Moyers & Company

Our Heritage of Racism

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Every once in a while, an article or book comes along that changes how we think and talk about race in America. So it is with the cover story in the new issue of The Atlantic magazine. Written by journalist Ta-Nahisi Coates, its provocative title is "The Case for Reparations," and it urges that we begin a national dialogue on whether the United States should compensate African Americans not only as recognition of slavery's "ancient brutality" -- as President Lyndon Johnson called it - but also as acknowledgement of all the prejudice and discrimination that have followed in a direct line from this, our original sin. "I am not asking you, as a white person, to see yourself as an enslaver," Coates explains to Bill Moyers this week on Moyers & Company (check local listings). "I'm asking you as an American to see all of the freedoms that you enjoy and see how they are rooted in things that the country you belong to condoned or actively participated in in the past. And that covers everything from enslavement to the era of lynching, when we effectively decided that we weren't going to afford African Americans the same level of protection of the law... "There are plenty of African Americans in this country-- and I would say that this goes right up to the White House-- who are not by any means poor, but are very much afflicted by white supremacy." Reparations, Coates says, are "what the United States, first of all, really owes African Americans, but not far behind that, what it owes itself, because this is really about our health as a country... I firmly believe that reparation is a chance to be pioneers. We say we set all these examples about liberty and freedom and democracy and all that great stuff. Well, here's an opportunity for us to live that out." Ta-Nehisi Coates has written for many publications, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. He is a senior editor for The Atlantic magazine and author of the 2008 memoir, "The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood."

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