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The slavery reparations bill has never had so much traction before. The racial protests -many violent and driven by a political agenda-, the control of the Democrats in the Lower and Upper House, and the support of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris may be a major turning point for the passage of this bill, which has been introduced for three decades and has been rejected every time.
Even with all that support, criticism of the bill is widespread and causes a lot of skepticism among Republicans who see the bill as a failed idea of redistributing wealth. In other words, a socialist bill that would not help heal wounds and would cause a further increase in public spending without any redistribution to state coffers.
The media echoed the words of White House press secretary Jen Psaki on this issue. “He would certainly support a study of reparations,” Psaki said at the White House briefing referring to the president supporting the “reparations” study. “He understands that we don’t need a study to take action right now on systemic racism, so he wants to take action within his own government in the meantime.”
Biden has not yet said whether he will sign the bill if it passes. Some argue that, if support is not unrestricted, the momentum for “reparations” would be substantially less. That could spell trouble for Biden, especially among the more radical base that voted for him in November.
It is for this reason that Politico explains that reparations are a test for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on racial justice grounds.
“Despite the enormity of the task behind the legislation known as H.R. 40 – named for the “40 acres and a mule” that have come to symbolize the post-Civil War government’s failure to help formerly enslaved people – the bill has new political momentum since it was last introduced in 2019, when the GOP controlled the House and Senate,” Politico explained.
“Last summer’s national protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have raised public awareness of racial injustice and started a national conversation that advocates for a reparations dialogue see as valuable,” they continued.
They also argue that “no one knows yet is the extent to which the White House is committed to the specific House legislative vehicle, which has been introduced in every Congress for more than three decades and would establish a commission of experts to study direct payments to African Americans.”
It is precisely the direct payment to people of color that is causing noise among Republicans, conservatives and moderates.
So are the arguments of the people pushing the bill.
Not all support reparations
The Associated Press (AP) says that “Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who has 173 co-sponsors for her bill, said descendants of slaves continue to suffer from the legacy of that brutal system and the enduring racial inequality it spawned, pointing to COVID-19 as an example. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that blacks are nearly three times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than whites and nearly twice as likely to die from the disease. She offered her bill as a way to bring the country together.”
Representative Jackson’s argument leaves many doubts because, first, she uses the pandemic that has touched all social classes as an example of the systematic racism that exists in the country and, in addition, she uses the law as an argument for national unity, which is merely interpretive and subjective.
This argument is very similar to the one presented in a CNN report where it is assured that black and Latino people received vaccines in a lower proportion than white populations. Being that, in the United States, there are more white people than Latinos or blacks.
“A CNN analysis of data from 14 states found that vaccine coverage is twice as high on average among white people than among black and Latino people. The analysis found that, on average, more than 4% of the white population has received the covid-19 vaccine, a proportion 2.3 times higher than that of the black population (1.9% covered) and 2.6 times higher than that of the Hispanic population (1.8% covered),” CNN said, in an explanation that agrees with Rep. Jackson’s opinion, but using the data with ideological suspicion.
On the other hand, the American population, for the most part, opposes “reparations” for slavery. And a quarter of the African-American population is against it.
“Polls have revealed a longstanding resistance in the United States to reparations to the descendants of slaves, divided along racial lines. Only 29% of Americans expressed support for cash reparations payments, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted in the fall of 2019. A majority of black Americans were in favor of reparations, 74 %, compared with 15 % of white Americans,” according to the article quoted from the AP.
Burgess Owens, a black Republican representative for the state of Utah, belongs to that quarter of the black population that is against a commission to examine and study reparations. “He noted that his great-great-grandfather came to the United States in the belly of a slave ship, but escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad and became a successful businessman. He criticized “redistribution of wealth” as a failed government policy,” AP noted.
Owens said he viewed reparations as a quasi-socialist program and instead proposed changes in education and healthcare policy focused on black youth, Politico said.
“While it is impractical and pointless for the U.S. government to pay reparations, it is also unfair and heartless to give black Americans hope for this to be a reality,” Owens explained in remarks that suggest Democrats are pursuing a demagogic initiative.
“We are still African-Americans instead of just Americans”
Even former NFL star Herschel Walker opposed the commission and said the reparations would create separation and division.
“I feel it continues to let us know that we are still African-Americans instead of just Americans,” Walker outlined, in an argument that goes hand in hand with the affirmative action that is usually used against the Democratic Party that promotes many of its policies focusing on social and racial justice.
On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly opposed the idea of reparations in 2019, that shows, a priori, that Republicans are not happy with the idea. And then there are moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin, who are nowhere near the more radical wing of the Democratic Party.
“If the legislation passes, it would create a commission of more than a dozen experts to review the U.S. government’s role in supporting the enslavement of African-Americans from 1619 to 1865 from financial and legal perspectives. It would then recommend to Congress ways to educate Americans about the legacy of slavery and alleviate its damage,” Politico said.
This debate over slavery reparations will bring a lot of political wrangling and significant public debate among citizens and politicians. We can only wait and see how politicians, including the president, will act.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.
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