California’s Race-Based Reparations Proposals Criticized by Public, Slave Descendant

California’s Race-Based Reparations Proposals Criticized by Public, Slave Descendant

(L-R) California state Sen. Steven Bradford, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, task force member Lisa Holder, and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer hold up a final report of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans during a hearing in Sacramento, Calif., on June 29, 2023. (Haven Daley/AP Photo)

Wenyuan Wu

Wenyuan Wu

5/28/2024

Updated: 5/30/2024

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Commentary
On May 21, the California Senate passed SB 1403, a state bill to establish the California American Freedmen Affairs Agency, which would address and implement recommendations from California’s sweeping, 40-chapter Reparations Task Force Report.
Introduced by state Sen. Steven Bradford of Gardena, who is also a member of the state Reparations Task Force, SB 1403 was approved along strict partisan lines by the Senate Appropriations Committee (5–2) on May 16 and by the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization (11–2) on April 23.
Alas, a state that entered the Union as a free state in 1850 is leading the nation in institutionalizing a laundry list of reparation schemes, including property claims, educational access, environmental justice, criminal justice reforms, cultural activities, and more.
If passed, the bill would create a Genealogy Office to establish a process to “confirm reparations eligibility.” But instead of contending with the multiracial realities of contemporary U.S. society, where many self-identified white, Asian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, or Native Americans could trace their ancestral roots to slavery, the California Freedmen Affairs Agency would give special consideration only for “African Americans who are descendants of persons enslaved in the United States,” according to the bill.
For proponents of race-based reparations, a state agency to oversee the infrastructure behind administering reparations is necessary because institutional racism is considered a permanent feature of U.S. society. Specifically, they argue that California owes African Americans reparations because of its complicity in slavery and for its subsequent culpability in post-Civil War discrimination that has embedded white supremacy in U.S. institutions to the present day.
The rest of us are not thrilled about the idea of using precious taxpayer funds and public resources to go beyond addressing the immediate harms of slavery. A recent poll showed scant public support for cash reparations. Even Gov. Gavin Newsom scaled back his support upon seeing the steep price tag of $800 billion for cash reparations. According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, SB 1403 has “unknown, ongoing annual costs likely ranging from $500,000 to $1 million (General Fund) to establish and operate the agency.” This uncertainty looms large in the context of the state’s monstrous $68 billion budget problem.
Stewart Cook, a California resident, told me that his fifth great-grandfather was an escaped slave who fought for freedom during the Civil War in the Union’s 127th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry. Mr. Cook is white and would not be eligible for reparations based on California’s current “blacks-only” reparations proposal. He shared his scathing criticism regarding SB 1403: “I think it’s totally absurd. How can you create a freedmen agency when there were never any freed men in California, as there was no slavery in California to begin with?
“There is no place else in the world with better opportunities for blacks than America, and by extension, California.”
Mr. Cook pointed to a graph listing the names and assets of black billionaires in 2021 showing that the United States has more than half of the world’s black billionaires, with several living in California. Meanwhile, the country has only 4 percent of the world’s black population.
While supporters of racialized reparations believe that they are helping African Americans, to Mr. Cook and other critics, this is nothing more than virtue signaling, an intentional distraction from confronting real problems facing the Golden State.
In addition to identifying black Californians for receiving restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, and other forms of reparations, the prospective Freedmen Affairs Agency would also be in charge of all state government functions pertaining to reparations. It would enact a barrage of legislation in the California Legislative Black Caucus’s 2024 reparations legislative package, if and when the bills get codified.
Notably, the package includes ACA 7, a constitutional amendment to provide research-based exemptions to California’s constitutional ban on racial preferences, codified by Proposition 209 in 1996. If passed, ACA 7 would open the floodgate for government-sponsored discrimination. Those who support ACA 7 make a false claim that prohibiting racial preferences has exacerbated racism against African Americans. In reality, between 1997 and 2023, African American undergraduate admissions into the UC system have steadily increased from 1,633 (4 percent) to 6,559 (5 percent). The four-year graduation rate for African American students nearly doubled to 61.3 percent in 2017 from 35.3 percent in 1999.
In general, wealth gaps and income inequality cannot be explained squarely by racial inequity, provided that Americans of Asian descent have the highest median income in the nation and that the black immigrant population significantly outearns the U.S.-born black population.
As California politicians double down on upholding race essentialism, their kowtowing to the woke ideology will further alienate them from their constituents, who live in the sensible center where the majority of their fellow Americans lives.
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Wenyuan Wu

Wenyuan Wu

Author

Wenyuan Wu holds a doctorate in international studies from the University of Miami and is the executive director of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. Wu’s recent advocacy has focused on combatting critical race theory in American public life. She has given expert testimony in various state legislature hearings on the topic and helped launched the website RejectCRT.org. She writes for Minding the Campus of the National Association of Scholars and sits on the board of Parents Defending Education Action.

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