Letters to Congress: Immediately Bring H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, to a Full Vote on the House Floor

View or download a PDF of the letter here.

February 4, 2022

Speaker Nancy Pelosi
1236 Longworth H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer
1705 Longworth H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn
274 Cannon H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy
2468 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515

RE: Repair Can’t Wait – Immediately Pass H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop
Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, Majority Whip Clyburn, Minority Leader McCarthy, and Honorable Members of the House of Representatives:

On behalf of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), organizational members of the Why We Can’t Wait Coalition, along with the undersigned 365 national, international, state, and local organizations, and over 40 leaders, activists, and celebrities, we urge Congress to immediately bring House Resolution (H.R.) 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act, to a full vote on the House floor.

H.R. 40 has a record 215 members of Congress committed to voting “yes” when the bill  comes to the House floor. With this level of support, it should pass the House, so long as Leadership sticks to public promises to get behind it and advance the bill. People in the US are now more eager than ever to pull back the curtain on institutions to see whether they have helped to advance or stall racial progress, and those institutions include the US Congress. As states, cities, and other institutions, including the state of California; Providence, Rhode Island; Burlington, Vermont; Tullahassee, Oklahoma; Greenbelt, Maryland; Detroit, Michigan; Evanston, Illinois; Georgetown University; the Jesuits; and others pursue reparations at an accelerated pace, it would be sheer irony for the federal government, which sanctioned the kidnapping and trafficking in human beings that slavery entailed, and maintained subsequent antiBlack laws and institutions, to continue to lag behind.

H.R. 40 would establish an expert commission to study the legacy of slavery and how the failure to address harms stemming from it have resulted in huge racial disparities between white and Black people in: the ability to accumulate wealth; to access health care, education, housing and employment opportunities; environmental outcomes; and policing, among other things. The commission would also recommend proposals for how to provide repair for what the study reveals. This bill does not authorize payments or any specific remedy. It simply creates a commission to study the problem, gather relevant information, extensively consult with impacted communities, and recommend solutions. Like the commission that investigated the forced relocation and wrongful incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, H.R. 40 can help pave the way for a critical and truthful reckoning and accounting for past harms and the present harms that flow from them.

The US Congress made history when, on April 14, 2021, the House Judiciary Committee voted to move H.R. 40 to the House Floor for full consideration, the first time in the bill’s 32 year history. Eight months later, as the enduring terror of white supremacy looms, the Covid 19 pandemic widens racial inequality, police continue to heinously kill Black people at alarming rates, and legislators continue to introduce scores of new Jim Crow-like voter restrictions, passing H.R. 40 couldn’t be more urgent. While we recognize the importance of symbolic measures, such as the speedy and nearly unanimous vote in the House of Representatives this year to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday, the House must similarly act without further unjustified delay to bring H.R. 40 to the floor for a vote so that a substantive study can proceed that can bring about real change.

Even amidst battles against truth about the country’s founding, there is a growing acceptance that the legacies of settler colonialism and of enslavement can be felt today and that racism impacts everyone. According to a recent Citigroup study, not addressing the racial wealth gap has cost the US economy up to $16 trillion over the past 20 years. Revealing, through a federal commission, how federal policy has contributed to creating these inequities and their profound impact, could unify people across demographics and make clear that addressing and repairing these harms will benefit everyone.

The world is waiting to see how the US government makes amends and repairs the harm stemming from slavery, but every year the same message gets sent: Black votes matter, but not Black lives. Continued investments in good public policy measures, such as tax cuts for families with children and investments in affordable housing in the Build Back Better Act, are important, but public policy alone does not address past harm and has never been enough to end contemporary forms of racism, dehumanization, and exclusion. Undoing racial injustice and achieving racial healing requires remedy and repair, a principle well established in international human rights law.

We, the undersigned organizations, firmly believe that addressing pervasive anti-Black racism and providing reparations, long overdue, cannot wait another day, month, year, or decade. We are in a once-ina-lifetime moment that we cannot let slip away if we are to begin the process of righting the country’s wrongs. Voters will remember what Congress did and did not do when it had the power to act. It has that power now. It should ask itself: How do we want history to remember us?

We hope that we can count on you to be on the right side of history and move Congress to take this meaningful first step in the right direction. We ask that you bring H.R. 40 to the House floor for a vote as soon as possible.

We appreciate your time and consideration. If you have additional questions or need additional information, please contact Laura Pitter, Deputy Director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch, at pitterl@hrw.org and Kenniss Henry, Legislative Commission Chair for N’COBRA at ncobralegiscom@gmail.com.