California Reparations Spark Concern Over White People Possibly Qualifying

woman speaking behind podium with beach in the background

December 8, 2022


Under a bill signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, California is looking into possible ways to provide restitution to Black Americans who experienced the generational effects of slavery—and the state’s reparations plan might potentially benefit White-identifying individuals, some analysts have said.

A nine-member Reparations Task Force was deployed to travel across the state and develop reparation recommendations and propose solutions to its findings, which take into account the harms that Black people suffered.

In a March 2022 report, the task force said that those eligible for reparations should be descendants of enslaved African Americans or of a “free Black person living in the United States prior to the end of the 19th century.”

In its interim report released in June, the task force was able to determine 12 areas of harm “identified as the lingering effects of slavery,” said task-force member Jovan Scott Lewis, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a geographer who researches reparations.

Those areas are enslavement, racial terror, political disenfranchisement, housing segregation, separate and unequal education, racism in environment and infrastructure, pathologizing the Black family, control over creative cultural and intellectual life, stolen labor and hindered opportunity, an unjust legal system, mental and physical harm and neglect, and the wealth gap.

California Reparations Spark Concern

Activist Kavon Ward speaks at a ceremony to return ownership of Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of a Black family who had the land stripped from them nearly a century ago on July 20 in Manhattan Beach, California. The state has taken on a mission to provide restitution to Black Americans who have experienced generational effects of slavery as part of a wide-scale racial justice effort following the death of George Floyd, but some experts are now concerned that the state’s reparations plan might potentially benefit White identifying individuals.

Lewis said that the task force was able to identify five key areas that could be supported by some form of compensatory framework because those were the ones that were currently backed by data from the economics team.

The five areas identified by the team are housing discrimination, mass incarceration, unjust property seizures, devaluation of Black businesses and health care. Those issues factor into determining the reparations.

Based on housing discrimination alone that occurred between 1933 and 1977, as much as $569 billion in reparations could need to be paid to African Americans in California–amounting to $223,000 per person.

Concerns About The Current Eligibility Criteria

Some experts are concerned that the current language of the eligibility criteria might open the door for individuals identifying as White to possibly receive reparations money if they prove descendance and meet the eligibility criteria.

William Darity, a professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies at Duke University, told Newsweek that “the way in which the language of the eligibility requirements is worded, it may open the door to that possibility.”

“There’s always a problem if the proposal is designed or written in such a way that individuals who are currently living as White who may have ancestors in those two categories would be eligible for black reparations. So that is a potential problem,” Darity said.

He explained that if this is the complete language of the eligibility criteria, it is possible that an individual who is not living as a Black person in the United States could claim eligibility.