Story at a glance
- In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, calls for reparations are becoming more urgent.
- Congress is considering legislation to establish a federal commission to explore reparations for Black Americans.
- The Biden administration has signaled their willingness to further explore reparations for slavery.
As Congress debates a bill to study reparations for Black Americans, the White House is signaling that it doesn’t want to wait — and is in fact, ready to act now.
"We have to start breaking down systemic racism and barriers that have held people of color back and especially African Americans," White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told Axios. "[W]e have to do stuff now."
Even studying the issue has been controversial for decades, since Rep. John Conyers (D_Mich.) first introduced legislation to form a commission in 1989, later reintroduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). The legislation has never received a floor vote, but this time around has 162 Democrat co-sponsors and the support of President Biden.
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“He certainly would support a study of reparations,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing last month. “He understands we don’t need a study to take action right now on systemic racism, so he wants to take actions within his own government in the meantime.”
“We believe in determination, and we believe in overcoming the many bad balls that we have been thrown; we've caught them, and we've kept on going. That is not the point of H.R. 40,” Jackson Lee said in her opening statement during a House subcommittee hearing. “Now more than ever, the facts and circumstances facing our nation demonstrate the importance of H.R. 40 and the necessity of placing our nation on the path to reparative justice.”
Within days of becoming president, Biden passed an executive order addressing racial equity and underserved communities that, among other things, focused on “breaking down barriers in housing, making sure that African Americans can pass down wealth through homeownership, that their homes are not valued less than homes in different communities just because of the neighborhood it’s in.” While reparations can take the form of direct cash assistance, the administration is also considering other ways to reinvest in Black communities.
“If you start talking about free college tuition to [historically black colleges and universities] and you start talking about free community college in Title I and all of those things, I think that you are well on your way,” Richmond told Axios.
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