Biden backs repair study, as House Dems demand commission
WASHINGTON – The White House said on Wednesday that President Joe Biden would support the study of reparations for slavery, the same day that House Democrats held a hearing on legislation that would establish a reparations commission.
But White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not say Biden would sign the bill under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee.
A subcommittee headed by U.S. Representative Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, discussed RH 40, a bill named after “40 Acres and a Mule,” the post-Civil War government’s promise to redistribute land to newly freed slaves failed. Researchers argue that this has resulted in generational economic setbacks for African Americans.
“Slavery was the original sin of our nation,” said Cohen, chair of the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee. “It is a crime against humanity, and the effects it has had on our society, on African Americans in general, continues to cause hardship for Americans, from racial inequality to economic opportunity.”
The bill’s commission would study how the U.S. government can design remedies to address disparities in wealth, education, health, housing, and mass incarceration, among others. No Republican joined HR 40, but more than 160 Democrats did.
Similar attempts in the past haven’t gone far, but supporters could make more progress after last year’s widespread protests against racial injustice following the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Former police officer faces second degree murder and manslaughter charges for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, killing him, and trial is set to proceed start next month.
Georgia State Representative Dar’shun Kendrick said social unrest, coupled with the uneven impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the black community, has made it all the more glaring Black Americans have fallen behind. The Democrat of Lithonia, who sponsored A resolution Urging Congress to create a federal commission, said on Wednesday it was encouraged to finally make progress.
“It’s a study committee. So it’s not even going as far as I would like it to be just doing something, ”Kendrick said. “All it is is a review committee, and obviously we couldn’t even get a review committee to recognize it under the previous administration. “
Psaki said in a briefing that the president would back a study on reparations, but would not commit to her signing on HR 40. She said Biden is waiting for the legislative process to finish.
“He has supported a study on reparations, which I believe is being discussed and is studying the continuing impacts of slavery, which is being discussed in this hearing on HR 40,” she said. She also stressed that he had signed an executive decree that pledges to “tackle racial inequalities and ensure that equity is part of his entire political agenda.”
When asked if Biden would support an executive order on reparations, Psaki said “that would be up to him.”
Commission concept defended
During the hearing, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas who supports the bill, stressed that the legislation only creates a commission to study and make proposals.
She said the hearing was not about giving money to black Americans, which was Republicans’ main argument against the bill.
“Hidden in the corners of this nation are those of African American descent, the descendants of enslaved Africans who have felt the sting of disparities and continue to feel that sting,” she said. “Today more than ever, the facts and circumstances facing our nation demonstrate the importance of HR 40 and the need to place our nation on the path to restorative justice.”
One of the witnesses, Kathy Masaoka, co-chair of the Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, said she knew the federal government could play a role in reparations because it had done so for the more than 120,000 Japanese who were forced to be placed in internment camps. during World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan. The organization educates people about the injustices suffered by the Japanese during wartime.
Over 60 percent of those imprisoned were citizens.
“For the American-Japanese community, the 1981 Commission on the Relocation and Internment of Civilians in Wartime (CWRIC) authorized by President Jimmy Carter, allowed many former incarcerates to speak out on the feelings and the experiences they had lived for 40 years. she said in her opening remarks.
Masaoka said the commission has helped educate other Americans about the atrocities facing his community, and the same must be done for African Americans.
“Likewise, many in this country, including ourselves, do not know the long history and legacy of slavery,” she said.
Another witness, the former University of Georgia football player and Heisman Herschel Walker Trophy winner, said he did not understand the need for repairs. Walker said it would be difficult for the commission to study it because he himself was struggling to find information on the matter.
Jackson Lee told him that it was part of the commission’s mission to study and provide proposals for home-made research and repair based on these findings as well as to educate people.
Walker, who campaigned for former President Donald Trump last year, also said he didn’t want whites to feel guilty of slavery and that it wouldn’t be fair to make reparations pay for them. taxpayers because they were not involved in slavery. .
He said that “it will only create a division with the different races.”
Another Republican, prominent subcommittee member Burgess Owens of Utah, said the idea of reparations was “impractical and unfounded.”
Owens, who is black and also played professional football, explained how his family grew up during the Jim Crow days, when laws were made to make segregation legal, and his father, mother and son uncle were able to overcome this racism.
He argued that black people need to understand their past history because they were able to create and build their own middle class community in the 1960s.
“If we sincerely want to repay black Americans for our loss, give us back our history,” he said. “In doing so, you will ensure the pride of our race as we accept our lineage as victors, and the same story will command respect from our fellow Americans as an example of how to overcome the most overwhelming obstacles.”
An example of state-level repairs can be found in Oklahoma. One of the wealthiest black communities of the early 1900s was in Tulsa. Known as Black Wall Street, it was torched in 1921 by a white mob that left 10,000 blacks homeless, millions in property damage and over 100 dead.
The state legislature opened its own riot commission in 2001, which found that the city had conspired with the mob to attack its own black citizens. The commission recommended reparations to survivors and descendants of the massacre, which the state then adopted.
Representative Deborah Ross, a Democrat from North Carolina, also said that a reparations commission could work because her state is forming one. She pointed to the massive eugenics campaign that North Carolina waged between 1929 and 1976, in which more than 7,000 people were forcibly sterilized. It was a campaign that targeted black people and people with disabilities.
The state passed a law in 2010 to create a agency to distribute financial reparations to compensate those who have been sterilized by the Eugenics Board program in the State of North Carolina.
“As we think about the history of racism and slavery in this country, we need to have a conversation about the truth of the past and the damage that has been inflicted,” she said, adding that the commission is the first step towards that.
Kamm Howard, who helps run an organization that supports reparations, said there are five areas of injury the commission should consider: criminal justice and law enforcement; health disparities; white supremacy; disparities in education; and wealth disparities.
“We must tackle the root cause of the atrocities that have been committed in our country against black people,” he said.
Howard is the national co-chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, an organization that seeks reparations for the descendants of African-American slaves.
A 2020 study by Citi Bank found that if repairs had been initiated 20 years ago to close four key racial gaps – those in wages, education, housing and investment – then $ 16 trillion could have been added to the economy.
“And if the gaps are closed today, $ 5,000 billion could be added to US GDP over the next five years,” according to the study.
When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, black Americans owned about half of 1% of the country’s total wealth. Over 150 years later, that percentage has barely budged as the black community holds just 1% of the wealth in the United States, according to research by Dalton Conley, professor of sociology at Princeton.
“HR 40 is intended to start a national conversation about how to deal with the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during movable slavery, Jim Crow segregation and the persistent structural racism that remains endemic in our society today.” , the Democratic President of House Judiciary, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said in his opening remarks.
“I hope that the commission established by HR 40 can help us better understand our own history and bring us closer to racial understanding and advancement.”
Kendrick, the Georgian lawmaker, said she had taken a close look at America’s wealth gap in her work as a corporate lawyer and investment advisor.
“When we think of repairs, we always think of a check in the mail, like stimulus checks,” she said. “But the remedies are really about trying to elevate African Americans as much as possible closer to closing the wealth gap, which wealth is not defined by money.”
It could take many forms, she said, such as student loan debt forgiveness.
“When you say repairs, it just means repair. It doesn’t necessarily mean giving a check. So you know, you can get creative, ”she said. “But again, the first thing you need to do is recognize that it needs to be done before you start talking about solutions.”
Georgia Recorder’s Associate Editor-in-Chief, Jill Nolin, contributed to this report.