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More than four centuries have passed since the first vessels carrying human beings forced into enslavement arrived on America’s shores. Now, as the nation finally begins to grapple with the long-term social and economic impact of its history of slavery, conversations about reparations are growing louder and more commonplace.
Community leaders have pushed for decades for governments to find ways to compensate for the damages of enslavement. Now, as more cities and states start the work of deciding what reparations could look like, polls show Americans are (slowly) embracing the idea.
A 2016 Marist poll surveyed more than 1200 adults nationwide. Of those surveyed, only 26% said they believe the government should pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved people.
Three years later, a 2019 poll by Gallup asked a similar question and found that 29% of adults favored reparations. This number was more than double the 14% who said they supported reparations in a 2002 Gallup poll.
In 2021, following a nationwide racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd, Pew Research also conducted a reparations poll. That poll of nearly 4,000 adults found support for reparations stood at 30% nationwide. The highest support was found among Black Americans, young Americans and those who identified as Democrats.
Most recently, a poll released in December 2022 by Rasmussen found that 38% of likely voters favored some form of reparations for slavery. A slim majority of 54% opposed or strongly opposed reparations, according to the poll. This represented a 10 point increase from a similar poll Rasmussen conducted in January 2021.
Amid national conversation, House and Senate Democrats work to advance bill to set up committee focused on studying reparations.
Democrats in the US House and Senate have been working to advance HR 40 and S 40, a pair of companion bills to study potential reparations for Black Americans.
Representative Jamaal Bowman told NPR the bill is a critical to understand how to repair economic impacts of racial discrimination.
“We haven’t taken a moment to stop and pause and reflect and look ourselves in the mirror as a country and really be honest with ourselves about how those harms continue to persist,” Bowman said.
“HR 40”, he said, “seeks to form a commission… to determine the next steps.”