Black reparations panel could determine who gets compensation

California's first task force on reparations, the first in its kind, is at a crossroads.

Black reparations panel could determine who gets compensation

Members are divided over whether Black Americans should be eligible to receive compensation for an atoning slave system that ended with Civil War, but continues to reverberate today.

While some members would like to limit financial and other compensation for descendants of enslaved persons, others believe that all Black Americans in America, regardless of their lineage, are subject to systemic racism in housing and education. After putting it off last year, the task force could vote Tuesday on eligibility.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation establishing the two-year reparations taskforce in 2020. California is the only state to proceed with a study plan and study, with the mission to study slavery and its effects and educate the public.

Even though the two-year-old process is only one year old, there is no compensation plan. Advocates are unanimous in their belief that multi-faceted solutions are needed for related but separate harms such as slavery, Jim Crow laws and mass incarceration.

Advocates suggest that compensation could include grants to churches or community organizations as well as assistance in purchasing homes and launching businesses.

The eligibility question has remained a problem since the group's June meeting. Viewers called in to plead with the nine-member group to develop targeted proposals and cash payments to help the descendants of those who were enslaved in America.

Kamilah Moore, chair of the committee, stated that she anticipates a lively discussion at Tuesday's meeting. This will also include testimony from genealogists. According to her, eligibility based on family lineage is better than that based on race because it has the best chance of being able to survive a legal challenge at a conservative U.S. Supreme Court.

She said that a reparations plan based upon race could attract "hyper-aggressive threats that could have very detrimental implications for other states or even the federal government."

She said, "Everyone is looking at what we're doing."

Shirley Weber, California Secretary of State, was the one who created the task force. She had passionately advocated in January for the prioritization of descendants for generations of forced labour, broken family ties, and police terror. She was the daughter of sharecroppers who fled Arkansas at night to escape their family. She recalled how slavery had broken her family and hampered their ability to achieve anything beyond survival.

She said that if compensation was offered to Black immigrants, or descendants of slaves from another country, it would leave American descendants with very little.

Members at the February meeting, nearly all of whom can trace back their ancestors to enslaved ancestors, questioned the necessity to rush to answer a crucial question that will shape reparations discussions across the country.

Lisa Holder, a Task Force member, shared the heartbreaking story of her loss at birth. She said that the medical staff failed to listen to the concerns of a young Black mother who suspected something was wrong. Black mothers in America are more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes.

Holder, a civil rights lawyer, said that no one had asked him if his ancestors were enslaved here in the United States, Jamaica, or Barbados. "We must embrace the idea that Black lives matter, and not just a small number of them, because Black lives are at risk, especially in today's world."

Critics claim that California is not obligated to pay due to its refusal to practice slavery or enforce Jim Crow laws that discriminated against Blacks in the south.

The committee heard testimony that California and other local governments conspired to strip Black people of their property and wages, which prevented them from building wealth and passing it on to their children. They were forced to live with predominantly minority neighbors and were not able to get loans to buy property.

Today, Black residents make up 5% of the state's total population, but they are overrepresented in prisons, prisons and homeless populations. According to testimony, Black homeowners still face discrimination through home appraisals that are substantially lower than those of white homeowners or in white neighborhoods.

Nkechi Taifa is the director of Reparation Education Project. She is one of many long-standing advocates who are delighted that the topic has become mainstream. She is baffled at the idea of limiting reparations for people who can prove lineage, since it is difficult to document ancestry and slave owners often moved people between plantations in the U.S.A., South America and the Caribbean.

She said that she tends to be more inclusive than exclusive. "Or maybe it's a fear or limitation about not having enough money."

Reginald Jones-Sawyer from California, an Assemblyman, was a member the task force. He said that while there is no doubt that descendants of slaves are priority, the task force must also stop ongoing harm and prevent any future harm from racism.

It's in the laws, it's in system. He said that it is in the way we treat each other, and how we communicate with one another. "And no amount money will make it go away."

The Legislature must receive a report by June and a proposal for reparations by July 2023 to be considered for incorporation into law.


 

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