Discussion Recap: 3/1/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh

This week we invited Dr. Schumaker to lead our discussion. Dr. Schumaker is a professor in the Letters and Constitutional Studies department at OU. She selected this week’s article, “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The article was published in The Atlantic in June of 2014. It argues that reparations, simply as an idea, need to be explored, investigated, and studied. Reparations are means to make amends for wrong-doings, and in this context would be actions by society to amend the gross abuse of Black Americans throughout our history.

“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

In this article, Coates writes about the systematic oppression of Black Americans, particularly post slavery. He explains redlining, the practice of discrimination based on the racial makeup of a person’s neighborhood, most often used in the context of extending credit or providing insurance coverage. Redlining is a type of de facto discrimination which economically disadvantages Black Americans. Private corporations, homeowners’ loan associations, banks, and even local neighborhood committees perpetuate this system of chipping away property value based on the racial makeup of an area.

“Locked out of the greatest mass-based opportunity for wealth accumulation in American history, African Americans who desired and were able to afford home ownership found themselves consigned to central-city communities where their investments were affected by the ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’ of the FHA appraisers: cut off from sources of new investment, their homes and communities deteriorated and lost value in comparison to those homes and communities that FHA appraisers deemed desirable.”

The electronic article includes an interesting interactive map feature which allows the reader to observe redlining in action in conjunction with unemployment and vacancy from 1950-2010. The interactive census is shockingly representative of the phenomenon which most people like to believe ended in 1964. It is clear which neighborhoods are poor, and those neighborhoods naturally coincide with unemployment and vacancy, but also race.

In his documentation of the exploitation of Black Americans, Coates mentions two significant reparations. Bank of America and Wells Fargo paid $355 and $175 million respectively in reparations for targeting Black Americans during the subprime mortgage housing crisis in 2007. If those sums were decided for such a recent, short-lived (however powerful) crisis, how much would the United States have to pay to rectify the damage of the past 435 years of discrimination and abuse?

The article briefly mentions Michelle and Barack Obama and their children. “…Barack and Michelle Obama have won. But they’ve won by being twice as good—and enduring twice as much…But for all our exceptional ones, for every Barack and Michelle Obama, for every Ethel Weatherspoon or Clyde Ross, for every black survivor, there are so many thousands gone.”

My favorite part of the article was Chapter X: “There will be no ‘reparations’ from Germany.” I found this final chapter extremely interesting because it compares the United States and its treatment of Black Americans to Germany and its treatment of the Jews. In our tailored history courses, we learn again and again about the horrors of Auschwitz and the evil Nazis who persecuted the Jews. We are taught the Holocaust each time we discuss WWII. We feel triumphant when the United States takes the moral high ground in Paris, and we think the terms treaties are too merciful. Never in these history classes do we learn about redlining. We don’t discuss the horrors of being colored in the United States. Our teachers fail to tell us that Nazis sent their scouts to the United States in order to learn about Jim Crow, so that they could implement something similar with the Jews. Coates writes that only 5% of Germans in 1952 reported feeling guilty about the Holocaust. I wonder what that number would be in the United States. How many of us even know about the oppression of Black Americans post slavery or post Jim Crow? How many of us feel like society and/or the government owes its Black population reparations?

We strongly suggest you read the article.  It covers subjects that curriculum in schools fails to discuss or even mention.

Tell us what you think!