'We Have Given More Than Has Ever Been Given to Us': California's 1st-in-the-Nation Slavery Reparations Task Force Meets

In this June 11, 2020, file photo, then-Assemblywoman Shirley Weber calls on lawmakers to create a task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans, during the Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. A landmark California committee to study reparations for African Americans is meeting for its first time, Tuesday, June 1, 2021, launching a two-year process to address the harms of slavery and systemic racism.
In this June 11, 2020, file photo, then-Assemblywoman Shirley Weber calls on lawmakers to create a task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans, during the Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. A landmark California committee to study reparations for African Americans is meeting for its first time, Tuesday, June 1, 2021, launching a two-year process to address the harms of slavery and systemic racism.
Photo: Rich Pedroncelli (AP)

When it comes to the recent efforts to make reparations for descendants of American slavery happen, I am of two minds. On one hand—meh. It just seems like everything being proposed falls short of an actual promise that reparations for Black people will ever happen as the proposals aren’t for actual reparations; they are mostly proposals to form commissions to study the possibility of consideration of reparations. There are just so many degrees of separation between what’s being proposed and the actual reality of monetary compensation. On the other hand, we have to start somewhere, and it’s worth considering that not long ago the very idea of slavery reparations was a political non-starter that very few elected officials were willing to entertain.

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On Tuesday, America’s very first task force to study and make recommendations regarding reparations met in California, “launching a two-year process to address the harms of slavery and systemic racism,” the Guardian reports.

The state legislation’s author, California’s Secretary of State Shirley Weber—who was a state assemblywoman at the time and is the daughter of sharecroppers—spoke during the meeting and emphasized the importance of the task force’s work, and she spoke of that work in a way that indicates that she expects actual results, not just more lip service.

“Your task is to determine the depth of the harm, and the ways in which we are to repair that harm,” Weber said.

So, according to the Guardian, one of the arguments that racist-ass haters critics of the task force have made is that California wasn’t a slaveholding state so California officials shouldn’t have to study reparations and the state’s taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill that doesn’t even exist yet because we’re still only talking about commissions.

But look how difficult it is to even get the reparations ball rolling on a federal level.

From the Guardian:

A federal slavery reparations bill passed out of the House judiciary committee in April, but it faces an uphill battle to becoming law. The bill was first introduced in Congress in 1989 and refers to the failed government effort to provide 40 acres (16 hectares) of land to newly freed slaves as the civil war wound down.

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But Weber reportedly believes that her state is an “economic powerhouse” that can lead by example and show federal officials the way to address the issue of reparations and actually have it be a productive conversation that might actually bear fruit.

More From the Guardian:

Members of the taskforce pointed out that Black Americans have heard all their lives that they need to improve themselves, yet the truth is that they have been held back by outright racism and discriminatory laws that prevented them from getting conventional bank loans and buying homes.

Slavery may not have flourished in California as it did in southern states, they said, but African Americans were still treated harshly. Their neighborhoods in San Francisco and Los Angeles were razed in the name of development.

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So, I don’t know; maybe California’s task force will actually get something tangible done, or maybe we’re just looking at more of the same inaction made to look like action. All we can do is choose to be cautiously optimistic (or not) and keep fighting the good fight.

For now, I leave you with the words of state senator and task force member Steven Bradford.

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“We have lost more than we have ever taken from this country,” he said. “We have given more than has ever been given to us.”

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

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