by Sheri Urban
A congressional hearing erupted when black Quillette writer Coleman Hughes trashed a bill to study slavery reparations as a “moral and political mistake,” forcing the chair of the hearing to tell the audience to “chill” several times.
The House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing Wednesday entitled “H.R. 40 and the Path to Restorative Justice,” at which witnesses testified about reparations for slavery. HR 40 is a bill which proposes a commission to study reparations.
Hughes testified for the minority and delivered a lengthy opening statement against the bill in question. After noting that “nothing I’m about to say is meant to minimize the horror and brutality of slavery and Jim Crow” and that he considers “our failure to pay reparations directly to freed slaves after the civil war to be one of the greatest injustices ever perpetrated by the US government,” he went in on the bill for four solid minutes.
The audience at the hearing booed Hughes after he said, “Black people don’t need another apology. We need safer neighborhoods and better schools. We need a less punitive criminal justice system. We need affordable health care. And none of these things can be achieved through reparations for slavery.”
“Nearly everyone close to me told me not to testify today,” Hughes noted, adding, “They told me that even though I have only ever voted for Democrats, I would be perceived as Republican and therefore hated by half the country. Others told me that by distancing myself from Republicans, I would end up angering the other half of the country. And the sad truth is that they were both right. That’s how suspicious we have become. Of one another. That’s how divided we are. As a nation
He went on to describe reparations as not just divisive, but an “insult” to “many black Americans by putting a price on the suffering of their ancestors, and we would turn the relationship between black Americans and white Americans from a coalition into a transaction.”
Hughes went on to say that, “Reparations by definition are only given to victims, so the moment you give me reparations, you’ve made me into a victim without my consent. Not just that, you’ve made 1/3 of black Americans who poll against reparations into victims without their consent, and black Americans have fought too long for the right to define themselves to be spoken for in such a condescending manner.”
“The question is not what America owes me by virtue of my ancestry, the question is what all Americans owe each other by virtue of being citizens of the same nation,” Hughes said. “And the obligation of citizenship is not transactional. It’s not contingent on ancestry. It never expires, and it can’t be paid off. For all these reasons, bill HR 40 is a moral and political mistake.”
As the audience booed Hughes, subcommittee Chairman Steve Cohen banged the gavel and said “Chill, chill, chill, chill!”
As the chamber quieted, Cohen added: “He was presumptive, but he still has a right to speak.”