When Will We Move Beyond Merely "Exploring" the Idea of Reparations?

In 2019 Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (18th District-Texas) sponsored the H.R. 40 bill that introduced the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans. The commission was assembled to examine slavery and discrimination in the U.S. from 1619 to the present by identifying three key variables:

1.) The role of the federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery.

2.) Forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and

3.) Lingering negative effects of slavery on living African-Americans and society.

Recently, NAACP President and CEO, Derrick Johnson, expressed the longstanding civil rights organization’s support of a formal commission to explore reparation options for Black Americans. Johnson told CNBC the NAACP has supported the efforts for an exploratory reparations bill since it was initiated by former Representative John Conyers in the 1970s.

“You can go back to public policy dealing with housing, go back to public policy dealing with education,” Johnson said in his CNBC interview. “Still today, the delivery of quality education is not afforded to all children, and has been a special emphasis on African Americans.”

And while the Biden administration has announced plans of an executive order for advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities, the specifics of restitution owed to Black Americans by the U.S. government remains entangled in a web of “what ifs?” and “what about?”

156 years after the legal ending of slavery and America still cannot seem to get beyond the exploratory phase of recompense. A modest estimate of the 2021 equivalent of the 40 acres and a mule promised to former slaves is upwards of $12 trillion or roughly $252, 782 to every descendant of an enslaved person. For several decades conversations around the dispersion of funds have alternated between educational vouchers, home financing or cash payouts.

It is still all talk.

Rep. Jackon-Lee reintroduced H.R. 40 at the top of January to create a commission to explore reparations. Supporters of the bill believe it to be a good measure of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s commitment to combatting systemic inequity.

“Given the role that Black people played in the election, getting him nominated and saving his campaign — there’s no reason they shouldn’t support this bill,” Mary Frances Berry, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania said to NBC News.

One would think that the show-of-force by the Black vote would prompt the Biden administration to move beyond the exploration of a commission, but if it does not, it sure as hell wouldn’t be the first time the Democratic Party gave Black voters a slither of hope that resulted in inaction.

The Biden administration’s Department of Treasury is however planning to move forward with efforts to place famed abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, on a $20 bill. Because nothing says freedom from bondage orchestrated by capitalism like putting a principled freedom fighter on the face of American currency.

Just run me my coins, please and thank you!

About the Author

Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be

The North Star is a network of Black and Latinx journalists and creators that provide daily news stories and podcasts with action steps that help you get involved. We speak truth to power without fear because our stories, our voices and our lives matter. Please consider becoming a member and enjoy exclusive benefits of our ad-free platform for as little as $5 a month.