I read TNC's reparations essay in The Atlantic last night. The following is a slightly edited and modified version of my thoughts on first reading. I plan to read it again one or more times.
1. The piece should be read without reference to the
headline. I think the greatest power of the piece is in its history and
its ability to frame public policy in a milieu that is seldom discussed or addressed in educational or policy settings.
2. The history he recounts is only a fraction of the horrors the
government and the American people inflicted upon black people for
generations. The reason I think this is important is that ideologues, of
all stripes, neglect what our government and our country looked like for
the vast majority of its history. As I talk about in my upcoming essays
for Libertarianism.org, there is a vast chasm between what we think
should or will happen given our policy 'druthers and what experience and
history tell us has happened. This is a lesson for conservatives,
progressives, and libertarians alike.
3. Ultimately, I remain
unpersuaded that anything resembling financial reparations would be
feasible or effective in combating the damage done to blacks over the
course of the past several centuries. Marginally, perhaps, but there is
no "good" solution in reparative compensation within the American
context. Our system just won't sustain any meaningful shift in that
direction. I think, however, that this is a relatively minor point in the
piece, headline notwithstanding. The greater message TNC suggests--a
historical reckoning of what transpired in this Land of the Free--is, I
think, very important to moving forward as a society. How we accomplish
that is something I'm still trying to figure out, but a better
understanding of American history is a prerequisite first step. A simple glance at the backlash on Twitter should confirm how reactionary and ignorant many people still are about the current state of black America.
4. Somewhat tangentially, when I read The Jungle for a history class on early 20th century America, I was not at all put off by the meatpacking stories or even the conditions of industrialization, horrible though they were. I was most struck by the practice of contract purchases of homes, and I was aghast at its cruelty and inherent unfairness. Ta-Nehisi's essay deals with this topic in a way that cannot help but anger and frustrate an empathetic reader.
For the foregoing reasons, I highly recommend reading the essay, in full, as well as the implicitly suggested reading list throughout the essay, particularly anything and everything by Eric Foner on the Reconstruction era.
bellum medicamenti delenda est