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News > U.S.

US: Ta-Nehisi Coates Talks Slavery Reparations at Historic 'Juneteenth' Hearing

  • Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks during a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on reparations for slavery, Capitol Hill, Washington D.C.

    Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks during a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on reparations for slavery, Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 June 2019

The House Judiciary Committee held a historic hearing at which writer Ta-Nehisi Coates testified on behalf of reparations for slavery.

The United States House Judiciary Committee held a historic hearing Wednesday in Washington D.C. on the divisive question of slave reparations for Black Americans.


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The hearing coincided with "Juneteenth," a day commemorating the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state of Texas that occurred on June 19,1865, and which today marks the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the whole of the United States.

2019 is also the 400th “anniversary” of the commencement of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in North America.

Democratic representative from Texas, Sheila Jackson Lee is the one who introduced the bill this year, and a 13-member commission has been created to study the role of slavery in the U.S. and to consider reparations for the descendants of African American slaves.

The commission is called  “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.”

In this context and before the hearing started, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, was asked if the government should apologize for the country's role in slavery.

The senator replied that no one currently living should feel responsible for what occurred in the past, and that the U.S. has already dealt with slavery by presenting reparations on several occasions during the 20th century.

“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea. We’ve, you know, tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We’ve elected an African-American president. I think we’re always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that,” he said.

He also minimized the traumatic experiences of the African American by comparing their struggle to those of other immigrants who elected to come to the country.

“And I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it. First of all, it would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate. We’ve had waves of immigrants, as well, who have come to the country and experienced dramatic discrimination of one kind or another. So, no, I don’t think reparations are a good idea” he added.

At the hearing, the award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates testified began his testimony by responding to the Senator’s dismissal of racial injustice in the United States and lamented that McConnel's views against reparations are common and familiar.

Coates said that the debts owed by the United States cannot be “bound to a lifetime generation” and underscored the point by saying that the U.S. was still paying reparations to the heirs of Civil War soldiers.

“This rebuttal proffers a strange theory of governance, that American accounts are somehow bound by the lifetime of its generations. But well into this century, the United States was still paying out pensions to the heirs of Civil War soldiers. We honor treaties that date back some 200 years, despite no one being alive who signed those treaties,” he said.

The author continued by saying that the United States would never have become the wealthy country it is today without its Black citizens, implying that its economy relied in large part on slavery.

He also called pointed out that througout the 250 years of enslavement Black people in the U.S. endured, they were among its most important assets, which was cultivated by “torture, rape and child trafficking,” he said.

The writer went on to remind the audience that the suffering of Black people did not end with slavery. A century after the Civil War ended in 1865, they were subjected to racially motivated terror through mass lynchings, mass incarceration, and the dehumanizing laws of the Jim Crow years.

The author of the highly acclaimed books, “The Case for Reparations” (2014) and “Between the World and Me” (2015), said that Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden, should not become president.

This comment arose from a statement Biden made Tuesday where he said he was nostalgic for having “civil” relationships with segregationist senators in the 1970s and 1980s.

“If he ends up being the nominee, better him than Trump, but I think that’s a really, really low standard,” said Coates in an interview.

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