April 19, 2024

EUNACR's Human Rights Weekly


  An Initiative by EUNACR

  By: RINI ELIZABATH BABU                                                                                                               





         Congress Advances Slavery Reparations Bill in US



At the Centre stage:

On 14 April, 2021 a congressional committee has advanced a decades-long effort to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves by approving legislation that would create a commission to study the issue. After an impassioned debate, the House judiciary committee voted by 25-17 to advance the bill, marking the first time that it has acted on the legislation.[1] Though the probability for final passage remain poor in a closely divided Congress, it is considered a historic measure as far as the United States is concerned.


Image Source: usatoday.com







Decoding in Detail:

The legislation would establish a federal commission to examine slavery and discrimination in the United States from 1619 to the present. The commission would then recommend ways to educate Americans about its findings and appropriate remedies, including how the government would offer a formal apology and what form of compensation should be awarded. The bill, commonly referred to as H.R. 40, was first introduced by the late Congressman John Conyers, a Michigan representative in 1989. The figure 40 refers to the failed government effort to provide 40 acres (16 hectares) of land to newly freed slaves as the Civil War drew to a close.[2]

“This legislation is long overdue,” said Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the committee. “HR 40 is intended to begin a national conversation about how to confront the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation and the enduring structural racism that remains endemic to our society today.” The bill has been able to generate a successful amount of momentum post the brutal killing of George Floyd which is one of the latest examples of the inherent racism in the American society.

The biggest challenge of the House bill is that it has no Republicans among its 176 co-sponsors and would need 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate to overcome a filibuster. Republicans on the judiciary committee were unanimous in voting against the measure.[3] According to Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the committee, spending $20m for a commission that has already decided to take money from people who were never involved in the evil of slavery and give it to people who were never subject to the evil of slavery does not make any sense. Burgess Owens, an African American lawmaker from Utah and another Republican on the Committee, made another fierce point stating that being grown up in the deep South he believes in commanding respect and not begging or digging for it.

However, on the other side the democrats and the other supporters have even sharper arguments to defend the purpose and cause of the move. According to the supporters the bill is not about a check, but about developing a structured response to historical and ongoing wrongs. “I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle, do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas. The Democrats also made an argument that the country’s history was full of government-sponsored actions that have discriminated against African Americans well after slavery ended. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, said the Federal Housing Administration at one time refused to insure mortgages in Black neighborhoods while some states prevented Black army veterans from participating in the benefits of the G.I. Bill. The inception of the commission is an opportunity to remedy the wrong the US committed in the past in promoting slavery and to respond to it in a thoughtful way.



 Slavery is a crime of the past but racism is not. The recent attacks and deterioration in the social harmony in US is providing quintessential proves that the society has inherited the menace called racism from its past and slavery has a huge contribution to the current condition and shape of the United States. Barack Obama during his presidential campaigns famously said that there is no black America and white America but only one America which is the United States of America. His election as the President twice had been seen as the emergence of that united country not divided along racial lines. Nonetheless, the coming of Trump and along with him the hate and venom that has been spread in the American society is an indicator that much needs to be done and racism is not a matter of the past.


The fact that newly elected President Joe Biden has given full support to the need for the study of reparations for slavery is an acknowledgment of the need to address the racist past of slavery and injustice and its present distressing effects. Passing H.R. 40 is essential because the full impact of creating laws and policies that forced hundreds of thousands of Africans to be enslaved in the United States, a gross human rights violation, has never been fully examined, accounted for, or assessed at the national level. Following emancipation, many US cities and states raced to enforce white supremacy and racial segregation, passing repressive laws to limit Black people’s rights.