There’s been a lot of talk on Capitol Hill today about reparations thanks to a House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hearing to discuss the idea of compensation for the national sin of slavery. Actor Danny Glover and journalist Ta-Nehesi Coates both testified in favor of reparations with the latter saying, “Victims of that plunder are very much alive today.”
“We recognize our lineage as a generational trust, as inheritance, and the real dilemma posed by reparations is just that: a dilemma of inheritance,” Coates told a packed room gathered for hearing on HR 40, a House bill that would create a commission to study the historical need for reparations. “It is impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery.”
Coates, who authored a 2014 Atlantic article entitled, “The Case For Reparations,” took specific exception with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s statements Tuesday indicating he believed it would be difficult to determine just who should be compensated for something that happened 150 years ago.
GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only African-American Republican Senator in Congress, when asked about the issue, agreed with the majority leader and called the issue a “non-starter.”
Scott said Wednesday that it would be too difficult to calculate who deserves compensation and who must pay for the institution of slavery and the years of discriminatory laws that followed its abolition.
“There’s no question that slavery is a scourge on the history of America. The question is: Is reparations a realistic path forward? The answer is no,” Scott said.
In fairness to Coates and others who testified Wednesday, it’s certainly reasonable to assert that slavery of a race of people — and the subsequent fight to gain full voting rights and equal opportunity under the law — puts them at a disadvantage as citizens, and may still play a role in how far along those communities of people are in relation to others who did not have such a disadvantage.
But if we are to discuss payment for those sins, then we should be including all groups who were put at a disadvantage over the course of the nation’s growth and that would include women who had to fight for the vote, the Irish who were despised, Chinese immigrants who were essentially indentured servants, the Japanese who were interned during WWII, and now arguably even the unborn who have been killed off as the nation grappled with 40 years of abortion.
If we are to be equitable and begin to offer reparations to all groups who have suffered, we should be including these groups. The young climate activists would also very likely wish to be included because they believe their futures have been made harder thanks to preceding generations not paying enough attention to climate change.
Which is why Sen. Scott is right when he says reparations is not a realistic path forward. It would end up being a constant call from all groups who have suffered hardship and would require a definitive judgment on whether those other groups had suffered enough to be owed reparations. Unless Coates et al want to start making those determinations, reparations will remain unrealistic.