I received an interesting email response to my reparations post this morning, from a reader who shall remain anonymous. I disagree with her but it is always good to see well thought out objective responses that run contrary to your own opinions.
This email seems very apropos of your recent blast. I think there are more facts to consider and this email provides some of them.
I will say for me that talk of reparations for descendants of enslaved people in no way shuts off consideration of injustices perpetrated against others, such as the Indigenous. There is need for redress there as well and we could start by pressing our govt. to uphold treaty promises.
I recommend an excellent book, The Sum of Us, by Heather McGhee. It goes into detail as to how Black people were seen, not only as subhuman but defined as a separate category with policies both explicit and unwritten established everywhere to subjugate and exclude and even punish them, Black Americans, some of which laws/policies are still being addressed. (For example the recent acknowledgment that crack cocaine and heroin are essentially the same and possession of crack was punished more harshly as a means to imprison Blacks).
One fascinating aspect of The Sum of Us is that it shows how the perceived need to exclude Blacks could act against the interests of those doing the excluding in somewhat ridiculous ways, e.g., swimming pools being closed for entire communities in the 1950s rather than having to integrate them.
She sends me this Los Angeles Times newsletter:
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Dec. 14. I’m Ryan Fonseca.
You may have read that an effort is underway in the Golden State to determine what reparations could like for Californians who are descendants of enslaved Africans. But you may not know what the work looks like or where it stands.
A 2020 state bill created California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans and the nine-member panel held its first meeting in June 2021.
Though the group’s work is still in its early stages, misleading claims about its recommendations are showing up in the media and online. I reached out to Kamilah Moore, who chairs the task force, to find out what’s happening behind the scenes.
She explained that, despite some reports citing specific dollar amounts, nothing has been decided yet. Final recommendations aren’t due until July 1, 2023.
So what has the group done so far? Moore says they spent the first year in a “study phase,” during which they heard personal accounts and expert testimony about the atrocities African Americans faced, dating back to the start of the slave trade. Their findings are catalogued in an interim report published in June.
“Now we’re entering into the development phase,” Moore told me this week. “We are beginning to — as a collective task force — discuss, debate [and] determine what those final recommendations might look like.”
While the June report includes some preliminary recommendations, there are no mention of any specific amount of monetary compensation. But Moore said compensation will be part of the task force’s final recommendations to state leaders.
Under international law, there are five forms of reparations, she explained:
- Guarantees of nonrepetition
“It’s part of our goal in terms of educating the California public — which includes legislators — that reparations isn’t reparations unless it includes all five of those forms,” Moore said.
Now that they’ve unpacked California’s role in anti-Black racism and slavery, Moore and her peers will spend the coming months discussing what reparatory justice for a portion of Black Californians (more on that below) should look like.
That process begins with two public meetings this week in Oakland — followed by more in San Diego, Sacramento and other communities — and culminating in the task force’s final report to California leaders at the beginning of July.
I talked with Moore about the task force’s work and what she thinks it means for racial justice in California. (The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.)
Given California’s perception as a free state, I’m curious what you and the task force have learned about California’s role in anti-Black racism and slavery in America.
Moore: California had over 1,500 Black folks enslaved in the state at a point in time. they also enacted a fugitive slave act, which was actually much more aggressive than the federal fugitive slave act in a century.
Let’s say you were once a slave, or you moved to California. Due to that enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act, you could be deported back to the South to be re-enslaved, or you could also be enslaved on California soil. People say: “Oh, California was a free state.” That was really only in name. We need to get the word out that there were actually Black people in bondage in California — at least 1,500 — and we can name the names, too.
There were even instances where the legislature wanted to ban Black people from living in the state.
Regarding eligibility, what guided the task force’s determination?
If you look at the [AB 3121] statute itself, it describes the closed universe in terms of who is eligible for reparations. It‘s for freed African slaves in the United States and their descendants. That pretty much mandated us to go with the lineage-based approach rather than an all-Black-people approach.
And then second, Secretary [Shirley] Weber, who was the lead author of AB 3121, came to give testimony to the task force and essentially stated when she came up with this bill that she had a lineage approach in mind, not a race-based approach in mind.
How do you begin to answer a question like: “how much will it take to possibly begin to offset centuries of racial injustice?” And maybe that’s not the right question, but what sort of questions or goals are guiding you and your colleagues as you determine that?
You can’t really put a price on the African American experience in terms of the harm we’ve endured in the state and in this country.
At the same time, you can try. That’s why we hired a team of economists who are very well known and reputable in their field to help us figure it out. It’s a delicate rope that we’re walking. We were sensitive to the fact that the experience that African Americans have endured in this country is hard to quantify. But we also have a mandate to carry out.
The statute requires that any of our recommendations comport with international human rights law standards. We can’t say that we fulfilled our mandate without actually seriously studying what what reparations in the form of compensation or money might look like — that’s literally a part of our job.
When I hear “reparations,” my mind goes to a “Chappelle Show” sketch that makes a joke out of the idea. That characterization obviously oversimplifies the process. Do you feel like the concept of reparations is misunderstood?
It’s so funny you brought up the Dave Chappelle skit, because this time last year, I actually tried to reach out to Dave Chappelle’s people because when people think about reparations, they do think about that Dave Chappelle skit. What would it look like to get Dave Chappelle on board in terms of shifting the narrative? Because what he put out into the ether 10, 20 years ago — that’s still sticking.
Reparations is very misunderstood. When you talk to actual African Americans, when [asked]: “What would you do with reparations?” They’ll say: “I’ll start a business, I’ll help my family”... that’s what the narrative should be.
Where do reparations fall ideally, for you, as a remedy? It won’t solve racism in California, but where do you put it on that spectrum between treatment and cure?
My personal opinion is that reparations would not end anti-Black racism, just like reparations for Holocaust survivors did not end antisemitism or reparations for internment camp survivors did not end anti-Asian hate or sentiment.
I’m interested in the idea of what would it look like for an African American or “Freemen Affairs Office” — kind of similar to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the federal level. What would it look like for like a designated, dedicated structure or structures throughout the state of California which would be a consistent resource hub, where the African American descendant communities will also be responsible for adjudicating and dispensing reparations claims.
That also pays homage to the Freedmen’s Bureau that once existed in this country on a federal level, but was dismantled in 1872, due to the reversal of reconstruction policies in this country. That Bureau was supposed to be in existence, really, in perpetuity — or until the issues plaguing freed African slaves and their descendants were resolved.
What excites you and what drives you in this work? Why is this important to you?
One dictate of reparatory justice under international law is that the victim group decides, no matter who the victim group is. They’re the one who are supposed to lead and determine what repair looks like to them.
What’s exciting to me is that it’s not enough for me and my other eight colleagues to really do this work — which we are honored and proud to do. We want to work alongside the descendant community, so that they can inform the work through public comment, through emailing us, through calling us — letting us know what repair and reparations looks like to them — and then we can figure out how to incorporate that into our final recommendation.