The House Judiciary Committee voted 25 to 17 Wednesday night to approve H.R. 40, which would establish a body to review racial disparities and form a “national apology” to the Black community.
The committee’s vote pushes forward legislation that would allocate $20 million to create a 15-person commission to study the effects slavery and Jim Crow era laws have had on Blacks.
The body would then recommend “appropriate remedies” to Congress.
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Texas Democrat Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee introduced the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act in the House earlier this year, though H.R. 40 originally had been introduced by former Michigan Democrat Rep. John Conyers over 30 years ago, in 1989.
Jackson Lee called the legislation “long overdue” and said the measure would ensure Congress could develop reparation proposals to address “stark societal disparities.”
“Do not cancel us tonight, do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission,” Jackson Lee said to the GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
While the commission does not mandate reparations in the form of financial repayments, Jackson Lee told the committee it “provides a roadmap for the truth and the brutality” that slavery and Jim Crow era laws inflicted on the Blacks in the U.S.
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But not all African Americans are in agreement over the importance of reparations and whether they will benefit Black communities.
Republican Rep. Burgess Owens, a Black man from Utah, argued that “reparations is divisiveness” and a policy that suggests Blacks need Whites in order get ahead in the U.S.
“We are not a hapless, hopeless race,” Burgess said before adding, “Blame the ideology…not White people.”
Burgess argued that requiring non-Black Americans to pay reparations is a “judgment” and racist.
“Saying that because of your skin color, you owe me – that is not the American way, we are not racist people,” he added.
Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy asked how a system of reparations could be fairly distributed, noting that there were White Americans who fought for the Union, advocating for the end of slavery. He further asked about Black Americans who also purchased slaves.
Jackson Lee pointed out that reparations are about more than financial payments to black individuals, but are a means to evaluate how historical policies have affected Blacks today and their access to economic opportunities.
“H.R. 40 is to answer the question of perfection,” Jackson Lee said Wednesday, referencing the preamble in the Constitution that states the U.S. seeks “a more perfect union.”
The vote will head to the House chamber for its first floor vote since its introduction 30 years ago.