Black American slaves were promised “40 acres and a mule” by the United States government in the aftermath of the Civil War that freed them in 1865, a promise that was rescinded soon after.
For a century and a half, facing racism and repression, black Americans have called for reparations, a notion that has upset political leaders and an idea that has met significant resistance along the way.
Today, for the first time in its history, the United States government is working to address the issue of reparations for the descendants of African slaves.
President Joe Biden at a White House meeting Tuesday with black US lawmakers renewed his support for a study commission how the United States can compensate descendants of African slaves.
“We are thankful for this because we are now doing something that has never been done in the past,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said of Biden’s engagement.
“What you want the president to do is say that as we move forward, ”Jackson Lee told White House reporters.
There were four million African slaves in the United States when slavery was abolished after the Civil War.
The so-called “Jim Crow” laws in the southern states dispossessed black farmers of their land and institutionalized segregation and denial of their voting rights. There are now over 42 million African American citizens in the United States.
In 2019, the average wealth of black families was $ 36,000, compared to $ 189,000 for whites, according to data from the U.S. Federal Reserve. Black men are almost twice as likely as whites to be unemployed and are six times more likely to be jailed, government statistics show.
Reparations for former slaves have been debated in American policy for decades, but there has never been a consensus on what should be done. A Reuters / Ipsos poll conducted in June 2020 found that only 20% of American adults support paying money to descendants of slaves.
“The United States has never fully or properly addressed the blatant human rights violation of slavery and the post-emancipation racist policies that continue to harm black people in the United States today,” Dreisen said Heath, Human Rights researcher and reparations advocate. Watch, a non-governmental organization.
“If racial justice is ever to be achieved, redress must be part of the equation,” she said.
Democrats in the US House of Representatives are preparing to pass a bill to create a commission to study and develop redress proposals for African Americans. It passed the House Judiciary Committee by a 25-17 vote late Wednesday night.
Following the Black Lives Matter protests that rocked the United States in 2020 after the death of George Floyd and faced with the rise of white nationalism, the creation of a reparations commission would open a venue for much-needed public dialogue on the systemic and long-term harms of racism in America, experts say.
“The history of transatlantic slavery has left an indelible mark in the continued presence of racism, racial discrimination and ideologies of racial superiority in the legal, political, social and economic structures of the United States and emphasizes the interconnectedness between the historic wrongs of slavery and injustices, ”E Tendayi Achiume, professor of law at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, told a House panel earlier this year.
The scope of future recommendations goes far beyond providing financial compensation to descendants of slaves for loss of wealth, said Achiume, who reported to the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 on the urgency of reparations. for racial discrimination rooted in the slave trade and colonialism.
“The reparations commission will lay the foundations” for “a comprehensive accounting of the misdeeds of slavery,” she said.
The House bill would create a 13-member commission appointed by Congress and the President to study the issue of reparations and make national recommendations within one year.
The commission would receive $ 12 million to hire staff, obtain data and hold hearings. His mandate would be to document the institution of slavery in the United States from the first arrival of black slaves in 1619 until the end of the American Civil War in 1865. He would then assess the subsequent forms of discrimination that harmed them. Black Americans since they were first granted full American citizenship in 1868.
The recommendations would focus on how the US government should apologize for slavery, how US laws and policies continue to negatively affect African Americans, and how these wounds can be reversed.
Advocates say the repairs must go well beyond the financial compensation implied by “40 acres and a mule.”
“We must be healed,” said Kamm Howard, national co-chair of the National Black Coalition for Reparations in America.
“Initiatives must be developed to address the negative, transgenerational, spiritual, emotional, mental and physical effects of the historic traumas of slavery, Jim Crow apartheid and ongoing racial violence and police terror.” Howard said.
U.S. Republicans oppose legislation that will attempt to prevent him from reaching Biden’s office by blocking him in the U.S. Senate.
Progress on legislation has been slow in coming. The bill was presented at each congress since 1989. The House committee approval Wednesday is the first time it has been brought forward for a vote in the full House.
“We want to do the research. We want to hold the hearings. We want to formalize a process where we can make sure we have the correct information, and we can move forward to make our nation even greater, ”said Hilary O Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington office, in the House in February.