On Whose Shoulders the Research Stands

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Over at Demos, there's an interview with Duke economist Sandy Darity, whose been researching and making the case for reparations long before I got the notion. Professor Darity is not alone in this. My argument for reparations stands on mountain of research produced by people whose labor does not always get the accolades it deserves. Frankly, it often gets ignored. I think there many reasons for that—JSTOR, the lack of incentive within the academy, the low level of curiosity among many journalists etc. 

But whatever the reasons, there is something I must make absolutely clear: this piece would not exist without the work of economists like Professor Darity, of historians like Barbara Fields and Tony Judt, of sociologists like William Massey and Devah Pager, of law professors like Kim Forde-Mazrui and Eric J Miller. And so on. Without them, this blog, and all my writing, is significantly poorer. Without the academy, we are not talking right now.

I have no desire to be anybody's Head Negro—that goes for reparations and beyond. I just hope to write hard. In my own blogging, I've worked to link back to books, papers and studies that have influenced my thinking. I've really, really hoped—perhaps naively—that people would not stop with a blog post, or magazine article, that they click through the hyperlinks, and then form questions of their own. 

At my heart, I am a failed academic. I was a history major at Howard University, dreaming of becoming the next Basil Davidson. (Or the next Robert Hayden. Long story.) But as a young man, I did not have the discipline to see the dream through. I found another dream but part of me is still back there.  I have great respect and love for people who dig through the archives, who do the calculations, who do the case-studies, and perform the field research. As much as any of my ideas, I hope that love and respect passes on to some of you.

If you stop here, you are fooling yourself. Don't stop here. Don't go down so easy.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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