CA Reparations Task Force Eyes $500,000 for Descendants of Slavery

California’s Reparations Task Force, first in the U.S., says 500K is owed to some Black Californians, and is still considering more charges

California’s first-in-the-nation Reparations Task Force has six months until it must submit its final report to the lawmakers who created it, but in numbers floated last week the panel suggested that the state pay some descendants of enslaved people nearly $500,000 each based on what it defines as three harms caused by slavery. The task force—comprised of elected officials, civil rights activists, attorneys, and academics—is also evaluating what it identifies as two further harms, and may assess further damages it says are due to certain descendants based on those calculations as well.

As MarketWatch reports, so far the nine-member body created by Gov. Gavin Newson and the state legislature in September 2020 has arrived at a tally of just over $475,100 to be potentially paid by the state to some Black Californians based on the harms of housing discrimination and redlining ($223,239), mass incarceration ($124,678), and shortened life expectancy ($127,226). The two additional harms the task force is still evaluating are the devaluation of Black businesses and unjust property taking.

The task force—already controversial even among certain former supporters for its decision to limit state compensation to the descendants of free and enslaved Black people living in the country before the end of the 19th century—could also recommend that current California taxpayers be held accountable even beyond its recommended payments if it finds that there is a continuing racial wealth gap connected to slavery. The economic consultants and a task force member, however, admitted that this last bit could be a particularly hard sell even for the most helpful elected officials, and more specifically for voters who are by no means guaranteed to keep those elected officials elected.

“The wealth gap is the cumulative impact of racism over time,” said Jovan Scott Lewis, a UC Berkeley professor and a task force member. But the existing data on a racial wealth gap is national, and Lewis and expert task force economic consultants know of no wealth-gap data specific to California, MarketWatch reports, though they said on Thursday that they will try to come up with some solution (although that does not sound like math).

Attorney Kamilah Moore, chair of the task force, also said this week that it is coming closer to an agreement regarding what time frames to apply to the five main harms based on research specific to California such as redlining, the building of freeways that displaced Black residents and more. The latest timeframes the task force is considering are:

  • Unjust property takings: 1920 to present
  • Devaluation of Black businesses: 1900 to present
  • Housing discrimination and houselessness: 1937 to 1977
  • Mass incarceration and overpolicing: 1970 to present
  • Health harms: 1900 to present

California, history buffs will note, was not a slave state, and it sent thousands of troops to their deaths defending the Union, but the bill creating the reparations task force notes that Golden State law and policy “continue to disproportionately and negatively affect African Americans as a group and perpetuate the lingering material and psychosocial effects of slavery.”

Depending on one’s point of view, California is either once again at the avant guard of American law in being the first to actually move toward paying some citizens from the taxes of many based exclusively on race and heritage, or a lot of state pols are enjoying their last terms in office… Or, perhaps, another hopeless hodgepodge of every usual California glad-handing yokel will be up next November.

Max Fennell, a 35-year-old coffee company owner, told U.S. News and World Report that every person should get $350,000 in compensation to close the racial wealth gap and Black-owned businesses should receive $250,000, which would help them to flourish.

“It’s a debt that’s owed, we worked for free,” he said. “We’re not asking; we’re telling you.”

The legislature will have to approve any payments the task force suggests, and Newsom will have to sign off, so it remains to be seen how much of that “We’re not asking; we’re telling you,” narrative any electioneering locals will try to push as they pursue viable careerism.

Additionally, the task force now says its government-issued mandate should be extended indefinitely beyond its current June 2023 deactivation date, which would allow the entirely unelected members of the task force to maintain their power-consultancies and to ensure their efforts—unevaluated by any second or third parties—aren’t “all for naught,” as State Sen. Steven Bradford, a member of the task force, said during Thursday’s meeting.

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