Supporters of reparations for slavery have increasingly been confronting Black politicians to ask where they stand on the issue. House Majority Whip James Clyburn has been questioned more than once at public appearances about his views and lack of action in promoting reparations, and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) recently had to answer questions about reparations when approached by a Black voter.
Cleaver appeared at a Nov. 5 town hall discussion on Medicaid expansion at the Macedonia Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri. Cleaver, who is also a United Methodist pastor, has represented Missouri’s 5th Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2005. He co-introduced legislation to expand Medicaid, but on the issue of reparations, he hasn’t been as vocal.
A Black voter and citizen journalist named Kiara Watts posted on Twitter a video account of her encounter with Cleaver at the town hall, quizzing him about reparations. Watts describes herself on Twitter as “Mother – Daughter – Sister – Friend – Lover of Life -Advocate for #reparations because America owes the debt.”
Watts pointed out to Cleaver that while Medicaid expansion would benefit Black people, it would not solve systemic racism which has prevented Black Americans from benefitting from all that America has to offer.
Cleaver replied, “Reparations are not going to solve that issue (of systemic racism). You can give every Black person in America $200,000 today and tomorrow there is still going to be discrimination.”
Watts stressed that monetary reparations could create a “barrier” and a “protection” for Black Americans against racism. But Cleaver insisted, “If I give you $100,000 right now, tomorrow you are still going to a victim of bigotry. If I has given the young man in Georgia, (Ahmaud) Arbery $600,000 they would have still shot him down in the streets.” Arbery was an unarmed 25-year-old Black man who was fatally shot while jogging in Satilla Shores, Georgia.
Watts said she felt reparations was indeed the solution. Cleaver then explained how there has been a fight for the H.R. 40 reparations legislation for decades and it still had not been passed. Even if reparations were on the table, he said, “I don’t think anyone in the country would say that if it (H.R. 40) was passed racism is over.”
This isn’t the first time Cleaver has downplayed the need for reparations. In a 2019 interview on the Make It Plain podcast, he admitted he was not sure whether or not he had signed on in support of the H.R. 40 bill. He said, “I’m not sure,” and added, “I think we need to look at reparations in a slightly different perspective than we have been doing.”
Cleaver said he was not for individual reparations, though he once said, “We want payment.” He said he sees a massive program created by the government for the descendants of slaves as the type of reparations needed.
“I think that the money should fund a program that would benefit descendants of slaves,” Cleaver said. “Conservatives should even support is, unless you are just resentful — ‘How dare the descendants of slaves say we owe them something’.”
Cleaver is a member of the House Committee on Financial Services; Chair of the Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance; member of Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship, and Capital Markets; member of Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations; member of the House Committee on Homeland Security; member of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security; and member of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.
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