By Jeffrey L. Boney
it comes to the concept of granting “reparations” to Black people as a form of restitution for the years that Blacks spent subjected to the barbaric institution of slavery in America, it has seemingly been overlooked and ignored by the majority of legislators that have come and gone in the U.S. Congress. Even former U.S. Congressman John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) once proposed to create a Commission to study how to appropriately compensate the descendants of slaves for decades, with those conversations falling on deaf ears.
Blacks have been trying to equal the economic and societal playing fields in this country for some time. Many Blacks have heard and even used the phrase – “40 acres and a mule” – which was a guarantee made to formerly enslaved people of African descent that was the first attempt at seeking to provide some form of reparations to Blacks who had been enslaved.
Of course, history shows us that the decision makers who talked about implementing the idea of providing reparations to those people of African descent, who were previously enslaved, reneged on their promise, leaving Blacks to work harder and longer to achieve success than those who had enslaved them to begin with. This has proved to be extremely challenging for Blacks.
U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) is hoping that a bill she is now championing, in the spirit of former Rep. Conyers, gets the type of support and traction needed to help African Americans finally receive the guarantee once promised to them back in the late 1800s.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee recently announced the introduction of H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act. This piece of legislation would create a Commission aimed at studying the impact of slavery and continuing discrimination against African Americans, resulting directly and indirectly from slavery to segregation to the desegregation process and the present day. The Commission would also make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation to begin the long delayed process of atonement for slavery.
“The impact of slavery and its vestiges continues to affect African Americans and indeed all Americans in communities throughout our nation, which is why I am pleased to introduce H.R. 40,” said Congresswoman Lee. “This legislation is intended to examine the institution of slavery in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present, and further recommend appropriate remedies.”
Congresswoman Jackson Lee states that since the initial introduction of this legislation, its proponents have made substantial progress in elevating the discussion of reparations and reparatory justice at the national level and joining the mainstream international debate on the issues. She went on to state that some people have tried to deflect the importance of these conversations by focusing on individual monetary compensation, but the real issue is whether and how this nation can come to grips with the legacy of slavery that still infects current society.
According to the bill, the Commission shall be composed of 13 members, who shall be appointed, within 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, as follows:
• Three members shall be appointed by the President.
• Three members shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
• One member shall be appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate.
• Six members shall be selected from the major civil society and reparations organizations that have historically championed the cause of reparatory justice.
In short, the Commission would be tasked with studying the impact of slavery and the continuing discrimination against African Americans, which has come as a direct and indirect result of slavery, as well as from segregation and other present day factors. According to the bill, the Commission would also make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation to begin the long delayed process of atonement for slavery.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee believes that through legislation, resolutions, news, and litigation, Congress is moving closer to making more strides in the movement toward reparations.
The U.S. has a history of and has set a precedent for providing reparations to several groups, including Japanese Americans and victims of the Jewish Holocaust, who have suffered their own respective challenges as a group.
People of African descent were enslaved and experienced some of the worst ordeals imaginable through the barbaric institution of slavery and should be looked at no different than any other group, in that they have experienced their own set of unique challenges and issues.
From a historical perspective, approximately 4,000,000 Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the United States and colonies that became the United States from 1619 to 1865. The institution of slavery was constitutionally and statutorily sanctioned by the Government of the United States from 1789 through 1865. African Americans continue to suffer debilitating economic, educational, and health hardships, including but not limited to, having nearly 1,000,000 Black people incarcerated, an unemployment rate that is more than twice the current White unemployment rate, and an average of less than 1⁄16 of the wealth of White families, a disparity which has worsened, not improved over time.
While a focus has been made on highlighting the social effects of slavery and segregation, its continuing economic implications remain largely ignored by mainstream analysis. These economic issues are the root cause of many critical issues in the African American community today, such as education, healthcare and criminal justice policy, including policing practices. The call for reparations represents a commitment to entering a constructive dialogue on the role of slavery and racism in shaping present-day conditions in our community and American society.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee points out that despite the progress that has been made in this country, including the election of the first American President of African descent, the legacy of slavery still lingers heavily in this nation. She believes this bill, which seeks to establish a Commission to examine the moral and social implications of slavery, is both relevant and crucial to restoring trust in governmental institutions in many communities, especially during a time where there are many reoccurring issues that affect members of the African American communities in ways that they don’t affect other communities.
“Today there are more people at the table — more activists, more scholars, more CEO’s, more state and local officials, and more Members of Congress,” said Congresswoman Jackson Lee. “I believe that H.R. 40 is a crucial piece of legislation because it goes beyond exploring the economic implications of slavery and segregation. Though the times and circumstances may change, the principle problem of slavery continues to weigh heavily on this country. A federal commission can help us reach into this dark past and bring us into a brighter future.”
This article appeared in the Houston Forward Times.