Moyers & Company; 320; Facing the Truth: The Case for Reparations
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This week go more years in company the case for reparations. There are plenty of African Americans in this country and I would say this goes right up to the White House Who are not by any means poor but are very much afflicted by white supremacy Funding is provided by Anne Gummowicz encouraging the renewal of democracy Carnegie Corporation of New York supporting innovations in education, democratic engagement and the advancement of international peace and security at karneggi.org The Ford Foundation working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide. The Herbalpert Foundation supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. More information at macfound.org Park Foundation dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues, the Colbert Foundation, Barbara G. Fleischmann, and by our sole corporate sponsor, Mutual of America, designing customized individual and group retirement products. That's why we're your retirement company.
Welcome. The young man you're about to meet is out to change how we think and talk about race and he just might do it beginning with this cover story and the new issue of the Atlantic magazine. Its provocative title is The Case for Reparations. Yes. Reparations defined in the Miriam Webster Dictionary as the act of making amends or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury. The wrong or injury in question is what President Lyndon Johnson once called Slavery's Ancient Brutality and the terrible things that have followed it in the name of white supremacy enforced by state power. This article is must reading for every American. The author is the journalist, Tanahashi Coates, who grew up in Baltimore, lives in Harlem and teaches writing at MIT. He's now a senior editor of the Atlantic. We're in this issue. He writes the payment of reparations would represent America's maturation out of the child who admits of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders. Thank you for joining me.
Thank you for having me. It's an honor. There's exactly what you say white supremacy does not contradict American democracy. It birthed it nurtured it and financed it. That is our heritage. What is white supremacy? It is a system that is really, really old in this country, which holds that a certain group of people who hail with a certain ancestry should always be insured that they will not sink to a certain level. And that level is the level occupied by black people. And so what the language of what white means adjusts over time? It doesn't need a static thing called white. At one point, Irish people did not fit into that. At one point, Italian people did not fit into that. At one point, Jewish people did not fit into that. And now they do. And we've changed that. We've adjusted the only people who never fit into that are African Americans.
So when you ask quite to look at slavery and its consequences, what are you asking? I am not asking you as a white person to see yourself as an slave. I'm asking you as an American to see all the freedoms that you enjoy and see how they are rooted in things that the country that you belong to condoned or actively participated in in the past. And that covers everything from a slavement to the era of lynching when we effectively decided that we weren't going to, you know, get afford African Americans the same level of protection of the law. It applies to sharecropping when we decided that we were going to, in whole swaths of the country, allow people to be effectively re-inslaived. It applies to redlining when we decided that people that lived in certain places would get, you know, the largest of the government and people who were not in applies today in terms of mass incarceration. When we decided that we are going to be harder on crimes committed by certain people or the same crime committed, you know, by certain people. And, you know, not be that hard when it's committed by other people. This is heritage. It's with us. It's with all of us. And it doesn't necessarily, it's not with you because you're white.
You know, it's with you because you're an American. Just like it's with me because I'm an American. I have to live with this too. How so? I think like part of the problem is when we talk about this, this is a situation of, well, what do white people owe to black people? And that ain't really it. It's what the state, you know, the United States is what you say of America. You know, first of all, O's African Americans, but not far behind that what it owes itself. You know, because this is really about our health as a country. And I make that delineation. Because they're people who, you know, and they would say this, you know, who never held any slaves, you know, who never voluntarily part of any sort of Jim Crow system, you know, who thought, you know, the country should be doing something different the whole time. Nevertheless, we're all part of this. We're all part of this. Whatever solution that, you know, eventually come to, we'll come out of my tax dollars too. I assure you. Was there something that hit you in the face as you started going back into the past that you didn't expect to find? It is the degree to which where we are right now is not a mistake and is not inexplicable.
We think of the problem of racism, the quote unquote Negro problem or the problem of the color line, you know, all sorts of variations of how it's talked about. It's something that's really, really hard to figure out. And it's actually not hard to figure out. You can literally see a policy, you know, from the 17th century, stretching up into, you know, we can, you know, say conservatively into the 1960s, into the 20th century, the mid 20th century here in America, designed to injure African Americans. If you understand that and if you take that, it would not make sense that that would just sort of go away that that injury would disappear within 50 years of halting, you know, reform and trying to make things better. It's not actually that hard to figure out. We have it at our core that a certain group of people, you know, who are marked by ancestry, you know, who are marked by melanin must represent a bottom for us. And, you know, you can see that, you know, in the era of enslavement, you can see that literally being written as I, you know, showing the piece into the laws.
You can see that, you know, when we decide, you know, to, you know, in this period of enslavement, and yet we still can't, you know, get away from, you know, having a two tier society. You can see it, you know, most impressively, I have to say for me, when we go to erect our modern safety net during the New Deal, which, you know, progressives, you know, and I can send it myself in that camp, you know, like to say, you know, that was the era, you know, that was our golden era. Social Security, when it's initially passed, excluded African Americans, and I didn't, it wasn't written that way. It wasn't written that way. It was written was folks who are either, you know, worked as farm hands or worked as help in the house. The message is excluded. Domestic help. Yes, yes. They were excluded. But with that idea of fact of doing is excluding, I think, roughly 80% of African Americans in the South and something around 65% of African Americans nationally. And what people will tell you is, well, that got fixed and it did get fixed. But the problem is, during those years, people are injured. People are injured. And that's how you get a gap. The fact that, you know, you injured people for those years, it doesn't mean that, you know, people will catch up when you eventually fix it. And I say that it relates to us today because the argument that we make about Obamacare in the Medicaid expansion is, well, eventually market pressures will force those states in the South to catch up.
They'll fix it. They'll fix it. But see, in those intervening years, black folks who needed it most, much like black folks who needed it most, you know, during the era, when we passed Social Security, will be injured again. And the fact that it gets fixed will not close the gap. And so the question is, why do we keep doing that? You know, why do we look at a map of Obamacare, as they say, and where Medicaid expansion is going through and where it has it? And why do we see this, you know, swath of the country that's directly identical to where we had plantation slavery? But you set out to find out, and I was intrigued that you set out to find out in the here and now. You started in Chicago with a fellow named Clyde Ross, Clyde Ross, who is in his early 90s now. And one of the essential theses of the piece is that we tend to think of segregation and Jim Crow, and we see, you know, separate, but equal, we see, you know, separate water found, separate bathrooms. And I wanted to deepen that and say that the relationship is actually different. It's not merely excluding somebody. It's the taking of resources from one group for the betterment of another group.
And this happens in all sorts of ways, slavery is obviously the most direct way. But Clyde Ross, who was born in Mississippi, literally has, you know, his family is laying, taken out from underneath them and reduced the sharecropping. When you talk about Mississippi and you say African Americans not having the right to vote, this is not like a symbolic thing. This is the right to see how your tax dollars are used. It actually has effects on your life. And he saw that and he moved north. He went, he went, served in World War II. Notice that things were a little different and the country came back, could not live in Mississippi. Move the Chicago thought it was different, you know, and certainly some things, you know, really were different. I don't want to minimize that. But when he went to get that emblem of citizenship, of, you know, being part of that, you know, big, broad, you know, America, that middle class America to re-exalt a home. When he went to buy a home, he found that he had actually been cut out of society in a much more complicated way. How so? Well, Clyde Ross bought a home at the time, or attempted to buy a home at a time in which a home buying in this country was subsidized.
Where we had an FHA that ensured loans so that, you know, if, for instance, I wanted to go, you know, buy a home and I, you know, weren't able to pay for it, the FHA would say, you know, no problem. We'll cover that if he, you know, walks out on his home. African Americans were totally cut out of that. FHA Federal Housing Administration. Yes, exactly. And not only were they, not only were they cut out of it, not only were they cut out of it. We had redlining, which is a phrase that, you know, we all know, but we don't talk enough about. We're in, it was said, a neighborhood in which African Americans to live cannot receive FHA funding. And that went beyond the FHA banks decided who they were going to lend money to based on FHA policy laws. They responded to that in much the same way. On the Atlantic website, you'll see we have actual maps where you can look at a city like Chicago and see where the loans were and where the loans weren't. And this was a practice that, you know, lasted on paper, on paper, into 1960, and likely much longer than that.
So you go on until America reckons with the moral debt it has accrued and the practical damage it has done to generations of black Americans, it will fail to live up to its own ideals. Talk for just another moment about that practical damage. The most obvious example that is obviously the wealth gap, you know, when you have a family, you know, on average says, you know, it's 20 times the wealth, you know, a white family of 20 times the wealth of black families. And then you can really trace this to actual policy. You see it. Again, you know, when we look at these incarceration rates, we so see it. I mean, the gap is so, so huge. It's not a mere minor discrepancy. We talk a lot about, you know, the achievement gap between black children and white children, you know, but I'm always much more interested in the injury gap. A black child that comes into this world is, you know, because of policy, because of the policies of his country, you know, over many years, is going to arrive with injuries that a white child just isn't.
You know, until we start, you know, decide that, you know, so, first of all, until we accept that, until we say, yeah, yeah, until we say, we did something, as a country, yes, we did do something. You know, we have done something, you know, and in many ways, we continue to do things. That mean that that black child is going to come in with injuries that that white child is not. We just aren't having a conversation, and you can't substitute and say, poor children, you know, that's a separate problem. That's another problem, a real problem, a related problem. It's a separate problem. Until we, you know, directly confront the problem of racism, I don't think we're getting at it. Help us to understand this point in your piece, quote, to ignore the fact that one of the oldest republics in the world was erected on the foundation of white supremacy, to pretend that the problems of a dual society, or the same as the problems of unregulated capitalism, is to cover the sin of national plunder with the sin of national lying. The law ignores the fact that reducing American poverty and ending white supremacy are not the same. Explain that.
There are plenty of African Americans in this country, and I would say that this goes right up to the White House, who are not by any means poor, but are very much afflicted by white supremacy. This, you know, came up, if it me very powerfully, during the, at the height of the birth of controversy about the president, with Donald Trump is, you know, demanding that the president releases, you know, long from birth certificate, then after that demanding that we see his transcripts. Barack Obama is the best we got. It's African Americans. I mean, this is as good as it get, you know, the comedian, Symbat, you know, says, you know, there are no more, there are no black men, you know, raised in Hawaii with roots and Kansas. That's just not going to happen again. You know, this is the best we have, and if you don't believe him, that you definitely don't believe me, and you definitely don't believe my son, you know, and you definitely don't believe, you know, these black folks, you know, who are born in Cleveland, or born in Baltimore, you know, Chicago, so, you know, young African Americans who see that, who see, you know, people who have, you know, totally, totally played by the rules and then come today, you know, neighbors and tell them to play by the rules too.
And they see them being treated with a double standard. The message is, you know, you're not really part of this. The message is a broken social contract. There's one social contract for one group of people, and another one for you. There's a strong, strong believer that the filter of racism and the filter of white supremacy is greatly underestimated, you know, in this country. And that's really the one thing, you know, I've tried to get across. I think, you know, that's why you wrote this article. Yes, yes, yes, no, it's very much why I wrote the piece. And I think like one of the things is that, we talk about race a lot. We do, you know, so I think it's like wrong to say, you know, we don't have conversation. No, we actually talk about it quite a bit. I don't think we talk about it in depth as much as much as, you know, we should. And I think part of the problem is when you start talking about it in depth, you know, when you start getting to a level where you say, listen, everything we are, everything we have isn't, you know, it's built on past sins. The things are tied. The things that when you start recognizing that there's something congenital, you know, it's as if, you know, I had a problem with alcohol.
And I could say, okay, but I'm just going to go into the bar and I'm not going to have a drink. You know, I'm going to be okay. I don't need to, you know, have any sort of conversation. That's a different conversation than that. I have to confess to the fact that I'm an alcoholic. There's something in me, you know, that that's here. And I will always have to cope with that. And I will always have to deal with that. The honesty that that takes, the strength that that takes, the courage that that takes is pretty, pretty profound. And I have to do that on a national level is, you know, it's not just a wait for Americans. I would say it would be a wait for any society, you know, comprised of human beings. It's very, very hard, you know, in mass for groups. And I, you know, to be honest with you, I have doubts about our ability to do it. The ability is as white folks to say, say we were what this nation was founded on white supremacy. It is an organizing principle of our society. No, I have doubts about us as Americans to do it. I mean, if you think about it, African Americans are very depressing picture too, because if you're African American, it's like, okay, and then what? So what am I supposed to do with that information? You know, what, where do I go with that? I'm on my nose. It's not like, you know, we're not, we're clearly not going to have an armed revolution to seize any power.
So what, then you're telling me this, but what am I then supposed to do? It's terrifying. It's terrifying all around. And it's not even terrifying because we're Americans. I think if I spent any amount of time in any country, all countries, you know, have sins in their past and getting states to confront those sins honestly and directly is really, really hard. Like the one example, you know, that people often put up is Jeremy said, well, well, Germany, you know, was really able, you know, to confront its past. The difference is, Germany had killed off like 80% and 90% of the Jews who lived there. So they didn't have Jews alive as active, you know, political actors to use that history. It's very easy, you know, to apologize for something. When there's no one there to draw any sort of consequence from it directly from you in your country, you know, to be part of your politics. You're trying to apologize after you wiped everybody out, you know, for all the good that does. America has a much, much more complicated problem. African Americans are very, very much part of the political process here. And so too, you know, as Americans, you know, to look at ourselves in a mirror and say, this is who we are, you know, and that's okay.
I don't know that any country has ever done that, you know, I'm really, really clear about that. But we look at ourselves as pioneers, you know, in terms of liberty, in terms of freedom, in terms of enlightenment values. We, you know, we say that where, you know, pioneers and I, you know, firmly firmly believe that reparations is the chance to, you know, to be pioneers. You know, we say we said all these examples about liberty and freedom and democracy and all that great stuff. Well, you know, here's an opportunity for us to live that out. So having read the article, I know that you do not mean reparations as white folks writing checks to black folks. So in an ideal world, what form would reparations take? In an ideal world, when we talk about social justice, we would understand it as, you know, part of healing that heritage and dealing with that, dealing with that legacy. For instance, take, you know, healthcare right now, right? Like Obamacare right now. When you look at a whole swath of the country, again, where, you know, we had, you know, where enslavement, you know, we had plantation slavery on a very, very deep level. And you look at that and you say, why is there not a, you know, a Medicaid expansion going on there?
We would be very clear about why it's not one going on there. And, you know, those of us, you know, who make policy, those of us who have power who sit on our courts, we think about that when we make, when we make rulings. We wouldn't be afraid to say that. I mean, right now, following John Roberts line, I think what he said was to stop discrimination on the basis of racist to stop discriminating on the basis of race. What we want is a kind of colorblindness. We think that's the answer. But colorblindness isn't the answer. Color in the problem. Racism is the problem. And being conscious of racism is the solution. So when you, you know, you talk about what that looks like concrete. I would like to see that in our policy. When we were talking about, you know, ACA, you know, it's very funny, one of the attacks, you know, from the right, from the right, to the right, to the right. Well, not quite, but it would be nice if it could be. You know, it would be nice if that was part of it. If you actually did say that. Hey, you know, well, I'm a care of the affordable. Yeah, yeah, I mean, there's nothing. Listen, I deal like taking this outside of the realm of politics in the, you know, realm of just straight talking about this.
Yeah, this will disproportionately benefit African Americans. And yeah, that's a really, really good thing. You know, it might actually help, you know, heal this heritage that we have over here. You know, and in an ideal world, you could actually say that. You know, in a world in which people are actively considering reparations, actively thinking about it and talking about it in a serious way. You could say that. You could say that. And all the more to be said because it's many of the former Confederate states are where the metrics of life are the lowest for African Americans. You're saying that in a just world, that would be rectified. That would be rectified. And we would talk. We would just, we would talk very, very differently. We would not be afraid to talk about our heritage. And we would not be afraid to talk about racism. And we would be able to talk about white supremacy in our policy. We would not have to retreat to other language like quote unquote, you know, race or we would not have to retreat, you know, to other language like quote unquote class. We would say, no, no, no, no, this is about white supremacy. And we have a problem with this. And we have had a problem with this for a long time. And we need to be conscious of that in our policy. When we pass a stimulus budget, for instance, you know, we need to specifically think about helping people who have been injured in our past because they occupy a certain place in our country.
That's what the world looks like to me. You know, it's a, it's a consciousness thing, which we don't have at all right now. You know, some critics who greatly admire your work and who acknowledge that indeed white supremacy has been a central organizing principle of American life. Find your pessimism as their term and odds with the hard evidence. I mean, Jonathan Chate of New York Magazine looks at how quote, the United States has progress from channel slavery to emancipation to the end of lynching to the end of legal segregation to electing an African American president and sees that there are real signs of racial maturity. Yes, yes, well, that's the kind of progress that you highlight and you brag about if you're not on the other end of it. You know, if you're Martin Luther King, you're just 1965 and you're, you know, making that, you know, long March through Alabama. Certainly, you can look around and say, wow, at one point in Alabama, you know, my ancestors 100 years ago, what enslaved right here in this region, you know, and isn't it something that, you know, we progress to a level that I'm not enslaved.
That's progress. Yes, that is progress. Jonathan Chate is very, very much right. Also, you know, if somebody, you know, every day comes home, you know, and beats you with a tire iron, you know, and then, you know, decides to stop beating you, that would be progress. But it didn't change the fact that you were laying down on the ground bleeding. You know, this is a fact, you know, so yeah, yeah, it's progress. It's progress. But what does that then mean? You know, does that mean that everything's over? Does that mean, you know, it's okay? Does that mean it's, you know, they're all sorts of, you know, progress. You know, they aren't necessarily, you know, celebrate it. You know, you say, well, I'm relieved. You know, I greet that speech of progress with relief. I am relieved that all those things happen. You know, but I'm not, you know, going to dance and celebrate and, you know, that's not to be congratulated. I'm relieved. You know, I think that's, you know, how most African Americans would greet that. I hope every American reads this piece. Thank you very much for joining me. Thank you. Thank you so much for happening.
So brief a conversation. Hardly does justice to the force of Tonohosiko's argument in the Atlantic. As you read it, pay close attention to how officially sanctioned segregated housing in cities like Chicago, New York, determine the neighborhoods where African Americans lived, which in turn decided the schools their children could attend. That legacy cast a long shadow. According to a new study, the country's most segregated schools are not in the deep south. They're right here in New York. And yet another study, a survey of all 97,000 public schools in America by the Department of Education finds race to be the deciding factor in a pattern of inequality that still exists 60 years after the Supreme Court rules segregation to be unconstitutional. Among the findings, racial minorities are more likely to have less access to rigorous math and science classes and to be taught by lower paid teachers with less experience.
At our website, BillMorris.com, we'll link you to that survey, as well as the two very good videos produced by the Atlantic and based on Tonohosiko's reporting. They tell the story of North Londell, that desperately poor community on Chicago's west side, and they look back to the 60s and the contract buyers lead when black citizens fall back against Chicago's rampant housing discrimination. That's all at BillMorris.com. I'll see you there, and I'll see you here next time. Don't wait a week to get more moyers. Visit BillMorris.com for exclusive blogs, essays, and video features. Funding is provided by Anne Gumowitz, encouraging the renewal of democracy, Carnegie Corporation of New York, supporting innovations in education, democratic engagement, and the advancement of international peace and security at Carnegie.org.
The Ford Foundation, working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide. The Herbalpert Foundation, supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. More information at macfound.org. Park Foundation dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. The Colbert Foundation, Barbara G. Fleischmann, and by our sole corporate sponsor, Mutual of America, designing customized individual and group retirement products. That's why we're your retirement company. Thank you.
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- Every once in a while, an article or book comes along that changes how we think and talk about race in America. So it is with the cover story in the new issue of THE ATLANTIC magazine. Written by journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, its provocative title is THE CASE OF REPARATIONS, and it urges that we begin a national dialogue on whether the United States should compensate African Americans not only as recognition of slavery's "ancient brutality" -- as President Lyndon Johnson called it -- but also as acknowledgement of all the prejudice and discrimination that have followed in a direct line from this, our original sin. Bill Moyers talks with Ta-Nehisi Coates who explains, "I am not asking you, as a white person, to see yourself as an enslaver." I'm asking you as an American to see all of the freedoms that you enjoy and see how they are rooted in things that the country you belong to condoned or actively participated in in the past. And that covers everything from enslavement to the era of lynching, when we effectively decided that we weren't going to afford African Americans the same level of protection of the law. "There are plenty of African Americans in this country-- and I would say that this goes right up to the White House-- who are not by any means poor, but are very much afflicted by white supremacy." Reparations, Coates says, are "what the United States, first of all, really owes African Americans, but not far behind that, what it owes itself, because this is really about our health as a country. I firmly believe that reparation is a chance to be pioneers. We say we set all these examples about liberty and freedom and democracy and all that great stuff. Well, here's an opportunity for us to live that out." Ta-Nehisi Coates has written for many publications, including THE NEW YORK TIMES and the WASHINGTON POST. He is a senior editor for the ATLANTIC MAGAZINE and author of the 2008 memoir, THE BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: A FATHER, TWO SONS, AND AN UNLIKELY ROAD TO MANHOOD.
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