Members of a House subcommittee debated legislation on Wednesday that would establish a federal commission to explore reparations for black Americans.
While the topic had been discussed in a 2019 hearing, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties returned to the subject and held a virtual hearing on Wednesday to discuss a bill first introduced in 1989 by the late Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) reintroduced the measure, H.R. 40, in January of this year. The bill has 162 cosponsors, all of whom are Democrats.
“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 noted in her opening statement. “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.”
Hilary O. Shelton, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Washington, DC, office, insisted during his testimony that racial “disparities” are “still very much with us.”
“The issue of slavery is one that did not end with a stroke of Abraham Lincoln’s pen and the Emancipation Proclamation,” Shelton said. “As a matter of fact, many of the residuals of the transatlantic slave trade sadly, as we look at the disparities in data, are still very much with us.”
While Democrats favor the resolution, Republicans on the subcommittee pushed back on the need for reparations. Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT), a black conservative and former NFL star, voiced his concern over reparations, pointing to the success of black Americans in recent history.
“The reality is that black American history is not one of a hapless, hopeless race oppressed by a more powerful white race,” Owens said. “It’s the history of millions of middle and wealthy class black Americans throughout the early 20th century, achieving the American dream.”
Radio star Larry Elder and NFL great Herschel Walker, two conservative black Americans, gave testimony echoing Owens’s remarks.
“‘You give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime,'” Walker said. “Reparations are only feeding someone for a day.” Walker also insisted that racism is “better today than yesterday.”House Judiciary / YouTube
“My religion teaches togetherness. Reparations teaches separation,” Walker added in his testimony. “Slavery ended over 130 years ago. How can a father ask his son to do prison time for a crime he committed?”
Last October, Walker appeared on Fox News Channel where he pushed back against California legislation that would consider reparations for black people because of slavery, insisting that those who push the legislation are “just pandering for a vote.”
“I’m upset about it because all they are doing is pandering for a vote,” Walker said at the time. “Because let me tell you, why are you paying African-Americans off instead of empowering African-Americans?”
“Despite all of the problems that have been brought up in this committee about racism, about slavery, about Jim Crow, black people have overcome to the point now where only 20 percent of black people are below the federally defined level of poverty. Still too high, but in 1940 that number was 87 percent, and 20 years later that number had been reduced to 47 percent,” Elder said in his testimony.House Judiciary / YouTube
“Despite all of this racism, all of this prejudice, black people still overcame,” Elder continued. “I also find it ironic we’re having this hearing 13 years after we elected, then reelected the first black president of the United States.”
Under questioning from Owens, Elder noted that “good economic policies work” regardless of race.House Judiciary / YouTube
“Equal rights and equal results are two very different things,” Elder said. “I think that’s what we’re getting confused about here. Everybody’s entitled to equal rights, but nobody’s entitled to equal results.”