“This bill is a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias in our country.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., on Monday introduced a bill that would explore slavery reparations as a way of ending American “white supremacy.”
In filing the proposed legislation in the Senate, Booker positioned himself as a leader on an issue that has become trendy among progressives and a hot topic in the 2020 presidential campaign, in which he is a candidate.
The measure is a companion to a bill introduced in the House of Representatives in January by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, which would study the impact of slavery and racism against African Americans and make recommendations on reparations for descendants on slaves.
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A similar reparations bill was first introduced 30 years ago by then-Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
According to Booker, racism continues to prop up white domination of blacks in the United States, and his bill is a step toward changing that.
“This bill is a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias in our country,” he said in a statement. “Since slavery in this country, we have had overt policies fueled by white supremacy and racism that have oppressed African-Americans economically for generations.”
“Many of our bedrock domestic policies that have ushered millions of Americans into the middle class have systematically excluded blacks through practices like ‘G.I. Bill’ discrimination and redlining,” Booker added.
At least eight other Democratic presidential candidates have voiced some degree of support for reparations: Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who served as housing secretary under President Barack Obama, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and high-tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Booker, who is running for president on a message of national unity, had previously pushed back on pressure to offer a full-throated endorsement of reparations, instead promoting “baby bonds” that would create a savings account for every child with government contributions based on family wealth.
During a recent town hall in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Booker complained to CNN anchor Don Lemon – who has voiced sympathy for the unique disadvantages conferred by slavery – that the issue has been “reduced to a box to check on a presidential list, when this is so much more of a serious conversation.
However, Booker has backed massive government spending, including by cosponsoring the Green New Deal. He has also evinced a heroic self-conception, famously referring to himself as “Spartacus” for supposedly risking punishment by releasing already-public documents during last year’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.
That reparations have become a mainstream issue indicates the success of progressives in pushing identity and race to the center of American politics. Even The New York Times’ conservative opinion columnist David Brooks last month declared himself a convert to the idea.
However, critics have argued that paying reparations for slavery would be expensive, impractical, and unjust. In a 2014 criticism of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blockbuster Atlantic essay “The Case for Reparations,” Kevin Williamson wrote for National Review that race is just one of many potentially disadvantaging factors, and should not be at the center of policy.
“Some blacks are born into college-educated, well-off households, and some whites are born to heroin-addicted single mothers, and even the totality of racial crimes throughout American history does not mean that one of these things matters and one does not,” Williamson said. “Once that fact is acknowledged, then the case for reparations is only moral primitivism: My interests are inextricably linked to my own kin group and directly rivalrous with yours, i.e., the very racism that this program is in theory intended to redress.”