Reparations Task Force Again Misses Opportunity to Advance Reconciliation and Real Reforms

Reparations Task Force Again Misses Opportunity to Advance Reconciliation and Real Reforms

California's Secretary of State Shirley Weber speaks in Los Angeles, Calif., on April 15, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

John Seiler

John Seiler

4/21/2024

Updated: 4/22/2024

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Commentary
So much more could have been done to help California’s black residents. As I’ve urged before, the state’s Reparations Task Force for slavery could have advanced reforms to help not just black people, but everybody. It was established in 2020 when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 3121, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), now the Secretary of State.
Mr. Newsom enthused at the time, “Our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions.” And he called for “building a more inclusive and equitable future for all.”
It obviously was a pit stop in his roadmap to the White House. It was something he will be using to gain black votes in the primaries for an expected 2028 campaign. But it has backfired, falling into a quagmire of contention among those involved.
One of the two biggest problems has been that the state of California never had slavery. The other is the massive budget surpluses of 2020-2022 have flipped to this year’s deficit of up to $73 billion, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Mr. Newsom’s May Revision of his January budget proposal, followed by a new LAO analysis, will soon give us a more up-to-date set of numbers.
If the Task Force and legislators had advanced such reforms as Arizona-style universal school choice and major tax cuts, they would have helped all black people in the state—and all residents of every race, creed, and color.
Instead, as CalMatters reported earlier this month, “[A] conflict has emerged between reparations advocates and some lawmakers backing bills to implement a state task force’s recommendations. Leading Black lawmakers are advancing different sets of bills, raising questions about whether they have competing visions.”
However, Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City) and chairperson of the California Legislative Black Caucus said, “I wouldn’t describe it as an internal dispute at all.”

14 and Counting Reparations Bills

CalMatters then brought up the 14 reparations bills introduced earlier this year by the caucus and mentioned in my Feb. 8 article, “California Reparations Bills Miss Opportunity to Help Everybody.”
The news source then noted Task Force member state Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) “has introduced his own set of more ambitious bills, most of which are not listed by the caucus as part of their priority reparations package. ... For instance, some of Bradford’s bills are tailored specifically for the descendants of enslaved persons, which opponents say may raise constitutional issues. Some of the caucus-backed bills are not as narrowly focused.”
The constitutional issues are: First, California’s Proposition 209 from 1996 prohibited “state and local government affirmative action programs in the areas of public employment, public education, and public contracting to the extent these programs involve ‘preferential treatment’ based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”
In its decision from last June in the Harvard case, the U.S. Supreme Court extended a Prop. 209-style ban on affirmative action to the whole country. The school specifically had set up quotas limiting the number of Asian students admitted.
(L-R) 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)

(L-R) 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)

One of Mr. Bradford’s new efforts is Senate Bill 1403. In its language, the “bill would establish the California American Freedmen Affairs Agency in state government, under the control of the secretary, who would be appointed by the Governor. The bill would require the agency to implement the recommendations of the Task Force, as approved by the Legislature and the Governor. The bill would require the agency, as part of its duties, to determine how an individual’s status as a descendant would be confirmed.”
There’s the problem. Identifying “an individual’s status as a descendant” would involve administering controversial DNA tests, digging through the records of plantations in the Civil War-era slave states, or both. Doing so would raise such untoward questions as whether or not to give proportional benefits to those with only partial black ancestry.
Another new bill is Assembly Bill 3152, by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles). In the bill’s language, it would grant “a special consideration for an African American who is a descendant of persons enslaved in the United States.” And for them it would set up a Reparations Fund to help with housing loans and education in colleges or technical training.
That bill runs into similar problems to those mentioned above.
“All of the bills are important,” Mr. Jones-Sawyer said, reported CalMatters. “Taken in totality; it’s not just inching this or inching that. All of these bills have a significant impact on moving forward with closing the wealth gap.” He is term-limited and will leave office in December. Earlier this year he lost in the primary contest to become an L.A. councilman.

No Direct Harm Today

Another big hurdle is today’s black Californians can’t establish direct harm to themselves or their recent ancestors. The Civil War ended in 1865. And the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which banned slavery in all states and U.S. territories, was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865. Those events were 149 years ago.
Sometimes reparations to the Japanese-Americans put in internment camps in World War II is brought up. In 1988, President Reagan signed a bill giving each of them $20,000. But most of the victims still were alive. In a similar fashion, Germany has paid reparations to Jewish victims of the Holocaust. But again, the survivors, or the close relatives of those murdered, still were alive.
At some point, you have to let things go. Everyone reading this had ancestors who were abused, even enslaved, by another racial or ethnic group. Am I supposed to be upset at Italians because my German ancestors were conquered and enslaved by the Roman Empire?

The Need for Real California Leadership on Racial Reconciliation

Instead of reparations, we need reconciliation. America is far more diverse than it was in the 1960s when the major pieces of civil rights legislation were enacted. In such a country, as the Harvard case involving Asians showed, how could one possibly divvy up prized academic slots based on race instead of merit?
The Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass., on March 23, 2020. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass., on March 23, 2020. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Just this month Harvard and Cal Tech decided to return to using the SAT for admissions. It’s a fairly accurate intelligence test. The school also will look at other things such as community involvement and athletics. But it seems obvious a minimum test score ought to be established for a school that still maintains fairly rigorous academic standards.
Lessening standards also lets the public school system off the hook for the lower academic achievements of black and Hispanic people, including in California. As I have written many times, due to union rules on seniority, these kids often get stuck in the worst schools with the worst teachers. No wonder they’re performing poorly.
A big culprit is the lack of school choice in California. Just 11 percent of students attend charter schools, which are public schools largely exempted from the state’s labyrinthine Education Code. Hispanic and black kids especially blossom academically when put in this better, freer academic environment. I’ve visited such schools in Los Angeles and the difference in these kids is remarkable.
What’s needed is political, academic, and community leaders who break away from the union power that controls everything in California and stifles innovation. Instead, we have Mr. Newsom cynically exploiting racial tensions to advance his national ambitions.
The black politicians pushing for reparations are well-meaning, but also under the control of the unions, who fund their campaigns. If they buck the party line on charter schools and the other crucial reforms I have promoted, the unions will fund their opponents.
But somebody has to break away and advance real reforms, in the spirit of the 1960s racial reconciliation and idealism I grew up with, that will help everybody.

Previous Articles

Here are my other previous Epoch Times articles on the Reparations Task Force. I have been covering this more thoroughly than anybody in the state or country. See in particular “Real Reparations for Black Californians” from July 5, 2023, for realistic solutions, which involve advancing freedom instead of restricting it. Isn’t that what post-slavery freedom is supposed to be about?
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John Seiler

John Seiler

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John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at JohnSeiler.Substack.com and his email is writejohnseiler@gmail.com

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