President Joe Biden supports a study on whether descendants of enslaved people in the United States should receive reparations, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday, as the issue was being debated on Capitol Hill. Psaki told reporters that Biden “continues to demonstrate his commitment to take comprehensive action to address the systemic racism that persists today.”
Reparations have been used around the world to compensate victims of war, rape, terror and a host of other historical injustices.
But the United States has never made much headway in discussions of whether or how to compensate African Americans for more than 200 years of slavery.
HR-40, a bill to fund the study of “slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies” has been floated in Congress for more than 30 years, but never taken up for a full vote.
Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee reintroduced it in January saying, “Economic issues are the root cause for many critical issues impacting the African American community today.” “Truth and reconciliation about the ‘original sin of American slavery’ is necessary to light the way to the beloved community we all seek,” she said. The bill was being debated by a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
The movement has taken on new momentum BLM protests many which devolved into riots as we watched American cities burned throughout the summer of 2020.
The committee heard from eight witnesses all claiming reparations was the only answer.
“The highest standard of reparations is needed to adequately address over 400 years of atrocities and compounded and concretized injuries that this community endures,” Kamm Howard, national male co-chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, said. “No quick fix, no singular action or tweak here or there in existing policy will do. America must engage in full reparations.”
Biden told the Washington Post last year that “we must acknowledge that there can be no realization of the American dream without grappling with the original sin of slavery, and the centuries-long campaign of violence, fear, and trauma wrought upon Black people in this country.”
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Opponents of the bill argue that slavery ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 and current Americans are not responsible for the actions of others over 150 years ago.
“I can’t imagine a more divisive, polarizing or unjust measure than one that would by government force require people who never owned slaves to pay reparations by those who never were slaves,” Senator Tom McClintok said at Wednesday’s hearing.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted last June following the death in police custody in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an African-American man, found clear divisions along partisan and racial lines, with only one in 10 white respondents supporting the idea and half of Black respondents endorsing it.
Fortunately Biden is not touting the idea of specific payments to descendents of slaves but instead promising “major actions to address systemic racism” and further study which will result in a colossal waste of time and money.
Reuters contributed to this report.