Kamilah Moore, the chair of California’s Reparations Task Force, is a direct descendant of enslaved people in the United States.
Now, she’s one of several leaders behind the nation’s groundbreaking reparations effort to examine the impact slavery and systemic racism has had on Black Americans and how to reverse the harm it’s done.
“I grew up in an environment where we took pride in learning about our history as African Americans,” Moore said. “I learned very early on about the reparations movement … and that history just always stayed with me.”
The first-in-the-nation state-backed task force is just one of several efforts in California alone. Other efforts for reparations have been seen in San Francisco and Palm Springs.
In Palm Springs, hundreds of Black and Mexican families are seeking millions of dollars in restitution for being forcibly evicted from the Section 14 neighborhood in the 1950s and 1960s.
In San Francisco, the city's African American Reparations Advisory Committee recommended providing a one-time payment of $5 million to eligible recipients, as well as directing funding to target community issues concerning housing, education disparities and the racial wealth gap.
“This really is about payment and redress for unpaid labor, for restrictive covenants and for legislation that was particularly [targeted against the] Black community and created a system of harm for the Black community,” said Tinisch Hollins, the vice chair of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission working on the reparations effort.
Across the board, reparations task force members say one of the major forces stopping progress for the movement is how much people don’t understand.
Moore said her task force is often asked: “Why California? California wasn’t a slave state!”
California entered the Union in 1850 as a free state. However, up to 1,500 enslaved African Americans lived in California by 1852, according to the state task force's preliminary report on reparations recommendations.
The report found that the state of California and the various arms of its government have played an active role in perpetuating systemic racism against Black Californians.
Researchers have found that housing and employment discrimination, displacement of communities of color and educational segregation have impacted the economic and social prosperity of Black people in the state.
It can be seen in the displacement of Black residents, disparities in Black home appraisals, over policing and over incarceration in Black communities, and more that has stifled the potential for wealth growth among Black residents.
Racism has shaped the lives of Black Californians, with some discriminatory practices continuing into the '70s, '80s and still hindering or disadvantaging state residents today, they say.
This is why some say reparations are a necessity.
“Reparations is a debt owed to those who suffered gross human rights violations, and even their direct descendants and many repertory justice groups around the world are still owed reparations because of the concept of direct extended standing in the shoes of their ancestors,” Moore said.
Critics of reparations in the state argue that since the state did not practice slavery, it should not be obligated to atone for racism. About 68% of Americans say descendants of slaves should not be repaid, according to Pew Research Center.
Some, including Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, have also argued that no one who enslaved Black Americans is alive and, therefore, bear no responsibility for addressing this.
“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea," said McConnell in 2019 regarding a House hearing on federal reparations.
Reparations can come in many different forms. Moore describes five main arrangements that fall under the reparations umbrella: compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.
Compensation is what is typically thought of as “reparations,” as it refers to cash payments given to recipients.
Restitution reverses a particular violation. For example, the return of land or housing to someone from whom it was taken is a common form of reparations seen in the Native and Indigenous fight for reparations.
Rehabilitative reparations often come in the form of mental health, medical, legal or social services and the like.
Satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition, according to Moore, come in the forms of policy reform, removing legal slavery language from state constitutions, public apologies from officials, memorials and more.
“The general consensus is that we can go on forever listing the harm that has happened,” Hollins said.
“People need and want restoration for that harm now. They don't want to wait another five years or another decade creating reports to evaluate the harm that's been done. The harm that's been done will be experienced in perpetuity by the Black community in San Francisco and throughout the country.”
Different recommendations under these five forms have been submitted for deliberation by the California task force, and the San Francisco effort just held a public hearing Tuesday on the plan.
As this groundbreaking effort continues forward with uncertainty and no guarantee that their recommendations will be officially granted, California leaders are asking themselves:
“What can be done now that’s scalable? And then how do we make sure that the harm is not only repaired but prevented in perpetuity? That's what Black people care about right now,” said Sheryl Davis, the executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.
Final reports from both committees will be submitted in summer 2023.