Some witnesses at the hearing agreed with McConnell. Burgess Owens, a retired football player who is African American, argued that black people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
“We’ve become successful like no other because of this great opportunity to live the American dream,” Owens said. “Let’s not steal that from our kids by telling them they can’t do it.”
But those comments earned sharp criticism from others, including author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has argued that African Americans have been exploited by nearly every American institution.
“This is about more than slavery; this isn’t about litigating things that happened 150 years ago,” Coates says. “There are people who are alive today who are impacted by policies that came out of slavery.”
A 2019 survey found that 52 percent of Americans believe the government doesn’t spend enough money to improve the conditions of African Americans—yet many still aren’t supportive of reparations. Only three in 10 Americans said the government is obligated to make up for past racial discrimination.
Even though H.R. 40 is unlikely to pass anytime soon, some experts say the fact that the country is even talking about the bill is a sign of progress.
“We have not had a conversation about reparations on this scale or level since the Reconstruction Era,” Darity, the reparations expert, says. “I am more optimistic than I have ever been in my life about the prospect of the enactment of a reparations program that is comprehensive and transformative.”