The ongoing wounds of enslavement and more than four centuries of entrenched racial oppression continues to impact every part of American society. Systemic disparities and injustices will endure unless proactive steps are taken to acknowledge and eliminate them. One of the clearest ways to address entrenched racial discrimination is through the study and development of reparations proposals.
Urge Congress and the White House to establish a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.
Systemic racial oppression in the American colonies began in 1619 when the first enslaved Africans were brought to the colony of Virginia. Black families were ripped apart, Black individuals were subjected to sexual and other forms of violence, and Black children were kept deliberately uneducated and illiterate. Some early Jewish Americans were among slave traders and owners.
Despite the abolition of chattel slavery in the U.S. in 1865, systemic oppression, violence, and racial discrimination against Black Americans continues today. Lynchings, Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, restricted access to the ballot box, a biased criminal justice system, and redlining are just some examples of how racial inequity has been sustained in America.
Examples of how inequality manifests today include:
- Only 42 percent of Black households own their homes compared to 72 percent of white households.
- Black students are expelled from school at disproportionately higher rates than their peers.
- The employment rate for Black men has consistently remained at 11 to 15 percentage points lower than that of other men.
- Black women experience maternal deaths at a rate of three to four times than white women.
Such injustices will endure unless proactive steps are taken to acknowledge and eliminate them. In the 117th Congress, the bicameral Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act (H.R. 40/ S. 40) was introduced by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). There has yet to be a House vote on this bill, further delaying the process of repair this country must undergo to address ongoing anti-Black discrimination. If Congress is unable to pass this bill, then the President of the United States must use the full power of his office to establish a Commission to Study and Develop Reparations for African Americans by executive order.
Once established, this commission would be responsible for identifying the U.S. government’s role in the institution of chattel slavery, the discriminatory laws against formerly enslaved Africans and their descendants, and the vestiges of enslavement in the form of systemic anti-Black racism. The commission would also be tasked with recommending appropriate ways to educate the public and provide remedies.
In the Talmud, we learn that all people are descended from a single being so that no person can say, “my ancestor is greater than yours.” (Sanhedrin 37a). Systemic racial oppression is a sin that violates the sacred tenet of equality between people. Our Jewish texts are also clear on the importance of restitution for wrongs committed. Maimonides linked the payment of damages to the concept of t’shuvah, noting that repentance must accompany the financial commitment (Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 1.1). Racial healing can only begin to be achieved when this systemic oppression is recognized and accounted for, when t’shuvah is carried out.
At the URJ December 2019 Biennial, the Reform Movement overwhelmingly adopted a Resolution on the Study and Development of Reparations for Slavery and Systemic Racism in the U.S. The resolution recognizes that, “As an institution striving to be antiracist, we seek to address the harms of those who came before us, and the injustices that continue to surround us, so that we do what we can to make our institutions, communities, and nation more just for future generations.”
Join our call by asking your members of Congress and the White House to support the research and development of reparations for enslavement and systemic racism.
For More Information:
You can email your elected officials through our form, or you can call the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 or the White House Switchboard at 202.456.1414 and ask to speak directly with their offices.
For more information on this issue, you can visit the RAC’s Racial Justice and Reparations pages or contact Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Israel Harris at 202.387.2800.
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