Won’t reparations divide us? Not any more than we are already divided. The wealth gap merely puts a number on something we feel but cannot say—that American prosperity was ill-gotten and selective in its distribution. What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.And here's Isaac Chotiner in "Get Ready for a National Debate About Slavery Reparations."
What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.
The best argument against Coates's proposals is simply that they will prove to be more trouble than they are worth, i.e. that their practical effect will be a negative one... But... [i]f we can't even have the conversation he wants because people are so defensive or unwilling (or plain racist), it's just more evidence for what his essay rightfully bemoans.ADDED: Look at the fluid interchangeability of "reparations" and "the conversation." Are we talking about "the conversation about race" that we've been talking about (not) having for the last 2 decades? This almost feels like a negotiation about the conversation, where the demand for "reparations" is designed to get your attention and to prepare you to feel relieved that all you really need to submit to is the conversation.
But, as has often been observed, the supposedly desirable conversation isn't a real conversation. On one level, there's nothing to debate. No one who is to be taken seriously opposes the high level abstraction that is racial equality. On a less abstract level, debate isn't really wanted. The conversation-seekers want to teach lessons and have those lessons acknowledged and taken to heart. There is resistance to that kind of conversation, and I don't think it will be overcome by presenting it in terms of "reparations."
Coates speaks of "spiritual renewal." He professes concern about our national spirit, our our national "consciousness," and our national "self-image," our national "psyche." This is the stuff of religion and its substitutes. I don't believe in or really want awakenings on a grand scale. The human mind belongs to the individual. I would resist the charms of relocating psychic and spiritual matters to the nation.
AND: Coates's analogy to the recovering alcoholic makes my point. The recovering alcoholic is an individual, with an individual problem, going through a personal psychological (and physiological) process. It's imaginative but ultimately specious — and dangerous — to think of the nation as a person.