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Reparations for the Black community, proposed legislation and shallow corporate responses from companies that historically profited from slavery

March 3, 2021

A few short months ago, the financial conglomerate known as JP Morgan Chase announced that it was committing $30 Billion over the next 5 years to advance racial equity, especially for Black and Latinx Americans.

At first look it would seem that JP Morgan Chase is really making a case for reparations, but upon further investigation, this is far from the truth.

What JP Morgan Chase is actually doing is what they always do – they provide housing loans, business loans, promote workforce diversity and will assist Black and Latinx people to open up checking and savings accounts with them.

So, to be clear, JP Morgan Chase is not giving back $30 billion to promote racial equity, they aren’t practicing reparations. Instead, what this global financial institution is hoping to capitalize on the current political moment to present themselves as having some sort of commitment to racial justice…….they don’t!

However, JP Morgan Chase should be practicing reparations to the Black community, especially since it has been well documented that their origins are rooted in profiting from Chattel Slavery in the US. According to a 2005 article in The Guardian, JP Morgan Chase admitted that they profited off of slavery and even wrote an apology letter. Well, sort of an apology.

“We apologize to the African-American community, particularly those who are descendants of slaves, and to the rest of the American public for the role that Citizens’ Bank and Canal Bank played. The slavery era was a tragic time in US history and in our company’s history.”

Slavery was not a tragic time in US history, it was a legalized system of exploitation and White Supremacy. The Guardian article also stated that the, “company estimated that between 1831 and 1865 the two banks accepted approximately 13,000 slaves as collateral and ended up owning about 1,250 slaves.” 

JP Morgan Chase did set up a $5 million scholarship fund for Black students at the time, but this too is not reparations, it is charity. You can’t profit off of using those in slavery as collateral and even own those who were enslaved and then just make an apology and set up a scholarship fund that you can then use as a tax right off.

In addition to JP Morgan Chase profiting from using those in slavery as collateral and actually owning people who were enslaved, there are other ways in which the financial behemoth was both complicit in slavery and profited from it. According to one source, JP Morgan Chase financed the colonial prison industry in the US, the laundered billions of dollars and provided ships for CIA-backed drug trafficking and during the COVID pandemic, JP Morgan Chase has made substantial profits, while Black people and other communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID deaths and illness.

Reparation’s legislation

In April of 2019, legislation was once again introduced into Congress on the matter of reparations for Black people in the US. The language to the introduction of the bill, known as S. 1083 (116th: H.R. 40 Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act) reads as follows:

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.

While this legislation can be viewed as a positive move towards reparations, the language is vague, since it says, “to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery.” If the study were to conclude that Black people should receive reparations, there would definitely be a major battle over what amount that might look like. If Congress was serious about this, they should invite Black communities all across the US to provide testimony and allow the Black community to determine the dollar amount for said reparations. Authors of the book From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, estimate that the US would have to pay between $10 and $12 Trillion for reparations, which is about $800,000 to each African American household in the US. 

In addition, the US Conference of Mayors passed a resolution last July in support of the federal Reparations legislation. Part of that resolution reads, “We recognize and support your legislation as a concrete first step in our larger reckoning as a nation, and a next step to guide the actions of both federal and local leaders who have promised to do better by our Black residents.”

Grand Rapids Mayor Bliss is part of the US Conference of Mayors, who endorsed the Reparations legislation. I sent a message to Mayor Bliss asking her to confirm her endorsement of Reparations for the Black community. Once I receive a response I will post it on this blog.

Lastly, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) sent a letter to Representatives Pelosi, McCarthy, Nadler, Jordon, McConnell and Schumer in August of last year, demand Reparations Now! Their letter is powerful and those of us who identify as white need to fully support and push for immediate reparations for Black Americans. 

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