California’s historic Reparations Task Force has been preparing to publish its final report with recommendations expected this summer. The committee, the first of its kind in the country, was created in 2021 after passage of a law led to the appointment of experts across the state to study the issue of reparations for African Americans.
CapRadio’s Race and Equity Reporter Sarah Mizes-Tan spoke with the Reparations Task Force chairperson Kamilah Moore, about the committee’s progress so far, and possible ways California can atone for the harms to African Americans descended from people who were enslaved.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On asking for reparations in California, a “free state”:
We learned very early on there is pervasive bias and discrimination against African-Americans or those who are descendants of slaves. There was a fugitive slave law that was enacted in California two years after it was admitted to the union as a so-called “free state.” So what that meant was, if you so happened to be free, an African-American in the state of California, under this new fugitive slave law, you could be rounded up and deported to be enslaved in the South and even in some instances, enslaved in the state. A lot of people don't know this, I didn't know about this history prior to being empaneled as a task force member. And I hope one of the potential recommendations that comes out of this task force is a re-education of the California public and even the United States around the history of not only California, but other so-called “free” states in perpetuating slavery. It needs to be understood that slavery permeated this country no matter whether states were so-called “free” or not.
On California setting a precedent:
I think that there is a place for other states to atone for particular state-sanctioned atrocities that they've committed against descendants of slaves in their respective states. And so that might look different for different states, just depending on their history. And then I do hope that to the extent that states do want to atone for any atrocity that they've committed against the descendant community that they do look to California as a model or precedent for getting that done.
On possible suggestions for reparations:
I know there's been a lot of numbers out in the media, but the task force has not made any final recommendations in terms of monetary compensation or even non-compensatory recommendations. We're still very much in the beginning of the development stage where we are again discussing and debating what the potential proposals might be and discussions around eligibility for potential compensation.
In terms of what was discussed at our last hearing in January, you had, for instance, an advisory committee on education preliminarily propose increasing funding to schools through the Local Control Funding Formula to address disparities, adopting a K-12 Black Studies curriculum, expanding access to career technical education for descendants of slaves. In the areas of the devaluation of Black businesses and housing discrimination, you had the advisory committee preliminarily propose funding to assist with residential homeownership, and that would be a recommendation that the state provide funding through grants or otherwise to assist descendants of slaves with making residential home ownership a reality. And the recommendation from that particular advisory committee was to create a legislative agency to research and identify California state properties acquired as a result of racially motivated eminent domain.
On where reparations have happened successfully in the past:
I think the best example that we can look to is Germany and how international scholars have argued that they have de-Nazified their society, where not only Jewish victims of the Holocaust as victims of gross human rights violations have in many instances received cash payments along with their heirs in some instances. German society, at large, has done a wonderful job, International scholars have argued in changing the atmosphere, atoning and rectifying with their history.
And many people say when you go to Germany, you'll see monuments of those who survived and didn't survive the Holocaust. And they're very intentional around de-Nazifying their society and in paying homage to those who suffered under that system.
I think at a federal level, this is just me personally speaking, I kind of want to see that in the United States. There are many instances, even in California and of course in the South, where you still have these relics and monuments honoring these Confederate soldiers, these people who lost the war and whose sole purpose in fighting the union in the Civil War was to maintain that spirit, this peculiar institution known as chattel slavery. And so there's a lot of work that the United States can do modeling off of Germany to really atone and rectify for its sordid history and past.
The Reparations Task Force will meet again on March 3 and 4 in Sacramento.
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