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What is California’s Black reparations proposal all about? How does it compare to past reparations attempts? What does the public think?
A task force in California has approved a proposal seeking reparations for Black residents for generations of harm due to the legacy of slavery. This prompted a lot of different responses including approval, confusion, and some have even called it a “scam.”
Here we’ll discuss that proposal within the context of the national conversation around reparations.
California’s Reparations Task Force Unveils Ambitious Plans
A California Black reparations task force recently voted to approve recommendations on how the state may compensate Black residents for generations of harm caused by discriminatory policies. The panel suggested that compensation should take into account individual as well as community harms—including health disparities, housing discrimination, and mass incarceration. They approved a list of proposed actions, including cash payments to descendants of enslaved people, changes in policing and housing policies, and restoring voting rights to formerly and currently incarcerated people.
Why Reparations for Black Americans?
Although the US formally apologized for slavery and segregation in 2009, it has never offered any material compensation to the descendants of enslaved people. Advocates for reparations argue that the US should offer such restitution for several reasons. First, it would provide compensation for the labor of enslaved Black Americans, who were forced to work without pay for hundreds of years. The wealth of the United States was built on this forced labor, while enslaved laborers were denied the opportunity to accumulate wealth themselves. Reparations would compensate their descendants, who remain disadvantaged because their ancestors didn’t have the same opportunities to create security that white Americans had.
Another reason would be to address the lingering effects of systemic racism.
Some of the disparities include:
- A racial wealth gap: Black Americans have been denied the opportunity to accumulate wealth at the same rate as white Americans. In 2016 the median net worth of a white family in America was ten times higher than that of a Black family.
- Housing inequality: Discriminatory practices and racial segregation in housing have also had a profound impact on Black Americans.
- Criminal Injustice: Systemic racism also plagues the American criminal justice system.
- Education: Black and white students in US schools have large and persistent inequalities in educational outcomes.
- Health care: Black Americans have higher infant mortality rates and shorter life expectancies than white Americans, and are less likely to receive necessary surgical and other needed medical interventions.
Other Reparations Efforts in the Past and Present
Although efforts toward reparations for slavery have persistently stalled in Congress, the US government has attempted some reparations with other groups in the past. For example, in 1988, the Civil Liberties Act granted monetary compensation—$20,000 per person—to over 80,000 Japanese Americans who were forced into internment camps during World War II.
There have also been efforts to provide reparations to Native Americans. After World War II, the Indian Claims Commission paid out about $1.3 billion to each federally recognized tribe for being forcibly removed from their lands. However, this program has been criticized for two reasons: the amount paid out was the equivalent of less than $1,000 for each Native American in the US at that time, and the government did not give Native people direct control of the money, but held it in funds for them.
What Would California’s Reparations Involve?
California’s reparations proposal would entail substantial cost, potentially amounting to billions of dollars, with estimated payouts of up to $1.2 million for older residents. The task force approved calculations to determine the financial harm suffered by descendants of enslaved or free Black Americans, and eligibility is limited to individuals who can prove descent from enslaved individuals or those present in the United States prior to 1900.
The proposal also recommends: formal apologies for a whole list of past injustices.
Will Reparations Become a Reality?
The recommendations made by the California reparations task force are just that—recommendations. For the reparations to actually happen, the state government would need to pass legislation implementing the task force’s proposals. And public sentiment appears to be mixed.
An ABC News article suggests that one of the challenges is that people question why California, which never formally sanctioned slavery, should provide reparations for slavery and systemic racism. Others believe that slavery was too long ago for any amends to be made for it today.
Fox News has called California’s proposal a “scam” pointing out that Michael Jackson’s children would be eligible for payouts under the current plan.
Despite the naysayers, California’s task force remains hopeful and lawmakers continue to push for legislation at the federal level, too. Missouri Democratic Rep. Cori Bush has just introduced a bill calling for $14 trillion in reparations for Black Americans. And whether they support reparations or not, a recent Pew Research Center survey says most Americans agree that slavery’s legacy still affects Black Americans today.
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