Fact Check: Where Does Kamala Harris Stand On Reparations?

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Written by Ann Brown
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Fact Check: Where does Joe Biden vice president pick Sen. Kamala Harris of California stand on the issue of reparations for Native Black Americans? Photo: California Sen. Kamala Harris listens to a question at a campaign event in Portsmouth, N.H., Feb. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Sen. Kamala Harris has become the first Black woman to be selected as a vice-presidential candidate. How hard will Joe Biden’s running mate work for issues that concern the Black community? One of these issues is the growing call by Black Americans for reparations. 

During her own run as a presidential candidate, Harris went on the record numerous times about her opinion of reparations — but her answers to questions were vague. 

Initially, she said she would support a council to look into reparations. Then, speaking in front of Rev. Al Sharpton‘s National Action Network conference, she declared that if a reparations bill came across her desk in the White House, “When I am elected president, I will sign that bill.”

However, during an interview with NPR, Harris talked about studying the issue, not about signing off on a bill. 

“I think reparations – yeah. I think that the word, the term reparations, means different things to different people. But what I mean by it is that we need to study the effects of generations of discrimination and institutional racism and determine what can be done, in terms of intervention, to correct course,” she said. 

When asked in the NPR interview for an idea on one possible form a reparations study could take, Harris talked about giving resources to communities to address untreated and undiagnosed generational trauma.

“You can look at the issue of untreated and undiagnosed trauma. African-Americans have higher rates of heart disease and high blood pressure. It is environmental. It is centuries of slavery, which was a form of violence where women were raped, where children were taken from their parents — violence associated with slavery. There was never any real intervention to break up what had been generations of people experiencing the highest forms of trauma. And trauma, undiagnosed, and untreated, leads to physiological outcomes.”

She agreed that Black Americans are dealing with something akin to post-traumatic stress from a war.

“Unless there’s intervention done, it will appear to be, perhaps, generational. But it’s generational only because the environment has not experienced a significant enough change to reverse the symptoms. You need to put resources and direct resources – extra resources – into those communities that have experienced that trauma.”

Harris proposed the Lift Act, a bill she introduced that would provide a universal tax credit of up to $500 a month to families with an annual income of less than $100,000. Harris argued that the policy would help lift “60 percent of Black families across the nation” out of poverty, The Guardian reported.

Then, during a Des Moines Register editorial board meeting, Harris said she supported reparations but seemed unclear on what form they would take. 

“This stuff needs to be studied,” Harris said. “Because America needs a history lesson, to be honest about it, and we need to study it in a way that we are having a very comprehensive and fact-based conversation about policies and the connection between those policies and harm if we’re going to have a productive conversation. It can’t just be, ‘Hey … write some checks.’”

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Harris said reparations shouldn’t be about merely issuing a check.

“If we’re talking about writing a check, I don’t think it is that simple,” she said. “And frankly, I don’t support an idea or a notion that after all this, we’re going to say, ‘OK, I’m going to write you a check, and then be quiet.’

“Because that won’t solve the problem, which is the systemic issues that are present and will continue to exist, whether or not you write a check. So I’m just saying it’s just not that simple. And I don’t buy into an argument that it is.”