22 Sep Where Are We On California Reparations
Racial inequity in California is not happenstance. It is deliberate and methodical—beginning from day one of its statehood. Decades of policy decisions have buried structural racism deep into our state’s social and governmental foundations. Black people in this state lack sufficient access to almost every social system designed to promote positive social outcomes, including quality healthcare, education, housing, public safety, jobs, and transportation.
Further, Black people are overrepresented in the state’s punitive and harmful systems. The state’s history of racism and oppression continues to manifest itself in the criminal justice system, a system created to have a disparate impact on Black people, their families, and communities. In California, Black people constitute 6% of state residents, but 20% are in jail, and 28% are in prison. In Los Angeles, Black people are four times as likely to be searched by police as white people in their vehicles.
For Black Californians, the story of California has its roots in centuries-old cycles of oppression, violence, betrayal, inequality, and struggle. In 1852, as part of California’s fugitive slave law, California banned Black children from attending public schools—even though California was a free state. The state and its municipalities, including Los Angeles, were complicit in systematically stripping Black people of their wages and property, preventing them from building wealth to pass down to their children. Throughout the state’s history, Black Californians’ homes were destroyed for redevelopment, and Black families were forced to live in redlined communities. Due to restrictive covenants and biased underwriting practices, Black residents couldn’t get bank loans that would allow them to purchase property.
These outcomes directly result from the vestiges of slavery and over 150 years of continued racist, anti-Black policies that damage the material conditions that Black people face daily. History cannot be rewritten, but some harms can be redressed.
In 2020, the California Legislature adopted AB 3121, which launched the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. This law created a first-in-the-nation task force to study and propose a framework for reparations for Black Americans who are descendants of enslaved Africans after centuries of discrimination. The Task Force has three primary goals:
- To study and develop reparation proposals for Black residents.
- Recommend appropriate ways to educate the California public about the Task Force’s findings.
- To recommend appropriate remedies considering the Task Force’s findings.
The task force was responsible for conducting research, public hearings, and community meetings to gather information and perspectives on reparations. It will analyze African Americans’ economic, educational, and health disparities in California and recommend potential reparations programs.
The California task force conducted public meetings and gathered input from various stakeholders. However, determining the scope, nature, and implementation of reparations in California has proven to be complex and has faced challenges, especially regarding financial recompense considerations. California voters oppose cash reparations for slavery by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a new poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, co-sponsored by The Los Angeles Times. State lawmakers are set to consider the idea next year.
In March 2023, the California Black Power Network (CBPN), a coalition of 37 Black-led/serving organizations, submitted a memo of policy recommendations based on the community feedback we collected from hosting ten virtual and in-person regional listening sessions in Central California, the Bay Area, the Inland Empire, San Diego, and Los Angeles in our capacity as an official member organization of the community engagement steering committee of the Task Force.
“Reparations is important because we don’t only need to see reparations as handing money to people, we have to repair the history and the narrative in the form of many more resources,” said Afreca Howard, South Los Angeles resident and Community Coalition member. “Reparations should also come in the form of libraries, museums, educational spaces, and other community resources.”
On June 29, 2023, the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans issued its final report to the California Legislature. The final report surveys the ongoing and compounding harms experienced by African Americans due to slavery and its lingering effects on American society today. CBN thanked the task force for their work and urged the Governor and the Legislature to act swiftly.
“The Task Force has done their part; the Legislature and Governor must now do theirs. We call on both the Legislature and the Governor to implement the key policies in the Task Force’s report so that the State of California can truly heal from past harms and fully remove the barriers and harmful stigma that systemic and anti-Black racism has placed on our communities,” said the CBPN in a statement released after the final report was made public.
The California Congressional Black Caucus recently launched a statewide reparations education campaign. The Caucus is working with the Legislature on recommendations for reparations for Black Californians. They, too, will involve the public in gathering insights and ideas to influence decision-makers. They plan to present their proposals to Gov. Gavin Newsom in early 2024.
“Some of the best ideas we ever got did not come from elected officials, did not come from academics, did not come from a bureaucrat,” affirmed Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer, also a CA Reparations Task Force member. “They came from real people. And that’s going to be the thing that will get us over when we start talking to our fellow legislators about why this is so important and why they need to vote yes on it. We’re not going to get them all. But we don’t need them all. We just need the majority in the assembly. And I think we have a good clear path to that.”
A once-in-a-generation reckoning as it relates to racial inequity has emerged. We are calling on those who represent us to meet the moment. The recent COVID-19 pandemic and our country’s racial reckoning have laid bare the historic and long-standing inequities Black people face today. Our legislators have a responsibility to help bend the moral arc of justice and racial equity by enacting comprehensive reparations recommendations that will help strengthen the collective Black liberation efforts happening across California and the United States. We believe this is a good start in addressing our history’s harms, but certainly not the last step.
As an organization, CoCo stands ready to work with our state leaders to facilitate conversations with everyday people and Black-led institutions in South Los Angeles. We look forward to working with the Legislature to adopt and implement reparations here in California and continue fighting against injustice for Black folks everywhere.