Author: Orlando Mayorquin
September 11, 2020
SACRAMENTO, Calif — Coming off the defeat of a series of police reform bills, racial justice advocates and Democratic lawmakers are hoping to get a more modest measure of socioeconomic change across the finish line, namely a reparations study for Black Californians.
Assembly Bill 3121 cleared the Legislature last month and if signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would establish a nine-person task force to study reparations proposals for more than 2 million African Americans in California, many undergoing migratory shifts. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, directs the task force to study California’s complicity in slavery and develop proposals for redressing generations of discriminatory policies and practices that followed.
Supporters say it’s yet another case of California leading by example. In acknowledging the sins of California’s forefathers, the state could begin to heal by starting with an apology. But as Newsom considers the legislation before him, one scholar has a word of caution not to detract from where change really needs to happen: Washington, D.C.
William Darity Jr., one of the country’s leading experts on slavery reparations and economics professor at Duke University, hopes the conversation around California’s reparations task force is properly framed with respect to the movement for federal reparations.
More of an atonement
Darity Jr. has reservations about the use of the term “reparations” in the bill. He believes it should only be used to describe a full accounting of the damage dealt to African Americans by hundreds of years of enslavement and discriminatory policies — something he says can only be accomplished through the federal government.
“I have a sense of proprietariness about the use of the term reparations because I think people should not be given the impression that the kinds of steps that are taken at the state or local level actually constitute a comprehensive or true reparations plan,” Darity Jr. said in an interview. “Whatever California does perhaps could be called atonement, or it could be called a correction for past actions.”