by Yvette Carnell
In an essay that catapulted him to national prominence, Ta-Nehisi Coates argued in favor of reparations in the pages of The Atlantic. Coates’ essay, although well researched and superfluous, was devoid of any real recommendations in that it only suggested that Congress approve a bill that would study reparations. As I’ve said previously, the essay concluded with a meek whimper rather than a bang.
This may have something to do with Coates being against reparations before he began supporting the idea a few years ago. It is important to remember that among the black elite, Coates was not alone in his disapproval.
In an episode titled “Three Generations of Underclass” (highlighted in Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era (Media and Power)which aired in 1989, Oprah Winfrey questioned whether African-Americans are owed anything from slavery.
Oprah Winfrey and Reparations: “I Think a lot of People Still Use Slavery as an Excuse”Click to tweet
“I think a lot of people still use the slavery experience as an excuse,” Winfrey said. “Some people are still walking around thinking that this system–now Mr. Bush owes them something because we were in slavery, is that fair?”
In discussing welfare during the same episode, Winfrey opens up the show by asking guests why they are on welfare, without ever addressing the foundational issues that lead to poverty.
“So, you know, we have all heard stories of how being on welfare takes a hold of some families, about two and three generations of mothers and daughters and sons that get stuck in a cycle of poverty that provides little inspiration to the next generation to to better. People who work and pay taxes have a lot of big gripes about those who spend decades and generations on welfare… Today we asked families–mothers who have raised their children on welfare and their daughters who are also raising their children on welfare–why the cycle gets repeated.”
The idea that America shouldn’t address the material conditions of descendants of slaves isn’t just a line supported by conservatives, or just white people for that matter.
Fifty-nine percent of Black Americans think that the descendants of enslaved Africans deserve reparations, according to a June 2014 HuffPost/YouGov poll. Among black people, that’s a majority by only nine points.