California’s reparations task force hits a serious snag in conundrum over who qualifies

Despite the fact that California has never in the state’s history allowed slaves, its lawmakers decided to look at whether California taxpayers should fund reparations for slavery, but the state panel tasked with studying the issue has apparently hit a snag: They can’t decide who should qualify to receive compensation.

Do you limit reparations only to those who can trace their lineage back 157 – 403 years ( to between 1619 and 1865, when slavery was sanctioned in many states that aren’t California) and prove their ancestors were enslaved in America? Or do you send out the checks to all black Americans, because after all, America is, as a whole, systemically racist?

According to the government website, Assembly Bill 3121 (AB 3121) was enacted in September 2020, establishing the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans and charging it “with studying the institution of slavery and its lingering negative effects on living African Americans, including descendants of persons enslaved in the United States and on society.”

“Additionally,” the statement continues, “the Task Force will recommend appropriate remedies of compensation, rehabilitation and restitution for African Americans, with a special consideration for descendants of persons enslaved in the United States.”

The report of the Task Force’s findings is due by June 1, 2022, and with just three months left to deliver, the Task Force has yet to work out this rather crucial detail.

According to a Sunday report in the San Francisco Chronicle, the author of the AB3121, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, has maintained that descendants of slaves should be prioritized.

Weber distinguishes between the experiences of Black people who came to America “with their lineage intact” after slavery was abolished and those who were brought to or born in America as slaves, stating “all of our past was taken from us.”

According to the article’s author, Justin Phillips, Weber’s position is concerning.

“I have concerns about where that path may lead,” Phillips wrote. “Allowing only descendants of slaves to qualify for reparations could create a difficult burden of proof, while disqualifying the Black Californians whose ancestors came to this country after slavery was abolished, but still live with its many vestiges.”

After nearly two hours of sometimes heated debate, the fundamental question remains unresolved. Five out of the nine panelists voted to delay the issue until later this month.

For Phillips, the delay is clearly frustrating, as the lack of a united and decisive committee means more detailed, pragmatic concerns have likely not yet been addressed.

“The task force hasn’t made a decision on who gets what, which means it’s too early to know if the members have a plan in place to conduct genealogical research for all Black Californians, if it comes to that,” Phillips writes.

Putting whether you agree or not with the idea of reparations aside for a moment, if reparations are to be given, Phillips makes a passionate argument that they should be given to all Black Californians.

“After slavery was abolished, America promised Black people ’40 acres and a mule’ but never delivered, which is why land equity remains an issue today,” he argues. “Only one-third of Black households own their homes, according to recent data, and the gap between our homeownership rates and white homeownership rates has actually widened since the 1968 Fair Housing Act outlawed housing discrimination.

“California’s reparations task force knows this data well,” Phillips continues, “and has done an admirable job in relaying similar studies to the public since it began meeting last summer. But the Feb. 24 vote was a reminder that not all of the members are processing this information the same way.”

“If they were,” he reasons, “there wouldn’t be two camps within the task force.”


Melissa Fine


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