Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Friday declined to say whether she would support monetary compensation as a form of reparations for African-Americans whose ancestors were slaves, further highlighting the deeply complicated and sensitive nature of an issue that is increasingly becoming politically salient in the 2020 Democratic primary.
In an interview with CNN in Harlem – a neighborhood of Manhattan rich with African-American history – Warren was asked three times whether she supports money being given to Americans who can trace their roots to slavery. Reparations for slavery in America is often interpreted as financial compensation for descendants of slaves.
“I think it’s time for us to have the conversation. We need to address the fact that in this country, we built great fortunes and wealth on the backs of slaves and we need to address that head-on – we need to have that national conversation,” the Massachusetts Democrat told CNN. “There are scholars, there are activists who’ve talked about a lot of different ways we might structure reparations.”
Pressed a second time on whether she supports money being given to African-Americans, Warren said she was focused on sparking a national conversation about the issue.
“You know, there are people who don’t want to have this conversation at all,” she said. “I believe that’s what’s right is we to sit down, we need to talk about our history, we need to address it head-on, we need to talk about what the long-term implications of racial discrimination have been, including more recent racial discrimination.”
Asked one more time whether she supports financial payment, Warren responded: “I’m saying that there are a lot of scholars and a lot of activists who have put multiple proposals on the table. But we’re never going to get to any of those proposals if we don’t with an acknowledgment of the wrong of slavery and the obligation to address it.”
In a growing Democratic field, a number of other presidential candidates have also been asked in recent weeks to state their positions on reparations.
The issue is particularly salient given the outsized focus this election cycle on racial inequality and discrimination, and as several Democratic candidates of color are vying to take on President Donald Trump. Support from minority voters, including African-Americans, will be key to winning the Democratic nomination in 2020.
Some of Warren’s competitors, including California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, have broadly indicated support for the idea of reparations. But what is less clear is what specific forms of reparations many of the candidates support.
Others have steered the conversation towards racial inequality. Asked about the idea of reparations, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said at a CNN town hall last month: “What do they mean? I’m not sure that anyone is very clear. What I’ve just said is that I think we need to do everything we can to address the massive level of disparity that exists in this country.”
Nia-Malika Henderson contributed to this report.