Jesse McCarthy at The Point:
In German, the word schuld means both guilt and debt. In the context of the American debate about race relations, “reparations” likewise reflects both sides of the coin. The principal difficulty with reparations, as with black history in America more generally, is that guilt is an unpleasant feeling, susceptible of clouding judgment. Guilt colors the whole conversation. Today nobody can deny that being charged with racism is one of the most incendiary charges one can levy in public life. People are genuinely mortified by the accusation; many fear to even approach racial topics, or tread though them like a minefield. This legacy of political correctness has proved double-edged. On the one hand, a certain kind of public discourse is far less poisonous and injurious than it was a few decades ago. On the other hand, we have made race a relentlessly personal issue, one that often shields and distracts us from the harder questions of structural inequality, racial hierarchy and social control.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, an editor for The Atlantic, has recently joined a long tradition of black American writers stretching back to David Walker by calling upon America to live up to its moral promise; to reimagine itself, in Coates’s words, through “the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences.” His essay “The Case for Reparations” has renewed the enduring debate about the possibility of reparations as payment for racial injustice in the United States.