Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) gave a ringing endorsement of the idea of reparations for the families of formerly enslaved people at a CNN town hall held at Jackson State University on Monday night.
While Warren stopped short of calling for direct payments, she threw her support behind a bill in the US House to study the issue and acknowledged the persistence of racial injustice in America.
“This is a stain on America and we’re not going to fix that, we’re not going to change that, until we address it head on, directly,” she said. “And make no mistake, it’s not just the original founding. It’s just what happened generation after generation.”
Warren said some of the most prominent examples of continued racial discrimination in the US include housing and employment discrimination against black families.
“Because of housing discrimination and employment discrimination, we live in a world where the average white family has $100 [and] the average black family has about $5,” she said. “So I believe it’s time to start the national full-blown conversation about reparations in this country. And that means I support the bill in the House to appoint a congressional panel of experts, people that are studying this and talk about different ways we may be able to do it and make a report back to Congress, so that we can as a nation do what’s right and begin to heal.”
Warren has already released a sweeping affordable housing bill called the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act. The bill would dramatically increase the federal government’s investment into affordable housing — $450 billion over 10 years. That would help build or refurbish 3 million affordable housing units and create 1.5 million new jobs, according to an independent Moody’s analysis. Warren and advocates say the bill will bring down rising housing and rental costs, which they say have reached crisis levels in the US.
“Anybody in here worry about the rising price of housing?” Warren asked the CNN town hall audience, to applause. “In the same way that we think about health care as a basic human right, having a decent and safe place to live should be a human — a basic human right.”
As Vox’s P.R. Lockhart recently wrote, some presidential candidates besides Warren have expressed some level of support for reparations: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have also acknowledged it as an important issue. Other candidates are proposing ideas to close the racial wealth gap, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The idea of financial reparations — an idea given new life by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2014 Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations” — has typically been unpopular with the American public: Two polls in 2018 both found support for reparations at about 26 percent.
Still, Warren’s detailed answer on reparations and the history of discriminatory housing in America shows she’s taking it seriously.