New York investigates slavery reparations
New York is poised to become the second state in the US to explore issuing financial reparations to the descendants of black slaves, after the legislature overwhelmingly passed a measure establishing an exploratory commission last week.
Governor Kathy Hochul’s public silence – as the bill remains unsigned nearly a week after landing on her desk – has brought national attention to the issue, with supporters of reparations arguing the measure does not go far enough to holding the nation accountable for its past sins. Opponents are also questioning the affordability – and moral legitimacy – of such programs.
“Blacks are not only not equal to whites, they are indeed going backwards,” State Senator James Sanders Jr. (D-South Ozone Park), the bill’s author, told local outlet Queens Chronicle, after it passed both chambers of the New York legislature with significant majorities. “The nation needs to resolve this matter by making the descendants whole,” he said.
The bill would establish a nine-member commission to study the generational impacts of slavery and racism in the state and investigate the feasibility of financial reparations for those affected. Once that analysis is complete, the commission would deliver its recommendations to the state within the year. The state legislature would have the option to accept or reject their proposals.
A similar measure is under consideration by the City Council of New York City, along with several other initiatives ostensibly aimed at “rectifying historical injustices.”
The reparations commission established by California, the only other state that has ever attempted to quantify the cumulative harms of slavery, racism and discrimination against contemporary black Americans, is expected to deliver its recommendations later this month. Set to include more than 100 programs and policies, the commission’s recommendations address situations ranging from the “stolen labor and hindered opportunity” of the long-dead slaves, to generations of subsequent housing segregation, to “racial terror” and “pathologizing the black family.”
While California was not a slave state, the reparations commission established by state law in 2021 has publicly stated it wants to create a “reparations blueprint” the rest of the US can follow.
Advocates of reparations claim depressed economic circumstances among contemporary black populations can be traced to the hangover from slavery, with even freed slaves and their descendants never having been granted equal opportunity to their white neighbors. Estimates of the cost for a nationwide reparations program run as high as $14 trillion, and support for the concept is strongly divided across racial lines, with even supporters of such an initiative acknowledging in a recent poll that it was unlikely to happen in their lifetimes.