On Thursday, November 20th, NPHM was pleased to be one of the partners with the Center of Race, Politics, and Culture and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, of the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics Ta-Nehisi Coates event. Coates is a senior writer for The Atlantic and author of the much-discussed article, "The Case for Reparations." The June cover story helped fuel higher than average magazine sales and resulted in increased online traffic to read an examination of the historical inequalities that still shape what African-Americans face today.
At the heart of the article's argument was housing policy in Chicago. In the 1960s and 1970s, an organization called the Contract Buyers League fought back against discriminatory housing policies that denied African-Americans the possibility of real home ownership. Instead, these residents of North Lawndale bought their house "on time," gaining no equity in their homes and under constant threat of losing their houses if they missed even one payment.
A video presentation at the beginning of the talk allowed even those audience members who hadn't yet read "The Case for Reparations" to learn what the Contract Buyers League and central figure of the organization, Clyde Ross, endured to be able to call themselves homeowners.
In conversation with the Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic, James Bennet, Coates explained his thinking behind the article and how the sociological research so prevalent in Chicago made it a perfect case study. The talk was rich with information from Coates's extensively researched article, but also revealed the very human side of the story, both the real emotional toll that injustice takes and the difficult, if necessary, need to do what is possible to make change.
Coates also took questions from the audience ranging from the argument to be made for reparations for Native Americans to recommendations for African-American high school students applying to college. Coates acknowledged that reparations as an actual policy would be near impossible for this country to enact, but the event evidenced that if nothing else, Coates has started quite a conversation.