Americans often fall prey to the wiles of selective history. We find pride in the glories of our heritage, in the shining moments of this great experiment in democracy that has lasted over 200 years and birthed the most prosperous nation on the face of the planet. We honor and immortalize the best of ourselves and cherish our transcendental narratives.

 

To be sure, every nation pens its own story, embellishing the best parts and burying the seedier moments in strokes of deft revisionism. America, though, has long refused to come to terms with the pulsing evil that plagued our country for so long, a crack in the heart of nature that split us in twain and nearly derailed the American odyssey forever. The systematic, legally sanctioned enslavement and subsequent institutional marginalization and oppression of black Americans is a stain on the nation’s conscience that refuses to fade as the years flow past.

 

The aftershocks of slavery and firmly embedded structural racism reverberate to this day, sounding the dire notes of unaddressed wrongs even in the self-styled enlightened progressivism of the modern age. Lyndon Johnson’s scathing, enduring “Negro poverty is not white poverty” polemic remains as true today as it ever was, in a nation where the income gap between black and white households has not lessened in four decades. White households in present-day America are, on average, worth 20 times as much as black households. For much of black America, the cycle of desperate poverty, violence and structural barriers to self-betterment doom generation after generation to truncated lives and snowballing tragedy.

 

For many Americans, the problem of historical racism and its lasting reverberations remains at best an intellectual curiosity, a vaguely unsettling bit of unresolved tension skirting the borders of public dialogue. The case for reparations, the push to acknowledge and make amends for the diabolical actions of our ancestors is buried under a veritable avalanche of concerns we deem more pressing, more relevant to societal progress and human flourishing. “The sins of the past belong to the mists of the past,” runs the prevailing wisdom. “The best, the only thing we can do is say ‘never again’ and move ever onward.”

 

If we kowtow to this line of reasoning, we risk sacrificing a final reckoning with our past transgressions in favor of the day-to-day pragmatism that defines so much of public policy and societal discourse. Wrongs that remain unaddressed and unaccounted for eat at the fabric of society, turning cancerous and toxic. Racism and systemic race-related brutality has permeated our culture for so long it has left indelible marks on our history, our heritage and our future. Refusing to acknowledge this and neglecting to carve out a forum for the exploration of possible solutions ignores a great injustice and, by association, sanctions a bitter wrong.

 

Reparations are a complex topic. How long ago is too long ago? Who is entitled to compensation for past atrocities? Who was wronged, by whom were they wronged, and who will foot the bill? In our austerity-enamored age, these questions are freighted with complexity, political firebrands in the making.

 

Be that as it may, they are questions that demand an answer. A fascinating article in The Atlantic traces the brutal history of American racism, from slavery to Jim Crow to the modern day apocalypse that is impoverished black America. It is a long, heavy, heartbreaking read, a masterwork of investigative journalism and righteous outrage. It sounds a clarion call, a challenge to America to finally face down the demons of the past and put to rest an age-old saga of tragedy, bloodshed and bitterness. The case for reparations is by no means an easy one to make, but its message is vital. It must be heard.

 

What do you think? Do you think reparations should be made? How? Start the discussion in the comments below or connect with me on Twitter @aa_murph