Voter Confronts Beto O’Rourke: ‘Why Should I, as a Black Man, Vote For You When You Oppose Reparations?’


Former Texas Congressman and current Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke was recently confronted by a voter over O’Rourke’s reported opposition to “traditional reparations” for slavery.

On the day of O’Rourke’s campaign announcement, The Associated Press reported that at a house party in Iowa, the candidate said he “is not in favor of traditional reparations for African-Americans for the legacy of slavery,” although the brief article did not quote O’Rourke directly.

At a campaign event at USC that was held last Friday, but which was just posted online Wednesday, a voter confronted O’Rourke over the report.

Referencing the report, the man asked “Why should I, as a black man, vote for you when you oppose reparations?”

O’Rourke did not deny the report, but instead launched into a four-and-a-half-minute answer that skirted the issue of direct reparations in favor of other remedies, and relied on the advice of “those who are much smarter, and frankly, as a white man, much more experienced in the injustice and the indignities” that he described in his answer:

Thank you for the question, and the opportunity to address one of the most important, and certainly the most foundational issue for this country, a country whose foundation was literally built on the backs of slaves, those who were brought here in bondage from other countries against their will, who effectively had no ability to enjoy the fruits of their labor, the wealth that they help to build. Who, after the end of slavery, were still kept down, were suppressed, were pressed into convict gangs to do work for profit for their white owners, literally worked to death. There was a graveyard just uncovered, a common grave outside of Houston, decades after the end of the Civil War where from the forensic evidence we can see that people were literally worked to death, their muscles torn from their bones.

The consequences of segregation, suppression in our democracy, redlining in the ability to get a mortgage or a loan, if this is a capitalist country, and whether you like it or not, it is, then capital is key, and you have no access to capital. To build wealth, to be able to pass on that house to your child, to help them with the seed capital to start a business, you are denying an entire people, based on their race, the ability to advance in this economy and in this country.

There is 10 times the wealth in white America than there is in black America today, and whatever education you receive, that disparity will continue to be there until we make structural changes. The rate of infant mortality in the United States in 2019 is greater between white women and black women that it was in 1850, 10 years before the Civil War started.

So I say all this to share with you that I begin, and just begin, I will acknowledge, to understand some of the challenges and some of the wrongs that we have committed, and the need for reparation, for repair. I think the best way for us to proceed — and I’ve listened to people who have done incredible work on this, Bryan Stevenson, who in Montgomery Alabama helped to build that memorial to peace, to justice —to call out not just our civil rights victories, which I started with at the beginning of my comments, but to talk about lynchings, to talk about brutality, to talk about this state turning against some of its own citizens based on the color of their skin.

He says that the process of reparations begins with the truth, with every single American, regardless of your background or the color of your skin, knowing our common history, and these common facts.

It then goes into repairing these systems that I just described, that are systematically racist. A school system that desperately needs more teachers who look like the students before them, so we can stop punishing kids based on their race, and setting them up for failure over the course of their lives.

A war on drugs that has targeted people of color, to predictable results, producing the largest prison population anywhere in the world.

A healthcare system, a daily life of indignity visited upon African American women and men, a weathering that they have experienced which has produced health consequences that mean shorter lives, diminished lives, because not able to achieve to their full potential in a country that, whether we wittingly want to or not, is keeping them down.

I think if we invest in fixing these institutions in this country, and ensuring that a state like mine, and perhaps a state like yours, we do not use racist voter ID laws to keep people from selecting their representatives, or racially gerrymander them out of their districts in the first place, if we ensure that everyone who has a conviction, after they have paid their price, done their time, can vote, can get ahead, if we expunge the arrest records for non-violent drug crimes in this country, then I think we begin, just begin, to get to some of that repair.

That is the path that I would pursue, after listening to and reflecting on those who are much smarter, and frankly, as a white man, much more experienced in the injustice and the indignities that I just described.

O’Rourke’s comments somewhat mirror those of Massachusetts Senator and fellow candidate Elizabeth Warren, who cited “experts” and “activists” who are “studying” reparations in expressing her support for HR 40, a bill which would create a commission on reparations.

Although O’Rourke did not express support for that bill, his remarks hint at a possible sweet spot for Democrats on the issue by relying on experts to make judgments about reparations.

Watch the clip above, via South Carolina ETV.

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