After hours of passionate debate, California’s first-in-the-nation task force on reparations voted on March 29 to structure its reparations criteria based on lineage traced to slavery. That means any compensation the task force decides on will be limited to the descendants of free and enslaved Black people who were in the U.S. in the 19th century.
Some on the task force had argued that state compensation should be based on race and given to all Black Californians.
Lineage-based reparations won over race-based reparations by a narrow vote of 5-4.
Ultimately the task force concluded that a compensation and restitution plan based on lineage had the best chance of surviving a legal challenge. Members also noted that Black immigrants who migrated to the U.S. by choice in the 20th and 21st centuries do not share the generational trauma of people who had been kidnapped and enslaved, The Associated Press reported.
Reparations based on lineage have a better chance of overcoming political and legal challenges, according to Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Berkeley Law School.
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The California task force also opened eligibility to free Black people who migrated to U.S. in the 19th century, given the risk at the time of them also becoming enslaved.
The task force had delayed the eligibility question since its inaugural meeting in June 2021.
In 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation creating the two-year reparations task force, making California the only state to move ahead with a plan and mission to study the institution of slavery, its legacy, and its harms.
Nearly all of the task force members, who were appointed by the governor and the leaders of the two legislative chambers, can trace their families back to enslaved ancestors in the U.S.
Shirley Weber, the California secretary of state who authored the legislation creating the task force, argued passionately in January 2022 before its members for lineage-based reparations. The daughter of sharecroppers who were forced to flee Arkansas in the dead of night, Weber recalled how the legacy of slavery broke her family and stunted their ability to dream of anything beyond survival.
“It’s an issue not about being Black. It’s an issue of descendants and lineage,” Weber said. “There will be many Black people who do not deserve reparations, but there will be many whose lineage clearly says very strongly that they deserve to have reparations.”
Barack Obama, she said, likely never would have aspired to become president had he descended from enslaved people. While the country’s first Black president did not have slave ancestors, his Black father was from Kenya and came to the U.S. to study. His white mother’s ancestors were slave owners. Obama “did not have limitations and fears drilled in his psyche, and thus aspired to become the president of the United States,” Weber said.
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Others on the task force argued that reparations should include all Black people in the U.S. who suffered from systemic racism in housing, education, and employment.
The task force will next debate on the type of compensation reparations should pay. Compensation could include cash reparations, free college, assistance buying homes, launching businesses, and grants to churches and community organizations.
While California did not have enslaved people, the state and local governments were complicit in stripping Black people of their wages and property, preventing them from building wealth to pass down to their children.
A report is due by June, with a reparations proposal due by July 2023 for the California Legislature to consider turning into law, according to The Guardian.
Photo: Protestors demonstrate outside the Lincoln Memorial during the “Commitment March, Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” on the 57th Anniversary of MLK’s “I Have A Dream” Speech March on Washington, Aug. 28, 2020 (Chris Tuite/ImageSPACE/MediaPunch /IPX)