California Task Force Votes to Provide Reparations to Descendants of Slaves

On Tuesday, California’s reparations task force voted that only black Californians who can prove a direct lineage to enslaved ancestors will be eligible for the statewide — and first-in-the nation — reparations program. The task force voted 5-4 in favor of the proposal after six hours of debate. A failed proposal would have provided reparations to the state’s entire black population regardless of slave lineage.

The California reparations task force defined those eligible as someone, “determined by an individual being an African American descendant of a chattel enslaved person or the descendant of a free Black person living in the US prior to the end of the 19th century,” according to the motion. An earlier amendment to the motion pushed for a broader definition of eligibility that would have included all 2.6 million African Americans in California, with “special consideration” for those with direct lineage to slaves. That amendment did not pass.

Two years ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation giving “special consideration” to black Americans who are direct descendants of slaves. Among one of the bill’s requirements was the formation of a task force to study the distribution of financial compensation to the state’s black population.

Los Angeles-based lawyer Lisa Holder argued against a strict lineage approach and instead argued for payments to the state’s entire black population, including immigrants. “We must make sure we include present day and future harms,” Holder said. “The system that folks are advocating for here, where we splice things up, where only one small slice benefits, will not abate the harms of racism.”

Cheryl Grills, a committee member and a clinical psychologist at Loyola Marymount University, also said a lineage-based approach would be “divisive” and “another win for white supremacy.”

The two-year task force is expected to release a California reparations proposal in June 2023 with recommendations for the state Legislature. In addition to financial payments, task force members said the state will be issuing a “formal apology” for the nation’s practice of slavery. Additionally, members said that the latest eligibility determination will help economists tasked with quantifying a dollar amount for reparations owed.

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