In June of 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates published an article titled, “The Case for Reparations.” In this article, Coates argues that Americans need to acknowledge their mistreatment towards African Americans, and consider that reparations need to be made. He talks about the historical mistreatment of African Americans and how it affects them negatively today. He also discusses ways in which they have been discriminated against recently, such as housing discrimination being backed by the federal housing policy. In response to Coates article, Keven Williamson published an article titled, “The Case against Reparations.” In his article, he argues that there isn’t much of a case for reparations. He argues that Coates’s reparations aren’t going to solve inequality between blacks and whites. He says that simply being black isn’t a legitimate reason to be deserving of reparations. Coates responded to Williamson in an article titled, “The Case for American History.” In this article, Coates argues that Williamson’s argument against reparations is flawed because it assumes that the reason for reparations is based on race, when it is actually based on injury. I will argue that Coates’s response to Williamson is adequate to rebut Williamson’s argument. First, I will explain Coates’s argument in favor of reparations. Then, I will explain Williamson’s arguments against reparations and explain Coates’s response to these arguments. Finally, I will explain why Coates’s response to Williamson is adequate. It is adequate because Coates is correct that the reason for reparations is injury, and not race.
COATES’S ARGUMENTS FOR REPARATIONS
A portion of Coates’s essay discusses how modern Americans tend to think of the oppression of black Americans as a thing of the past, when, in fact, oppression still occurs today. Black people have been excluded from the banking system as a result of the federal housing policy. Because of this policy, banks would refuse black people mortgage insurance simply because they were black. As a result, many black people were forced to purchase homes “on contract,” which was basically a deceitful rent-to-own scheme. Because black Americans didn’t have access to financial institutions, it has had several repercussions, even today. Williamson agrees with this portion of Coates’s essay.
WILLIAMSON’S ARGUMENTS AND COATES’S REFUTATIONS
Williamson argues that simply being black is not a good enough reason to deserve reparations. He supports this argument by claiming that not all black people presently suffer as a result of America’s past racial crimes. He says once this is acknowledged, the case for reparations is only moral primitivism. For example, some blacks are born into wealthy families and some whites are born to heroin-addicted single mothers. As another example, he uses the Obama daughters to illustrate that African Americans who are considered wealthy or successful now should not be included in reparations. He argues that public policy should help only black people that are still disadvantaged.
Williamson believes that Coates is arguing reparations are due on the basis of one’s race. However, Coates is not arguing reparations are due because of one’s race, they are due because all members of the African American race have been injured. Reparations are not a claim against white Americans, they are a claim in behalf of black Americans. The purpose of reparations is not racial apportionment, or giving African Americans things simply because they are black. The purpose is injury apportionment, or giving African Americans things because they have been, and continue to be, injured simply because they are black.
Today, African Americans continue to be affected by racist American policies, such as redlining. Williamson points out that some African Americans have become successful or famous, therefore they haven’t been affected by racist policies of that past. Coates points out that just because someone is successful or famous, that doesn’t prove that they haven’t been affected. It does not prove that African Americans haven’t been injured by things such as redlining or slavery. Because Americans have never successfully taken accountability for racist policies and practices, or their injury of African Americans, reparations are due. Attempts have been made at reparations during the lives of emancipated African-Americans, but they failed.
MY DEFENSE OF COATES’S RESPONSE TO WILLIAMSON
Coates’s response is adequate because the main purpose Coates’s case for reparations is to illustrate that opportunities, money, and other things that have been taken away from African Americans. He discusses government policies, such as redlining, which have negatively affected African Americans, to show that African Americans do, in fact, have a claim for reparations. Williamson doesn’t understand that Coates is showing they deserve reparations because all African Americans have been injured, not solely because they are African American. Since there is not a single African American alive today who has not been negatively affected by very recent government policies, reparations are due.
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