California is Working on Reparations

Photo of a person holding up a fist by Oluwaseyi Johnson on Unsplash

California has been working on a way to provide reparations for African Americans. This effort began in 2020, when Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation giving special consideration to Black Americans. The legislation, which was authored by former Assemblymember Shirley Weber, called for the creation of a task force that would study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans. This is a first-in-the-nation attempt at providing reparations.

Merriam-Webster dictionary provides a few definitions of reparations The most relevant one is: the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury. 

Writing for Teen Vogue, (in  2019) Jameelah Nasheed pointed out: “Historically, various groups have received reparations, including (but not limited to) payments made to Holocaust survivors and Japanese-Americans after their forced captivity in internment camps. In these cases, reparations have been financial payments, which is how they’re typically framed for descendants of slaves in the U.S.”

Cal Matters reported that the nine-member reparations task force voted 5-4 in favor of defining eligibility for reparations based on lineage “determined by an individual descendant of free Black person living in the US prior to the end of the 19th century”.

In other words, the outcome of this vote establishes that only those Black Californians who are able to trace their lineage back to enslaved ancestors will be eligible for the state’s reparations. Other Black Californians – such as Black immigrants – will be excluded.

There are some opposing viewpoints about this. Kamiliah Moore, task force chairperson, said that going with a lineage-based approach would “aggrieve the victims of slavery”. Civil rights lawyer Lisa Holder argued against a strict lineage approach, stating “We must make sure we include present day and future harms. The system that folks are advocating for here, where we splice things up, where only one small slice benefits, will not abate the harms of racism”.

The reparations task force is expected to release a reparations proposal in June 2023 with recommendations for the California Legislature. Many task force members said they expect cash payments to be one part of the proposal as well as a formal apology. The task force also said that the eligibility determination will help economists tasked with quantifying the amount of reparations owed.

CBS News reported that today, Black residents are 5% of California’s population but are overrepresented in jails, prison, and homeless populations.

Testimony given to the reparations task force showed that California and local governments were complicit in stripping Black people of their wages and property, preventing them from building wealth to pass down to their children. Their homes were razed for redevelopment, and they were forced to live in predominantly minority neighborhoods, and couldn’t get bank loans that would allow them to purchase property.

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