On Wednesday, the members of a House subcommittee held a second meeting on reparations, virtually debating the merits of legislation to establish a federal commission to explore reparations for Black Americans. The last time the subcommittee met about reparations was on Juneteenth 2019.
The focus of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties hearing was to discuss a bill first introduced by the late Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in 1989. The legislation never reached the floor for a vote, The Hill reported.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) reintroduced the legislation, H.R. 40, in January 2019. The bill currently has 162 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
A slew of witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing included researcher Dreisen Heath, Kamm Howard, National Male Co-Chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, former NFL player Herschel Walker and Dr. Shirley N. Weber, California Secretary of State.
One person who was glaringly absent was longtime reparations advocate Dr. Sandy Darity, who has publicly called for changes to be made to H.R. 40.
Several of those who testified spoke of the need for reparations, especially in light of the health disparities in Black communities during the covid-19 pandemic. But there was also testimony from people who oppose reparations, such as conservative and often controversial talk show host Larry Elder, host of “The Larry Elder Show” podcast.
Before giving his testimony, Elder tweeted out a video in which he explained his opposition to reparations.
“This morning I will be testifying before Congress on the issue of reparations. I will be opposing them,” he said in the video.
“Reparations are the extraction of money from people who were never slave owners to be given to people who were never slaves. Only about 5 percent of white Americans have any sort of generational connection to slavery, which ended 156 years ago. When we paid reparations to people in the past as when the Japanese received reparations for being put into relocation camps, the money was paid to them, victims themselves, or to their legal heirs. Slavery ended 156 years ago. It was just too long ago.”
Elder then noted that former President Barack Obama, the country’s first Black president, opposes reparations.
“By the way, someone like Obama, whose mother, her family-owned slaves, and his father lived in Kenya, an area of active slave trading — does Obama get a check, or does he cut a check? And some years ago, Obama was asked about reparations and he said it would be too divisive and politically impossible in our country. Guess what, Obama was right.”
Twitter had lots to say.
“It’s Black people like him and the likes of Hershel, is why republicans can’t galvanize Black grassroots,” one person tweeted.
Another noted that some Black Americans can directly trace their slave ancestry. The tweet read, “1. Uh, the weath created from slavery is still in our economic system. 2. The poverty created from slavery is still being inherited by those who descend from American slavery. 3. My Great Aunt’s mother was a freed slave, so slavery wasn’t that long ago.”
Reparations is an overdue debt, a Twitter user wrote in response to Elder’s remarks. “If the American government did right by its newly freed citizens following through with their promise of 40 Acres and a mule we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Since there’s no expiration on a debt as one of their descendants I’m coming for that 40 Acres & the mule.”
One other tweet pointed out evidence that Black people still face financial injustices due to the color of their skin. The user mentioned a Black California couple who got lowballed on their home appraisal. When they faked white ownership for a second appraisal, it came in a half-million dollars higher.
As Elder mentioned, Obama has indeed said he did not believe in reparations, but Obama’s explanation about his opposition to it was more complex than Elder explained.
Obama, who is the descendant of white Americans who enslaved Black people, spoke out against reparations when he was first running for the White House in 2008, The Washington Post reported. He shared his views on the issue in an NAACP questionnaire in which he wrote, “I fear that reparations would be an excuse for some to say ‘we’ve paid our debt’ and to avoid the much harder work of enforcing our anti-discrimination laws in employment and housing; the much harder work of making sure that our schools are not separate and unequal; the much harder work of providing job training programs and rehabilitating young men coming out of prison every year; and the much harder work of lifting 37 million Americans of all races out of poverty.”
Obama added, “These challenges will not go away with reparations. So while I applaud and agree with the underlying sentiment of recognizing the continued legacy of slavery, I would prefer to focus on the issues that will directly address these problems — and building a consensus to do just that.”
Later in an August 2008 CNN interview, Obama reiterated, “I have said in the past — and I’ll repeat again — that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed…You know, the fact is, is that dealing with some of the — some of the legacy of discrimination is going to cost billions of dollars. And we’re not going to be able to have that kind of resource allocation unless all Americans feel that they are invested in making this stuff happen.”
Elder wasn’t the only one opposed to reparations at the recent hearing.
Utah Rep. Burgess Owens, a Black man, a descendant of slaves and a former NFL safety, has blasted the push to create a reparations commission.
“Reparations are not the way to right our country’s wrong,” the conservative Republican Owens said during the hearing Wednesday. Owens is a panel member for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.
“It is impractical and a nonstarter for the United States government to pay reparations,” Owens said. “It is also unfair and heartless to give Black Americans the hope that this is a reality.”
Reparations tend to portray Blacks as somehow inferior and in need of extra assistance, Owens added.
“The reality is that Black American history is not one of a hapless, hopeless race oppressed by a more powerful white race,” he said. Instead, it is “a history of millions of middle and wealthy class Black Americans throughout the early 20th century achieving the American dream.”
According to Owens, the U.S. is making progress on the racial divide, and reparations are not needed, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
“I entered the NFL in 1973 at a time there were no Black quarterbacks, Black centers or Black middle linebackers,” Owens said. “They were ‘white thinking men positions.’ Forty years later, our nation has elected a Black American as president and a Black female as vice president. It’s called progress.”
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