This year marks the 400th year of the inception of the trans-Atlantic slave trade from Africa to the Americas. Approximately 4 million Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the United States and the colonies from 1619 to 1865. For 246 years, the laws in the United States promoted a system that treated human beings as property. 154 years after the abolition of the horrid practice, the vestiges of racism, discrimination and bigotry have continued to live through these laws and our institutions, allowing discrimination to be sewn into the fabric of our society, manifesting in our education, housing, economic and justice systems.
It has been further metastasized through a racial caste system permitting discrimination against Black Americans from the hiring, promotion and firing practices to inequitable access to health care, food resources and maternal morbidity where Black women are more than twice as likely to lose a child during childbirth than their white counterparts in 2019.
In the past, the focus on the social effects of slavery, Jim Crow segregation and its continuing economic implications had remained largely ignored by mainstream analysis — a topic whispered about as America’s shame, but never brought fully into the spotlight as something to address. These economic issues are the root causes of many critical issues in the Black community today.
According to Child Trends, educational expectations are lower for Black children, who are often educated at underfunded schools, without the same resources available to them as their white counterparts. On average, schools serving Black students have less-experienced, lower-paid teachers who are less likely to be certified. The Center for American Progress found that for each 10% increase in students of color at a school, per-pupil spending decreases in that school by $75.
As the persistent economic chasm continues to grow today, Black workers, on average, are paid 16.2% less than white workers. According to the Census Bureau, in 2016, the average household income for a white family was $80,720. For a Black family, that number sat at $38,555 — less than half of what an average white family took home. In my home state of Nevada, the average household income for a white family is $64,028, whereas the average income for a Black family is $42,464 — a disparity of nearly $22,000 per year.
Similarly, the rate of Black homeownership, a marker of intergenerational economic success and wealth creation, is only 41.6% — virtually unchanged from 50 years ago, when the federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in housing. The national white homeownership rate is 71%.
According to the Urban Institute, homeownership is not only an indicator of success for future generations, but also of better educational opportunities, civic participation and health outcomes. In 2013, a Pew study determined that the wealth of white households was 13 times greater than that of Black households, up from eight times the wealth in 2010.
The most dire of these economic statistics indicate that by 2053, if nothing is done to improve the economic conditions of the Black community, the net worth of the Black family will be zero, meaning any economic gains achieved during years of expansion will be altogether eliminated. The lingering effects of slavery has kept the starting line for Black families and their children further behind and it’s time we acknowledge and fundamentally change this reality.
It is for those 4 million enslaved people — for the horrors they faced every day during those 246 years of slavery — and their descendants today that I have signed on to support H.R. 40, also known as the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, in a hope to bring our country closer to a “more perfect union” and to fulfill the promise and ideals of what this nation can be still for generations to come.
H.R. 40, named for the federal government’s unfulfilled — and, truthfully, inadequate — promise to provide freed slaves with “40 acres and a mule,” was first introduced in 1989 and has now been reintroduced and sponsored by 116 members of the House or Representatives and led by my colleague, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. H.R. 40 represents a long overdue step forward — a commitment to entering a constructive dialogue on the role of slavery, its legacy and racism in shaping present-day conditions both in the Black community and American society as a whole.
The legislation would establish a Commission to study and develop reparation proposals for Black Americans to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States and recommend appropriate remedies. Among other requirements, the commission would: identify the role of federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery; identify the forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants; and identify the lingering negative effects of slavery on living Black Americans and society.
Now is the time we forge a new path forward, one that confronts the impacts of slavery and other race-based policies and that seeks to dismantle and reform those policies and practices that have historically left black communities behind. Now is the time to address the disparity between the economic opportunities afforded to white Americans and those available to Black Americans and other communities of color.
Now is the time for all of us to reimagine how every human being, regardless of race or ethnicity, can be a full participant in the fabric of American society. To envision what we want our nation to be over the next 400 years and what must be done now to ensure our nation, and more importantly, our children and the generations to come are set up to deal with the realities to come. To lead a social justice movement that accepts the history of slavery and how those who were enslaved contributed to building the nation we have inherited today.
I believe that H.R. 40 is a first step towards finding tangible solutions to removing obstacles in Black communities, thereby lifting up all others, and a necessary piece of legislation that has my full support.
Beyond my support of this legislation, I will launch a series of community conversations throughout my district where we will seek input for laying out a blueprint for community solutions to address the systemic problems impacting the Black communities and other communities of color. The goal, in the end, will be to find solutions that build on our shared experiences, to build intergenerational understanding of where we have been and where we are going and to propose a community-led initiative and movement that becomes a model for replication across the country.
Representative Steven Horsford is a proven champion for Nevada’s working families. He is committed to standing up to the reckless agenda of Donald Trump and congressional Republicans that is hurting Nevadans’ access to affordable health care and benefiting the wealthy at the expense of Nevada’s middle class.