It won’t mean a check in every Black person’s mailbox anytime soon, but there might actually be progress on a legislative conversation around reparations in Washington.
The Washington Post reports that Congressional leaders believe they have enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass legislation authorizing a commission on reparations for African-Americans. Such a vote would have after 30 years of pushing through multiple eras of the fight for racial justice, from movements for diversity and inclusion in government and corporate America to the recent mass protests over police violence.
Through all of it, the backdrop among reparations supporters is that Black Americans have never been compensated for the lasting economic and social damage done from slavery through subsequent iterations of white supremacy vis a vis public policy including segregated and underfunded schools, discriminatory housing policy which still robs many Black communities of generational wealth and structural racism that continues to permeate the nation’s politics.
But even if reparations were to pass in the House, any enthusiasm should be tempered. The Senate is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, who almost unanimously don’t support even studying the issue. That’s before you count Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema or Joe Manchin, who have broken with their party on several domestic policy issues important to Black voters.
From the Washington Post
While supporters are confident they have the votes to gain approval in the House, they are less optimistic about the bill’s fate in the Senate. Instead, they intend to push President Biden to sign an executive order that would create the commission.
The bill, H.R. 40, calls for a lengthy study of reparations. Supporters say they need Biden to act now so his administration can implement the commission’s recommendations before the end of his term. The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the legislation or whether Biden would consider an executive order.
During the 2020 Democratic primary election, The Washington Post asked candidates if they thought the federal government should pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved people. Nearly all of the leading contenders, including Biden, said that they supported a comprehensive study of the issue.
H.R. 40 was first introduced in the House by Rep. John Conyers in 1989; it was last reintroduced last January. The Post’s reporting said that the current sponsors of the Bill, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Sen. Cory Booker, have lined up 260 sponsors and affirmative votes—all from Democrats.