The subject of reparations has made its way back into the political conversation. Earlier this year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state legislature formed a committee to explore the idea and to come up with a proposal that would help to recompense black residents for the wrongs inflicted on them by the government. Now, the group has revealed its findings and recommendations.
While the estimates could change before the final report next year, the current proposal would amount to about $223,000 for each eligible individual – making this the most sweeping effort to grant reparations to African Americans thus far. The task force spent months traveling across California to ascertain the impact of the state’s racist policies. The initiative is similar to other efforts that have been undertaken on a local level. The most recent Federal Reserve Board Survey of Consumer Finances found that the median wealth of black families is $24,100. For whites, it is $188,200. The New York Times reported:
“The task force has identified five areas — housing discrimination, mass incarceration, unjust property seizures, devaluation of Black businesses and health care — in discussions for compensation. For example, from 1933 to 1977, when it comes to housing discrimination, the task force estimates compensation of around $569 billion, with $223,200 per person.”
“Final figures will be released in the report next year; it would then be up to the Legislature to act upon the recommendations and determine how to fund them,” the report added.
Cities in other states have done something similar to what California is considering. Last year, officials in Evanston, IL, and Asheville, NC, committed to paying out millions of dollars in reparations. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has transferred ownership of Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach, which was unfairly seized from a black family. It now belongs to the descendants of the couple that originally owned it.
California was admitted into the Union as a free state but still has a problematic history when it comes to its treatment of black Americans. The task force’s investigation revealed several different instances of abuse inflicted against its black residents. In the 1950s, a blight law allowed the state’s government to use eminent domain to decimate black communities, “including shuttering more than 800 businesses and displacing 4,700 households in San Francisco’s Western Addition beginning in the 1950s” according to The New York Times.
Reparations – Righting California’s Wrongs
There are several provisions in the proposal that could have a positive impact when it comes to addressing the effect of California’s past policies detrimental to black families. This is especially true when it comes to housing discrimination. The plan suggests that the state “[c]ompensate individuals forcibly removed from their homes due to state action, including but not limited to park construction, highway construction, and urban renewal.” Another provision would compensate families “who were denied familial inheritance by way of racist anti-miscegenation statutes, laws, or precedents, that denied Black heirs resources they would have received had they been white.”
The group also suggested dealing with “racial bias in employment and advancement, especially for Black Californians seeking public employment or promotion to higher-paying positions in government.” If the state is found to have discriminated on the basis of race, this should be addressed. But it is also worth noting that new legislation would not be necessary to take action in this regard; it is already illegal for any entity to treat people differently due to ethnicity.
One suggestion that could have a positive impact relates to black businesses. The task force recommended creating a fund “to support the development and sustainment of Black-owned businesses and eliminate barriers to licensure that are not strictly necessary and that harm Black workers.”
California, along with other states, enforces licensing and permit requirements that are costly enough to impose a higher burden on smaller businesses. African American entrepreneurs tend to have a harder time paying to comply with these rules. Removing government-imposed obstacles would be a great boon to black business owners.
What are the Issues?
While there could be some benefits to the task force’s proposal, it includes ideas that are either unnecessary or undesirable. When it concerns education, the report appears to favor an approach inspired by critical race theory rather than actually improving academic outcomes.
The authors advise that schools “[a]dopt mandatory curriculum for teacher credentialing that includes culturally responsive pedagogy, anti-bias training, and restorative practices and develop strategies to proactively recruit African American teachers to teach in K-12 public schools.” The first three elements are practices that are derived from CRT, which means all public school teachers would have to be steeped in the ideology to obtain their credentials. Disciplinary policies in schools were also a factor. The authors propose a “systematic review of public and private school disciplinary records to determine levels of racial bias and require all schools to implement racially equitable disciplinary practices.”
The plan would also advance the timeline “for ethnic studies classes in public and private high schools” and adopt “a K-12 Black Studies curriculum that introduces students to concepts of race and racial identity; accurately depicts historic racial inequities and systemic racism; honors Black lives,” and so on. Again, given how these types of concepts have been handled in California’s school system, it is not a stretch to suggest this just means more indoctrination.
Of course, no progressive proposal would be complete without including provisions to deal with climate change, right? The authors insisted that the state implement “climate change mitigation and adaptive capacity strategies and measures” and address “the impact of environmental racism on predominantly Black communities.” For black Californians dealing with hot weather, the task force has a solution. It suggested requiring and funding “the statewide planting of trees to create shade equity and minimize heat islands in Black neighborhoods.”
Another issue with the plan is that it seems to apply to all black descendants of slaves residing in California, not just those who belong to families that the state has wronged. If the proposal is implemented in its current iteration, a black resident who moved to the state a few years ago might be entitled to reparations from a state that never caused them harm.
It is important to note that even after the task force publishes its results next year, it will be up to California’s government to put their findings into action. This will likely spark more conversation and debate over how the state should grant reparations to its African American citizens. But if it does pass significant legislation of this type, it could inspire other states to do the same.
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