I have been following closely the on-going discussion regarding reparations for slavery, Jim Crow, red-lining, etc. online between intellectual-historian (this is what I call him) Ta-Nehisi Coates, rapper Killer Mike, and linguist and professor John McWhorter. There are two points I want to mention regarding McWhorter’s examples of prior reparations. McWhorter writes that we have given reparations to Black Americans through legislation such as the 1968 Fair Housing Act of and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. The problem with these examples is that the Reagan administration ignored them. I repeat: these laws were only nominal in many ways.
George Lipsitz in his brilliant The Possessive Investment in Whiteness makes this clear:
“Reagan’s appointee as director of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, William Bradford Reynolds, filed only two housing discrimination suits in his first twenty months in office, a distinct drop from the average of thirty-two cases a year filed during the Nixon and Ford presidencies or even the 19 per year during the final 2 years of the Carter administration.”
Regarding the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the devil is in the details. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was, by law, not really allowed to do to much in enforcing the act. Title VIII, according to Lipsitz, “forbade the agency to initiate investigations on its own.” What happened when claims actually resulted in a penalty? “A maximum of $1,000.” I am only providing a couple of examples here but the true historic record is worse. One more quick example to bolster my case that the two examples by McWhorter were ignored and made impotent. “As of 1980, only five victims of discrimination has received damages in excess of $3,500.”
There are two options happening here with McWhorter. First, he genuinely doesn’t know the often-cited and heavily reported examples cited here; which if this is the case, he should probably read up more. Or, second, McWhorter is willfully ignoring the details to simply wage an attack on Coates because he doesn’t thnk Coates is a strong thinker when it comes to history. Just watch the BloggingHeads.tv conservation between McWhorter and economist Glenn Loury to see proof that McWhorter has an obvious revulsion towards Coates.
The truth matters here and the truth is not on the side of McWhorter in this case. Reparations were, effectively, “resist[ed], refus[ed], and renogotiat[ed],” time and time again. Reparations have not truly been given to Black Americans and the proof is in such numbers as how much property Black Americans own and how much savings they have, even those who do make it to a better-than-average tax bracket.
Reparations have only been illusory.
[Edit on 1/25/2016: An excellent overview of reparations was published in the Washington Post on January 21, 2015 that I want to link to. It was written by Professor of Sociology James W. Loewen. HERE it is.]