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Biden backs slavery reparations study as part of 'comprehensive action to address systemic racism that persists today'

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Americans are overwhelmingly against slavery reparations

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President Joe Biden supports studying whether descendants of enslaved people in the United States should receive reparations. White House press secretary Jen Psaki revealed that the reparations study would be part of the Biden administration's "commitment to take comprehensive action to address the systemic racism that persists today."

"He certainly would support a study of reparations," Psaki said at the White House briefing on Wednesday. "He understands we don't need a study to take action right now on systemic racism, so he wants to take actions within his own government in the meantime."

In January, Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) reintroduced H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to examine the practice of slavery in America for more than 200 years. The study would determine what remedies for past slavery can be put in action, including possible financial payments from the U.S. government to descendants of slaves. The bill has 162 co-sponsors, all of whom are Democrats.

The bill, titled "Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act," states:

To address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a virtual hearing to discuss H.R. 40.

"White nationalism and police-community conflict are just part of the long legacy of anti-Black racism that has shaped our nation's laws, institutions, and societal attitudes," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in his opening remarks at the hearing. "That racism and division hold back our country's long-standing efforts to carry out what the Preamble to our Constitution says it is designed to do — to form 'a more perfect union.'"

"Reparations in the context of H.R. 40 are ultimately about respect and reconciliation—and the hope that one day, all Americans can walk together toward a more just future," Nadler stated.

"We believe in determination, and we believe in overcoming the many bad balls that we have been thrown; we've caught them, and we've kept on going. That is not the point of H.R. 40," Lee said during the hearing, as reported by the Hill. "Now more than ever, the facts and circumstances facing our nation demonstrate the importance of H.R. 40 and the necessity of placing our nation on the path to reparative justice."

Before Lee reintroduced H.R. 40, the late Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) first introduced a bill calling for a study into possible slavery reparations in 1989, and it was reintroduced every session until Conyers' retirement in 2017.

Last year, President Biden told the Washington Post, "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."

In February 2019, Kamala Harris said she supports slavery reparations.

Americans overwhelmingly oppose reparations. A Reuters/Ipsos poll from June 2020 found that only one in five respondents agreed the U.S. government should use "taxpayer money to pay damages to descendants of enslaved people in the United States."

As for the cost of reparations, one study estimated a price tag between $5.9 trillion and $14.2 trillion.

CNBC reported on another study in August, "A meaningful program to eliminate the existing Black-White wealth gap requires an allocation of between $10 trillion and $12 trillion, or about $800,000 to each eligible Black household."

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