On Tuesday night (Mar. 29), California’s task force voted to move forward with reparations for African-American descendants of enslaved people and descendants of freed Black people living in the United States before the 19th century.
The result was a 5-4 vote from a nine-member task force and came after weeks of debate about whether reparations should be for all 2.6 million Black Californians or limited to those who can trace their lineage to enslaved people. The outcome was “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,” the motion read.
“That’s not the point of reparations. Reparations is responding to the injuries of the specific group,” Jovan Scott Lewis, a U.C. Berkeley professor and task force member, said during Tuesday’s meeting when addressing the decision to focus on those affected directly by slavery instead of more broadly addressing the effects of racism directed at Black people. “There’s a community who for centuries has been demanding recognition.”
This decision bases the reparation plans on lineage rather than race, sparking a widespread debate about who should qualify. Under this result, excluded will be Black immigrants in California — many of whom come from East and West Africa and the Caribbean and make up roughly 178,000 people, according to 2014 data from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
Supporters of the narrower eligibility have argued that Black immigrants who migrated to the US in the 20th and 21st centuries “did not experience the same harms as people who were kidnapped and enslaved.” Some on the taskforce had pushed for reparations for all Black residents, regardless of lineage, arguing that they continue to suffer from inequality in housing, education, employment, criminal justice and other arenas.
As of now, the scope of reparations will be determined in the coming months. Task force members said they expect cash payments to be one part of the proposal as well as a formal apology.
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