Reparations Should Not End With a Check
America is a nation that is constantly reminded of its history of mistreating African Americans. Whether it be this past Juneteenth, the sentencing of Derek Chauvin or in the aftermath of a racially-motivated mass shooting in Buffalo, there is an obvious lack of reconciliation between the system and marginalized people. But the question becomes: “How do we come to terms with this past?”
Reparations for African Americans in response to the inhumane practice of enslavement has been a decades-long debate. General William Sherman first proposed the idea under field order, when he planned to give recently freed enslaved people “40 acres and a mule.” However, the promise was never fulfilled. Now, approximately 150 years later, the topic has resurfaced as a California task force formed under Governor Newsom plans to address the need for reparations from the state to African Americans.
The task force coincides with California’s Assembly Bill 3121 (AB 3121), and is entrusted with investigating the state’s role in upholding chattel slavery. The force hopes to then propose legislation leading to reparations for those harms. The first report outlined the enslavement-related harms committed against African Americans in California and in the U.S., which led to the disenfranchisement of African Americans up until today. The force has also voted on the qualifications for reparations. To qualify, an individual must be an African American descendant of a chattel-enslaved person or the descendant of a free African American person living in the U.S. before the end of the 1900s.
These qualifications may seem somewhat divisive with the exclusion of certain African descendants for specific reparations, as to why creating equity should not end with compensation. Racial injustice is multifaceted; the effort to address it should be as well.
The force succeeds in addressing the interconnectedness of disparities by utilizing the United Nations’ guidelines which outline reparations as “Satisfaction, Compensation, Restitution, Rehabilitation, Cessation and Guarantee of non-repetition.” The task force has sought to address the disparities which presently affect African American people in California. The task force works with organizations such as the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California to engage the community in discussion on bridging the gap to further equity in the state.
The discussions with the African American community in California should be the core of the legislation the task force plans to propose. To properly bridge the gap between the marginalized and the majority, the economic and social implications of this legislation must address the current needs of the African American community and be sustainable long-term. As such, compensation should coincide with the legislation that provides economic opportunity for African Americans. The task force addressed this need in their initial report, proposing the establishment of a state-subsidized mortgage system that guarantees low-interest rates for African American mortgage applicants as a form of reparations.
Additionally, with the ongoing pandemic, it is important for this legislation to address issues which African Americans are disproportionately affected by. According to the California Department of Health, African Americans are twice as likely to die from COVID-19. The pandemic further revealed the issues African Americans were already facing and amplified them. The contributing factors of this health disparity are rooted in the lack of accessibility to proper welfare for African Americans.
In addition to inaccessibile healthcare, there are growing food deserts in the Oakland area, in which the black population is 22%. Therefore, the approach to reparations should address these growing disparities through programs for African Americans, in addition to compensation. In regards to funding for these programs and compensation efforts, it is important for it not to be the sole responsibility of the taxpayer, as it defeats the purpose of reconciliation if the marginalized pay for their reparations.
The importance of this legislation is the widespread effect it will have in the state if passed into law. This bill may be the blueprint for other state legislation considering reparations for African Americans. Accordingly, the task force should be thorough in ensuring that the reparations address the real issues African Americans in California face. Reparations should not end as a check from Uncle Sam, but rather it should be a full acknowledgment of wrongdoing alongside proactive legislation which deters oppression.
Rose, Corey A. “Listen: What Could Reparations for African American Californians Look Like?” The Oaklandside, 9 June 2022, https://oaklandside.org/2022/06/09/reparations-task-force-california-oakland/.
Kalish, Lil. “California Task Force: Reparations for Direct Descendants of Enslaved People Only.” CALMATTERS, 30 Mar. 2022, https://calmatters.org/california-divide/2022/03/california-reparations-task-force-eligibility/.
“California Reparations Task Force Releases Interim Report Detailing Harms of Slavery and Systemic Discrimination on African Americans.” State of California Department of Justice, 1 June 2022, https://oag.ca.gov/news/press-releases/california-reparations-task-force-releases-interim-report-detailing-harms.
“Racial Disparities Are Widespread in California.” Public Policy Institute of California , 3 June 2020, https://www.ppic.org/blog/racial-disparities-are-widespread-in-california/.
“Oakland, California Population 2022.” World Population Review, https://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/oakland-ca-population.Sierra, Stephanie, and Lindsey Feingold. “‘Food Deserts’: Nearly 900 Neighborhoods across Bay Area Have Limited Access to Food.” ABC 7 News, 20 Nov. 2021, https://abc7news.com/food-desert-bay-area-deserts-pantry-near-me-alameda-bank/11254529/.