February 22, 2015

Sometimes the Sunday shows yield an unexpected and revealing moment, one that has nothing to do with the outrage of the day or Stupid Things Politicians Say. Today is one of those days, with an interesting and aggravating discussion between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Shelby Steele about reparations versus bootstraps.

Steele is promoting his new book, which argues that even the mention of reparations creates a climate within the African-American community of dependency on government rather than self-sufficiency. Coates penned an eloquent and award-winning article for The Atlantic making the case that reparations should be made for Jim Crow and slavery, and clearly disagrees with Steele.

The only thing these two agree on is that there is and has been inequality. They disagree on the degree of impact that inequality has wrought on African-Americans, but they both agree that it exists. Steele argues for ignoring it entirely and pulling on those bootstraps.

Speaking of the inequality of opportunity and place, Steele said, "You don't do anything. You leave it -- you leave it alone," You practice a, as best as possible, a discipline of freedom where every -- where you have -- struggle is not for some sort of advantage, but your struggle is for freedom itself."

In other words, accept your lot, accept the ongoing disparities in administration of justice and opportunity, and those who succeed will do it with the aid of their own bootstraps. Assuming they have bootstraps. Or boots.

Coates vehemently disagreed. "That gap didn't get there by magic. That gap is the result of housing policy that we had in this country, a long, long policy of taking wealth out of African-American communities and putting them elsewhere. And it has real consequences."

They sparred for a few minutes more with no resolution. But you know what I appreciated about it? It was unspun, true debate about a really important issue. You can fault Steele for his solutions, but let's give them both credit for a civil debate that stuck to the question at hand rather than descending into ridiculous sound-bite journalism.

This segment is a winner, even without a pretty resolution. Lots of food for thought instead of fuel for outrage.


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