Nine years ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates did not support reparations.
Five years ago, after he had “read a lot, talked to a lot of people, and spent a lot of time in Chicago where the history, somehow, feels especially present,” his “thinking [had] evolved,” and he wrote “The Case for Reparations,” published in The Atlantic.
Nine days ago, Coates testified before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties at hearings to consider H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.
The hearings represented “the first time Congress has considered” the bill, first introduced in 1989 by Representative John Conyers, Jr., “that would create a commission to develop proposals to address the lingering effects of slavery and consider a ‘national apology’ for the harm it has caused.”
In a world where last week’s news can feel like ancient history, 2010 feels like several lifetimes ago.
But Coates’ appearance before Congress is a reminder that minds do change, and that the cultural conversation does shift. It often happens slowly, too slowly for those who feel the impact of injustice, but sometimes it happens more quickly than we thought possible. Today, “at least 11 Democratic presidential candidates … have embraced either the concept of reparations or the bill to study it.”
The conversation about reparations is far from resolved, and even H.R. 40, which only aims to study reparations, faces stiff political resistance. But the narrative is shifting, and minds are changing.
And that matters. Because the change in minds is the prerequisite for changes in policy and practice, which in most cases are the prerequisites for changes in climate and culture, which in most cases are the prerequisites for changes in outcomes.
Coates’ appearance before Congress should serve as a reminder to those of us working for more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces that change is possible, but not without persistence. Old narratives are stubborn things.
It should also serve as a reminder to those who hold power and enjoy privilege that your voice is needed in this work, too. Conyers planted the seed for this bill 30 years ago. The bill finally got a hearing because influential legislators, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, got on board.
The seeds of change are often planted by those impacted by injustice, who speak up and take action and advocate for themselves. But for those seeds to bear fruit, it often takes those with power and privilege to leverage their influence, and advocate for others.
Even the strongest, most persistent fighters need allies.
This post originally appeared in The Mouse and the Elephant Resource. Read the full email here, and subscribe to receive future emails with diversity, equity, and inclusion resources using the form on our home page.