Walker, a standout athlete at the University of Georgia who won the Heisman Trophy in 1982 before launching a long professional football career, questioned the logistical feasibility of reparations and dismissed the idea itself as divisive.
“We use Black power to create white guilt,” he said early in his opening statement. “My approach is biblical. How can I ask my Heavenly Father to forgive me if I can’t forgive my brother?”
He added: “Reparations teach separation. Slavery ended over 130 years ago. How can a father ask his son to spend prison time for a crime he committed?”
After calling America “the greatest country in the world” and “a melting pot of a lot of great races,” Walker, a longtime friend of former President Donald Trump who was a featured speaker at the 2020 Republican National Convention, then launched into the practicality of reparation payments.
“Reparations, where does the money come from?” he asked the House Judiciary Committee subcommittee. “Does it come from all the other races except the Black taxpayers? Who is Black? What percentage of Black must you be to receive reparations? Do you go to 23andMe or a DNA test to determine the percentage of Blackness?”
He added: “Some Black immigrants weren’t here during slavery, nor their ancestors. Some states didn’t even have slavery.”
Concluding his opening statement, he said: “I feel it continues to let us know we’re still African American, rather than just American. Reparation or atonement is outside the teaching of Jesus Christ.”
Reparations have been part of the national dialogue for years, with supporters arguing that the US has never atoned for the forced labor of slavery and lands taken away from Black Americans over the course of generations.
The writer Ta-Nehisi Coates explored the idea in “The Case for Reparations,” his 2014 article for The Atlantic, which urged the country to confront its past.
“An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane,” he wrote. “An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.”
The issue became a focal line of questioning for Democratic presidential candidates as they started to enter the 2020 campaign, especially with Black Americans serving as a bedrock of the party.
The issue became even more prominent last summer after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis prompted a wave of racial and social-justice reckonings across the country and increased recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement.
There are several ideas for how reparations might work, though the Review of Black Political Economy estimated that a sufficient reparations package would cost roughly $12 trillion and give each descendant of slavery $254,782.
The House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, characterized House Resolution 40 as a starting point, saying the proposal “sets forth a process by which a diverse group of experts and stakeholders can study the complex issues involved and make recommendations.”
“The discussion of reparations is a journey in which the road traveled is almost more important than the exact destination,” he added.
The White House said last week that President Joe Biden would back a study of the issue.
“He certainly would support a study of reparations,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said. “He understands we don’t need a study to take action right now on systemic racism, so he wants to take actions within his own government in the meantime.”