A nine-member panel considering reparations in California decided to move forward with what could become the most sweeping effort toward compensating Black Americans for generations of government approved racial discrimination.
California’s Reparations Task Force voted May 6 to recommend that state lawmakers provide billions of dollars in compensation payments to qualified Black residents and to issue a formal apology for slavery, The Los Angeles Times reports.
The vote, held at a public meeting in Oakland, is a milestone in a two-year process to present recommendations for reparations to the Legislature by the deadline of July 1. It’s intended to offer guidance for legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom as they debate the issues and make a final decision.
Under the proposal, the years of California residency would determine how much each eligible person receives, and there’s no requirement to prove individual harm in each category.
According to The Times, the report recommends these figures:
- Compensation for health disparities: $13,619 for each year of residency. This figure was derived by comparing life expectancy between Black non-Hispanic and white non-Hispanic Californians.
- Compensation for mass incarceration and over-policing of African Americans: $2,352 for each year of residency in California during the war on drugs from 1971 to 2020.
- Compensation for housing discrimination: $3,366 for each year between 1933 and 1977 spent as a resident of the state of California.
Some other recommendations include funding community wellness centers in Black communities, ending the cash bail system, abolishing the death penalty, paying fair market value for incarcerated labor and building more parks in Black neighborhoods.
But it’s unclear if lawmakers, even those who support reparations payments, would green light a proposal that costs more than twice the annual state budget during challenging economic times.
"Reparations are not only morally justifiable, but they have the potential to address longstanding racial disparities and inequalities," U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee said, according to CBS News. Lee, whose district covers Oakland, is co-sponsoring a bill in Congress to study restitution proposals for African Americans.
Larry Elder, a Black conservative talk radio host, cynically tweeted, “If a non-black person in California identifies as African-American can he/she/they receive the state's proposed reparations of up to $1.2 million? Asking for a friend…”
The tweet showed a photo of Rachel Dolezal, the White NAACP leader who passed for years as Black, igniting a national debate in 2015 about racial identity.
In January, Elder blasted a proposal by San Francisco’s reparations committee to pay eligible Black residents $5 million and other reparations efforts across the nation.
"I think the movement is growing. Young woke people are being indoctrinated into believing that systemic racism, structural racism, historical racism is why Black people are underachieving," Elder, who previously ran for California governor, told Fox News.
The task force released an interim report in June 2022 detailing discriminatory policies and practices the descendants of enslaved people suffered that continue to impact them today, including the areas of housing, education and the criminal justice system.
“Four hundred years of discrimination has resulted in an enormous and persistent wealth gap between Black and white Americans,” that report stated.
“These effects of slavery continue to be embedded in American society today and have never been sufficiently remedied. The governments of the United States and the State of California have never apologized to or compensated African Americans for these harms.”
Although California entered the union as a free state in 1850, the early state government supported slavery, according to the report. An estimated 1,500 enslaved African Americans lived in the state in 1852, working under dangerous conditions and subjected to violence. In that year, California passed and enacted a harsher version of the federal fugitive slave law, which mandated the return of escaped slaves to their owners.
But eligibility could become messy. In March 2022, the task force considered the thorny issue of reparations eligibility for the state’s Black residents. The task force members voted 5-4 to limit compensation for slavery to the descendants of free and enslaved Black people living in the United States in the 19th century.
That means Black Californians with a lineage of immigration from the Caribbean or Africa would be ineligible to receive reparations. Advocates for wider eligibility point out that the history of slavery is complex in terms of proving lineage. Ancestry is not easy to document, partly because slave owners frequently moved their enslaved people among plantations in the U.S., the Caribbean and South America.
The task force is slated to meet in Sacramento on June 29 before sending its recommendations to the Legislature.