violence. Fyi, this was the result of radical politics pushed by Leftists to “integrate” U.S. society by forced busing. Turns out most black people didn’t want it either, lol.

    But the way activists speak, you’d think ’60s/’70s America was a Klan rally.

    Bottom line? My good will has been exhausted. After a life of trying to understand and be compassionate about these issues, now I’m done. I just want everyone who complains in this way to go away. I don’t want to share a nation with any of you anymore.

    I don’t want a “white nation”, I want a nation filled with classical liberals who worship the classical liberal values of the enlightenment, that are inextricably intertwined with Christianity. That means I’d not want to share a nation with many whites as well. And I’ve noticed that I get along with any minority group person who does share those values.

    But if you want to be multicultural? Or make up fake victim narratives and scream for reparations? I no longer want to share a nation with you.

    • ProfElwood says

      The Frankfort school is actually a bit player, and didn’t change much at all. Engels should be credited for cultural side of Marxism. it isn’t anything new to the Marxist movement. In fact, it could be argued that Marxism is more of a rider than a driver for the movement. The history of the communist party is the US has always been tied to the grievance mob. There really was no transformation when Communism was disgraced — they simply put the cultural side up front.

      • scribblerg says

        Horkeimer, Adorno, Marcuse? All Crit Theory freaks born of The New School for Social Research. But I get your larger point, my comment was a rant, not even edited. I just get very aggravated when reading endless screeds by supposed intellectuals about the mess we are in with race and “intersectionalism” in general, but rarely hear the proper attribution.

        Take this author – his critique is so meta. Me? I want to know why in 2019, adult-children Leftists and Dems and Progressives are screaming “white supremacy” and “Nazi” louder than ever. As though we aren’t the most welcoming nation on earth to immigrants – we are, no doubt. As though we didn’t fight a bloody war 150 years ago in which 600,000 white Americans died to end slavery. As though we didn’t eventually use the military to stop the Jim Crow South.

        We are up against people who hate classical liberalism. We are up against a radical leftist marxist revolutionary spirit which animates these maniacs. They are serious – so I’m serious in return…

        • Jim Gorman says

          What sad is that so many of them don’t even know who Marx is or what atrocities have occurred under his banner. And, I’m not talking about killings. More like starvation, ration lines for the bare necessities, apartments like the projects, etc. They somehow think that producers will make enough of everything so that the government can take it and provide them what they want for free. Like housing, food, entertainment, education, etc. Most should read about Jamestown and why John Smith told the “elites” that if they didn’t work, they wouldn’t eat either.

        • ccscientist says

          If you try to emigrate to Japan, you can never become a citizen, nor your children.

  15. Anonymous says

    I say let it happen. I have no ancestral guild since my family moved to the US in the 60s from Poland.

    My grandparents suffered there during the war and were forced to be servants for German families sent to colonize Poland. They came to America for the opportunity and because the economic opportunity in Poland was completely non existent due to the Soviet occupation.

    I don’t care at this point if they call for me to pay for reparations that my family could never be implicated in. If forced to pay reparations based on skin color is acceptable then I don’t think it would be an admission that would stay in America for long as I imagine Europe and Australia would adopt similar policies. It seems inescapable to me.

    Calling for me to pay for the sins of people will similar skin color and then saying that it is an attempt to right something that is a unique experience to the African American community just seems a half baked idea at best. I wouldn’t vote for it but my voice means little and the suffering of my own family’s history means nothing to such an all encompassing and seemingly aggregate view of history.

    When would such a policy end or would it ever end would be my question. My suspicion is that it would never have an end date.

    Why wouldn’t it extend to help the Somali immigrant would be my next question. If these disparities are the result of systemic racism why wouldn’t the next goal be to end its pernicious effects by offsetting the effects of systemic racism on the Somali community?

    My grandparents learned their place in occupied Poland really quickly because if they didn’t they would be shot.

    I’ve learned my place here in the US. Being seen as a piggy bank is much more preferable to being seen as an undesirable who should be shot at the merest sight of defiance. At best resistance against such a policy here would mean being closed off from job opportunities and a slow decline. I think when this thread of though becomes canon I won’t seek to undermine it since I picture any opposition would end up with people snitching on you to the equivalent of the Stasi or Mutaween. I would personally be against it but I’m not foolish enough to say anything about it.

    I don’t blame the black community either as I don’t think they are the ones calling for these policies but these are instead the demands of the overwhelmingly white progressive class. IT gives them more power over income and ingratiated their seemingly unbounded guilt complex.

  16. Alex says

    Coates is no less than a racist who refuses to acknowledge that black issues are at best vaguely related to slaver/y or its so-called “legacy.” How does one explain Jews if Coates is to be correct? Does he even known what a pogrom is? Does he know what the Pale of Settlement was? Does he know that Jews, Irish, Italians and a few other select minorities were subject to discrimination nearly identical to Jim Crow south?

    Coates is, please remember, the son of a black radical from a violent group who dropped out of college and is basically ignorant of history or any subject other than black studies victimology. He does not deserve this absurd attention — as giving $5000 to every black would turn them into good bourgeois citizens who stay with the women they impregnate and who no longer commit crimes at absurd rates.

  17. Cjones111 says

    Coates peddles prejudice. I watched a David Horowitz video where he points out where Coates exploited an incident where a Black policeman shot a Black man attempting to run him over as a racist incident. Horowitz also notes that the worst conditions and least economically mobile Black Americans live in Democratic party districts that have been Democratic for over 50 years. The largest, organized, militant, bigoted group in America is the Nation of Islam according to Horowitz.
    The legacy of the Democratic party is slavery, racism, segregation, lynchings, and the KKK hoodlums. Perhaps removing the Democratic party name would be a reparation or emptying the party’s coffers as retribution.
    You certainly can’t hold all white people responsible. Africans sold political enemies or conquered people to Europeans in an already existing slave trade.
    There are no surviving slaves. Reparations for Japanese internment was not made to relatives or descendants of the victims.

  18. Mike Walsh says

    My ancestors who emigrated to the US (having evaded the English press gang, and slavery in RN ships) found themselves drafted (i.e. enslaved) to fight a war between two competing visions of Protestantism. They died in droves. While the ancestors of today’s white liberal reparation-mongers were buying their way out of military service. And we’re still paying for the privilege (parochial schools) of living in this country.

  19. ga gamba says

    Lemme see…

    The Democrats have proposed:
    Yang’s Freedom Dividend at $4,000,0000,000,000 per annum
    Sanders’s Medicare for All at about $3,000,0000,000,000 per annum (based on $32 trillion over ten years)
    AOC’s Green New Deal at $93,000,000,000,0000 (based on estimate by former director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office )
    And now reparations. What’s the cost of 40 acres and mule differed for more than 150 years?

    Any of you Americans with sense and a desire to survive this madness if it comes to be, you may want to start socking away money overseas (convert it into Swiss francs, Singapore dollars, and gold) and checking out emigration options.

  20. Farris says

    Reparations were paid at Antietam, Shiloh, Manassas, Bull Run, Gettysburg, Vicksburg and so on. It was paid by people who forfeited their legacies for the freedom of others. Western nations did practice slavery and also ended the practice of their own accord, quite unique in world history.

    How would reparations be paid? Would Barack Obama who’s mother was white and father a Kenyan immigrant be eligible?Would there be a national DNA test? Would persons similar to Elizabeth Warren who are a 1/1,024 slave ancestor receive a check?

    Reparations is a nonsensical idea, raised by people with voices but not brains. It is distraction from the real issues affecting socioeconomic inequities.

    • Ray Andrews says


      This is a job for Equitron. Since Equitron is already computing everyone’s Intersectional Victim Score so as to assign them to the correct job with the correct pay (so as to achieve perfect equality of outcome, and equality of representation of all Groups in all fields), it is obvious that Equitron will easily be equipped to also calculate one’s Intersectional Reparation. Equitron can calculate your precise Victimhood.

      And why stop at race? Your ancestors may have been persecuted for any number of reasons. You probably have female ancestors, and needless to say they were oppressed. Maybe an ancestor was bi? Or fat or ugly or short or snored or combed his hair funny … you see why only Equitron can handle the problem, the calculations will be astronomical.

      • Farris says


        Ta-Neshi Coates has already proclaimed Equitron racist as it does not comport with his idea of equality. The age of racist robot claims is coming.

        • Ray Andrews says


          But … but, the coders will be chosen by Identity! What could go wrong? The project manager will be trans, most of the coders black and/or female. There will be no white males permitted at all, unless they’re gay or very very fat. Equitron will be created by Victims, for Victims, so surely it will produce Equity?

          • Farris says


            Ah but Ray, the composition of the coders or their good intentions are irrelevant. If the results do not meet expectations then the process is racist. My computer models predict the era of claimed racist robots will soon be upon us.

  21. asdf says

    A good article. I’m also glad it addressed the absurd conservative notion that you can “buy off” racial agitation and identity politics with reparations. Quite the contrary, you would only increase such things as the sharks sense blood in the water.

  22. Stanley Ketchel says

    I always thought the 360,000 or so Union dead in the Civil War was a pretty high price. In today’s numbers that would be 4 to 5 million. My wife’s multiple great uncle, for example, took a bullet to the head at Shiloh. Are these families exempt from reparations? Also, isn’t there anyway we can bill the other slave traders — the Brits, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Arabs? How come they get to keep their profits? The cycle is endless and if everyone could look deeply into their genealogy there will be mix of individuals who were both victims and villains. Any help for those at the bottom of the economic ladder has to be based on what is happening today, not something that happened generations before any of us alive today.

  23. Cluebat says

    My next-door neighbor just recently retired back with his family on their compound in Alabama. According to him, the living is easy and the game is good. The land was deeded to them as reparations after the civil war. Are they going to be getting reparations again? I heard the same story from a waiter recently. He moved here from Mississippi and was talking about developing the family compound they also had received as reparations.
    Have we not already been through this? My family was actually living in Holland way back then. But I suppose that since I am white, I also will need to pay in.
    Do recent immigrants from Jamaica also qualify?
    I think President Trump should open talks on this issue. He should insist that negotiations begin where slavery in the Americas began, not where it ended. And all responsible nations should be held accountable for the degree of their responsibility for that evil trade.

  24. Pingback: Reparations and Ta-Nehisi Coates's Pyrrhic Victory | Big Sky Headlines

  25. Andrew Endymion says

    Black Americans’ history is unique if you mean it is different from that of other ethnic groups, but since that is true of every ethnic group in America, I suspect that is not how the word is being used.

    And if it’s being used as I suspect (i.e. unique = worst), then I’d like to know why Native Americans are conveniently written out of US history.

    Just kidding, that’s a rhetorical question to point out the Woke Crowd ain’t as woke as they think. Also, their flatulence doesn’t actually smell like perfume…

  26. Tobias Schultz says

    “It must be a national reckoning that uncouples the past and the Good. Such a reckoning would not entail forgetting our history, but rather liberating our sense of ethics from the shackles of our checkered past. We cannot change our history. But the possibility of a just society depends on our willingness to change how we relate to it.”

    Wasn’t this a problem posed over 1,000 years ago? I.e. the doctrine of Original Sin? And what about the solution? Baptism and redemption? I was raised secular and now that I’ve begun to read some philosophy and Christian theology am struck by the childish naivete of secular philosophy today.

    Not to criticize Coleman as this is an exceptionally good article…one of his best yet…but it’s clear solutions to these problems exist but are not being taught. I went to a world-leading school in California and this level of philosophy was certainly never taught or even discussed.

    • codadmin says

      ‘’I was raised secular and now that I’ve begun to read some philosophy and Christian theology am struck by the childish naivete of secular philosophy today.’’

      An extremely thought provoking comment. Can you expand on it?

    • Stephen Pierson says

      The problem is solutions to the problem do not exist because you cannot compensate some and not others. You cannot draw a line and say, You, you suffered a great deal, and deserve compensation, and you, you didn’t suffer as much, so deserve none. No one has a monopoly on evil, no one on suffering. This is a insuperable barrier to reparations.

  27. Pingback: Reparations and Ta-Nehisi Coates's Pyrrhic Victory | CauseACTION

  28. Kevin Herman says

    Reparations is a silly idea and the American people know it as it usually polls at around 20-25% support.

    • stevengregg says

      And it’s worth noting that 20% of Americans are nuts, believing that space aliens are kidnapping people, Bigfoot exists, and ghosts are real.

  29. Hughes egregiously leaves out any account of left wing criticism of reparations. I wish more Quillette writers would draw upon left wing materialist critiques of identitarianism – a truly “heterodox” political thought should also include Marxist perspectives that have been displaced by identitarian discourse.


    Dr. Adolph Reed and others have engaged in a left wing materialist critique of reparations. Reed’s is particularly interesting in the article linked above (published in The Progressive in 2000 in reaction to Randall Robinson’s “The Debt”) in how it traces the politics of reparations as informed by the notion of black American pathology and their purportedly damaged psyches (as popularized in the Moynihan report in 1965) as well as a politics of elite brokerage and uplift spearheaded by upper middle class and wealthy black Americans. – https://thebaffler.com/salvos/the-trouble-with-uplift-reed

    This dynamic precludes the idea that a broad solidarity across race, gender, sexual orientation, et cetera can be built around fundamental existential concerns like universal single payer health care, lowering costs of higher education, living wage, subsidized/free child care, et cetera.

    From Reed’s article:

    “The deeper appeal of reparations talk for its proponents is to create or stress a sense of racial peoplehood as the primary basis for political identity. This movement’s psychological project is grounded on two beliefs: first, that rank-and -file black people suffer from an improper or defective sense of identity, and second, that an important task of political action is to restore or correct racial consciousness that the legacy of slavery is supposed to have distorted or destroyed.”

    Reed makes this critique without denying the indirect impact of slavery and its aftermath on the disadvantaged material realities of black Americans. In effect, Reed’s critique reveals how liberal proponents of reparations and conservative opponents of reparations, while arriving at different conclusions, draw upon similar theoretical frameworks of purported cultural and psychological pathology.

  30. Jayden Lewis. says

    Ok If I am going to be made to pay for something that I had nothing to do with and ended 110 years before I wa la born then Inpropose the following.

    Mr. Coats spend the rest of his life in prison becasue a black man raped and murdered my sister in 2010.

  31. Robert Franklin says

    Perhaps as many as half a million white men died to end slavery in this country. How should their deaths impact the calculations about reparations? I assume Coates would say “not at all.”

    The whole idea of reparations seems to include the concept that black people today have nothing to do with their current status. About 72% of black children in this country are born to single mothers. What about slavery or Jim Crow makes black women, in an era of cheap and effective contraception, do that? Essentially everyone in the country knows the problems for kids of a single-parent upbringing, but the behavior continues unabated and few black public figures even mention it.

  32. Ray Andrews says

    Canada is here to help! We are the world’s best apologizers and we’ve been perfecting our skills for decades. Whoever you are, and whatever happened to your ancestors, however long ago, just so long as you aren’t white, Canada is sorry and Canada apologizes and offers you reparations and perhaps special legal status forever.

    Every year the Victimologists find new things that we need to apologize for and every year the reparations flow. Every new government has to reapologize, and do so with even more self-flagellation that the previous. The good news for Victimologists is that our experience shows that there is never an end to apologies and reparations, the tears flow every year. If you want a job for life, become a professional Victimologist in Canada.

    • Saw file says

      @Ray A.
      You beat me to it.
      Canada is the international poster child for minority groups’ official apologizing.
      Federal government apologies aren’t sufficient here. Not even close. Apologies to each and every minority group must also be proffered by all Provincial and municipal government s. And instead of saying ‘hello’ or ‘good day’, all individual woke whites must now say, ‘I am truly sorry’ to every non-white they randomly encounter, and because you just never know the “circumstances” of any ‘other’ it’s safest to just apologize to everyone you meet. Covering your bases, CDN style.
      As an older relatively normal white man, I just wear a sign that says, “As a white man, I hereby apologize for myself (as well as for my ancestors and all other white people) to everybody for everything.” I have them in various colours so as to not clash too much with my attire of the day, but I am rethinking that. I ponder that perhaps my ‘white male’ self flagellation signs should clash with my attire, as a further form of contrition and penitence. Currently I am consulting with the government apology department as to this years woke protocol. /sk

      Anybody who thinks that kowtowing to any and every self declared minority victim group demanding an apology is the beginning of a slippery slope of future apologies is incorrect. Rather than a slippery slope, it is actually a double black diamond.
      Just ask Canada.

  33. Tersitus says

    Toss it in with the rest of the nonsense in the Green New Boondoggle and start up the money printers.

  34. North_Ulv says

    Columnist Hughes hardly grasps the complexity of calculating the cost of reparations that might satisfy Ta-Nehisi Coates. Certainly, the debt’s ostensible principle lays in a series of distant (slavery, Jim Crow, redlining) pasts. And calculating the compound interest accrued since those various insults would be an arithmetic nightmare. But Mr. Coates firmly believes (http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/03/ta-nehisi-coates-race-politics-2020-elections.html) “white supremacy” continues to be a manifest and manifold determinative influence in the lives of every African-American (&, presumably, non-white) citizen in this country, to the present moment — genealogy notwithstanding. What renders Coates-approved reparations impossible to calculate is that any grand total’s not just a moving target but, given population growth, an accelerating one!

    • Stephanie says

      North_uv, where do you get the idea Mr. Hughs doesn’t graphs the absurd complexity of calculating reparations? Your comment is rude.

  35. The Nego Problem

    This week’s discussion topic is extremely apt for the times that we live in, especially considering the recent mass shooting in New Zealand and tragedy in Las Vegas. The changing social dynamics of each state, nation, and larger world population, are seemingly in conflict with structures, estates, and fundamental values that created them.

    But upon further review one will find greater eras of political unrest, human violence, pestilence, and environmental unease, by simply looking at the last 100 decades of the near past. One would expect to see a marked rise in these numbers; however, that does not appear to be the case. A recent book by Steven Pinker makes this case and generally posits the notion that human existence bends towards the positive. Moreover, it seems to voice the notion that the unspoken truth, is that the numbers that are used to track these areas of concern, show that they are all on a global decline(Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008).

    With this in mind, we could assume that Pinkers book is referencing that the same basic human tenants that also underpin the leadership-based call to action that DuBois’s conceptualized in his writing about the “Talented Tenth”. At the time, the larger African American population was comprised of people that had been freed of slavery and were slowly trying to find their role, identity, and value, in American society. His idea seems to directly forward the theory that a tenth of the college educated African American population, had the strong capacity to influence the whole of the African American population. On the face of this argument, one only sees his passionate call to action from the people within his ethnic group deemed as the best and the brightest (Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008).

    As mentioned above, at the time of DuBois’s writings the larger African American population was comprised of freed people that and were slowly trying to find their role, identity, and value, in American society. In this frame of reference, DuBois’ “Talented Tenth”, could have been referencing those within the ethnic identity group that were in a financial, emotional, and legal, position to lead the majority. In the first frame of reference, this point of view makes no statement about the capacity of the larger portion of the African American group to gain the same abilities of the smaller (college educated) tenth of the group.

    In another frame of view, this notion could denote an idea that some unknown genetic, mental, or biological factor, that was exclusive to Negro’s, was limiting their ability to fall in line with the most basic rules of freed society. This would directly correlate with his theory main assertion that a tenth of the college educated African American population, had the strong capacity to influence the greater whole of the non-college educated African American population. If this logical conclusion assumes the same assertions, only the “talented Tenth” are unaffected by the unknown genetic, mental, or biological factor.

    DuBois would undoubtedly point present day observers to draw a correlation between the rate of African American’s in jail to this very same conclusion, if he was attempting to look for linked factors. I believe that he would also attribute those same linked factors with the disproportionate amounts of gun violence, mental health issues, and aggression, effecting people inside and outside of the group. I present this frame of reference because DuBois and my name sake, Booker T. Washington, had quite pointed debate on their views of the people they had been counted amongst. They had extremely divergent views on where the Negro would ultimately go and become in a new and radically shifting social context and slave-free US world view (Lott, 2012; Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008).

    The most important difference that I see in the thinking of all three men and their thoughts on the problems of their time, is the differing focus of control of the object being acted upon. Washington and Pinker views could be generally viewed as being as being aligned or distinctly parallel in their line of thought, as it appears that their writings focus on the enduring nature of people’s will toward survival. In regard to DuBois views on the matter, I believe that they could be viewed as an unfortunate placement of the burden of change or progress on the individual. This obviously places my own views on the matter within a mind frame that believes that the focus of control should be placed more squarely on the societal structures that bind the individual, rather than the individual or their ethnic grouping alone. More importantly, this means that the framing of the original question is fundamentally structured in a manner that cannot be answered (Lott, 2012; Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008).

    The “Negro Problem” linguistically denotes that the problem that is referenced belongs to the Negro or that the Negro is the problem. Whereas Washington and Pinkers implication that certain skills, talents, and aptitudes will allow any group to navigate in the given social structure of the time, but the structure ultimately begets the outcome. In my eyes this would seem to ring truer than DuBois writings because the structure will only tolerate the outcomes it has chosen to use as the inputs. This can be taken full circle into our original conversation about leadership and the skills, talents, and aptitudes needed to allow the “Talented Tenth” to navigate in the given social structure of the time and to fix the “Negro Problem”. If we follow the logic that is implied, then the theory of the Talented Tenth can be deconstructed into an argument about born leaders and the genetic lottery (Lott, 2012; Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008).

    It would then hold true that the Talented Tenth, whom are now more like the Talented Seventh, have miserably failed to do their part in solving the “Negro Problem” in the decades since the question was posed. This is the same rhetorical line of thinking that ushered far right-wing links to IQ and genetic flaws as the real basis of the true “Negro Problem”. This abject failure reinforces the idea that only a tenth of the Negro population then had the genetic capacity to function in a structured social society. If the statistical indicators used to show individual ethnic group progression were then used to capture the Negro population then, versus the current iteration of African Americans of today, they would seem to show a negative decline or negative trend.
    Fortunately, the internet may have helped to end this great debate by allowing the nation and the world to better see the confines and the controls that form the structure nations are built on. own imperfections and the wi. It is what some would call the greatest medium for communication and also the greatest tool to act as a lens to view life to ever have been created thus far. This tool has allowed both the Negros, as well as the rest of the world, to finally see the corruption, brutality, and oppression built into our societal structure (Lott, 2012; Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008).

    This is not a new idea and this notion could quickly devolve into a conversation about structural racism. However, this is not a notion that every law or associated part of our structure has been created to oppress Negro’s or whatever minority group is deemed as the problem at the time. I could then point to structural racism’s association with a vast amount of seemingly irrefutable link to laws, actions, and other evidencing factors that denote racist intent. However, I believe that the conversation should be aimed at what some call “Structural Classism” or institutional classism. This is a concept that describes discrimination against a person in a certain class, at an institution or firm (Lott, 2012). In this analogy, America is the firm that is being referenced and the certain “Class” can be any ethnic “Flavor of the Month” or group deemed the “problem” at the time. The ethnic group does not matter, as long as that group can be placed into the lowest socioeconomic role in that society. This lends itself to the “scarcity” component of capitalism and it’s functional need for an economic “Winner and Loser” (Lott, 2012).

    With this concept in mind, if we placed race into a role of lesser intent, a more nuanced understanding of Capitalism and it’s need for scarcity becomes evident. It also become clearer that this same concept underpins our societal structure and inadvertently colors our views. This is because there is an undoubtable and clearly evident truth that Capitalism is a structure that needs a winner and a loser. Moreover, every functioning example of a successful capitalist society has the baked-in concept of “scarcity”, which appears to be an ever-present need that is required to make the mechanisms of the concept work. Simply looking at the etymology or just the definition of the word “Capitalism”, will give a clear indication of its intent, it literally means to take “advantage” of some aspect of a given situation. If this logic is correct then many other negative issues, other than racism, are also structurally constructed in a way to ensure that the concepts “Winners and Loser” are clearly defined (Lott, 2012; Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008).

    Simply put, this is because capitalism (and its socioeconomic predecessors) needed a “Negro Problem”, because it needs a “Economic Loser” to contrast its “Economic Winner”. Prior to the “Negro Problem” it was a “Jew Problem”, prior to that it was a “Chinaman Problem”, Prior to that it was an “Mexican Problem”, Prior to that it was a “Indian Problem”, and prior to that it was an “Englishman Problem”. The result is that the losers are constantly shifted and morphed into the problem, to shield the winners of the game. As the losers individual group moves forward a new loser is defined (Lott, 2012; Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008).

    Again, this notion contradicts DuBois line of thinking and his argument on the Negro Problem. Ultimately, if viewed from this frame of reference, it is clear to see that DuBois writings suffer from not having the ability to see the construct in which it had to operate. It also fails the people it aims to help, by prescribing actions and responsibilities that should be bound to the structure confining it’s participants versus those operating within it. While I like his thoughts on the value of leadership and a college education, his views on why there is a “Talented Tenth”, are perfect fodder for the false narrative of genetic inferiority. Evidence of this is clearly present in the election of Donald Trump and the rise of extreme left- and right-wing politics. As the Caucasian majority is slowly replaced in terms of buying power and Identity group, another economic winner will rise and a new economic loser will emerge (Lott, 2012; Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008).

    Ultimately, in several hundred years the mixing of cultures and ethnicity will be to a point at which no identity group can clearly be defined. Some have called this the “browning of America”. At this point the true and insidious nature of our socioeconomic structure will choose a variation of the losers that are currently defined. The new winner made up of previous losers, will place all of our socioeconomic fears on the most easily recognizable group left, which will undoubtedly be Caucasians (due to skin color) (Lott, 2012; Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008).

    If this holds true, one could then say that DuBois work is a failed narrative that is constantly used to reinforce the problem or society want to see, which is economic losers pointing to themselves rather than the broken system. If we draw this entire conversation back to the three writes referenced thus far, Pinkers works show that the world is marching forward in a progressively positive manner. It also shows that fixing the major structures that control life has had a positive effect on all major life improvement base indices. In the same vein of thought, Washington’s writings shielded the Negro from undue blame but called for personal responsibility, a prescription good for anyone operating in the Capitalism game. In the case of DuBois and his prescriptions, his works are only as good as the structure they were meant to maintain, as they blame the victim for their failure in a system that so clearly needs a socioeconomic “loser” (Lott, 2012; Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008). As it relates to leadership, DeBoise appears to have been proven wrong and the current use of his works are usually a tired attempt to link poor socioeconomic outcomes to people rather than structures (Lott, 2012; Pinkert, 2019; Gibson, 2008).

    Gibson, R. A. (2008). Booker T. Washington and WEB DuBois: The Problem of Negro Leadership.
    Lott, B. (2012). The social psychology of class and classism. American Psychologist, 67(8), 650.
    Pinker, S. (2019). Enlightenment now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress. Penguin Books.

  36. gamma57721 says

    And let’s not forget our friends on Wall Street. Why? Well someone will needs to manage that Reparations Fund. Think of all those juicy fees that Wall Street will extract. And remember how gloriously they have managed the stock market since forcing conventional pension planning toward 401k. Sure, the Savings and Loan Crisis, the Tech Bubble, and the Great Recession were bad but the market has soared to the skies yet again. What could possibly go wrong?

    • Ray Andrews says

      @ gamma57721

      Nothing could possilby go worng because by definition the market always does the right thing. If the market gave us the Great Recession then the GR was good.

  37. UJN says

    I propose that the reparations be perfectly equivalent. As such we should legalize the owning of white slaves but only for the same amount of time that your ancestors were owned as slaves.

  38. Daniel Bertone says

    I’ve always wondered…if there was even a realistic way to provide “reparations”, would that be the end of it all? In other words, could the United States say to it’s black residents that the score is now even? That you’ve been “paid”, and therefore, can no longer claim that there is any more historic effect to your future endeavors? No, no, and no. It will NEVER end. Way too many powerful and rich race-baiters would lose their fortunes and fame.

  39. Richard says

    I think any reparations amount should be paid for by the Democrat Party since they were the force keeping blacks as property and worse for so many long years.


    “Congressional records show it was Democrats that strongly opposed the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. These three Amendments were introduced by Republicans to abolish slavery, give citizenship to all African Americans born in the United States and, give Blacks the right to vote.
    Congressional records show that Democrats were opposed to passing the following laws that were introduced by Republicans to achieve civil rights for African Americans:
    Civil Rights Act 1866
    Reconstruction Act of 1867
    Freedman Bureau Extension Act of 1866
    Enforcement Act of 1870
    Force Act of 1871
    Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871
    Civil Rights Act of 1875
    Civil Rights Act of 1957
    Civil Rights Act of 1960
    And during the 60’s many Democrats fought hard to defeat the
    1964 Civil Rights Act
    1965 Voting Rights Acts
    1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act
    Court records shows that it was the Democrats that supported the Dred Scott Decision. The decision classified Blacks and property rather than people. It was also the racist Jim Crow practices initiated by Democrats that brought about the two landmark cases of Plessy v Ferguson and Brown v. The Board of Education.”

    • E. Olson says

      Richard – Yes you are correct that it is the Democrats that have historically kept the black man down as founders of the KKK and authors of Jim Crow, but don’t you know about the magic year of 1964? According to modern Democrat lore, in 1964 all KKK/Bull Conner/Southern Racist Democrats magically turned into Republicans, while all members of the Lincoln and Civil Rights Republican party turned into racist KKK supporting Democrats. And only 35 years later almost the entire south was covered with Republican governors, senators, congressman and state legislatures trying to pass voter ID laws to keep the black man from voting.

    • Yes the dems were and are racist cruds from the beginning who today take the black vote for granted..but the GOP isn’t clean either. Republicans DID get black support and vote and on a number of occasions SOLD OUT the black vote for political expediency.

      Rutherford Hayes becomes President at the cost of ending Reconstruction in the South was a significant blow to the blacks and showed how little interest the Republicans had in their cause (a point already made clear when the Republican administrations sold confiscated land back to white elite instead of making it available to the freed slaves as promised — 40 acres and a mule?)

      When the administrations of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge showed no interest in assisting Blacks regaining the franchise or putting a halt to lynchings and violence in the South, The support largely ended during the administration of Herbert Hoover when the Great Depression devastated the Black community and Hoover seemed to ignore that community’s plight.

      Blacks began to migrate to the Democratic party (again those who could vote) and became enthusiastic supporters of Franklin Roosevelt. After World War II, elements of the Democratic party (although not the Southern bloc) began to seek out Black voters and Black votes while the Republicans began to court White Northern and Western voters.

      And lets not forget Lee Atwater’s 1981 quote about the southern strategy: You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nier, nier, nier.” By 1968 you can’t say “nier”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nier, nier.”

      And that’s a strategy that’s STILL in effect TODAY.

      And since the real truth is the democratic party of the 1800s were conservative compared to the GOP of that time on up thru to the 60s…so the reality is CONSERVATIVES should pay reparations since they were the force keeping blacks as property and worse for so many long years.

      • codadmin says

        I get it, so if there weren’t any blacks, whites would be happy to pay massive taxes?

        Tax cuts actually mean ‘nigger’ ???

        Fuck off troll.

      • Phil Major says

        It seems like you’re doing cartwheels in an attempt to make a tortured point.

  40. OWG says

    I read, or at least skimmed, all of the comments to date and haven’t seen mention of the most inflammatory, but reasonable, logical argument against reparations. African Americans in the USA today, as a group, are much better off than their peers in West Africa whose progenitors either escaped be sold to slavers or did the selling themselves. No reparations are justified.

    • E. Olson says

      OWG – you might be right, except for all the slaves that came from Wakanda.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @E. Olson

        He has a point tho. For every negro, we need to rewind history back to when every one of their ancestors was taken as a slave then run history forward again except that they are not taken as slaves, and we see where all the various descendants are, and what their standard of living is. Then we subtract their existing standard of living from the virtual standard that we’ve computed and we owe them the difference. Simple.

        BTW, no slaves were taken from Wakanda because their technology and weaponry and military organization were so far ahead of anything the white slavers had, that the latter couldn’t get near the place. That’s why we pretended it didn’t even exist and why we’d not heard of it until recently.

        • Alistair says

          Wakanda totally shows what black people can achieve when not enslaved by racist white people. I totally saw a documentary about that recently.

          After reparations, we can look forward to the inner cities being transformed into a paradise of skyscrapers with flying cars and advanced medicine from transforming nanobots under a wise and just absolute monarch. ‘Cos that’s what black African countries do when left alone.

      • Almost as brilliant as your statement on voter IDs. Disproportionately culling blacks from the ability to vote because of their paucity of birth certificates due to pregnant women being denied hospital services because of cost, logistics and or discrimination and changing the availability of poll dates, times and locations (curtailing after church bus transport, for example), might have nothing to do with racism and ONLY be cynical political expediency in a time of demographic change that doesn’t favor the good ole’ boys. So what is a Negro to think? These white folk only have my best interest at heart by denying my grandma her most precious American birthright; the vote.

        Do you actually believe that all these gerrymandering bastards and IDers didn’t plan this as a uniform and coordinated strategy to suppress black participation in the electoral process and that it was ostensibly to squelch, the best kept secret of our time, rampant voter fraud? To swallow this rotten canard one has to be naive, ignorant or a racist looking for a rationalization to hide behind.

    • OWG. Yes, that has always struck me as the benchmark that makes historical sense. Also, most slaves were enslaved by fellow Africans, which complicates the guilt question.

    • Stephen Pierson says

      Good point, and let’s not forget that slavery, today, is most widespread in Mauritania, where African enslaves African.

  41. Thomas Barnidge says

    23andme says my DNA shows 1.2% Neanderthal heritage. As my ancestors were discriminated against by the Cro-magnons 40,000 years ago, I believe every individual with Cro-magnon genes owes me some free stuff. Pay up!

  42. When the Queen of England has paid me just compensation for the lands and wealth taken from my ancestors by her ancestors, then – and only then – will I begin a discussion with Ta-Nehisi Coates about any money he feels that I should give to him.

    I have the older claim.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Morgan Foster

      Yup. If you have any Celtic blood in you … well heck, just listen to the Irish ballads and stories. All persons with Roman, Viking, French, Dutch, German (Hanoverian), or German (SCG) ancestry please go home. Not just from Ireland, but from the whole of the British Isles. Or pay up.

      • Stephanie says

        My grandparents got reparations for the Holocaust. It was only $2000 each, pretty good for not having been directly affected, but the average reparation paid by Germany is only about 14 000 Euros. This was paid only to survivors, not their children, and was meant to pay for assisted living care and medication for the now-elderly survivors. This obviously doesn’t come close to compensating for what happened: teenage terrorist Omar Khadr got over $10 million dollars from the Canadian government for spending a few years at Gitmo, in conditions that were luxurious compared to German death camps.

        In light of the pittance given to people directly affected by the Holocaust from the much-chagrined and self-flaggulating Germany, how much could we expect the great-great-great grandchildren of everyone enslaved to receive? Will even $20 000 make a difference in anyone’s lives, in the long run? It won’t bridge the disparity in educational and employment attainment, but it certainly will lead to a bout of consumerism and probably a spike in overdoses and drunk driving accidents. There’s a reason lottery winners tend to squander their winnings. Money does not solve people’s problems.

        A real reckoning would involve being honest about what is holding black people back and what they must do if they want to succeed.

  43. markbul says

    Coates has the slave mentality. Like so many others, he thinks he is demanding, when actually he is begging. And a fine begger he is.

    • @markbul

      Whether we’re talking about reparations, affirmative action or any other race-based system of preferential treatment, Coates’ message can be boiled down to this:

      “White people, give us money.”

  44. Brian Smith says

    I have been impressed by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing on many occasions. He has made me aware of many things I hadn’t known or thought about, and made me think. However, on the subject of reparations, his reasoning has always seemed superficial.

    I think Mr. Hughes has much the better argument. Philosophically, it’s more just. Politically, it’s more palatable.

    I hope it’s not condescending to say I’m astonished to see such clear and compelling writing coming from an undergraduate. I’ll have to look for more of his writing in the future.

    • Stephanie says

      Brian, most graduate students don’t hold a candle, either. Mr. Hughs is going places,that’s for sure.

  45. Kauf Buch says

    Well, I’m open to discussing it…
    …as long as Blacks first agree to repay the TRILLIONS from LBJ’s Great Society Welfare scam…

  46. david of Kirkland says

    “According to his fans, it was not the ethics of the policy but rather the complacency of whites—specifically, their stubborn refusal to acknowledge historical racism….”
    So this is impossible because of cheap bad whiteys, yet it was white people who fought a civil war to end USA slavery and it was primarily whites (US and Britain) that ended the slave trade over the oceans.

    • ccscientist says

      How did Coates determine that whites refuse to acknowledge historical racism? Did he conduct a poll? He just makes stuff up out of his paranoia.

  47. Morphine1 says

    I’m so very, very tired of black people whining. It is endless. Like a campfire, the more you feed black grievance, the bigger it gets. I sometimes try to imagine a world in which RACISMRACISMRACISMRACISM isn’t shouted into my face a million times a day. What would that even be like? Greeting cards are racist. Trees are racist. Liking the dismal writing of sub-mediocre black grievance merchants is racist. It is beyond tiresome. Incessant black anger and bleating about their lot in life is a malignancy that is sucking the life out of this country. A malignancy for which there is no cure, cannot be a cure, because blacks will neither propose, endorse, or accept a cure. Because if a black isn’t a victim, he has no identity. He doesn’t exist. I don’t have any solutions (White ethnostate? Haha. Reparations? Sure pay reparations and next year blacks will demand twice as much.) but I feel this country is reaching Peak Negro Fatigue, and fast. There are millions of not-black Americans who are quietly seething through gritted teeth as the airwaves, the workplaces, the pages of our magazines and newspapers, the internet, and even our conversations are saturated and clotted off with unrelenting cries and accusations of RACISMRACISM!!!!! Isn’t there something else we could talk about, even for a minute? I’m guessing that asking that question is itself racist.
    There must be one black dude somewhere who fends for himself, takes responsibility for his own victories and shortcomings, rejects victimhood and grievance-mongering, and is generally happy to be an American citizen. He must be appalled, and even worse, embarrassed.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @ Morphine1

      “He must be appalled, and even worse, embarrassed.”

      He is, and there are thousands like him, but we don’t hear from them. My personal favorite is Walter Williams. He doesn’t say much but I wish he would. Meanwhile we have the superb Mr. Hughes, as here.

  48. Will says

    A great article from Hughes, as usual though I can’t help but think that the chattel slavery endured by American blacks was substantially more destructive psychologically and emotionally than most other forms of slavery practiced throughout history. Am I wrong? American slavery seems strikingly more brutal than the form practiced by Ancient Rome for instance. Is Hughes underestimating just how horrific slavery was for blacks in comparison to other systems of enslavement?

    • Morphine1 says

      Will, with all due respect and without a particle of snark….

      So what?

      Don’t sign up for the victimhood derby. My Zyklon-B beats your slave auction which beats the other guy’s smallpox blanket.

    • Morgan Foster says


      We’re not running a contest here, to see whose ancestors suffered the most.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      You raise a great point, Will. It was horrible, but all of those people are long gone. Is psychological and emotional trauma passed along generationally over hundreds of years? I don’t know. I do know that as long as we indulge the idea that ancestral suffering should be compensated than this dilemma will never, ever go away. We’ll be debating this a thousand years from now and be no nearer a resolution.

      In the meantime, black Americans fall further behind. Christ, Mexican-Americans who have been here for a single generation are kicking the asses of black Americans all over the place.

      • ccscientist says

        All around me Mexicans with little English have their own trucks and businesses doing all sorts of stuff like concrete work and roofing and painting, not just lawns.

  49. Leo Strauss says

    This strikes me as Mr. Hughes’ best article yet.

    A thoughtful consideration of logic, history, and his own moral experience, that is reasonably sympathetic to, yet, sternly against, Coates’ arguments. The article helps to flesh out the full complexity of the issue, that, at least many on the Left and Right cannot seem to grasp. It is a beautiful example of the attempt we all ought to make to transcend partisan viewpoints to try and see the world as it is to the extent that we can.

    We can’t ignore contemporary racism when we see it, nor can we ignore the genuine and sincere work that has been done in attempting to rectify misdeeds from the past in order to promote the common good. And Mr. Hughes’ work is especially important because it does point to the possibility of a genuinely COMMON good between the disparate groups that exist in our country; whereas, Coates’ work more or less practically points to us all living in segregated ethnocentric communities protected by large bubbles and hopefully never coming into contact with each other ever again.

    I look forward to the next article!

    • K. Dershem says

      I completely agree. Hughes avoids falling into the trap of responding to Coates with equal-and-opposite ideological fervor. His analysis is thoughtful and nuanced, forcefully argued but fair-minded. He reminds me of John McWhorter.

      • Leo Strauss says

        Here is a question: which of John McWhorter’s writings and/or content is the best place to start? I have now seen his name in enough interesting places that it is about time to read him. K. Dershem, where did you start with McWhorter? Thanks!

        • Tersitus says

          LS— probably depends on what your primary interest — language or race— try scanning his works on Amazon. If the latter, maybe Authentically Black (essays) or Winning the Race. His academic field is linguistics— his books cover a lot of history of language(s) and English usage.

        • K. Dershem says

          McWhorter also appears regularly on Glenn Loury’s podcast, the Glenn Show.

  50. Victoria says

    This essay fails to ask one of the deeper questions, why did many white elites evolve towards this #woke Puritanism?

    Claire Lehman, Quillette’s editor-in-chief, was on Twitter a few days ago shrieking about she had “never been more ashamed of being Australian” due to some politician punching a teenager, who had in fact just assaulted the politician, unprovoked, by smashing an egg on his head, all while filming it on his phone of course. The political is a cretin to be sure, but that in no way justifies any form of assault.

    In another recent post, Lehmann praised New Zealand’s prime minister for “leadership” in response to the Christchurch massacre, which has included kneejerk attacks on the Anglo-American tradition of gun ownership rights and free expression .

    Lehmann’s views are of course post-1968 liberal internationalist (cosmopolitan) boilerplate. Coates is, on the other hand, relying on the normalization of Critical Race Theory, a neo-Marxist approach.

    What both (neo-)Marxists and liberal internationalists share is a fundamental contempt for the patriotism and traditions that have made Western (plus Israel and and some East Asian) states the highest functioning societies in human history. They disparage “nationalism” in favor of lofty utopian ideals, which offer great opportunity for self-aggrandizement, even if there is little or no empirical evidence for their soundness.

    In turn, and to be blunt, while there are bona fide conservative intellectuals, they’re a lot fewer and further between than left intellectuals. Thus cosmopolitan liberals should have been the main bulwark in academic, bureaucratic, and professional circles against the very neo-Marxist intrusions they now bemoan (and lionize themselves, as Quillette endlessly does, for belatedly reacting against).

    In the end though, I can’t shake the sense that Claire Lehmann and her ilk are more ashamed of [fill in nation of birth] or hate [fill in politician of choice] more than they wish to pragmatically preserve the intellectual and political tradition upon which their cosmopolitan conceits lie.

    • codadmin says

      ‘Claire Lehmann and her ilk’…’conservative intellectuals fewer and far between than left intellectuals’…

      ‘I can’t shake the sense’ either

      • codadmin says


        Actually, rereading my comment, it’s a bit ambiguous and could be interpreted to mean I agree with @Victoria…I don’t. I was trying to imply that @Victoria comments seem a bit suspect.

        • Victoria says

          Your original response seemed upset by something, but could not articulate it. Even on a second attempt all you can do is call my comments “suspect,” with no substantive explanation.

          If you think I was insulting conservatives you are wrong.
          1. I identify as one.
          2. I don’t think conservatives are less intelligent than people on the left, I simply think they are less inclined on average to pursue discourse on ideas as a central purpose in life.
          3. I don’t equate moral worth with intelligence or intellectualism.

          • codadmin says


            You sound like a leftist pretending to be a conservative.

          • codadmin says


            The comment ‘Claire Lehmann and her ilk’ is what makes me suspicious. Why would you phrase it that way?

    • codadmin says


      Actually, I’m being way to harsh. You made a fair comment.

      All I would say is, this is a game of chess. Are you sure the instances you bring up are not mere sops?

  51. Why call it reparations? Why not racial tribute? And if its not paid, we’ll riot and terrorize all the local Korean grocers.

    Not too much different from the good old days when if you didn’t pay off, your business/construction project might have an unfortunate “accident”. Unfortunately “Italian-American” reparations have been in decline since the adoption of the RICO act. Sacco and Vanzetti’s unjust punishment apparently counts for nothing.

    Shooting scoffers of the Prophet worked so well, Europe went and adopted Islamic blasphemy laws, after all. Race riots and terrorism are actually pretty effective means for shaking down the Establishment for legal privileges, especially if you are designated an official victim group by the Left.

    I suppose you could argue what would happen if the other side started adopting the same tactics, but you don’t know that it will ever happen, and there is a lot of milk and honey on the table to be had in the meantime anyways. Hat’s off to the audacity of Ta-Nehisi Coates!

    • To be fair, good old fashioned extortion can be separated from the quest for reparations, in that in addition to your typical criminals, you also need a spokesman to circulate bad faith arguments at the time of the crime. At least in a good old fashioned mugging, you aren’t supposed to clap at the end and cry tears of joy as they run off with your wallet.

  52. Sweetpeavey says

    Coleman Hughes, from a fellow trombonist, the quality of your writing and reasoning given your age continues to astound me. I’d like to think I’d say so even if I disagreed with you, given that I acknowledge that Coates is a gifted writer too, man I’d love to see both of you do a debate sometime.
    You certainly seem to be going places, keep kickin’ ass, and don’t give up the bone, we’re a dying breed.

  53. joker1 says

    You’re doing the world a service, Coleman, by writing and sharing thinking of this calibre.

    All sides benefit from these kind of perspectives being shared.

    If we can all back down a bit from our “ethnic pride / grievance” mountains (or caves), we will do a better job of coming together.

    I’m sorry for at one time viewing this problem as hopeless; my nihilism contributed in a negative way even if only in online comment sections. When I was a young man, and saw these issues both being (1) flagrantly obvious and (2) studiously unaddressed, I entered a negative spot, in my thinking. Seeing black people argue for more moderate views of the issue inspires hope and makes me ready to believe in … something. The future. Tribalism not banished, but yoked to higher, universal, positive human ideals. Thank you Dr. Hughes.

  54. Pingback: Reparations and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Pyrrhic Victory | Capmocracy.com

  55. Hughes makes an extremely cogent, well-reasoned essay. Very precocious for his young age; I look forward to his future writings and his impact on our culture.

    However, what he is missing is that Ta-Nehisi isn’t interested in any of the intellectual traditions Hughes exhibits: reason, support, facts, logic. Ta-Nehisi isn’t even interested really in reparations. He is purely and entirely interested in gaining power as a holy, righteous, aggrieved symbolic-martyr in the quasi-religion of Woke Anti-Europe collectivism. Spreading his arms wide on the cross and demanding gold be poured on the alter of what he preaches, casting fire and brimstone on the sinners who refuse to recite the catechism and dance and sing to his sacred music. Ta-Nehisi demands adherence to his holy vision of original sin without grace, sinners without absolution, martyrs without afterlife or transcendent meaning. Reparations are merely one of the melodies of one of his psalms.

    Thus, logically parsing the history of slavery, the scope of African slavery within its bounds (and a subset therein, European enslavement), analyzing the efficacy and means of reparations–all this has absolutely no bearing on any of Ta-Nehisi’s preachings; Bruno and copernicus had about as much impact on the 15th and 16th century view of the world. The only response then was to kill them or excise them.To argue against The Woke is simply heresy; the mere act of arguing is evidence of sin.

    And if we were to give all African slaves’ descendants $100,000 each tomorrow, do you really think Ta-Nehisi would say, “Gosh! America isn’t racist as I imagined! Now White people are absolved of sin and America is cleansed.” No. He would simply move on to the next pulpit, the next battle of the holy war.

  56. Mr. Hughes,
    There is one important aspect of this problem that perhaps you could address some day. It is the question of just who is doing the most to advance racial thinking in America, and who have succeeded in leaving racial thinking to the past.
    I believe that the only race in America right now is Black. Of course, white nationalist thinking is a reality, but it also rare. White supremacist murders are horrifying, but numerically less horrifying than the death toll of black-on-black murder. 99% of whites in America condemn the atrocities of white supremacists, but the majority of black intellectuals turn their backs to black-on-black crime and spout rationalizations.
    This absurd disparity is due to racial self-identification. I have never met a white person who really gives a damn about their whiteness. Dozens of once-significant ethnic boundaries have crumbled over the last century. Few Americans are dependent on an Italian- or Irish- or Armenian- prefix. All of these tribal affiliations have largely vanished, subsumed under the rubric “White.” And yet few of these white people give a damn about being white.
    But “black” is something else. Most black Americans are bombarded daily with the demand that they be black, twenty-four/seven. Every single aspect of your waking day is all about being a black American.
    I contend that black racial identity is the only arena where the very concept of race is being perpetuated in America.
    To truly destroy racism in America we have to destroy race itself. That means destroying the very concept of “black.” White people have stopped being white. Asians have stopped being Asian. Now it’s time for black people to stop being black.

    • the gardner says

      Hughes did a long podcast on this with Sam Harris. My first exposure to this impressive young man.

    • the gardner says

      Mr Hughes did a podcast with Sam Harris, suggest you find it on youtube. My first exposure to this impressive young man.

    • Tersitus says

      But since this is all an identity question, a question of one’s primary sense of self— if one is to, as you suggest, “stiop being black” one must start being something else. What, then? American, I suppose. An individual. It really is still all about “the content of our character”— being, somehow, whom we authentically are, seeing “the others” for whom they are. (Cliches, of course, but they are such because they carry an obviousness and a commonness of understanding.) And that means living together, in a literal way. That why such things as “the draft” and “universal military service” are— have been historically— powerful socializing experiences. Segregation, balkanization, ghettoing — forced or self-selected— will never get us there. That’s why our founding betters made the first job of our government in the first sentence of our constitution “to form a more perfect union.” To hell with the politics of division, of victimhood, of guilt, of any identity group. These things will always be inherently othering. We’re already in the melting pot— turn up the heat. And may whichever god we pray to grant us a little Camille Paglia-style courage and common sense.

  57. the gardner says

    More self righteous moral indignation from Mr Coates. When will it ever end? But hey, all my grandparents showed up on US shores in 1900, so fire away at all those descendants of 18th and 19th century slave owners. But please remember, there were plenty of freed men black owners of black slaves, so be sure to track their decendants down and make they pay up too.
    In the 1970s my SFPD father took required civil service exams and did well enough to be promoted. But the PD decided to promote black officers over white ones even when the black ones scored lower. As a result, my father did not retire at the rank he should have, which affected his pension. Please advise where I sign up for my reparations.

  58. Hmmm says

    As I remember it, TNC claimed in his Atlantic article that the fact that Congress has repeatedly rejected even a resolution to study reparations is proof of its racism. And I thought: I didn’t know that but I’m sure glad it’s been rejected. However interesting it might be as an intellectual exercise to entertain the possibility of reparations, to make it the subject of serious, practical political debate in this country is to court disaster.

    Oh well. As Bette Davis said in All About Eve: Buckle your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

  59. jimhaz says

    My reparations would be to provide them with a copy of JPB’s 12 rules and free online counselling from the IDWers.

  60. FeeFieFoeFum says

    Perhaps the saddest thing about Coates trilling for reparations is the underlying message that his people can’t overcome adversity. It’s an utterly hopeless clarion call that his people are incapable of competing, they don’t measure up and never will unless they get yet another handout from the government — which most on the other side of the fence would ask for only as a last resort.

    • @FeeFieFoeFum

      Coates’ message is that of all the ethnic and racial groups of the world, only black people are incapable of making a better life for themselves.

      Hughes’ message is that Coates is wrong.

      • Late to the game. You can also look at it from a different angle. Why has Blacks as a group in this country failed to make a better life for themselves relative to their peers since emancipation?
        Why do they suffer (or choose I’d imagine you suggest) to value education less, are less ambitious, more likely to be convicted, single parent households etc?

  61. augustine says

    “What, precisely, is a “national reckoning” and how will we know when we’ve completed it?”

    A very good question that can be applied similarly to the cousin concepts of “diversity” and “inclusiveness”. Questions that are never asked and never answered.

    Thank you, Mr. Hughes, for a satisfying essay.

    • peanut gallery says

      Gas chambers for crackers? This sort of rhetoric can only lead to genocide. It’s not a slippery-slope, it’s a timeline. X= time Z= the number of bodies.

  62. Nakatomi Plaza says

    This all works fine on a macro level, but completely disintegrates at the micro level. Sure, collectively black people in America have suffered over time, but show me the black individual who bears the legacy of slavery. He doesn’t exist. As a group black people have been forced to overcome a lot, but show me the black individual who doesn’t have freedom and the ability to do just about whatever they like. That person doesn’t exist either.

    Reparations would be a catastrophe. The concept is just fodder for race-peddlers to raise money and keep us in a constant state of racial tension.

  63. Strawberry Girl says

    It simply isn’t just to force people who had never owned slaves to “pay” people who never were slaves. It will do little more than to antagonize racial relations and do absolutely nothing about poverty among black Americans.

    One must also understand that for leftists like Coates and company, racism isn’t something somebody else did a long time ago nor is it a personal fault. It’s a “system” bigger than any one person, practically genetic in whites, and no amount of sackcloths and ashes will ever change that system past, present, or future. So whatever one gives in the hopes that will end it all will be disappointed as other things must be done to make amends for other grievances now and forever.

  64. Donnerhauser says

    I largely agree with this article. As the author points out, giving reparations to descendants is different to doing so at the time. When Germany paid reparations to Israel it was still within living memory. None of the slaves are alive – had 40 acres and a mule been passed at the time you could solve it but that didn’t happen.

    And as the author points out, there are plenty of groups who have problems who wouldn’t be covered by reparations, which comes across as unjust. This is why I have argued that any solution to black poverty should be a solution to all poverty, with blacks benefitting a lot because they suffer from poverty a lot.

    A big issue with reparations is that is can end up relying on counter-factuals. Consider that most black Americans would never exist without slavery (many unfortunately being the descendants of the common practice of planation rape), so it is hard to argue they were wronged by slavery per se because without it they would not exist (this is also why comparisons to poverty in Africa are flawed because black Americans wouldn’t be born anywhere if slavery hadn’t happened). This is not to say it was somehow good for them but if one argues black Americans were wronged by slavery, one could argue back they wouldn’t exist without it. So it kind of goes nowhere.

    I am also concerned it would increase tribal divides further since it posits the blacks and the whites (and any other groups) as competing groups over resources, rather than positing blacks as suffering from a poor situation. Indeed I think this is why talk of reparations annoys people, because they were not involved yet would need to pay for something someone else did, which is not good for already poor group relations.

    I am not sure what black Americans themselves think of reparations, in my experience it is white liberals who tend to favour it the most (I am certain this is in part motivated by a desire for respectability and social status).

  65. In case Elizabeth Warren wins in 2020, how about a compromise? Who here would support a bill that would grant a 0% tax rate up to $100,000 inflation-adjusted income for any African American until the year 2070?

    • @Lazy

      I think I could find an African American ancestor somewhere on my family tree. Family lore, and all that.

      Yeah, as a compromise, that could work. But I want a guarantee that I will be included.

    • K. Dershem says

      It’s political suicide for Democrats to advocate any form of race-based remedy, at least in the near term (i.e, 2020). The primary might pull candidates so far left that they become unelectable in the general election. Hillary’s defeat should prove that an identitarian campaign is doomed to failure.

    • jimhaz says

      No chance whatsoever – that would be far worse than false reparations.

  66. Jim Gorman says

    Some thoughts.

    Probably 90+ percent of the discussion here talks about monetary reparations. What would this do to help those who receive it?

    Would we see a resurgence of two parent homes and a reduction in single mother homes?

    Would this be an incentive for black high school dropouts and current students to rededicate themselves to learning and obtaining high education levels?

    Would a large monetary settlement cure any PTSD or other psychological problems blacks have?

    Would we see a new dedication to working hard with a substantial drop in crime?

    What happens to the “majority white” problem when whites are no longer a majority in a few years? Does the problem solve itself? Should blacks be screaming and jumping up and down over the “brown” invasion which reduces blacks political power?

    The problems blacks have today won’t be solved by simply handing out money. It might help some politicians get votes but that is about it.

    It seems many federally recognized Native American tribes are beginning to see some economic benefit from their reservation lands, especially those that have gaming businesses. How about taking some federal lands in different climates and locations and setting them aside as reservations for slave descendants only? They could have the same “sovereignty” as Native Tribes have today. We already have a Bureau of Indian Affairs who could assume the responsibility of managing them. They would no longer be “controlled” by whites, they would have their own government and solve problems how they deem best rather than having “whites” tell them how to do it..

    • @Jim Gorman

      The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the reservation system have been a disaster for American Indians.

      To illustrate: a number of years ago I drove onto the Cherokee Indian Reservation, south of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

      The first billboard I saw, crossing over the boundary, was for a gambling casino. The next billboard was for alcohol abuse counseling. The next billboard after that was for a battered women’s shelter.

      There are other similar stories of failure and misery all over America. The Indian Health Service, for example.

      A new reservation system, made especially for African Americans? That would be an insane kind of ghetto project.

      • Jim Gorman says

        Certainly not all tribes have done a good job. Nor has the government over the years. However, my granddaughter is a tribal member and I tutor a number of a different tribe’s children and both have done a good job of getting off the government dole. They have taken hold of their tribal government and moved on from having the federal government simply supply all their needs.

        As a result, I’m not saying the BIA is necessary for what they have done in the past. However, since we are talking about a sovereign nation within a sovereign nation, there will have to be some kind of interaction.

        • Jim Gorman says

          I had to leave so I’ll finish my thought. Foster, you missed my main point that money as a reparation is simply not going to solve the problems of current blacks. It’s a lost cause for solving their problems even if it does happen.

          Black power, black pride, self-segregation, etc. are all self-defeating in the long run unless you either totally segregate onto a reservation, or emigrate to a place where you will be in the majority.

          Otherwise, to succeed, one needs to learn the society’s norms and what it takes to integrate so one can become a law abiding productive citizen. Basically, in the case of the U.S., to integrate into a western European white society.

          In the not too distant future blacks will move even further down the list of minorities as browns become the largest segment followed by whites and asians . I am surprised that blacks are not screaming bloody murder about abortion. They are diminishing their population on purpose and losing political power while doing it. I don’t know who will get blamed for racism when that happens or who would pay reparations!

          • @Jim Gorman

            “Foster, you missed my main point that money as a reparation is simply not going to solve the problems of current blacks.”

            No, I didn’t miss that at all.

            I was addressing your other point – about the possibility of creating a reservation system for African Americans, similar to the one we have for American Indians, segregating them from the rest of the American population.

            “How about taking some federal lands in different climates and locations and setting them aside as reservations for slave descendants only? They could have the same “sovereignty” as Native Tribes have today. We already have a Bureau of Indian Affairs who could assume the responsibility of managing them.”

            It’s a truly bad idea.

            Your main point is fine.

  67. We can see the problem when activists accuse some person of racism because of something. Is there any amount of groveling that will redeem that person? No. Nothing is ever enough because the sin of racism cannot be washed clean, according to the Left.

    Something Thomas Sowell said rings true: if there is nothing you could have done to prevent a crime, then you cannot be guilty of it. This certainly applies to slavery: I was not alive and could not have done anything about it. Claims that racism still is smothering the black community suffer from lack of evidence. Only existing economic disparities are the evidence but without a cause are not evidence.

    The claim that whites stole their wealth from blacks and thus owe blacks for that wealth assumes that whites pass wealth down to their kids, but very few americans inherit very much from their parents. Most start off in their twenties with very little. If you inherit anything, it is when you are in your 60s when the parents die.

    How do we assess if someone is actually descended from slaves? Many blacks have some white blood–do they only get a portion? And who pays? The majority of americans are actually descended from the Great Migration of the late 1800s to 1940s when ships came daily into New York. Why should they pay taxes to fund this?

    If we are guilty of something our ancestors did 150 yrs ago, then we are all guilty because every living person had an ancestor who commited some crime or atrocity.

  68. ccscientist says

    In the early colonial days, many whites paid for their passage here by being indentured servants. This is a fancy word for slave. A large % did not survive their 5 year term to taste freedom. Where is the trauma from this?
    When the Irish famine happened, in NYC stores had signs “Irish need not apply” and they wouldn’t let Irish in the schools, which is how the catholic parochial system got established.
    Injustice is everywhere in history. It cannot be undone. If someone were to apologize for slavery, it would not be accepted.

  69. V 2.0 says

    Who is going to be paying for these reparations? My parents came from a country that colonized and enslaved no one. They survived Nazi occupation and then finally emigrated when the Russians marched in. Should these reparations be funded by their taxes just because they share the DNA that determines levels melatonin with the descendants British and French colonists? What about refugees immigrants from non European countries? Should they be held responsible?

  70. jimhaz says

    Is it possible that a decent percentage of slaves had better lives than they would otherwise have had? What about those with otherwise kind masters.

    There is the existential pain of the loss of freedom and the pains of cruelty – but it is not as if subservience was not a part of African tribes.

  71. jimhaz says

    We don’t really need to worry about reparations. The administrative costs relative to any amount that gov would approve would be a factor of at least 3:1. Will never get off the ground. Its an Obama type promise to ‘look at’, not do.

  72. northernobserver says

    It’s enough to make you want to throw pennies at the feet of AA celebrities and academics when you meet them.

  73. Missy Smith says

    There is a cognitive legacy to trauma that can differ between groups, depending on norms that shape the perception of the trauma—both past and present. In treating individuals with PTSD, there is a profound metaphor of Corpus Delicti, the body of evidence. When some terrible thing happens and someone is harmed, the victim may fear “getting better.” The victim will maintain their narrative around brokenness and sickness out of fear that if they get better, there will no longer be any body of evidence that the terrible thing occurred. In this way, trauma-type thinking (over-generalizing, dysfunctional giving/taking of power, confusing feelings with facts, and much more!) can be passed down through generations. Similarly, resilience and functional cognitions can also be passed down, which may explain how some cultural groups can prevail over trauma. Unfortunately, the current progressive narrative reinforces suffering over resilience. It even punishes resilience in the case of many resilient minority groups. The opposite of trauma is not retribution or even forgiveness. It is reconnection. It is developing healthy beliefs that most people are good people, including ourselves.

    • Missy Smith says

      Also, another relevant PTSD saying is “you can’t save your face and your ass at the same time.” It is far more cognitive alluring to go down a path of “being right” than being effective, even if being right is self-destructive.

  74. Cornfed says

    America remains a fundamentally white supremacist nation.
    Presidential contenders are competing for the favor of a good portion of the American electorate partly by signaling how much they care about, and wish to redress, historical racism.
    You can say (1) or you can say (2) but you can’t say them both…

    Actually, you can, if you’re pandering to the voting base of the Democratic Party, in hopes of winning the presidential primaries. And the calculus seems to be that in the general election, it won’t matter because the white vote is now something that the Democrats feel they can win without. (I disagree, but we’ll soon find out.)

  75. Humble says

    Really good article.

    I agree. Getting hung up on what happened to their ancestors has actually damaged the quality of content Black creators can deliver in their work.

    When Ta Na-hesi Coates wrote Captain America it didn’t sound like Captain America. It sounded like Captain White Guilt gone communist and the things he decided to surround himself with have been writers and creators who don’t help him get out of that bubble.

    I honestly feel sorry for him.

    Then there’s other writers like the man who wrote the horror comic Stardust, Jon Del Arroz, Even the Intellectual Dark Web, and C J Pearson. Those guys are doing really well even being in similar fields. Now maybe we don’t have to agree with everything everyone has to say BUT when you read their work it actually revitilizes the page. You can actually argue with it even.

    Not with Mr. Coates writing. Mr. Coates writing is kinda like that sad sack friend that’s emotionally exhausting to be around. Aw well.

    Pretty cool article.

  76. Walter says

    Mr. Coleman’s pieces remain among the best on Quillette — and that is a topmost compliment. This piece got better paragraph by paragraph (imo), peaking near the end.

    The comments on the other hand… I guess a degradation is to be expected with Quillette’s growing popularity. But only a year or two ago, the comments were a nice bonus. Now, they read like good-natured trash-talk over bored morning coffee.

  77. The most compelling argument against reparations is the simple fact that no African or Native American alive today would exist had history not unfolded exactly as it did in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Every living African and Native American owes their very existence to slavery and Manifest Destiny, as does, not incidentally, you and me and everyone else alive today. The Butterfly Effect. Accordingly, it beggars credulity that anyone could seriously consider or support paying reparations to classes of people who would not be alive had the reasons for those reparations never existed.

    P.S. Need to acknowledge the satirical book “A Great American Conversation” by Kit Camelback, which turned me on to this interesting concept.

  78. Karl Caswell says

    I’m Irish. We have a history of “repression” and subjugation at the hands of the English. Growing up my grandfather would tell me stories about what the English did and why they deserved our contempt. But at an early age I realized that all the people responsible for the crimes committed are dead, and that it is entirely unreasonable to hate the English people as they stand today. This is a sentiment that most Irish share and we have not only moved on from our past, but flourished by virtually every metric.

    By all accounts the Irish potato famine was exploited by the English as a deliberate attempt at genocide; our population still has not reached pre-famine numbers.
    Historically, Irish people have been forced from their lands and replaced by English settlers. 50 years ago, a large proportion of our population didn’t even have access to electricity. We were primitive by all accounts.

    Today we are not. I think the primary reason for this is we moved on and stopped allowing our past to define us.

  79. Skept-O-Punk says

    If you want to explore how well paying “reparations” as a form of “hush-money” flies, just check in with tge Japanese. There is a never-ending stream of demands from S. Korea & China to — yet again! — apologize and make additional “reparations” aka another payoff to shut them up for awhile. Why does this happen? Because Japan, in good faith, made billions in payments in so-called reparations for WW2 war-crimes.

    It is nothing but a political game and a cash-grab.

  80. Supporting and implementing race-based polices to combat ‘systemic’ racism is not just irrational but racist to the core.

  81. jas brodie says

    let me know how you deal with the 12000 slaves owned by blacks? The freed slaves? And all us black and white that arrived after the war of northern aggression?
    Dressing up wealth transfer in academic jargon about reparation is shameful way to underline your own racism.

  82. Charlotte W. says

    Dear Mr. Hughes,
    Your argument is very well presented. I greatly enjoy your writing style, and your background in Philosophy shines brightly within this article. Thank you for using reason, intellect and a historical perspective that does not overly milk the emotional teat. You have your finger on the pulse of the reparations debate, Coates does not.

    Deat Commenters,
    Please, please keep the snarkiness at bay, and comment on the article, not each other. Thank you.

  83. TheSnark says

    I would consider supporting reparations for the descendants of the slaves as long as the amount of compensation was reduced by (1) compensation to the descendants of the 500,000 Union soldiers who died and the million or so that were wounded during the Civil War that freed the slaves (2) compensation to those, mostly still living, who didn’t get jobs or college admissions due to affirmative action policies, and (3) whatever is left should be reduced by another $30,000 to $50,000, which is what they typical African (if they had the money) would pay a smuggler today to get into the US and get US citizenship.

  84. I propose we have a policy called “Direct Transfer” where we cut out the middleman (Washington, D.C.) and assign individual people receiving, say, reparations to individual people paying for reparations.

    It would work like this. Every Friday the person receiving reparations would go the the place of employment of the person he was matched with and would collect the reparation payment directly from that person.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  85. Mark Wright says

    Great article Coleman. It’s interesting that leading Democrats are simultaneously arguing that historic injustice until the mid-20th century isn’t a big deal any more for the descendants compared to contemporary suffering (Jews and the Holocaust – Congressman James Clyburn) but that historic injustice until the mid-19th century is still a big deal (Blacks and slavery). I wonder how they square this?

  86. Josephine says

    Why would reparations stop with black Americans? It is a myth that white people were not slaves. Many were taken to America as slaves (or indentured servants); many Americans along with Scandinavians, Britons and Irish people (see the fate of Baltimore, Ireland) were kidnapped until the nineteenth century by slavers based in North Africa and sold in Morocco and Algiers. Most of Marrakech was built by them.
    After clan argy-bargy in Scotland in the seventeenth century, for example, there was a state-sponsored clan genocide of the MacGregors, whose men were hunted with blood hounds (sound familiar?) and whose women and children were branded or exported as slaves to the North American colonies.
    So why would black descendants of former slaves be compensated, but not whites?

  87. Why must reparations be compared with some fictional alternate future with robust anti-poverty programs? This, I’ll admit, is a tactic I didn’t see coming. Derail the reparations discussion with the mirage of a post-poverty society.

    The “but what about the Asians” smokescreen we definitely saw coming.

  88. Zeph says

    Mr Hughes is truly a voice of reason; I’m very impressed with everything I’ve read from him so far.

    I am NOT an advocate of reparations in general, but in service to accuracy, there are some near universal misconceptions in the comments. (1) Many advocates of reparations believe that reparations should come in the form of investment capital, or college scholarships, etc – rather than cash payments (that is, many advocates share the skepticism about the outcome of cash disbursement). (2) Many reparation advocates suggest that the Federal Government is responsible for reparations, not individual whites based on their individual degree of responsiblity due to genetics. The funding would thus come from white, Asian, Hispanic, black and Native American taxpayers (and given the tax system, more so from the wealthier segments of each race), not just from whites. The argument of many advocates is NOT that whites alive today are responsible based on genetic ties to slave-holding ancestors, but that the long lived US government is responsible.

    I have a good number of reasoned disagreements with such advocates. But it’s worthwhile to address what such advocates actually say (ie: multiple major proposals from different people) rather than attacking only the most extreme proposals AS IF they were the only thing being discussed and rhetorically defeating the most extreme versons automatically discredited all proposals. That’s both bad argument style, and it fails to address the flaws in the other common proposals.

    As one example of my disagreement (in this case, regarding Federal responsibility), our current Federal Government only began in 1789, and abolished slavery in 1865, so it doesn’t make sense to make it responsible for slavery starting in 1619 as most advocates do. There were other governments in charge of this terrritory when slavery began, and the Federal Government (under the US Constitution) basically came into being at the very end of many thousands of years of legal slavery, presiding over a period of changing moral values. At least 5 states had already abolished slavery before the Constitution even came into effect, and the slavery issue was a major and hugely divisive problem inherited by the new government, not one that it created. The trajectory was away from slavery – with the banning of new import of slaves early in the 1800s, and complete abolition after a war that by population was by far the most deadly in US history. 2/3 of the US population in 1865 was living in states that had already abolished slavery. While the North didn’t fight the war specifically against slavery but to keep the Union intact, the South explicitly seceded to keep slavery, whch they were afraid the US Congress was going to eventually ban (read each state’s articles of seccession). (And indeed, the cost to the Union side need to be factored into any moral settlement, as others have noted). So I do not find convincing the argument that the US government has a debt to repay. That comes down to “the Federal Government should have ignored the US Constitution’s democratic processes, and banned slavery without waiting for enough democratic momentum to build”. It is indeed a sad thing that it took as long as it did for slavery to be abolished – but holding responsible the entity which was “holding the bag” towards the end of a multi-millenial practice and which presided over the abolishment of legal slavery in this territory seems unreasonable. I think blaming the Federal Government may be due more to looking for deep pockets, than actual well supported reasoning.

    I do think a stronger case could be made against the slave state governments, which were often quite explicitly pro-slavery, and who were directly responsible for the delay and for the compromises embedded in the Constitution. The argument for them mibht become more about the moral (and conceptual, not legal) “statute of limitations”.

    AND – THC (Ta-Nehisis Coates) also indicted the more recent Jim Crow period of legal discrimination and more recently the economic disparities rooted in redlining with respect to federal mortgage lending (the latter of which was a historic wealth building program from which blacks were by and large excluded). Each claim deserves its own analysis, not just slavery. To be honest, I’m not yet sure where I come down regarding the redlining aspect, which is more recent than the Japanese interment and has many living people who were directly differentially harmed by a federally supported program. I would need more research before making up my mind. I have some thoughts about the difficulty in fixing such mistreatment without “unintended side effects”.

  89. Jeff York says

    The window for paying reparations was 1865 to 1964. The money that could’ve been used for reparations was used for the Great Society/War on Poverty programs; ~$6-trillion, ~$22-trillion in 2015 dollars.

    It took from 1835 to 2000, 165 years, for the national debt to go from zero to $5.7-trillion. It’s taken just 19 more years to quadruple to $22-trillion-and-counting. I’m not an economist or a policy-wonk but I’m reasonably certain that that isn’t sustainable. Estimates for unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare and defense, without creating any new programs, range from $100-trillion to $200-trillion.

    There is no money for reparations, “Medicare for all” or other such feasting-on-unicorn-ribs outlays. The year 2000 was probably the fiscal fork-in-the-road, in terms of getting control of the debt, and collectively we made the wrong choice. There’s probably just enough money to fund the ~20 functions assigned to the federal government and service the debt. Everything else the federal government is doing, which by definition is unconstitutional, to include all the wealth redistribution scams/schemes, need to be phased-out as soon as possible. That is all; carry on.

    • Jeff York says

      Edit: “There’s probably just enough money to fund the ~20 functions assigned to the federal government by the Constitution…” >>>groan<<<

  90. Zalmar52 says

    Yes. Absolutely. Mr. Hughes’ observations are exactly on target.
    But the case against the idiocy of reparations is even more fundamental.

    First, and foremost — guilt is not blood-borne.
    It does not pass from generation to generation. It is not a genetic virus. It is not carried by a skin color; it is not owned by a race (despite what Goebbels told us) ; it is not twined as part of any DNA.

    Crimes committed by Somebody Not-Me against Somebody Not-You — no matter how terrible — do not result in debits carried, today, by Me….or in credits owed, today, to You. Not now, not ever. I was not the criminal and You were not the victim….even if those long dead criminals and victims looked vaguely like us. I owe nothing; you are owed nothing.

    Crimes committed by the Dead against the Dead do not become crimes committed by the Living. Nor are the pain of those dead crimes suffered by the Living. All that brutality, all that suffering is simply history.

    And what is history? History is a record of unfairness, a record of suffering, a record of conquest and conquered, winners and losers. And — since each of us stands as the living representation of an ancestral line that, 20 generations back, can be counted in the millions, all of us can easily say with significant confidence that we are here ONLY because more of those 2M grandmothers & grandfathers were winners than losers. In a life which tended to the short, nasty & brutish, we were nastier and more brutish; we survived and others didn’t. Life, as Mama told us, isn’t fair.

    The record of these endless rights & wrongs is history.

    But until we discover some Gigundous Godlike Ledger which counted them all….until we can say with certainty that Bill over here has an outstanding historical Good/Bad balance of -563 Moral Points (due primarily to a 5th Great abusively cheating all of his neighbors)…and Debbie holds a +1100 Moral Point Surplus (because an 8th Great was martyred) … well seeking to tilt invisible Historical Justice Scales to ding Bill a solid ‘563’ (too bad, Bill — your 5th great grandfather was a son-of-a-bitch) and pile 1100 MP’s on Debbie’s plate is just flat out insane. It can’t be done. It can’t be known. It can’t be calculated. And without such finite calculations counting things which are uncountable, any scale-tilting — today — would simply create that much more injustice. No matter how much we’d like to hold Bill accountable — Bill will never be his 5th Great Grandfather.

    In the end as we look at a world filled with an infinite diversity, it is not a question of equality because true & absolute equality (save before God & the Law) is impossible (thank God!). Rather it is a question of what each one of us will do with the unequal lives we have unequally been given. Will we be the heroes of our own lives…or will we be the sniveling victims, whining about all those arrows of outrageous fortune. The choice, always, is ours.

  91. Reparations were fully paid for by 1865.

    Several hundred thousand whites died so that a few million blacks could live free.

    Debate over.

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