A recent bill working its way through the House of Representatives seeks to form the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans.
H.R. 40, which as introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, was discussed on Wednesday in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. The proposed commission will study slavery and reparations in the United States from 1619 to the present and determine the federal and state governments’ role in slavery and discrimination. Discrimination and its effects on present-day African Americans would also be looked at.
The bill, if passed, would pave the way for a possible national apology and other remedies, including reparations paid to living African Americans descended from slaves.
Jackson Lee said that her bill is an “international legal concept; it’s not something we’ve created here. It deals with restorative and repair, which is needed in this nation.” She explained:
“I think that in 2021, we want to isolate white supremacy, white racism, domestic terrorism. We want to look at each other as our fellow brothers and sisters, and as have been said to the ages, our fellow Americans. I want H.R. 40 to be in the minds and hearts about fellow Americans, pass it, and quickly get it signed by the President of the United States.”
The idea of reparations is not new, but it has gained traction in recent years, especially in the wake of the George Floyd protests. Last year, a California bill was passed to establish a task force on reparations. In Asheville, North Carolina, the city council unanimously voted to issue a resolution apologizing for the city’s role in slavery and discrimination and vowing to provide reparations through investments in the black community.
Not everyone agrees on the restorative nature of reparations. Several African Americans testified against the proposal. Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL star Herschel Walker said reparations will not help black people and that he opposed them for both practical and moral reasons. For starters, he questioned the logistics of determining who was to blame and who should pay for the sins of slavery and Jim Crow. Walker asked:
“Where would the money come from? Does it come from all the other races except the black taxpayers? Who is black? What percentage of black must you be to receive reparations? Do you go to 23andMe or a DNA test to determine the percentage of blackness? Some American ancestors just came to this country 80 years ago — their ancestors weren’t even here during slavery. Some black immigrants weren’t here during slavery, nor their ancestors. Some states didn’t even have slavery.”
Walker stated that reparations will cause greater division rather than restoration. “We use black power to create white guilt. My approach is biblical: How can I ask my Heavenly Father to forgive me if I can’t forgive my brother? My religion teaches togetherness. Reparations teaches separation.”
He also referenced Ezekiel 18:20, which says individuals are responsible for their own actions: “The person who sins will die. A son will not suffer the punishment for the father’s guilt, nor will a father suffer the punishment for the son’s guilt; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.”
Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, another former NFL player and a member of the subcommittee, provided testimony as a witness in opposition of reparations. “It is impractical and a non-starter for the United States to pay reparations,” Owens said Wednesday.
“It is also unfair and heartless to give Black Americans the hope that this is a reality. The reality is that Black American history is not one of a hapless, hopeless race oppressed by a more powerful white race. It is instead a history of millions of middle- and wealthy-class Black Americans throughout the early 20th century achieving their American dream.”
Owens claimed the idea of reparations has already been tried and “resulted in the misery and death” of more than 100 million people. “It’s called redistribution of wealth, or socialism.”
Owens is himself a descendent of slaves. He told the panel that his great-great-grandfather Silas Burgess came to America from Africa in a slave ship as a child before being orphaned at eight years old. A group of other slaves cared for the child and they all managed to eventually escape to West Texas, where Silas purchased land, started a business, founded a Christian church and an elementary school, and built a large family. Burgess called Silas “an example of what happens when any race, any culture, is given hope, opportunity, and freedom.”
He noted that the Tuskegee Institute, founded by former slave Booker T. Washington, was producing more self-made black millionaires by 1905 than Harvard, Yale, and Princeton combined. “In the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, it was the African American community that led our country in the growth of the middle class,” he said.
At the time, Owens said, the African American community led the nation in terms of men committed to marriage at over 70 percent and business ownership at 40 percent. Today, he said, thanks to decades of increasingly progressive policies, those numbers have dropped to 30 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively.
Owens blamed the Democrat Party for this reversal, along with the fact that African Americans are unaware of the history, resilience, and capability of their race in America. He explained: “I used to be a Democrat until I did my history and found out the misery that that party brought to my race,” he stated.
“It has not been an American problem, it has been pretty specific. When you think about where slavery began, where segregation, where Jim Crow, it’s always the Democratic Party…. Earlier we mentioned 40 acres and a mule — that was ended by a Democratic president, Andrew Johnson. We talked about the KKK — that was a Democratic terrorist organization that actually was ended at the end of the 1880s but brought back again by [Democratic president] Woodrow Wilson in 1915.”
Talk show host Larry Elder also testified, stating that slavery cannot be blamed for the problems faced by black Americans today. “Obviously there are black people who are poor, [but] the extent of which the poverty is a result of slavery and Jim Crow is tenuous at best. The larger factor behind black poverty is the absence of fathers in the home.”
Elder also noted that struggle and adversity are inherent in the human condition and said black Americans should see themselves as “a race of overcomers.”
Reparations will not bring healing to America, only greater division. Slavery occurred over 150 years ago, and Jim Crow was ended decades ago. There isn’t a single African American alive today who was held as a chattel slave in America, and there are no whites today who owned African-American slaves.
The idea that African Americans need reparations to overcome an oppressive past and succeed in America is not a new one. The language is just different. As recently as five years ago, the phrase used to justify reparations was “the legacy of slavery.” Now leftists call for “social justice and equity” as a means of “combating systemic racism and white supremacy.”
No matter the phraseology or intention, money is not the answer. Reparations cannot undo the past and it will not restore our society. It will not heal broken African-American families and communities torn apart by progressive policies, and it will not bring the races together. In fact, the current focus on a racial reckoning is dividing society once again into racial categories and resulting in racial segregation.
We don’t need an economic solution to heal a hurting society, we need a spiritual solution — one that preaches grace and cooperation, not victimhood and retribution.
It’s been more than 50 years since the Rev. Martin Luther King cried out for a society where his children would be “judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.”
Elder noted during his testimony that shortly after his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King gave an interview to the BBC in which he predicted that a black man would be elected president within 40 years. His prediction was a little off, but not by much. Barack Obama became president 44 years after that interview.
“When a black person becomes president,” Elder said, paraphrasing King’s point during the interview, “that’s when we’ll know we’ve reached a point where people are being evaluated based on the content of their character.”
Unfortunately, with the left’s hyper-focus on racial identity and the renewed push for reparations, the sin of judging people solely by the color of their skin is back in full force — and it will likely bring with it a new wave of spiritual and societal destruction.