The California Reparations Task Force released their first report on Wednesday, both documenting the harm made against African-Americans in California since 1850, and calling for reparations to given given to all slave-descendent blacks in the state.
In the 500-page Reparations Interim Report, the Task Force breaks down inequalities that blacks in California have faced in the past and today, including enslavement, racial terror, political disenfranchisement, housing segregation, separate and unequal education, racism in environment and infrastructure, pathologizing the black family, control over creative cultural and intellectual life, stole labor and hindered opportunity, an unjust legal system, mental and physical harm and neglect, and the wealth gap.
The report also goes over California’s black history. While the report acknowledges California’s status as a free state pre-Civil War, it also covers how around 1,500 enslaved African Americans lived in California until 1852, how the Ku Klux Klan was prevalent in California for many years, how many black families had been forced out of neighborhoods due to major civic projects, and how many areas of cities were segregated between races well until the 20th Century.
“From colonial times forward, governments at all levels adopted and enshrined white supremacy beliefs and passed laws in order to maintain slavery, a system of dehumanization and exploitation that stole the life, labor, liberty, and intellect of people of African descent,” said the interim report. “This system of white supremacy is a persistent badge of slavery that continues to be embedded today in numerous American and Californian legal, economic, and social and political systems.
“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. Segregation, racial terror, harmful racist neglect, and other atrocities in nearly every sector of civil society have inflicted harms, which cascade over a lifetime and compound over generations.”
The report recommended reparations of some type to be given to blacks in California descended from slaves, a distinction from all blacks in the state made a few months ago by a narrow vote within the Task Force. In addition, the Task Force asks for an official apology over the injustices and recommends changes to the prison system that would either not require prisoners to work or, if they do, to be paid fair market wages.
First part of Task Force’s duty done
“The depth, breadth and scope of the report is astounding,” noted Task Force member Lisa Holder on Wednesday. “We are evaluating racism beginning in 1619 and going all the way to the present and connecting past injustices to injustice that we are seeing today.”
Task Force Chair Kamilah Moore added that “There’s a history of policies first being championed in California and then being replicated throughout the states and even by the federal government. I hope that reparations for African Americans is one of those policy issues that will reverberate to other states and to the federal level, as well.”
While the report was released with some fanfare on Wednesday, with the report being the first government-commissioned report on harms against African Americans released since the Lyndon Johnson-era Kerner Commission report, detractors note that reparations still have a large uphill battle within California.
“There’s an entire legal nightmare to putting reparations in place, but putting aside that massive hurdle, there is a lot to overcome if the Task Force even hopes to have a chance of reparations coming into play,” said legal adviser Richard Weaver to the Globe on Wednesday.
“First of all, few people want it. 62% of the U.S. opposes them, and that number has been growing. Also, 6% of California is black, and that will be broken up further by those who had slave ancestors, so a lot of Californians are going to feel slighted on this. Especially since this whole things is rooted in slavery and California was a free state. Has there been discrimination in California against blacks and injustices committed? Yes, of course there have. A lot. But the same can be said of Latinos, Native Americans, Asians with the Chinese and Japanese especially being singled out in the past, Catholics, Jews, and many more. And some have been as sweeping as blacks too. The average Californian at least has some cursory knowledge of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the genocide against the Natives here in the mid 1800’s, and others.”
“For many, overcoming these things and working together have been a point of pride to many Californians. We’re the most diverse state with powerful elected positions being held by just about every race, gender, orientation, and creed throughout the state. So diverse that California keeps rejecting affirmative action for college placement and corporate board forced diversity measures because of just how fast the state is making things equal by itself without laws. Californians are going to look at this, as well as recent struggles like inflation going up, gas going up, and COVID-19 economic recovery, and see that everyone has really been affected recently, so why should this pass. That’s what many think.”
“The Task Force better have one heck of a plan with how they think reparations should be doled out if they want to convince the majority of people that this is a good idea. And you know if any of it involves money, support for this isn’t going to do so well.”
The second part of the report is due in 2023.