More than 150 years have passed since slavery came to end in the United States, yet its consequences still shape the country. Of the 38 Million Black Americans, the vast majority can trace its genetic roots to slaves shipped in from Africa; many of the economic, social and political inequalities that Black Americans face can be traced back this era. The United States was thus built and rose to wealth and power with the help of slavery. August 20 marked 400 years since the first slaves from Africa arrived on the shores of Virginia. This began centuries of exploitation, servitude and profound cruelty at the hands of European settlers. On June 19, the 154th anniversary of the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the State of Texas (‘Juneteenth’).
H.R 40 seeks “to address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the U.S. and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery… to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.”Part of the legacy of slavery and racial segregation following emancipation is the massive racial wealth gap. The median white family, in 2016, had a net financial worth of $171,000, ten times that of the median black family. The proximate causes for this phenomenon include differential access to healthcare, education, housing, banking and resources.
Joe Biden, who still leads the Democrat polls, has not supported a specific bill on reparations but said a proper study and more data is required to have an informed conversation. Senator Bernie Sanders, who has said he believes that there are more effective ways to address the problem than writing a cheque, nevertheless, said he would sign a Bill commissioning a study on reparations if he were President.
It is not surprising that not all Democrats readily embrace the idea. Former President Barack Obama came out against reparations during his campaign in 2008, saying reparations would provide an excuse for people to say the debt to African Americans had been paid. In June, President Donald Trump said the federal government making reparations to the living descendants of slaves was a “very unusual thing”. Others, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, say they are against reparations.