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California To Categorize Its Black State Employees By Ethnic Lineage

Officials are identifying U.S. slave descendants as California explores reparations to Black residents.

California appears to have taken another step toward reparations to its Black American residents.

NPR reports that a new California law authorizes the State Controller’s Office and the Department of Human Resources to start collecting demographic data from Black employees by Jan. 1, 2024.

Officials will use that information to identify Black workers who descended from people enslaved in the United States and those with immigrant origins.

"...This legislation begins the process of recognizing the identity and peoplehood of African Americans/American Freedmen in California whose ancestors came to America in chains, were enslaved for hundreds of years, suffered Jim Crow, and yet managed to build the most powerful and wealthiest country in the world," NPR quoted a statement from the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California.

According to the news out, California is the first state to categorize Black employee data by lineage. The coalition’s statement said the law “is a model for states and localities across the country seeking to take serious steps toward repairing the damage done to the identities and livelihoods of African Americans/American Freedmen for over 400 years."

This move appears to facilitate the decision, from a contentious 5-4 vote by a California reparations task force, to limit compensation for slavery to the descendants of free and enslaved Black people living in the United States in the 19th century.

In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom enacted legislation that created the two-year reparations task force to study the institution of slavery and its harms and to educate the public about its findings.

California’s legislators have been working on a way to pay reparations to Black people whose ancestors were enslaved. The state’s reparations task force voted in March to focus on a lineage-based initiative, meaning only those who could prove they descend from people who were enslaved in America would be eligible.

RELATED: Calif. Reparations Commission At Odds Over Who Would Receive Payment

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During debates on the issue, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber supported limiting reparations based on genealogical links to slavery in the United States. She argued that including Black immigrants would sharply reduce the compensation available for U.S. descendants of slaves, CBS News reported.

In the other camp, those who argued for inclusivity noted that the legacy of slavery impacts all Black people living in the United States, from inequality in the criminal justice system to disparities in health care and education.

Nkechi Taifa, director of the Reparation Education Project, noted that the history of slavery is complex in terms of proving lineage. Ancestry is not easy to document, partly from slave owners frequently moving people among plantations in the U.S., the Caribbean and South America.

The data collected on state employee lineage will be included in a public state report on or after Jan. 1, 2025.

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