The early 2020 Democratic primary has been occupied lately by a surprisingly polarizing question: Should the United States offer restitution to the descendants of slaves in the form of reparations? Already, several candidates — notably Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — have said yes.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) isn’t so sure.
“I think what we have got to do is pay attention to distressed communities: black communities, Latino communities, and white communities, and as president, I pledge to do that,” Sanders said when asked about the issue on ABC’s The View on Friday.
The View’s Sunny Hostin went on to press him further and ask if he would back reparations, in the form of money, explicitly.
“I think that right now, our job is to address the crises facing the American people and our communities, and I think there are better ways to do that than just writing out a check,” he said in response.
This isn’t the first time Sanders has shied away from backing reparations. During a CNN town hall earlier this week, Sanders instead noted that he supports legislation from Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) that focuses federal resources on communities that have a high level of poverty.
Several 2020 candidates support reparations, but it’s not immediately clear what that means
For now, the definition of reparations in the 2020 context is murky. At the moment, reparations appear to be any policy a candidate is willing to call reparations. A recent New York Times story by Astead W. Herndon found Warren, Harris, and Booker backed “race-conscious policies” in some form. The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein followed this up by asking candidates directly if they supported “reparations.” Those three followed with yes, though it was unclear what the policy might actually look like.
As the Associated Press’s Errin Haines Whack writes, reparations have been “long defined as some type of direct payment to former slaves and their descendants,” but clearly to candidates that definition has become more amorphous.
Harris, for example, has told the news outlet the Grio that she sees the LIFT Act, a bill she proposed that would offer middle-class families a massive expansion of the earned income tax credit, as legislation that would “uplift 60 percent of black families in poverty.”
“When you look at the reality of who will benefit from certain policies … it will directly benefit black children, black families and black homeowners because the disparities are so significant,” she said.
A Booker representative has suggested that his baby bonds proposal, which would guarantee all newborns savings accounts in an effort to limit the racial wealth gap, could be a “form of reparations.” Warren, too, has highlighted legislation “that would provide help to minorities in making a down payment on a home,” Reuters reports.
Sanders indicated on Friday that he does not back a direct payment to descendants of slaves, but it’s increasingly unclear whether other 2020 candidates’ definition of “reparations” explicitly includes that either.