By signing this petition to correct the U.S.Census Bureau’s approach to collecting data on race, you can play a part in bringing about what may be the most essential and transformative reparation possible for the atrocity of chattel slavery and its legacies of interpersonal, institutional, structural, and systemic racism.
In 1989, the late Congressman John Conyers first introduced H.R. 40 following the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided reparations to Japanese-identified Americans who were forcibly relocated and interned during World War II. H.R.40 has been re-introduced in every congressional session since that time. The current articulation of its purpose is:
To address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.
H.R. 40 has yet to gain congressional approval and subsequent Presidential signature. In 2019, following the horrific murder of George Floyd, the clearly racially discriminatory responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the associated surge in efforts to increase social justice, H.R. 40 gained enough support and momentum to make its way out of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on April 14, 2021, thus setting up a vote in the House.
A bill must be passed by both the House and Senate and then be signed by the President to become law. President Biden stated in February of 2021 that he supported the intent of H.R. 40, although he did not definitely say that he would sign the bill if it were passed by Congress. It is uncertain whether the momentum that led to this moment in the thirty-plus years of H.R. 40’s arduous journey will carry it through the House and Senate and finally to the President.
In the meantime, several states and some institutions have committed to actions aimed at achieving reparations. These actions include establishing scholarships for students whose ancestors were slaves, issuing apologies for the brutal enterprise and legacies of chattel slavery, and monetary compensation. There is ongoing discussion and debate about not only who should be eligible for reparation but what might count as meaningful and feasible reparation.
No matter where one stands on the question of reparations, everyone should give serious thought to what kind of reparation might not only provide some form of compensation but also, and most importantly, actually lead to real and permanent correction of the conditions that led to the beliefs, practices, policies, and actions that resulted in the brutal practice of chattel slavery and its legacies of interpersonal, institutional, structural, and systemic racism. An apology, renaming buildings or streets or army bases, scholarships, and cash payouts do nothing to address the root causes of racism. They are all downstream interventions, meaning that they address problems that, while very serious, are themselves manifestations, symptoms, and outcomes of antecedent conditions, or processes that continually regenerate maladies upstream.
To address the upstream source or generator of the dynamics that led to and perpetuate social bias based on race, we have to repair the habit of mind that leads to the belief in race and the habits of practice that stem from that belief. That habit of mind and behavior is racialization. As explained in A Proposal to Improve Race Data Collection Methodology,
From the early stages of the nation’s development, race has been treated as something natural and integral to who a person is. But race is not something you are. The race is something that is done to you by means of the process of racialization. Race is not a reality of identity; it is a circumstance in which people are relegated to a superior or inferior social identity group. Racialization ascribes race as a sign of superiority and privilege or as the stigma of inferiority that rationalizes unjust disadvantage.
The proposal provides an explanation of racialization and a method by which the Census Bureau can, for the first time in this nation’s history, stop compelling people to categorize themselves by categories that are false, divisive, and rooted in intentions to create superior and inferior subgroups of human beings. That’s a reparation that is a prerequisite to truly and finally moving beyond racism - and it can be accomplished while improving the monitoring of discrimination based on race.
If you support this initiative and get as many people as you can to support it, then eight years from now when the next decennial census takes place, you might be able to say that you played a part in making one of the most consequential changes in the history of this nation.