A former NFL player testifying before Congress on Wednesday spoke out against the concept of reparations.
Burgess Owens, formerly of the Jets and Raiders, spoke during hearings for H.R. 40, a bill designed to study how to implement reparations for black Americans. The question of what, if anything, America owes to the descendants of slaves is at the heart of H.R. 40, and it’s a question for which Owens, along with a long list of other notable figures, offered an answer.
Speaking for five minutes, Owens noted his own lineage traces directly back to slaves. But, he added, “this is not about black and white, rich or poor, blue collar white collar. We’re fighting for the hearts of our nation.” Owens emphasized that his ancestors battled their way out of their circumstances following emancipation by hard work.
“I do not believe in reparation, because what reparation does, it points to a certain race, a certain color, as evil, and it points to another race, my race, as one that has not only become racist, but also beggars.”
During a portion of his allotted five minutes, Owens took the discussion in specific political directions. “I used to be a Democrat until I did my history and found the misery that party brought to my race ... Let's pay restitution. How about the Democratic Party pay for all the misery brought to my race?”
Owens continued, “And every white American, Republican or Democrat, who feels guilty because of the color of their skin, you can pony up also. Then we can get past reparations and recognize this country has given us greatness.”
Here is Owens’ full testimony:
Wow, Burgess Owens just stunned everyone:— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) June 19, 2019
“I used to be a Democrat until I did my history and found out the misery that that party brought to my race... Let's pay restitution. How about the Democratic Party pay for all the misery brought to my race..." pic.twitter.com/ZXuwncFreV
Other witnesses took different tacks. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), speaking before the House, charged that the United States has "yet to truly acknowledge and grapple with the racism and white supremacy that tainted this country's founding and continues to cause persistent and deep racial disparities and inequality. These disparities don't just harm black communities, they harm all communities.”
The hearing was held on Juneteenth, which commemorates the specific day slaves in Texas were told they were free after the Civil War, and more broadly, the overall emancipation of slaves across the South.
Owens played safety and kick returner for the Jets and Raiders through the ‘70s and early ‘80s. He holds the distinction of scoring the only kickoff-return touchdown for the Jets during the entire decade of the ‘70s.
Like many NFL players, he’s turned to activism, and regularly speaks and writes about his faith and issues affecting the black community. The title of his 2016 book — “Liberalism, or How to Turn Good Men into Whiners, Weenies and Wimps” — is a succinct distillation of his principles.
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