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Senate Reparations Commission Bill Is About ‘Confronting Racist Policy’

By Bryan 18X Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Apr 16, 2019 - 9:58:32 PM

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The topic of reparations has become more politicized than ever as Democratic presidential hopefuls are feeling the pressure to not only speak to this issue but develop a strategy that is convincing enough for voters to believe that redress for the horrors of Black African slavery here in America is something they care about.

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(l-r) Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas)

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who announced his 2020 candidacy to become the next president of the United States in February, recently introduced a bill on the Senate floor that will add to the conversation of reparations swirling in this country. He is a Black politician within the Democratic Party, who has expressed support for reparations—something Barack Obama never did during his presidential runs. Other Democratic presidential hopefuls have also expressed support for the concept of some type of reparations for slavery.

“Since slavery in this country, we have had overt policies fueled by White supremacy and racism that have oppressed African Americans economically for generations. Many of our bedrock domestic policies that have ushered millions of Americans into the middle class have systematically excluded Blacks through practices like GI Bill discrimination and redlining,” Mr. Booker said.

“This bill is a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, White supremacy, and implicit racial bias. It will bring together the best minds to study the issue and propose solutions that will finally begin to right the economic scales of past harms and make sure we are a country where all dignity and humanity is affirmed.”

According to the Congress.gov website, S.1083 is, “A bill to address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.”

In the Senate, S.1083, acts as a companion to House bill H.R.40 on reparations. Proponents of reparations, and those who have long been active in this fight, were pleased that Sen. Booker became the first person to sponsor a bill like this in the Senate.

“I’m glad that there’s a comparable bill being introduced by Senator Booker in the Senate similar to HR-40 bill in the House. Discussions of reparations for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, must occur in all aspects of American life if ‘America’ is to be the ‘America’ outlined in its founding documents,” Dr. Ray Winbush, former director of the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University, current director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University, and author of “Should America Pay? Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations,” told The Final Call.

A House bill to research possible reparations for slavery, H.R.40, has been around for nearly three decades, introduced by former Michigan Rep. John Conyers in 1989, and every year thereafter until he resigned in 2017. H.R.40 was reintroduced in 2019 by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas in January 2019.

Kamm Howard, Midwest regional representative of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), said his organization had reached out to Sen. Booker in January 2018, hoping to encourage him to introduce a companion bill to H.R.40 in the Senate. Mr. Howard explained some key differences between the proposed congressional bills.

“The goal of H.R.40 is to develop remedies, and part of the task is to study the wide ranging impact on us—current living Africans—from periods of enslavement, segregation, and ongoing crimes committed against our ancestors and on. After studying those impacts, now remedies must be developed to address those impacts in terms of the injuries that we’ve suffered from those crimes,” Mr. Howard explained.

“[S.1083] will aim to help create a body— like a commission—of experts to the table to craft a Marshall-like Plan of repair; something that could be multigenerational in its scope. The commission will be charged to come up with [reparations] outcomes that are in line with international norms related to full repair. We’re not after just a check,” Mr. Howard added.

“I’ve been unapologetic in my belief that this can’t just be about acknowledging the past. It needs to be about actually confronting racist policy that persists right now in the present. Because if we don’t, we cannot guarantee that our future will be any different than our past,” Mr. Booker said in a tweet posted April 8.

The issue of reparations, as the presidential election looms closer, is likely to become more politicized as time goes on. Only Democrats running for president have faced major questions about their positions on reparations. The word itself is now being thrust into America’s consciousness, not allowing the country, as much as it would like to, to forget about its ugly past and move on from it.

“Elected officials must be held accountable for their support of reparations for Black people in America,” Dr. Winbush said. “If they do not support reparations, Black people should not vote for them, but vote for candidates who do. Reparations should be a political litmus test for any candidate seeking the Black vote … This is a discussion that must be had by all political parties in the U.S. and even if [politicians] reject the idea, we must continue the struggle. This is a long distance race.”