On March 16, at Los Angeles Southwest College, a group of students and a few community members met to have a debate conversation about reparations for African Americans. This is part of a revved up reification of the national and international reparations movement. Five youth were awarded prizes out of the ten debate contestants and there was a very robust roundhouse discussion of the topic. Hooray for stirring up youth involvement, just as several presidential candidates are weighing in on the subject.

As the national conversation heats up—particularly over the issue of whose definition of reparations will be used—it is wise to re-look at two fundamentals that are so far being virtually ignored.

First is the fact that former U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit (recently replaced by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib), introduced and re-introduced H.R. 40 as a legislative act from 1989 until his last year in office, 2017.

H.R. 40, modeled after the Japanese American Civil Liberties Act (reparations for interning Japanese American citizens and seizing their property during WWII), was (is) essentially an attempt to get Congress to authorize a complete study of the impact of slavery, Jim Crowism and massive redundant discrimination regarding African Americans, and to recommend solutions. From 1989 until 2016, the bill was essentially entitled, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act.”

In 2016-2017, the bill changed focus from essentially a study bill to one that emphasized a request to establish a congressional reparations plan for the African American population, as a result of an official commission study and recommendations. For the recently begun 116th session of Congress, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) took the baton passed by former legislator Conyers, and re-introduced H.R. 40, with a twist. Her bill is entitled a Commission to Consider Reparations Proposals for African Americans and is aimed directly at coming up with reparations plans straightaway.

In interviews with presidential hopefuls, there should be questions about whether they support H.R. 40 and are willing to push its passage.

The other very important thing is the U.S. Senate’s 2009 Concurrent Resolution 26, Apology for Enslavement and Racial Segregation of African Americans Act. This was the first, official governmental apology for the enslavement, racial discrimination and Jim Crowization of African Americans in U.S. history. Unfortunately, as thorough-sounding as it was, it was not popularly well-received. The primary reason for that is the caveat placed in its conclusion that,”….nothing in this resolution authorizes, supports or serves as part of a settlement of any claims.” That statement was a deal breaker for many, many reparations activists.

This issue can also be brought up again and presidential hopefuls can be asked whether they support this resolution already passed by Congress, and whether they will support removing that caustic caveat from it.

Let’s have a real discussion of reparations, not a superficial one. Let’s follow the example of the young reparations debaters from last weekend. Remember how significant Denzel Washington’s “Great Debaters” was? We have a precedent!!

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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