Coates Schools McConnell on ‘Fair Weather Patriotism’

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on H.R. 40. Here is the summary contained in the bill.

To address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.

During his weekly press conference, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked about reparations and responded with this:

“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” McConnell said. “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president.”…

“I think we’re always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that, and I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it.”

Given that all H.R. 40 calls for is a commission to study the issue and make appropriate recommendations to Congress, McConnell could have simply supported the bill in question. But he went so much further than that and put his ignorance on display for all to see. Here is how our friend Ed Kilgore responded.

I don’t know what’s worse: the belief that once slavery ended, the outrages associated with this particular “original” form of white supremacy ended, too, or the idea that civil-rights legislation (simply to give a distinct category of Americans what we all expect) and one president out of 45 are “reparations” in themselves and ought to be enough. It is credible that McConnell thinks the minute Obama took office any obligation to treat him with respect ended, since the Republican leader and his party spent the entire eight years of the Obama presidency seeking to deny him any positive legacy.

One of the witnesses at the hearing on Wednesday was Ta-Nehisi Coates, who reignited this whole discussion with an article in the Atlantic back in 2014. No one is better prepared to respond to McConnell than Coates, who used his opening statement to decimate the majority leader’s dismissal of the issue. My hope would be that every American would give five minutes of their time to listen to what he had to say and contemplate the question he poses at the end: “The question is not whether we will be tied to the somethings of our past, but whether we are courageous enough to be tied to the whole of them.”

American history is African-American history, just as African-American history is American history. Contrary to what happens in most classrooms, the two can never be rendered apart because the events Coates referred to were meted out to African Americans by their fellow citizens. But too many of us remain ignorant of many of the things Coates talked about in his extremely brief reflection on our history. If any of the people or events he mentioned are unfamiliar to you, here are some links to ensure that this July 4th, we don’t engage in what Coates referred to as “fair weather patriotism.”

George Stinney
Isaac Woodard
Redlining of Chicago
Sally Hemmings
Black Wall Street
Fort Pillow

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.