For immediate release: February 18, 2021
Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) is proud to join hundreds of like-minded groups in supporting HR 40, which would create a commission to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans. The House Judiciary Committee hearing on HR 40 on February 17, 2021 gave witnesses the opportunity to talk about the reason for and impact of reparations. The hearing also included several witnesses who oppose the concept of reparations.
Introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), HR 40 would create a commission to identify: (1) the role of the federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and (3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African-Americans and society.
This statement is attributable to NCL Board Chair Dominique Warren:
America has never reckoned with its 400 years of enslavement of 12 million Africans, brought to our shores shackled in fetid ships where huge numbers died of disease. As Michelle Singletary, Washington Post columnist has observed, reparations are not handouts, they are redress.
Beginning in 1619, enslaved people were brought to America and sold by those who profited from the slave trade, bought by plantation owners, farmers, businesses, and households, separated from siblings, parents, spouses and children and forced to work for free. After the Civil War, many freed slaves purchased land, only to see it stolen. Prosperous Black towns were looted and burned. Blacks have been beaten and murdered, many lynched on false allegations of criminal conduct because of their race. Throughout America’s history, Blacks have been denied the right to vote and redlined from living in certain neighborhoods. Black Americans were and still are discriminated against in the workplace and prevented from earning fair and equal pay.
A new book on reparations, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” recommends a number of possible compensation programs, including the establishment of a trust that could make grants to eligible Blacks to help start a business or buy a home.
NCL agrees with these recommendations, made by authors William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, that “the U.S. government, as the federal authority, bears responsibility for sanctioning, maintaining, and enabling slavery, legal segregation, and continued racial inequality.”
America has benefited from the institution of slavery. Segregation and voter suppression has given advantages to White Americans in the form of cheap Black labor, reduced employment competition, and the power to elect politicians who enacted laws that worked in the best interest of Whites and against equal opportunities for Black people.
Redress is part of the American justice system, indeed part of the international justice system. The federal government issued an apology and cash reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned in camps during World War II. Germany paid reparations to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.
Studying reparations for African Americans as one approach to redress by setting up a Commission to thoroughly study the cost of slavery, Jim Crow policies that followed it, and the ongoing discrimination against black Americans would truly begin the national discussion and the reconciliation and healing that needs to take place. The National Consumers League strongly supports HR 40 and urges its swift passage by members of Congress.
About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.