California moved towards becoming the first U.S. state to pay reparations for slavery this week when a special task force agreed on a contentious proposal.
The group decided in a narrow vote to limit compensation for past injustices to descendants of enslaved and free Blacks who were in the U.S. in the 19th century. The alternative was to authorize benefits for nearly every Black person in California — nearly 2.5 million people.
The task force settled on a state-specific harms model, factoring in damage caused by unjust property taking, unwarranted police violence, and labor and housing discrimination. They rejected the national model, which, among other differences, calls for specific redress of the wealth difference between black and white Americans.
Payments to compensate for this difference range from an estimated $300,000 per individual to $800,000 per household. In California alone, that model would cost the state about $670 billion, more than twice this year’s entire budget.
Gov. Gavin Newsom authorized the study two years ago to review granting “special consideration” to black residents who are direct descendants of enslaved people. A report is due by June and a comprehensive proposal is expected from the task force in July 2023 that may then go to the state legislature for a vote.
The exact form of reparations is far from decided, but could include direct payments, programs to assist in buying homes and starting businesses, free college tuition and grants to community organizations such as churches. And while the initial decision is to limit benefits to slave descendants, advocates say they believe a “more expansive” criteria will ultimately prevail.
Ron Daniels, president of The Institute of the Black World 21st Century, says that while there will always be parameters for reparations, the compensation needs to be more widespread. “The problem is the harms have been so gross that almost no Black person is not eligible in some form or another,” Daniels said.
Broad-based support for redress of a system that ended 162 years is a very recent concept, even among Democrats. Former President Barack Obama, in his first campaign for president, dismissed the idea in favor of addressing issues related to modern problems. But pandering for votes is as old as voting itself, and in woke America is not likely to go away.