Secretary of State Shirley Weber, the author of AB 3121 and the California legislative Slavery Reparations Task Force, said on Thursday that reparations for slavery should only go to the descendants of slaves and not black immigrants or their descendants.
In 2020, AB 3121 was passed and signed into law. The bill established the “Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans”, with the task force charged with documenting and looking into issues surrounding slavery in California, including denying free and runaway blacks into the state pre-1865. Most critically, the task force is to issue recommendations if any kind of reparations are to be given. Specifically, the task force, comprised of 9 members selected by the Governor, Assembly, and Senate, is also to set parameters on who would be eligible for possible reparations and how reparations, most likely cash, would be distributed.
The task force first met in June of 2021 and is due to issue their recommendations in 2023. Following that, the legislature may create a bill and vote on what the task force recommends.
Secretary Weber noted on Thursday that her approach of just limiting reparations to direct descendants of slaves is based on the psychological effects of slavery and how it stopped many from achieving success, and not just the physicality of the experience. Specifically she pointed out how her Grandfather’s chances of success had been limited by the KKK in the 1950’s and forcing him to move to California from Arkansas, while former President Barack Obama, the son of a white American mother and a black Kenyan father who was in the US on a visa, did not grow up with parents or grandparents who had faced slavery or the century of Jim crow laws and effects afterwards.
“The fear my grandfather felt, I remember as a child, was palpable, and it crippled him and his family’s ability to dream beyond the cotton fields,” said Weber on Thursday. “Barack Obama likely never would have dreamed of becoming president had he descended from enslaved people. Obama did not have limitations and fears drilled in his psyche, and thus aspire to become the president of the United States.”
However, despite the scope of possible reparations now being limited to just descendants of slaves, which the task force has found to have led to financial, health, education, and housing disparities compared to other races, many questions continue to loom over the task force. Weber’s answer on who would qualify for reparations led to only more questions from critics on Friday, who said that even narrowing it that far still led to it being still virtually impossible to rightfully tell who from who.
A continued “legal minefield”
“I keep using the term “legal minefield”, and the task force, especially Secretary Weber’s definition of who should get reparations, certainly have been proving it.
“Again, putting aside the fact that California was a free state and, despite some KKK and other racial activity like that, was a beacon for many escaping the worst of it in the South, there’s not really a lot to justify reparations here. Weber herself said that her family went to California to escape that, so she’s not helping her case here.
“A big question was who should get it, and Weber didn’t answer it. Ok, so descendants of slaves in California. Does that mean biracial people too? Does that mean people who moved out of state, or in-state recently? Does a black family who moved out of state last year after spending 40 years in state get anything? And, perhaps the biggest thing, proving it. You can’t rely on DNA tests or anything like that here, because of immigration from Africa and other countries with black populations. This is largely reliable on the people who would get them, and a lot of people can’t really prove it. Some can, through ledgers and things, but you can’t rely on the Census or other things like that because, for slaves, they were kind of inaccurate. For many, this is an impossible task.
“Japanese internment reparations worker because records had been kept and we knew who was there for sure. Slavery, not so much. Compensation, if it’s cash, housing allowances, or something else, is way more tricky. Do wealthy descendants get anything if it didn’t effect them much? Do biracial people only get half? These are legitimate questions that are not being solved, especially many surrounding the black population of California only being at 6%, and there are hundreds more.”
A final report on recommendations is due next year. The legislature will decide then if a bill or other measure like a proposition would be instituted to possibly enact any recommended reparations.
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