White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Wednesday said President Joe Biden will support a study on whether descendants of enslaved people in the United States should receive reparations, Reuters reports.
If all went ahead as planned, economists estimate that such payments will be made to an estimated 40 million African Americans. Any federal reparations program could cost trillions of dollars, they estimate.
Reparations have been used in other circumstances to offset large moral and economic debts – Japanese Americans interned during World War Two received payments, families of Holocaust survivors also received reparations and Blacks in post-apartheid South Africa were settled in some form.
But the United States has never made much headway in discussions of whether or how to compensate African Americans for more than 200 years of slavery and help make up for racial inequality.
HR-40, a bill to fund the study of “slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies” has been floated in Congress for more than 30 years, but never taken up for a full vote.
Biden told the Washington Post last year that “we must acknowledge that there can be no realization of the American dream without grappling with the original sin of slavery, and the centuries-long campaign of violence, fear, and trauma wrought upon Black people in this country.”
But like nearly all of the Democratic presidential candidates at the time, he did not embrace the idea of specific payments to enslaved people’s descendants, instead promising “major actions to address systemic racism” and further study.
Some say this could rekindle the conversation on reparations for Africa as well. In 1999, the African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission called for the European countries to pay $777 trillion to Africa within five years.
One problem in the discussion of financial reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade, is which former slave trading and slave-holding nations might owe financial reparations to Africa. About a quarter-million enslaved Africans disembarked in the US between 1626 and 1875, whereas 5.1 million disembarked in Brazil between 1401 and 1875. Does Brazil owe reparations to Africa? Or does Portugal, a slave-trading nation, owe reparations to Brazil, which was then its colony?