FOR THE WEEK OF JULY 29, 2019
House members hear about the lasting impact of slavery and bias, and ideas about addressing it
Share two facts or quotes from news coverage involving race or ethnicity.
Find a commentary (column, editorial, letter to the editor) about a sensitive issue such as race. Summarize the main point or theme.
Read about any other national issue being discussed by officials or activists. List at least two things you learn.
A persistent idea gains fresh attention in Congress and from Democratic presidential candidates. The discussion involves federal government actions – also called reparations – in response to the ongoing impact of slavery on African Americans. A House proposal would establish a commission to study the long-term effect of slavery and discrimination in the original 13 colonies and the United States so it could recommend "any form of apology and compensation."
Discrimination in education, housing, employment, health care and money-lending deprived African Americans of the ability to achieve wealth or even economic stability, advocates say. Reparations could take the form of federal support for institutions serving black communities. "We're not focusing on payments, but we are focusing on solutions . . . to address all of the ills that unfortunately have plagued the community for a very, very long time," says Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Houston who introduced the reparations bill this year and hosted hearings last month. "And, by the way, this idea is now even more understood by millennials of all races," adds the congresswoman from Texas. Her bill has support from nearly 60 House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi. At least 11 of the party's presidential candidates embrace the reparations concept or the bill to study it.
Backers say the government could offer various types of assistance — zero-interest loans for prospective black homeowners, free college tuition, grants to aid black-owned neighborhood businesses — to address the social and economic fallout of slavery and racially tilted federal policies. Even if it passes the House, the bill has little chance of getting through the Republican-controlled Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky opposes reparations "for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible." The push isn't new. Jesse Jackson, a civil right figure, advocated it during his 1988 presidential and former Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., proposed the same legislation annually from 1989 until his retirement in 2017. The only hearing before June was in 2007, and the bill never reached the full House.
At last month's House Judiciary Committee hearing, which ran nearly three and a half hours, influential writer Ta-Nehisi Coates sketched how the legacy of slavery stretches to 2019: "The typical black family in this country has one-tenth the wealth of the typical white family. Black women die in childbirth at four times the rate of white women. And there is, of course, the shame of this land of the free boasting the largest prison population on the planet, of which the descendants of the enslaved make up the largest share." Members also heard black witnesses who don’t believe amends are needed."We've become successful like no other because of this great opportunity to live the American dream," said retired football player Burgess Owens. "Let's not steal that from our kids by telling them they can't do it."
Congressman says: "Apologies are a necessary first step, but they alone cannot solve the present inequities born of our nation's original sin: slavery. . . . Now we must repair the damage and ensure that every American has full access to the opportunity that makes our nation great." – Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.
Historian says: "The history of slavery continues to have very real effects on our current historical moment. . . . Reparations are a necessary effort to challenge the institutional mechanisms that perpetuate racial inequality and violence." -- Kimberly A. Probolus, George Washington University (Washington, D.C.)
Jesse Jackson says: "It's often confused as us wanting something for nothing. . . . The sugar industry, the cotton industry was built on importing Africans. That's a lot of wealth created there." – Interview in The Atlantic
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