If anything positive came out of the 2016 Democratic primary, it was that both major candidates agreed on an obvious fact about America: that this country has been and continues to be racist as hell. This time around, some Democrats appear to be taking another step—saying we should actually do something about it.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that two major 2020 contenders, Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have voiced their support for reparations for black people. Harris did so during an under-covered portion of an interview last week with the radio show The Breakfast Club, and elaborated on it in a longer statement to the Times. “We have to be honest that people in this country do not start from the same place or have access to the same opportunities,” Harris told the Times. “I’m serious about taking an approach that would change policies and structures and make real investments in black communities.”
According to the Times, Warren also said that she supports reparations. She didn’t give further details on what that might entail, but last year, Warren proposed a sweeping housing reform bill that would have, among other things, boosted the enforcement mechanisms of the Community Reinvestment Act and provided down-payment assistance to first-time homebuyers living in racially segregated and redlined areas. “Senator Warren’s proposal has the power to transform lives and communities,” National Low-Income Housing Coalition president Diane Yentel said at the time.
It’s so far completely unclear what sorts of specific proposals Harris and Warren have in mind to address reparations. But their willingness to support it on the record is a marked departure from 2016, when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton declined to support reparations, as did Sen. Bernie Sanders, her primary challenger for the nomination. (Notably, former President Barack Obama also opposes reparations.)
In 2016, Sanders told Fusion that the likelihood of reparations being passed in Congress was “nil,” and that it would be “very divisive”—somewhat surprising criticism coming from the Vermont socialist considering those two charges are frequently lobbed at his signature policy proposals. We’ve reached out to Sanders’ office to see if his mind has changed on reparations since 2016, and will update when and if we receive a response.
As the Times notes, a third, lesser-known Democratic candidate has the most fleshed-out reparations plan: author Marianne Williamson, who’s proposing $100 billion in reparations as part of her longshot bid for the presidency. But as scholars like Duke’s Dr. Sandy Darity told the Times, even that likely wouldn’t be enough to make a real dent in the historic wealth inequality between black and white people in America.
Darity also told the Times he believes the weight black voters give to candidates’ stances on reparations will only continue to increase. “There is a point in black Americans making a collective decision to treat a candidate’s attitude toward reparations as a litmus test for supporting them,” he said.
Update, 02/22/19, 10:51 A.M. ET: In an interview with our sister site The Root, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who has also thrown his hat into the 2020 Democratic field, said he would also support reparations for black Americans.