Three decades after the idea of reparations was first introduced on Capitol Hill to help repair the lasting effects of slavery, a new bill that would lead to the creation of a “reparations commission” is moving closer to a full vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Juana Summers of NPR has reported that “the House Judiciary Committee took up the bill on Wednesday evening [April 14], and was expected to vote on the measure for the first time since former Democratic Rep. John Conyers initially introduced it in 1989.”
According to Summers, “the legislation has the support of more than 170 Democratic co-sponsors and key congressional leaders.” After the judiciary committee vote, the lead sponsor of the H.R. 40 bill, Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, said bringing it to a vote on the House floor would be “cleansing” for the country and she challenged Republicans who argued that such a commission was unnecessary.
“I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle, do not cancel us tonight. Do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission,” Jackson Lee said.
If passed, the bill would establish a 13-member commission tasked with studying the effects of slavery and racial discrimination. The group would hold hearings and ultimately provide a plan for “appropriate remedies” to Congress. Summers reported that “the commission would also consider what form a national apology could take for the harm caused by slavery.”
New York Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman said the creation of such a commission is essential, and accepting the idea of reparations would first require “understanding that the compounding nature of racism has created a dynamic where Black people today must not only grapple with living in a country built on our sustained oppression but also observe the modern manifestations in our daily lives.”
Supporters of the bill say the form and process of reparations need the guidance of such a commission. According to Summers, some groups have “pushed for direct monetary payments to descendants of slaves” while others believe “there are different proposals that may be more realistic and could be put into law.”
Reparations remain one of the most controversial of all the issues currently up for debate in Congress. In October 2019, the Associated Press reported that 74% of African Americans favor reparation payments, while 85% of white people and 56% of Hispanics oppose them.
Respondents were not only divided on the idea of reparations but also the way the U.S. government should attempt addressing its racist history of slavery. When asked whether the government should issue a formal “apology” for slavery, 64% of white Americans said no whereas 77% of Blacks and 64% of Hispanics said they believed an apology was due.