Reparations will help build power for people and the planet

LCV Chief Officer for Racial Justice and Equity Leslie R. Hinkson, PhD

The ushering in of the Biden-Harris administration presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address the climate and environmental crises and strengthen our democracy. Now is the moment to be bolder than we’ve ever been before, and to do so, dismantling structural racism should be a top priority. We believe the call for reparations for African Americans is a first and necessary step towards achieving this goal, which is why we support H.R. 40 — which we are glad to see scheduled for its first-ever vote in the House Judiciary Committee this Wednesday — and its companion S. 40 becoming law.

At the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), we build political power for people and the planet. Yet political power is not equitably distributed in our country and never has been — the racism that is so deeply embedded in our country’s governance and structures means Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color are more impacted by climate change, breathe more polluted air, face greater barriers to voting, and have been habitually excluded from the spaces where decisions are made. If we’re going to equitably build power for people and the planet, it means we need to intentionally dismantle these racist structures and their legacies.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee’s H.R. 40 and Senator Cory Booker’s companion S. 40 would create a commission to study slavery, its lingering effects, and the discrimination faced post-emancipation by African Americans. The commission will recommend ways to educate the American public of their findings and propose “appropriate remedies,” which may include compensation for the ongoing harm of the institutions of slavery and its Jim Crow offspring, as well as broader policies and legislation that would help rectify racism in our country’s structures and governance. There is no doubt that environmental justice will be a key focus of this commission. 

We know that sometimes eyebrows are raised when we take positions on legislation that is seen as outside of “traditional” environmental issues. But we reject that premise. In not addressing reparations during Reconstruction, our government and society ensured that the legacy of slavery would endure. That enduring legacy includes a history and a present for Black people in America of housing segregation, redlining, voter suppression, state-sanctioned violence, intentional exposure to environmental toxins, and mortality and morbidity rates that exceed those of every other racial or ethnic group on almost every measure. By not addressing that legacy, we not only fail to understand how structural racism, and anti-Blackness in particular, has threatened our democracy, our environment, our people, and our planet, we continue to further those threats. 

We are proud to be part of a coalition of more than 300 organizations who support H.R. 40 and S. 40. We particularly want to recognize the work of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) and the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC), who have been leading this effort for decades, as well as groups like the NAACP, National Action Network, National Council of Churches, ACLU, the Sunrise Movement, and Human Rights Watch, among many other grassroots groups and activists on the frontlines of this fight today. 

H.R. 40 is just one first step toward reparations, and there is much that we have lost through centuries of systemic and structural racism that can never be recovered. But today and moving forward we join our voices to those who have long been fighting for racial justice. That is why LCV commends those members of Congress who have already signed on in support of H.R. 40 and S. 40, and urges those who have not yet done so to recognize the urgency of this moment in history and the opportunities that it presents. 

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