Mitch McConnell Uses Obama as Example to Dismiss Reparations

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes reparations for African Americans and cited former President Barack Obama as a reason why. The Republican from Kentucky said the election of the nation’s first Black president was sufficient evidence that the US has dealt with the “original sin of slavery.”

“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” the 77-year-old told reporters on June 18, according to BuzzFeed News. “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We’ve elected an African American president.” He continued, “I think we’re always a work in progress in this country but no one currently alive was responsible for that.” McConnell also claimed it would be hard to figure out who would receive reparations because the country’s immigrant population has also “experienced dramatic discrimination.”

“So no, I don’t think reparations are a good idea,” McConnell added. The senator’s comments came a day before a House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on the topic of compensation for the descendants of enslaved people. The hearing planned to “examine, through open and constructive discourse, the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community and the path to restorative justice,” according to a statement from the committee. The hearing occurred on Juneteenth, a cultural holiday that honors the emancipation of African Americans enslaved in the United States. Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor Danny Glover testified in favor of providing reparations. Coates, a longtime advocate for them, wrote widely circulated essay titled “The Case for Reparations” for The Atlantic in 2014.

During the Obama administration, both the House and the Senate passed resolutions to apologize for slavery. A number of states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Maryland, Florida, and Virginia, have formally apologized for their role in the institution of slavery. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky has not.The senator is hardly the first lawmaker to dismiss reparations. In 2007, Virginia lawmaker Frank Hargrove received criticism after he said Black citizens “should get over” slavery. Hargrove, who opposed a resolution to apologize for slavery, later proposed Virginia officially celebrate Juneteenth, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) has supported a bill that would establish a 13-member commission to study and consider compensation for the descendants of enslaved people. According to Buzzfeed News, the commission would also deliberate over issuing a national apology for slavery in the United States.Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, also proposed legislation to establish a commission to study reparations. The bill, which has reached 12 cosponsors in the Senate, would make recommendations on reparations for enslaved people’s descendents.

Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) have cosponsored the bill.

“We cannot address the institutional racism and white supremacy that has economically oppressed African Americans for generations without first fully documenting the extent of the harms of slavery and its painful legacy,” Booker said in a statement. “It’s important that we right the wrongs of our nation’s most discriminatory policies, which halted the upward mobility of African American communities.” General William Tecumseh Sherman issued the initial order for reparations in 1865, giving formerly enslaved people 40 acres of land per family. President Andrew Johnson reversed the order that same year, according to CBS News.

The idea of reparations has had steady support from Black Americans. A 2014 YouGov online survey found that 60 percent of Black Americans supported the government providing cash payments, education, and job training programs to the descendants of enslaved people. In 2016, a Marist poll revealed 58 percent of Black people supported compensation for the descendants of enslaved people.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.