An example of housing prejudice in 20th century America.
An example of housing prejudice in 20th century America.

In “The Case for Reparations,” an acclaimed Atlantic article that was published two weeks ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates reveals the disturbing history of discrimination towards African Americans. Coates especially focuses on unveiling discriminatory policies that lie hidden in America’s patriotic past.

In an attempt to summarize why many Americans are unaware of the causes of black poverty and inequality, he writes, “Black history does not flatter American democracy; it chastens it.”

However, Coates’ goal is not to devalue America’s past but to acknowledge the role that acts of discrimination played in forming the modern social and ethnic structure. For example, he discusses how from the 1930s through the 1960s, realtors forced African Americans into predatory mortgages that not only prevented them from owning their homes but also grouped them into single race neighborhoods.

Amid the thought-provoking facts that Coates’ introduces, his most interesting idea is how the American people as a whole should repay African Americans for their constant struggle amidst white supremacy and overarching racism. He does not propose an infeasible monetary compensation or demand an elaborate apology on behalf of the nation, but asks that Congress pass House Resolution 40, a Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.

According to Congressman John Conyers, Jr. of Michigan who has introduced HR 40 in every Congress since January 1989, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act does the following:

  1. It acknowledges the fundamental injustice and inhumanity of slavery
  2. It establishes a commission to study slavery, its subsequent racial and economic discrimination against freed slaves;
  3. It studies the impact of those forces on today’s living African Americans; and
  4. The commission would then make recommendations to Congress on appropriate remedies to redress the harm inflicted on living African Americans.

HR 40 has received harsh criticisms by many who wish to forget an unflattering past and move ignorantly towards the future. In fact, it has never been seriously considered on the House or Senate floor. However, a jolt of reality to blissful Americans is a small price to pay for centuries of oppression towards African Americans.

Despite the backlash against HR 40, Congressman Conyers remains hopeful. After all, Congressman Conyers was the person who first introduced the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday House Resolution, a bill that took fifteen years to pass. Increasing support for HR 40 from Atlanta to Los Angeles means that we should be hopeful too.

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