Conservative radio host Larry Elder slammed reparations bill H.R. 40 during a Wednesday House subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, positing that “racism has never been a less significant problem in America,” and indirectly suggesting that Black people need to to do a better job of taking “advantage of available opportunities.”
As members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties debated the merits of bill H.R. 40 during a virtual hearing on Feb. 17, 68-year-old conservative radio host Larry Elder voiced strong opposition to the bill, which would establish a federal commission tasked with studying the impacts of slavery to bring redress to the economic, educational and health disparities that divide the nation along racial lines.
During his five-minute time allocation, Elder reinforced ideas of overcoming adversity, and seizing opportunity.
“Black people are a race of overcomers,” Elder began. “Despite all the problems that have been brought up in the committee hearing about racism, about slavery, about Jim Crow, Black people have overcome to the point now where only 20 percent of Black people are below the federally-defined level of poverty.”
Elder said that a “40-point drop” in poverty in a 20-year period between 1940 and 1960 happened prior to the Brown v. Board decision of 1954, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (The United States was emerging from the Great Depression in 1940, and by the time World War II ended in 1945 America was the world’s economic superpower, which led to a decades-long expansion of the middle class and general social mobility in the U.S.)
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, was first introduced by the late John Conyers in 1989 and has been reintroduced during every legislative session that followed but has not been successful. All of the bill’s 162 co-sponsors are Democrats.
“We believe in determination, and we believe in overcoming the many bad balls that we have been thrown; we’ve caught them, and we’ve kept on going. That is not the point of H.R. 40,” Jackson Lee said in her opening statement. “Now more than ever, the facts and circumstances facing our nation demonstrate the importance of H.R. 40 and the necessity of placing our nation on the path to reparative justice.”
During the hearing, where College Football Hall of Famer Herschel Walker also expressed his disapproval of the bill, Elder said a 1997 survey of Black and white teenagers showed that “twice as many Black teens as white teens said failure to take advantage of available, opportunities is a bigger problem than racism.”
Walker went on to say “having this conversation when racism has never been a less significant problem in America, to me is mind-boggling.”
Seemingly taking aim at the economic legacy of slavery during America’s earlier years, Elder minimized the financial impact of free slave labor, adding, “The idea that slavery built America is belied by the fact that at one time, Virginia was the most populous and wealthiest state in the Union but within a couple of generations it had fallen behind states in the North because states in the South depended on slavery, which impoverished the South relative to the North, which is primarily why the North won the election.”
University of Connecticut professor of public policy Thomas Craemer, who has studied race and reparations for 15 years, pinned the cost of slavery and loss of wealth through slavery at $14.5 trillion dollars without adjusting for inflation.