I have no trouble with Coates' call for discussion of reparations owed to African American citizens. Having lived inside California's fight over affirmative action -- the white majority outlawed it by popular vote in 1996 -- I know well that African Americans don't get a fair start in life from schools, from neighborhoods or from the criminal justice system. White supremacy is in the very air we breathe -- far more foully polluted in black neighborhoods than in white ones.
These days I'm reading the early history of the Republic, something I skated over in university, too much of an intellectual snob to care much about my own story when I could immerse myself in European and world stories. One of the conundrums of U.S. history has been how the founding fathers could so ringingly assert that "all men are created equal" and concurrently write a Constitution that embedded chattel slavery defined by race in the fabric of their new nation.
The first section of The Founding Fathers (American Presidents), consisting of historians James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn writing about George Washington, pointed me to this explanation from the English conservative Edmund Burke when he tried to explain to Parliament in 1775 why it would serve no purpose to try to coerce their uppity colonists.
Burke concluded that pride in liberty created by living at the apex of a slave system would make the colonists too expensive to subdue. That a slave-owning class would feel a particular devotion to its own liberty as reinforcing its own privileged status seemed only natural to this insightful 18th century political thinker.
Overcoming this white supremacy stuff has never been simple.