Independence Day is celebrated every Fourth of July with hot dogs and fireworks, recognizing the signing of the Declaration of Independence and freedom for American settlers from the oppression of English colonizers.
Conversely, the independence for black slaves on June 19, 1865, after slaves in Texas received word they had been freed after the Civil War isn’t met with the same patriotic enthusiasm.
That day, known as Juneteenth, can be regarded as the beginning of the discussion for reparations. After the Civil War, United States Army General William Sherman promised every slave a section of land and necessary items to cultivate that land. It became known as the (in)famous “40 acres and a mule.”
Despite this, President Andrew Johnson, a southerner and known supporter of the Confederate cause, made sure that lands given to former slaves were confiscated and given back to its former owners.
This only stifled the progress started by the Reconstruction and furthered the oppression faced by black Americans.
This past Juneteenth, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, actor Danny Glover and Senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker sat before Congress and laid forth a recommendation of reparations for descendants of African slaves in America. During the hearing, Congress took Texas Representative Sheila Jackson’s H.R. 40 bill under consideration for the first time.
The purpose of H.R. 40 is to study “the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States” and the “subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans” and take the findings of the study to come up with appropriate remedies.
This bill not only should be seriously considered by the members assigned to the research the commission but the future legislators who will review it upon its completion. The discussion of reparations for the “gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants” is long overdue.
The discussion has gained a certain amount of traction in the past few months, with Democratic presidential candidates being asked their opinions on the matter on the campaign trail.
Presidential candidates Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Julián Castro and Elizabeth Warren have all expressed support of the H.R. 40 bill.
Hopefully, the candidates in favor will take action and thoroughly address this issue if elected and not use the plight of an entire people as a talking point to acquire a few extra minority votes.
However, former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden said that he’ll “be damned” if he should feel responsible “to pay for what happened 300 years ago.” Adding that the “sins of my father and grandfather” don’t fall on his shoulders.
Biden said he believes that he is responsible for the situation of today. It was 1975 when Biden said this, the same time when black homeowners in Chicago where fighting against redlining, the refusal of being insured due to living in an “at risk” area, and for the same privileges that were granted to white homeowners.
This and other countless examples of discrimination that African Americans faced in the wake of slavery include, but are not limited to, the unemployment rate of black Americans being more than double that of whites, the wealth accumulated by blacks in America being less than 1/16 the wealth of white families on average or the incarceration of over one million black people. The latter is largely in part to the 1994 crime law, which Joe Biden helped write.
One can’t help but wonder if Vice President Biden claims responsibility for these sins.
The conversation of reparations is necessary no matter how uncomfortable and difficult it may be, and it can’t be anywhere near as uncomfortable and difficult to what slaves had to endure on a daily basis for generations.