Reparations Proposal for Black California Families Advances

By: James Dorman | Published: Jun 17, 2024

In the words of State Senator Steven Bradford, the state of California bears a responsibility to atone for historic injustices against black Californians. The California Senate advanced a set of ambitious reparation proposals to try and do just that. 

Included in the proposal is legislation to create an agency to assist Black families in researching their lineage. This research would confirm their eligibility for future restitutions.

Generational Debt

Sen. Bradford has said, “If you can inherit generational wealth, you can inherit generational debt.” He sees these reparation measures as simply paying a debt that is owed to the descendants of those hurt by slavery.

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Lawmakers also passed bills to create a fund for reparations programs and to compensate Black families for any property that was unjustly seized by the government using eminent domain.

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The Proposals Come After Years of Study

The proposals come off the back of the work of the recommendations of California’s Black reparations task force.

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This task force is the first of its kind in the country. It dedicated two years studying how California could work to atone for its legacy of discrimination and racism against African Americans.

This Proposal Is One of Many

The measures discussed are just part of a number of bills inspired by the task force’s recommendations. The California Legislative Black Caucus introduced more than a dozen proposals.

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These proposals are a strong starting point, but lawmakers have faced criticism from some reparations advocates for not introducing proposals for any widespread direct cash payments to descendants of enslaved Black people.

Reparations in Congress and Other States

Despite any frustrations from some reparations advocates, it appears that California is taking more positive steps than Congress. A bill first introduced in the 1980s to study reparations for Black Americans has stalled.

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There is better movement at the state level. Both Illinois and New York recently passed laws to study reparations, similar to the work of the California task force. However, no other state has yet progressed as far as California in terms of reparations proposals.

Taxpayers Footing the Bill

There is some pushback to the proposals from Republicans. California State Sen. Roger Niello has reservations regarding the eminent domain bill.

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While he supports the bill in principle, he does not believe taxpayers across the state should have to pay families for land that was unjustly seized by local governments. He sees that as something of an injustice of its own.

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Formalizing California’s Responsibility

These reparations proposals look to try and offset some of the historic harm caused by the state of California to Black families. A simple but key part of this process is the state formally taking responsibility for this harm.

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The Assembly recently advanced a bill that would have California formally apologize for its legacy of discrimination against Black Californians. This would be similar to the formal apology made in 2019 for the state’s history of violence and mistreatment against Native Americans.

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Other Legislations Have Been Blocked

This package of bills and recommendations shows California’s clear commitment to reparations. Not every bill made it through, though.

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California is facing a budget deficit, so lawmakers face tough decisions about which measures will and will not make the cut. Legislation that would have given tax and housing assistance to the descendants of enslaved people was blocked.

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Is the State Overpromising to Black Californians?

The state faces a multi-billion dollar budget deficit. With this in mind, some critics feel the state is promising far beyond what it can realistically deliver to Black Californians.

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Republican Assemblymember Bill Essayli, representing Riverside County, feels the state is putting the “cart before the horse,” setting up agencies and frameworks to dispense reparations without actually passing any reparations.

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Some of the Potential Costs Involved

He may have a point in terms of potentially overpromising. For a state facing a severe budget deficit, some of the costs involved in the proposals are pretty significant.

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According to an estimate by the Senate Appropriations Committee, it could cost the state up to $1 million a year simply to run the reparations support agency.

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There May Be Further Costs

The proposed agency to support Black families seeking reparations is a key part of the proposal — if a costly one. Other aspects may be costly, too, but we don’t know the price tag yet.

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The Senate Appropriations Committee did not release estimates for the cost of implementing the reparations fund and eminent domain bills. The group did indicate, however, that it might cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars to investigate claims made by families that racially discriminatory actions resulted in their land being taken away.

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A First Step, But Not the End

California is clearly tackling reparations as a serious matter, dedicating huge resources to properly research the issues and come up with viable solutions. 

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But the topic is complex, and ultimately, money has to be found from somewhere, which will likely continue to be a sticking point for opposition arguments. This package of bills is a good start on the path toward meaningful reparations for Black families, but there is still a long road ahead.

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