In his testimony to Congress on reparations for slavery Thursday, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author of the 2014 Atlantic essay “The Case for Reparations,” directly rebutted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s (R-Ky.) assertion that slavery was too far in the past to be repaid for.
“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
Coates called McConnell’s excuse “a familiar reply.”
“This rebuttal proffers a strange theory of governance that American accounts are somehow bound by the lifetime of its generations,” Coates said, adding that Americans, through taxes and other means, always pay for things they’re not directly linked to.
“It would seem ridiculous to dispute invocations of the founders or of the greatest generation on the basis of a lack of membership in either group,” he continued. “We recognize our lineage as a generational trust, as inheritance, and the real dilemma posed by reparations is just that: a dilemma of inheritance.”
Coates argued that America has inherited much from slavery, and the horrors against individuals who are black did not stop with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation:
“For a century after the Civil War, black people were subject to a relentless campaign of terror — a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority Leader McConnell. It is tempting to divorce this modern campaign of terror, of plunder, from enslavement. But the logic of enslavement, of white supremacy, respects no such borders.”
Coates went on to point out that McConnell was alive for plenty of those horrors, from murders and tortures to legal discrimination. The author argued that black people still suffer from America’s dark past through high maternal death rates, to mass incarceration, to economic disparity.
“The question really is not whether we will be tied to the somethings of our past, but whether we are courageous enough to be tied to the whole of them,” Coates concluded.
Watch the video below:
The testimony was a part of a House subcommittee meeting to discuss HB 40, a bill introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson (D-Texas) in January that would “establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations.”