“It is tempting to divorce this modern campaign of terror, of plunder, from enslavement, but the logic of enslavement, of white supremacy respects no such borders. And the god of bondage was lustful and begat many heirs: coup d’etats and convict leasing, vagrancy laws and debt peonage, redlining and racist G.I. bills, poll taxes and state-sponsored terrorism.”
Those were the words of author Ta-Nehisi Coates before Congress June 19th, in a historic session that began to discuss what steps our nation could take toward restorative justice for our Black communities, including the topic of reparations.
Reparations is not a new idea—and for three decades, members of Congress have introduced H.R.40, a bill to establish a commission that would study reparations. But only once before, in 2007, has Congress even held a hearing on the bill.
We think it’s important that all Americans deeply consider this discussion—starting by watching Coates’ opening remarks before the House of Representatives. Click here to watch this three-minute video—then share it with your friends with what you learned, what surprised or compelled you, and what questions you have about reparations.
After you watch it, you can consider reading Coates’ essay, “The Case for Reparations,” published in The Atlantic in 2014; or consider this Juneteenth reflection by journalist Vann R. Newkirk II, this TEDx talk from The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander, or this essay by the American Civil Liberties Union.
We are at a moment when more people are ready to have this discussion. Congress is holding the first hearing in 12 years and only the second in history on such a bill. Presidential candidates—including Booker, Castro, Harris, O’Rourke, Warren, and Williamson—have raised this topic on the campaign trail. Even conservative writers like David Brooks in The New York Times are willing to supportively write about reparations. In our own surveys, three-quarters of MoveOn members either support some form of reparations or are interested in learning more.
It is long past time to debate that centuries of injustice against Black people in America—from enslavement to Jim Crow to mass incarceration and more—have resulted in wealth accrued by white Americans from the labor of Black people who were denied the ability to share in that wealth, and are upheld by policies that have persisted well past slavery to continue to deny Black Americans a fair share of the economic opportunity in the United States.
It was clear from testifiers at yesterday’s hearing—on both sides of the reparations argument—that we don’t have a shared national understanding of what repairing this harm should entail. Episcopal bishop the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton made a moral case. Labor economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux made an economic case. Ta-Nehisi Coates implored us to fully embrace our history. Indeed, many of the concerns expressed by conservative commentators—like a preference to invest in education—would be the kinds of potential solutions that H.R.40’s commission would explore. We’re grateful to the activists and writers who have pushed so hard and for so long to force America to engage in this conversation.
So please check out the video of Coates before Congress, read more for yourself—and share what you learn on social media. The more of us who discuss reparations, the more we’ll bring our own friends and family into the conversation.
Posted by Erica Mauter, MoveOn.org Civic Action