By JANIE HAR – Associated Press
California’s first reparations task force is at a crossroads. Members disagree over which black Americans should be entitled to compensation in atonement for a slave system that officially ended with the Civil War but continues to have an impact today.
Some members want to limit financial and other compensation to descendants of enslaved people, while others say that all black people in the US, regardless of race, suffer from systemic racism in housing, education, and employment. The task force could vote on eligibility Tuesday after postponing it last month.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation establishing the biennial Reparations Task Force in 2020, making California the only state to advance a study and plan with a mission to investigate the institution of slavery, its harms, and the public about it enlighten results.
People also read…
The committee is less than a year into its two-year process and no compensation plan is on the table. However, there is broad agreement among proponents that diverse remedies are needed for related but separate harms such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, and sanitation that have resulted in the displacement of black communities.
The compensation could include a free college, help buying homes and starting businesses, and grants for churches and community organizations, supporters say.
However, the question of eligibility has haunted the group since its inaugural meeting in June, when viewers called and asked the nine-member group to come up with targeted proposals and cash payments to heal the descendants of people enslaved in the United States
Kamilah Moore, the committee chair, said she expects a solid discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, which will also include testimonies from genealogists. She prefers eligibility based on descent rather than race, saying it has the best chance of surviving a legal challenge in a conservative US Supreme Court.
A race-based reparations plan would “pose hyperaggressive challenges that could have very negative repercussions on other states that want to do something similar, or even on the federal government,” she said.
“Everyone is looking at what we’re going to do,” she said.
California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who authored the bill creating the task force, had campaigned passionately in January to prioritize descendants for generations of forced labor, broken family ties and police terrorism. As the daughter of sharecroppers who had to flee Arkansas in the middle of the night, she recalled how the legacy of slavery devastated her family and affected her ability to dream of anything other than survival.
Opening up compensation to black immigrants or even descendants of slaves from other countries would leave US descendants with pennies, she said.
But members of the February meeting – almost all of whom can trace their families to enslaved ancestors – questioned the need to delve into a key issue that must shape redress deliberations across the country.
Task force member Lisa Holder shared a poignant story about losing her child at birth because medical staff didn’t take seriously the concerns of a young black woman who knew something was wrong with her baby, she said. In the US, black mothers are far more likely to die from pregnancy-related deaths than white women.
“No one has asked me if my ancestors were enslaved in the United States or if they were enslaved in Jamaica or Barbados,” said Holder, a civil rights attorney. “We have to embrace this concept that black lives matter, not just a part of those black lives, because black lives are in jeopardy, especially today.”
Critics say California isn’t required to pay because the state didn’t practice slavery and didn’t enforce Jim Crow laws that separated blacks from whites in the Southern states.
But testimony provided to the committee shows that California and local governments were complicit in depriving black people of their wages and property and preventing them from building wealth to pass on to their children. Their homes were demolished for redevelopment and they were forced to live in predominantly minority neighborhoods and were unable to obtain bank loans that would allow them to purchase property.
Today, black residents make up 5% of the state’s population, but are overrepresented in jails, jails, and the homeless. And black homeowners continue to face discrimination, according to witnesses, with home valuations significantly lower than if the home were in a white neighborhood or the homeowners were white.
Nkechi Taifa, director of the Reparation Education Project, is among longtime advocates who are excited that the discussion has moved into the mainstream. But she’s baffled by the idea of limiting reparations to people who can prove their lineage when lineage isn’t easily documented and slave owners often move people between plantations in the US, the Caribbean, and South America.
“I guess I tend to be more inclusive than exclusive,” she said, “and maybe it’s a fear of limitations, that there’s not enough money to get around.”
California Rep. Reginald Jones-Sawyer, a member of the task force, said there was no question that descendants of slaves took precedence, but he said the task force must also stop ongoing harm and prevent future harm from racism.
“It’s in the system, it’s in our laws. It’s about how we treat each other, how we talk to each other,” he said. “And no amount of money is going to make that go away.”
A report is due by June with a reparations proposal due by July 2023 for lawmakers to consider turning into law.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.