Five days before the Fourth of July, the California Reparations Task Force published a 1,000+ page final report that provides “incontrovertible evidence of the harms [against Black Californians] requiring reparations and meaningful recommendations designed to redress them.”
In a June 29 article from CalMatters titled, “California is the first state to tackle reparations for Black residents. What that really means,” Wendy Fry, Erica Yee, and Rya Jetha write that “reparations programs acknowledge and address harms caused by human rights violations such as slavery, segregation, or the systematic denial of fair housing, education, or employment opportunities.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom created the nine member task force – after the 2020 murder of George Floyd – to research systemic racism and create solutions that addressed it.
Over the two year research period, the task force heard 48+ hours of testimony from 133 witnesses. It listened to 28 hours of public comment. And, members received around 4,000 emails and 150 phone calls.
The full report, which you can find online at oag.ca.gov/ab3121/report, included a 76 page Executive Summary.
The summary provides both a national and state history of the enslavement of Black Americans, racial terror targeted toward Black Americans, the political disenfranchisement of Black Americans, housing segregation that corralled Black Americans into poorer and often toxic neighborhoods, educational disparities among Black and white Americans, the separate and unequal education of Black Americans, the environmental and infrastructural racism inflicted upon Black Americans, the legal system’s unjust treatment of Black Americans, the wealth gap experienced by Black Americans, and more.
The key findings from the Task Force’s historical research can be found on page 16 of the document.
Some facts and figures that work to tell the story of the damage…
“Nationally, non-white school districts get $23 billion less than predominantly white districts.”
“Compared to white Californian men, African American Californian men are 5 times more likely to die from prostate cancer.”
In 2019, the median net worth of white households was $188,200. The median net worth of Black households was $24,100.
The document argues that these disparities – which are but a few – were and continue to be caused by the systemic racism and white supremacy upon which our country was quite literally built. Per Malcolm X, whom the document quotes, “The greatest contribution to this country was that which was contributed by the Black man … Now, when you see this, and then you stop and consider the wages that were kept back from millions of Black people, not for one year but for 310 years, you’ll see how this country got so rich so fast. And what made the economy as strong as it is today. And all that… slave labor that was amassed in unpaid wages, is due someone today.”
After making the case that Black Americans have suffered at the hands of white supremacy and systemic racism throughout their enslavement and on toward the present, the task force provides a framework for what reparations could look like in California.
The United Nations Principles on Reparation declare that an effective, full-bodied reparations program must include restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and a guarantee of non-repetition.
In short, the victim receiving reparations should be restored to their original situation prior to their victimization, compensated for what they’ve lost, provided medial and psychological care and legal and social services, feel satisfied with whatever reparative actions are taken, and be promised that what led to the need for reparations will both cease and not be repeated.
The Task Force decided only those who could trace their lineage as a descendant of a free and/or enslaved Black person who’d lived in the US prior to 1900 would be eligible for reparations. About 2.8 million Black residents of California could be eligible.
Back in May, CalMatters built a Reparations Calculator based on the Task Force’s recommended calculation criteria and how long one has been a California resident. The calculator goes up to the year 2020.
A Black resident with one year of California residency, according to the calculator, could receive up to $96,337 in reparations.
A 70-year resident could receive up to $1.2 million.
The Task Force calculated that over $800 billion could be owed toward Black residents of California.
Some suggestions as to how this would be funded: Marijuana tax revenue (like Evanston, Illinois, which used such tax revenue to allocate $10 million toward reparations for Black residents). There might also be a general fund fueled by donations and taxes from the wealthy. Or, small diversions each year from the state budget could be added to a pot that would eventually pay off the reparations.
Among cash compensation, there are several policy proposals within the document related to healthcare, justice, education, voting, and more. Like the identification and elimination of anti-Black housing discrimination practices, the prevention of mortgage lending discrimination, free tuition to California colleges and universities, the statewide planting of trees in Black communities, the creation of a free healthcare program, the elimination of racial disparities in police stops and the over-policing of Black communities … more can be found within the document.
Public support for reparations in some form hovers around 60%. Yet, in a survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, 59% of likely voters expressed an unfavorable opinion of California having a Reparations Task Force.
Another poll by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA demonstrated that about 82% of Californian’s support education and healthcare reparations, while 79% support economic and housing reparations.
Reparations aren’t new. In 1988, Japanese-Americans who were interned at camps during World War II – like Manzanar – received $20,000 each and an apology from the federal government. Black residents in both Evanston, Illinois and Rosewood, Florida have received reparations. Reparations have also been paid toward American Indians, Holocaust survivors, and others.
However, support in the legislature for the Task Force’s recommendations remains less than lukewarm. Out of the 120 state lawmakers that CalMatters informally emailed to gauge support of the recommendations, only four expressed support for reparations. One expressed opposition, eleven had no comment, and a hundred and four did not respond.
In a March 2023 article from NPR by Jennifer Ludden titled, “Cities may be debating reparations, but here’s why most Americans oppose the idea,” Ludden collected some public opinion regarding reparations. One general conviction: bad stuff happened to people in the past. People in the present have nothing to do with that. Reparations conflict with the American Dream – the idea that anyone can work hard and earn a slot in the elusive middle class. It also conflicts with the race-blind attitude many Americans have adopted, which coincides with the American dream. Work hard, no matter who you are or what you look like, and you’ll be rewarded.
Whether or not California reparations will become a reality, the document produced by the Task Force marks a milestone in American reparations thinking.