Rep. James Clyburn Dismisses Idea of Reparations as a Fix for Racial Inequality, Pushes Another Policy Instead

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House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) says he has a major issue with using reparations as way to address racial and wealth inequality, just as 2020 presidential hopefuls have suggested they support the idea.

In a recent interview with the Post and Courier, Clyburn said he thought “pure reparations would be impossible to implement” and called it an impractical solution to racial inequality.

James Clyburn
Rep. James Clyburn said he fears reparations would only lead to more questions about who actually qualifies for recompense. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

However, “we can deal with the issue (of inequality) if we’d just admit, first of all, that it exists and then come up with some straightforward ways to deal with it,” the 78-year-old told the newspaper.

Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American congressman, also teed off on the concept of so-called “opportunity zones,” an effort championed by Black GOP Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) that rewards developers with tax incentives when they invest in underserved, low–income communities. The senior congressman is completely opposed to the idea, however, and dismissed it as just “a bunch of smoke and mirrors.”

Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have  all expressed support for reparations to Black Americans impacted by the legacy of slavery. Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who also recently announced his bid for president, is still against the idea, however, and once called it “divisive.”

As reported by The Hill, support for reparations among major candidates — many of whom have put forward their own often nonspecific conceptions of such a program — has since signaled a leftward shift since the contentious 2016 election. Then-candidate Hillary Clinton didn’t express support for reparations at the time, nor did former POTUS Barack Obama promote the idea.

For Clyburn, the fear is that reparations would only lead to disputes over who’s actually eligible for recompense “due to the sprawling family trees that have evolved in the generations since slavery was abolished,” reported the Post and Courier. He also argued that some white people who’ve never even felt the effects of race-based discrimination could wind up claiming to have connections to former slaves just to be compensated.

“Is that a fair way to do it?” he asked. “I say not.”

Clyburn already has his own solution to tackling the issue of inequality, and it comes in the form of his “10-20-30” policy. The formula, which is already included in some federal policies, would direct 10 percent of government funds to counties where 20 percent or more of the local population has lived below the poverty line over the past 30 years.

“To me, that’s a much better way to deal with what reparations is supposed to be about,” he told the newspaper.

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