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The District of Columbia City Council reintroduced legislation to establish a reparation fund for black residents who have been “directly wronged and traumatized by the ills of slavery.”
On Monday, at-large council member Kenyan McDuffie, along with nine other members, introduced the Reparations Foundation Fund and Task Force Establishment Act of 2023.
The measure was first introduced by McDuffie, the former Ward 5 council member, in 2020, but the proposal failed.
“The reality that slavery, de jure, de facto segregation, black codes, and other government-sanctioned actions, redlining in real estate … really helped to deny wealth and opportunities to black Americans. There’s a racial wealth gap here in the nation’s capital, [there’s] an educational achievement gap, the stark disparities in health and employment—all as a result of intentional laws,” McDuffie told DCist/WAMU on Monday.
McDuffie said equity must be achieved and reparations would help the district make up for the wrongs black residents have faced because of various discriminatory laws, which have resulted in economic disparities.
According to a 2016 joint report from the Urban Institute, Duke University, The New School, and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, the average white household in Washington has a net worth 81 times larger than an average black household (pdf).
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that most black adults are in favor of some form of reparations to black Americans, but most non-black adults were opposed to the idea. In the survey, 68 percent of adults said reparations to descendants of slaves was not a good idea, which included 80 percent of white respondents, 65 percent of Asian respondents, and 58 percent of Hispanic respondents.
The survey found that 77 percent of black respondents said descendants of slaves should be repaid in some way, such as by giving them land or money.
In his introduction of the bill, McDuffie wrote that the government needs to “atone” for centuries of government-sanctioned policies and practices that exploited black people.
“We do not live in a post-racial society, and racial equality has not been achieved. If ever we are to achieve racial equity in this country, it will require official recognition of the role of government-sanctioned slavery, segregation, and racism that denied wealth-building opportunities to Black people,” McDuffie wrote in a letter to the council secretary (pdf).
However, opponents of reparations, like conservative commentator Larry Elder, argue that paying money to black people would not solve the underlying issues facing black Americans, such as the breakdown of the nuclear family.
“The money won’t do anything other than anger people who are on the hook for paying them with nothing to do with the conditions I just mentioned and will create a great deal of racial strife and tension in America,” Elder told Fox News Digital.
Another conservative political commentator, CJ Pearson, has said he believes addressing issues like economic empowerment, encouraging entrepreneurship, and school choice would be far more beneficial to the black community than reparations.
McDuffie’s bill has three main components: establish a nine-member reparations task force to study and develop a proposal; require the commissioner of the Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking to create a slavery-era database; and establish a reparations foundation fund.
Five task force members would be appointed by Mayor Muriel Bowser (who would also select the task force chair). The remaining four, including the co-chair, would be selected by the D.C. Council.
Of the five mayoral appointees, two would be from “major civil society and reparations” organizations that have worked in reparatory justice previously and one would be an academic in the field of civil rights.
“I think it is high time for us to have this conversation, this public debate,” McDuffie said in the letter.