“Not all those testifying at the House hearing supported the bill and concept of reparations for descendants of slaves.”
By John Friend
In late June, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing focusing on the legacy of slavery and potential reparations for descendants of black slaves, sparking controversy in an already heated political environment. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who described slavery as “the original sin of this nation,” introduced a bill in the House that would form a national commission to study the issue of reparations, which has been backed by leading congressional Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Jackson Lee’s bill, H.R. 40, is entitled the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act and was praised by Nadler, who argued that the proposal and subsequent House hearing “gives us the opportunity to reflect on the shameful legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in this country, and to examine how we can best move forward as a nation.”
In the Senate, Democratic presidential hopeful and current Sen. Corey Booker (N.J.) has put forth a similar bill designed to study reparations. All Senate Democrats currently running for president in addition to Booker—Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have cosponsored Booker’s Senate bill, demonstrating their support for the controversial proposal.
Booker testified at the House hearing, as did the left-leaning actor Danny Glover and political pundit and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, both advocating for some form of reparations for descendants of slaves in America. Booker argued that America still has not faced up to its past and acknowledged the legacy and impact of slavery, and that the hearing gives us the “historic opportunity to break the silence, to speak to the ugly past, and talking constructively about how we will move this nation forward.”
“It’s about time we find the common ground and the common purpose to deal with the ugly past and make sure that generations ahead do not have to continue to mark disparities,” Booker declared before arguing that blacks are still dealing with the oppressive legacy of slavery today.
Not all those testifying at the House hearing supported the bill and concept of reparations for descendants of slaves.
Coleman Hughes, a black writer for the freethinking publication Quillette, argued that reparations should have been paid out to former slaves following the Civil War and their emancipation, and that the U.S. government’s failure to do so was “shameful.” However, he went on to argue, that does not justify reparations today, over 150 years after the end of slavery.
“In 2008, the House of Representatives formally apologized for slavery and Jim Crow,” Hughes stated during his testimony. “In 2009, the Senate did the same. Black people don’t need another apology. We need safer neighborhoods and better schools,” Hughes argued. “We need a less punitive criminal justice system, we need affordable healthcare, and none of these things can be achieved through reparations for slavery,” he concluded.
Hughes’s frank testimony unsurprisingly drew some grumblings and boos from those in attendance, many of whom supported the bill to study reparations. He argued that enacting reparations would make blacks victims once again, and that Rep. Jackson Lee’s bill was a “moral and political mistake.”
It is unlikely that the bill will gain much traction, particularly during the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. Jackson Lee and Booker’s controversial bills, which are largely endorsed and supported by the Democratic establishment, demonstrate once again the propensity of the left to engage in identity politics, pitting one faction against another in an attempt to divide the nation even further.
John Friend is a freelance author based in California.