The Reparations Debate Reaches Congress
There is a saying that suggests ‘talk is cheap.’ That is true in some cases, but yesterday the House Judiciary Committee showed why that’s not the case all of the time. The House subcommittee held a highly-anticipated televised discussion about the need for reparations for Black Americans. The topic trended on social media all day with #Reparations alongside #Juneteenth.
Once considered a fringe issue, restitution for slavery, Jim Crow apartheid, etc is finally being taken seriously. The live streams from ABC News and The Washington Post collectively had over 77,000 views in under 12 hours. As of the publishing of this article, they now have over 100,000 views nearly 24 hours later.
The important question now is, will the House pass HR.40? We know it won’t make it past the Senate and will never make it to the President’s desk. Which I don’t think is a bad thing until Trump is removed from office. The last thing we need is anti-Black Black collaborators on a Commission dealing with reparations. This issue won’t progress until Trump is out of office at the earliest – that’s just a fact. However, a passage in the House sends a very strong message.
This is why commentators telling their audiences that anything short of an agreement to pay Black folks money is trivializing and short-sighted. Even if the Democrats in the House came to some sort of agreement like that, the right-wing Senate would kill it immediately and don’t think for a second Trump would sign off on that.
We also can’t assume every American is as informed as we are on this topic. I’ve read numerous books and articles about Black history in America. I feel I am very well-informed on our history and why we should receive reparations. However, most Americans are not as informed as I am. Nor are they as informed as some of the commentators who want to raise the bar to a level I believe they know House Democrats won’t surpass. There is a re-education process that needs to go on for many Americans. Americans need to know the evil that has been carried out in this country and how white America still benefits from this evil today.
I wrote an article for Black and Intellectual back in early April called HR. 40 – Why Reparations Should Be Studied. The article covers some of the things I’ve already mentioned.
The Quality of the Hearing
There were several amazing speakers at the hearing today. Of course, you had Ta-Nahesi Coates, author of The Case for Reparations in The Atlantic. Actor Danny Glover(also an activist for decades) was also present and he spoke in favor of reparations during the time he had.
Then there was Katrina Browne, a white descendant of the largest slave-owning family in U.S. history who supported reparations. She had an eye-opening moment when she realized how indebted her family is to Black people. The most powerful voice of the hearing was none other than economist Julianne Malveaux. She made several important references to Black Wall Street and how slaves backed bonds and stocks in the early days of Wall Street (which also began as a slave market).
Lastly, there was Professor Eric Miller who has written a number of pieces on reparations and served as a lawyer representing the victims of the 1921 Tulsa massacre when that case was going through the court system. He too made critical points including the fact that local, state, and federal government actors were active participants of race-targeted domination of Black people during slavery and Jim Crow.
There were only a couple of weak anti-reparations speakers present at the hearing. Namely Coleman Hughes and Burgess Owens. Owens wrote an anti-reparations articleback in May and basically argued that since his ancestor did relatively well and since he’s done well, he doesn’t want or need reparations. It was the old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and stop begging” argument you hear being made by many conservatives. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is not representative of most of the Black experience. While Burgess Owens’ ancestor was doing well, Black people were systematically cut from government programs and violently attacked by state actors.
Coleman Hughes argued that reparations should’ve been given to actual slaves, but should not be given to descendants of slaves. He too, like many conservatives (though he claims to be a Democrat), tried to relegate reparations to being an issue purely about slavery – which it is not.
As I’ve written in the past, reparations are about slavery, Jim Crow apartheid, redlining and the severing of the Black community from the economic gains of the New Deal. It’s also about the War on Drugs(Blacks), which there’s evidence to believe it was concocted purely as a way to attack the Black community after the gains of the Civil Rights movement. Tens of millions of Black American citizens have been impacted over the decades by the Drug War. The one thing I’m critical of with regards to this hearing is that I don’t think that point was hit home strongly enough. While mass incarceration was brought up, too many speakers focused on the past and not the present.
Reparations, if you really step back, is really about being anti-white supremacy. It’s about correcting things that this country has tried to avoid dealing with for generations because, for a long time, white supremacists controlled the narrative. The fact that we’re even talking about reparations seriously means they’re losing control of that narrative. It’s also reflective of the fact that the Democratic Party needs Black voters if they want to win and can no longer ride the coattails of the Civil Rights movement. This is especially true now that Civil Rights legislation is under attack by extremists on the Right.
What Needs To Happen Now
What needs to happen now is the passage of HR. 40. That is the first step. Detractors on the Left and Right will say that it’s not popular. This is true, but support for particular policies shouldn’t always be based on popularity when it is just. This is about starting a national conversation about correcting the damage that’s been inflicted by white supremacy. It sends a message to racists in power that there will be actions taken against their anti-democratic, anti-Black agenda.
After that, what needs to happen is the ousting of the baby tyrant Donald Trump. The Commission cannot move forward with Trump in office and the last thing we’d want is for him to put some tap-dancing raccoons on the Commission to throw the energy off. We need a progressive President to make this even more of a reality.
What I’d like to know is where Joe Biden is on this issue? In the past, he’s been against reparations. Would he support HR. 40? I honestly don’t care because I don’t think he should be President. I think any support he shows for HR. 40 will largely be for temporary political gain. When Bernie Sanders rejected any talk about reparations, his support within the Black community suffered for it. Sanders, however, is not Biden and Biden has a history dripping with racism – unlike Bernie Sanders. It’ll be interesting to see what position he’ll take on this since he’ll have to answer this question sooner or later.
Vice recently spoke with a spokesperson on the Biden team (not Biden himself) who said in not so many words that Biden didn’t support HR. 40. I hope Biden comes out against HR. 40. Why? Firstly, I think that’s his true position and for him to say otherwise would be a lie. Secondly, I want it to hurt his standing among Black voters. I’m just being honest. The second point is why he might end up lying about his position.
All in all, I found the 3 1/2 hour hearing fruitful. I wasn’t expecting anything more than what I got. We had Black (and White) people speaking on Black Wall Street, lynching, economic racism and restitution for over 3 hours in front of the House Judiciary Committee. Most of the speakers present were supportive of reparations as well, not critical.
Anyone expecting more than that was simply being unrealistic and contrarian.