— If you've heard of "40 acres and a mule," then you
know that the concept of America paying reparations for the
enslavement of black people is by no means a new idea.
concept has been discussed since 1865 when the promise to repay - I
use that term loosely - former slaves was made by Union Gen. William
T. Sherman and then backed by President Abraham Lincoln and Congress.
we know, the promise would be broken (when President Andrew Johnson
withdrew the offer).
then, the national conversation around America's history with slavery
and how the country should atone for its past has been pushed aside -
coming up only occasionally in pockets of discussion.
now, and rightfully so, it seems like the importance of reparations
is being brought to the forefront.
year on - Juneteenth,
the commemoration of the end of slavery - the House Judiciary
Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil
Liberties was scheduled to do just that. The committee discussed H.R.
Sheila Jackson Lee,
D-Texas, to address the "fundamental injustice, cruelty,
brutality, and inhumanity of slavery" in the United States,
establish a commission to study and consider a national apology, and
reparations proposal for slavery and racial and economic
discrimination against African-Americans, and make recommendations to
Congress. Actor Danny Glover and author Ta-Nehisi Coates are among
hearing is a step in the right direction of America coming to terms
with its legacy of slavery.
step is the support
Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro, Beto O'Rourke,
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, and Marianne
Democrats support the bill and the idea of reparations in general,
68% of Americans, according to a 2016
say that the United States should not repay the descendants of
slaves. This included 81% of white Americans and 35% of black
who can't see the importance of Wednesday's congressional hearing and
the H.R. 40 bill, usually argue that slavery was "so long ago."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thinks reparations are not a
good idea, claiming
would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate," and
claims "none of us currently living are responsible" for
what happened 150 years ago. McConnell believes America made up for
slavery by electing Barack Obama, and passing civil rights
legislation - though he sees no need to restore
the Voting Rights Act,
and calls efforts to expand voting rights a "half-baked,
arguments only belittle the issue, ignore history and the present,
and are designed to obfuscate and change the subject. America always
was - and continues to be - a divisive place, built on the
enslavement of Africans and the genocide of native people.
million and 15 million
people were kidnapped and transported in slave ships across the
Atlantic Ocean to the Americas, more than 54,000
300 years between the 16th and 19th centuries. As many as 40%
after they were captured in Africa or aboard the floating dungeons
sailing for one to three months across the Middle Passage. Under half
a million African people
shipped to North America, of which 40% entered through the port of
Charleston, South Carolina -- where my family originates.
slave trade and the bondage of human beings built American
allowing individuals, families, corporations, universities and others
to amass great inheritable wealth for future generations to enjoy.
All the while, African-Americans - kidnapped and robbed of
everything, condemned to forced labor, raped, tortured and murdered -
never received compensation for their free labor, or relief for the
intergenerational trauma from which they continue to suffer.
that legacy is not only a matter of distant historical events from
hundreds of years ago but rather what is taking place today.
of inequities and institutional racism, including systemic
employment and access
created a racial wealth gap. According to a 2018 report from the
Center for American Progress, "these disparities that exist
today can be traced back to public policies, both implicit and
explicit: from slavery to Jim Crow, from redlining to school
segregation, and from mass incarceration to environmental racism."
2016, the average white household has more than 10
median wealth of a black household, a gap that hard work and
education does not erase, according to a 2018 Duke
requiring policy interventions. According to Duke's William "Sandy"
co-author of the study, reparations require acknowledgment,
restitution and closure.
no amount of money can begin to overcome hundreds of years of chattel
slavery and its present day vestiges, reparations may assume any
number of other forms, according to the National Coalition of Blacks
for Reparations in America, such as land, economic and community
development, exoneration of political prisoners, scholarships,
racially unjust laws and the freeing of political prisoners, even
resources for those who want to repatriate to Africa.
are not only about the slavery that many Americans do not learn in
history class but rather extend to Jim Crow segregation and today's
The debt owed to black Americans is great, and the time to consider
paying that debt is now.
commentary was originally published by CNN.com