Could reparations be coming to reality in the United States? Currently, California is pushing the topic into the spotlight with its state-backed reparations task force committee. Back in 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation to begin a two-year exploration and hopefully a solid plan on what reparations might look like for Black Americans living in the Golden State. The initiative was also designed to reflect on slavery’s harsh past and its current effect on Black Americas living in the United States. Committee members are expected to deliver a final reparations proposal by July 2023.
Who represents the committee?
California’s reparations task force consists of nine members: Senator Steven Bradford, Dr. Amos C. Brown, who is the vice-chair of the committee, Dr. Cheryl Grills, Lisa Holder, Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Chairmember Kamilah Moore, and Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe. According to the state of California’s Department of Justice website, the task force members were selected from diverse backgrounds to represent “the interests of communities of color throughout the state” and “have experience working to implement racial justice reform.” Dr. Amos C. Brown, for example, is the president of San Fransisco’s NAACP chapter, while Reginald Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat, currently represents South Los Angeles’ 59th Assembly District. Lisa Holder is a prominent civil rights attorney.
Task Force members hold regular hearings and witness testimonies to discuss reparation plans. Many of the conversations are open to the public to attend.
Who gets first priority?
As News One previously reported on March 30, after hours of deliberation and emotional testimonies, committee members hashed out a 5-4 vote in favor of limiting reparation payments to Black Californians who are descendants of U.S. slaves. It’s still unclear as to how the money will be distributed and how much restitution will be given to eligible Black Californians. Dr. Amos C. Brown pled with committee members to finalize an official proposal.
While a large majority of the committee agreed to the decision, some officials argued that the proposal should include all Black Americans. The decision means that Black immigrants living in the state would be ineligible to receive reparation payments. The vote established that only Black Californians “who are able to trace their lineage back to enslaved ancestors ” in the U.S. would be considered.
“We need to galvanize the base and that is Black people,” task force member Lisa Holder argued. “We can’t go into this reparations proposal without having all African Americans in California behind us.” Holder proposed that the task force should use California’s 2.6 million Black residents to calculate a proper compensation plan as they continue to draw up an effective proposal.
However, Kamila Moore, the chair of the task force, claimed that expanding eligibility would go against the purpose of the committee’s ethos.
“That is going to aggrieve the victims of the institution of slavery, which are the direct descendants of the enslaved people in the United States,” she said. “It goes against the spirit of the law as written.”
Some anti-reparation critics have argued that California shouldn’t dish out money to Black Americans because it was a free state under the Compromise of 1850, a bill that was passed to defuse a political confrontation between slave and free states on the status of territories acquired in the Mexican–American War. However, historical records have shown that California allowed some enslaved people to remain under bondage during that period. The state was also complicit in taking wages and land from Black people for redevelopment, forcing Black families to flock to neighborhoods where they weren’t eligible to receive bank loans in order to purchase property, AP News noted.
What kind of reparations are being considered?
Much discussion has revolved around monetary restitution for African Americans descendants of U.S. slaves that could come in the form of monthly payments. Other committee members have presented ideas on how to alleviate some of the hardships Black Americans still face today with issues like redlining, mass inceration, or homelessness. According to Cal Matters, Black men make up a large majority of the state’s prison population at 28.5 percent. Black people also account for nearly 40 percent of the unhoused population in California. Some reparation advocates have addressed the need for free college, home buying assistance initiatives, land, and business grants for eligible African Americans to empower the community through education and provide families with potential wealth-building tools that could make up for history’s past.
“Reparations for black Americans who are descendants of American slaves are there for the same reason as it was for the Japanese Americans who were interned for the settlements that were made to Native Americans for restitution….that is still being paid to Holocaust survivors,” burgeoning reparations activist Marcel Dixon argued during a Twitter Space panel conducted by journalist Michael Harriot on April 12. “It is to pay back and repair the damage that was done and to pay a debt because of wrongs that was inflicted on a particular group…reparations is a payment on that debt.”
What’s next for the task force?
On April 13 and April 14, task force members reviewed items from a special report that detailed how slavery continues to impact Black Californians “in the form of disparities in household income, health, employment, and incarceration.” The committee also heard testimonies from educational experts on the matter. The two-day event took place at San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church, NPR reported. Committee members will deliver a final reparations proposal by July 2023.