"Sharing in the riches of its benefits"

On the recommendation of a friend, I'm reading For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law, the latest book from legal scholar Randall Kennedy. As a defense of affirmative action, it's more than adequate. But it stands stronger as a call for clear-eyed thinking, and specifically, a call for affirmative action supporters to acknowledge the costs, weaknesses, and failures of the policy, even as they defend it.

I'll have more to say when I finish. For now, I wanted to highlight a passage that should sound familiar if you read The Case for Reparations from Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic:

It is not unfair to enlist, to some extent, all Americans in that large, complex, and costly effort, including those who have had no hand in perpetrating racial wrongs. Membership in a polity entails contributing to the alleviation of its woes, just as it means sharing in the riches of its benefits. Americans who had nothing to do with the terrible injustice the United States government imposed on people of Japanese ancestry during World War II were required nonetheless, and rightly so, to contribute toward paying reparations to rectify the wrong done by the society in which they enjoy membership.

And here's the related passage from Coates:

The last slaveholder has been dead for a very long time. The last soldier to endure Valley Forge has been dead much longer. To proudly claim the veteran and disown the slaveholder is patriotism à la carte. A nation outlives its generations. We were not there when Washington crossed the Delaware, but Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s rendering has meaning to us. We were not there when Woodrow Wilson took us into World War I, but we are still paying out the pensions. If Thomas Jefferson’s genius matters, then so does his taking of Sally Hemings’s body. If George Washington crossing the Delaware matters, so must his ruthless pursuit of the runagate Oney Judge.

They both point to the same idea: Citizenship isn't free, and the benefits of living in a (largely) peaceful, prosperous nation like the United States aren't without their costs and sacrifices. To demand the psychic and material benefits of American citizenship while disavowing its costs and obligations isn't just untenable—a recipe for disaster, sooner or later—it's dishonest.