The Corner


A Brief Note on Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Long Essay

Ta-Nehisi Coates has another very long essay in The Atlantic, this one titled, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” He doesn’t really dispute that strong family structure is important; he just says that it’s not important enough to counteract all the institutionalized racism that African Americans face (like housing segregation, the focus of his reparations essay).  As for crime, he views any crime-fighting that has a disparate impact on the basis of race as presumptively racist, and he concludes with a strong hint that reparations may therefore be in order (the new essay’s last link is to his earlier long essay on that topic). But there are plenty of non-racist reasons for being against crime, and, Coates’s cherry-picking to the contrary notwithstanding, there is plenty of evidence that those opposing crime have generally done so for those non-racist reasons. Finally, reparations would not be a logical response to any racism in our criminal-justice system, since (1) most African Americans have not been in the criminal-justice system, and (2) most who have been cannot blame racism.

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