JAs Speak Up for H.R. 40: Commission on Reparations for Slavery and Its Legacy

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Kathy Masaoka speaks during a Feb. 17 hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

By KATHY MASAOKA and traci kato-kiriyama

On Wednesday, April 14, the House Judiciary Committee will hold its first-ever vote on H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. This is truly historic and will be the first time the bill has ever been voted on in committee in its 32-year lifespan.

As stated in the press release from Human Rights Watch:

“The late Congressman John Conyers first introduced H.R. 40 more than 30 years ago on the heels of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted reparations, including cash payments, to Japanese Americans who were incarcerated and forcibly relocated during World War II.

“However, H.R. 40 did not gain significant momentum until 2019, when the House held its second congressional hearing on the bill. Then, in 2020, the bill gained unprecedented support as the COVID-19 coronavirus took a disproportionate toll on communities of color and millions of people took to the streets following the police killing of George Floyd to demand an end to structural racism.

“Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who took over as the bill’s lead sponsor after Conyers’ death in 2019, mobilized support among legislators, an effort backed by a coalition of over 300 groups including the National African American Reparations Commission, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, Color of Change, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Japanese American internment camp survivors, including former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and the actor George Takei, voiced their support. The Amalgamated Bank, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Players Coalition, and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, among others, have also expressed support.

“To date, 175 representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of H.R. 40, many more than in previous years.”

“The Judiciary Committee should seize this moment and vote to move H.R. 40 to the House floor for full consideration,” said Dreisen Heath of Human Rights Watch. “Racial justice and racial healing can only be achieved if the U.S. finally reckons with its racist past and present and takes steps to provide genuine, meaningful repair.”

What people can do:

This is also an opportunity for all of us to support long overdue reparations for African Americans. Japanese Americans understand how important it was for our community to speak up and win redress. We would not have won without the support and inspiration from other communities, especially the Black community, including Congressman Mervyn Dymally, who led the Black Congressional Caucus in their support for redress.

Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress (NCRR), Nikkei Progressives (NP), and San Jose Nikkei Resisters (SJNR) have been in co-educational discussions over the past several months on the history, precedence, context, and need for reparations now, as led by Black organizers — primarily from the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) and the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC), and other Black leaders & organizations who have been guiding, researching and organizing this decades-long movement.

NCRR, NP, and SJNR hope Japanese Americans will continue to read and learn more about this movement, and are planning a series of educational discussions and workshops for the community in the coming months.

They also plan to support local efforts for reparations such as the Bruce’s Beach movement in Manhattan Beach, and the A.B. 3121 task force, created through a bill similar to H.R. 40, which passed last year in California.

Many Japanese Americans have already expressed their support for H.R. 40. On Feb. 17, the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing on H.R. 40 and over 300 Japanese Americans submitted testimonies. Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress and Nikkei Progressives were honored to present their testimony before the subcommittee in Congress.

For more information on how to get involved, please contact:

Nikkei Progressives: [email protected]

Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress: [email protected]

San Jose Nikkei Resisters: [email protected]

File photo of Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach.

The following is the testimony as presented by Kathy Masaoka on behalf of NCRR and NP before the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on Feb. 17, 2021. The written testimony is available on request. See the full hearing at https://judiciary.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=4367).

Good morning, Chairperson, ranking member of the committee and members of the committee.

The Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress (NCRR) and Nikkei Progressives supports H.R. 40 and the Black community’s demand for reparations because: 1) it is the right thing to do; 2) it is long overdue and 3) because we know it is possible — we won reparations in 1988. But Japanese Americans were not the first to make the demand.

The Black community has long demanded reparations. Even before the Civil War and since emancipation, individual Black Americans fought for and won limited reparations. In 1963 Queen Mother Audley Moore, the mother of the modern-day reparations movement, launched a campaign, claiming back pay for descendants of enslaved peoples as well as job quotas and training. Groups like the Self Determination Committee formed in 1956 along with the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, the National African American Reparations Committee and others have called for reparations for the institution and legacy of slavery.

And H.R. 40 has a long history since it was introduced into Congress over 30 years ago by the late Congressperson John Conyers.

Our community’s demand for reparations did not arise by itself, but was inspired by the Black community’s fight for civil and equal rights in housing, education, and more. Their sacrifices and leadership opened the doors for us and gave us the strength to demand redress and reparations from the U.S. government.

We have to acknowledge the generous support of many Black groups and individuals who supported us in our campaign for redress and reparations — like Congressman Mervyn Dymally, who authored a Japanese American redress bill in 1982; Rep. Ron Dellums, who spoke in support of the bill; and the Black Congressional Caucus, and many others, including then California Assemblywoman Maxine Waters and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

H.R. 40 Is an Important First Step

H.R. 40 is an important first step towards reparations for the Black community.

In 1981, when the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), a commission “to study if a wrong had been committed,” was first proposed, many of us, including me, were against it — angry that the injustice of the concentration camps was even a question! But we soon understood that this was an opportunity for many former incarcerees to speak out about the feelings and experiences they had held inside for 40 years, so the community swung into action to mobilize testifiers for the hearings.

NCRR played a key role in organizing grassroots support within the Japanese American community, insisting that former incarcerees speak at the hearings instead of having just “experts” or “academics” testify.

Many of the Sansei (third-generation Japanese Americans and children of the incarcerees) organized this effort. We heard anger, sadness, pain and strength as we listened to stories we had never heard before — none of us could stop listening. It was an opportunity to begin the healing process for our elders, for ourselves and for the entire community.

More importantly, it was a chance for those incarcerated to express their own demands — for income and freedoms lost, for babies who died, for dignity taken away and much more. The hearings brought Issei, Nisei and Sansei (first, second, and third generations) together to build a grassroots campaign, educate others about the incarceration, and reach out to other communities to win reparations.

Moreover, the hearings solidified our determination to hold our government accountable and to continue the campaign no matter how long it took.

Similarly, H.R. 40 is an opportunity for all of us to learn about institution and legacy of slavery and its destructive impact on the Black community. This is a chance for many Black voices to be heard and for the Black community to express what kind of reparations it is owed.

This is an opportunity for all of us to listen and learn their stories, from broader historical contexts to the most personal testimonies of pain, trauma and generational struggle. Just as it was important for Japanese Americans to determine our path towards redress and reparations, we fully stand behind the Black community as they determine their own path forward.

There is no dispute that the wealth of this country was built on the stolen lands of Indigenous people and on the free slave labor of Black people. In other words, reparations are owed to Black people and to the Indigenous people, as guided by their communities.

The Movement for Black Lives ToolKit talks about reparations being owed, in a manner and form to be determined by the Black people. It must take as many forms as necessary to equitably address the many forms of injury caused by the institution and legacy of slavery.

H.R. 40 is a necessary first step towards justice. It is a first step towards healing.

In Unity,

Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress Coordinating Committee

Richard Katsuda, Co-chair

  Janice Iwanaga Yen, Secretary

Kathy Masaoka, Co-chair

                      Suzy Katsuda, Treasurer

Kay Ochi, Co-chair

Nikkei Progressives Coordinating Committee

June Hibino, Co-chair

                      Alex Kanegawa, Co-chair

Jan Tokumaru, Co-chair

                      Mark Masaoka, Co-chair

Joy Yamaguchi, Co-chair

                        Alan Kondo

Mia Barnett

                                        Carrie Morita

Kristin Fukushima

                          Kathy Masaoka

traci kato-kiriyama

                                Mike Murase

Kimi Maru

                                            Miyako Noguchi

Sean Miura

                                          Tony Osumi

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