Dave Chappelle has a sketch imagining a future in which African Americans are awarded reparative damages due from centuries of American slavery and discrimination. The routine features newly rich black people “blowing” their payments on rims, menthol cigarettes and rap record labels. The sketch is a smorgasbord of stereotypes conveying the message that the concept of reparations is so preposterous that it’s OK to make fun of it.
But fewer people are laughing now. And that’s largely because of writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and his 2014 landmark essay “The Case for Reparations.” The 15,000-word article, published in The Atlantic, didn’t just deal with chattel slavery; it focused on housing discrimination and predatory lending practices that robbed many black Americans of their wealth. According to reparations proponents, that legacy is largely responsible for the ongoing racial wealth gap, wherein the typical white family owns 10 times the assets of the typical black family.