A House hearing on the issue of reparations for slavery erupted Wednesday as Democrats and advocates for reparations demanded action for what they called America’s “original sin,” while Republicans pushed back.
“I don’t think we should rule out cutting checks. There are people who deserve checks,” writer Ta-Nehisi Coates said, according to CNN. Coates, who has advocated reparations since 2014, said Americans do not understand their history.
“While it’s been well-studied, I don’t know that Americans quite understand it. At this very point, you can at least get a plurality of white Americans who would tell you that the Civil War was about states’ rights, with no conversation about states’ rights to do what,” he said.
“It’s impossible to imagine American without the inheritance of slavery,” Coates said, saying the early U.S. economy relied upon slavery, which supported “torture, rape and child trafficking.”
Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas has proposed a bill to study how the issue of reparations should be handled. The hearing of the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee was held to discuss the bill and was timed to take place on what is celebrated as Juneteenth, the date in 1865 when the end of slavery was announced in Texas.
“Slavery is the original sin. Slavery has never received an apology,” she said. “The role of the federal government in supporting the institution of slavery and subsequent discrimination directed against blacks is an injustice that must be formally acknowledged and addressed.”
“I just simply ask: Why not and why not now?” she said, according to Fox News.
Black Americans need #Reparations in the form of CASH PAYMENTS.
All that “money to HBCUs” and “criminal reform” talk is NOT reparations.
Foundational Black Americans are owed cash payments. The federal government made MONEY from free Black labor. So we need THAT MONEY
— Tariq Nasheed 🇺🇸 (@tariqnasheed) June 19, 2019
Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who was heckled during his remarks, said fairness and logic should dictate that reparations are wrong.
“Putting aside the injustice of monetary reparations from current taxpayers for the sins of a small subset of Americans from many generations ago, the fair distribution of reparations would be nearly impossible when one considers the complexity of the American struggle to abolish slavery,” he said.
He was roundly booed for saying that reparations would “almost certainly be unconstitutional on their face.”
That issue did not arise in Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker’s remarks, as he delivered a broad indictment of America on the issue of slavery.
“I feel a sense of anger where we are in the United States of America where we have not had direct conversation about a lot of the root causes of a lot of the inequities and the pain and the hurt manifested in economic disparities, manifested in health disparities, manifested in a criminal justice system that is indeed a form of new Jim Crow,” Booker said.
During the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was attacked for his views on reparations, which he had expressed on Tuesday.
“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” the Kentucky Republican said, according to CNN. “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president.”
“I think we’re always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that, and I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it. First of all, it would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate,” McConnell said. “No, I don’t think reparations are a good idea.”
Coates lashed out at McConnell, according to CBS.
“Majority Leader McConnell cited civil rights legislation yesterday, as well he should, because he was alive to witness the harassment, jailing, and betrayal of those responsible for that legislation by a government sworn to protect them. He was alive for the redlining of Chicago and the looting of black homeowners of some $4 billion,” Coates said. “Victims of that plunder are very much alive today. I am sure they’d love a word with the majority leader.”
During the hearing, Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas noted that Democrats are the party with a history of racism.
“It is important that we know our history and we not punish people for the sins of their predecessors in the Democratic Party,” he said. As Gohmert spoke, an audience member yelled, “You lie.”
Julianne Malveaux, an economist, argued that all whites gained from slavery regardless of what their ancestors did or did not do.
“It’s more than time for us to deal with the injustices that African-Americans not only have experienced in history but continue to experience,” Malveaux said. “Enslavement is the foundation on which this country was built.”
“Racism and slavery was our original sins, and we’ve got to deal with reparations by dealing exactly with that,” Malveaux said.
However, writer Coleman Hughes said the time has passed for reparations. He said failing to compensate freed slaves after the Civil War was “one of the greatest injustices ever perpetrated by the U.S. government,” but also mused whether “our desire to fix the past compromises our ability to fix the present.”
“Black people don’t need another apology, we need safer neighborhoods and better schools, we need a less punitive criminal justice system, we need affordable health care and none of these things can be achieved with reparations for slavery,” he said. “If we were to pay reparations today, we would only divide the country further, making it harder to build the political coalitions required to solve the problems facing black people today.”
Although not speaking at the hearing, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the nation must focus on its future, not its past.
“I just think we are so far removed from the event, it was the original sin of the country. I think let’s just make it a more perfect union rather than look backward, because I don’t know where it stops when you do that,” Graham said. “We’re not a perfect country, but we’re trying to form a more perfect union and I don’t think this helps.”
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