California Task Force seeks to heal the residual effects of a shameful past
by Gregg Reese | OW Contributor
Reparations: The act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury; something done or given as amends or satisfaction; the payment of damages; more specifically compensation in money or materials payable by a defeated nation for damages to or expenditures sustained by another nation as a result of hostilities with the defeated nation.
— Merriam-Webster dictionary
Traditionally, California has served as a trendsetter for the rest of the country, just as the United States has been a global trendsetter. With this in mind, it is no surprise that Gov. Gavin Newsom initiated the first ever inquiry into slave reparations on Sept. 30, 2020.
Officially known as Assembly Bill 3121, it proposed the formation of a task force charged “…with studying the institution of slavery and its lingering negative effects on living African Americans, including descendants of persons enslaved in the United States and on society.”
At the same time, Newsom signed AB 2542, “The California Racial Justice Act (CRJA),” which prevents the state from securing criminal convictions or imposing sentences on the basis of race, ethnicity or national origin. This bill was likely influenced by the police-related death of George Floyd just months before on May 25, 2020.
The Task Force’s aim is not to dump large amounts of cash into the laps of Black Californians (who make up 2.5 million people, or 6.5% of the state’s population), or essentially make them all millionaires. Instead it seeks to acknowledge the devastating impact of slavery on the collective psyche of Black America, and attempts to stem the residual effects that continue to harm its descendants today.
These effects may be seen in everyday life, manifesting itself in the chronic dysfunction that is a staple in these United States.
The damage inflicted during the first few years of the United States did not end with the collapse of the Confederacy. Its post-war legacy continues today in the form of housing discrimination, mass incarceration, the inhibition of the passage of generational wealth and inheritance of property, the stagnation of Black business growth and substandard health care.
The Task Force weighs in
“Reparations must and will include attention to psychological, emotional, and community healing to counter the 400+ years of racial oppression that has NEVER stopped – it has simply morphed and mutated across generations.”
— Dr. Cheryl Grills
In short order, Newsom assembled a Task Force consisting of State Sen.Steven Bradford; San Francisco pastor Amos C. Brown; Loyola Marymount professor Dr. Cheryl Grills; attorney Lisa Holder; California Assembly Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer; UC Berkeley professor Jovan Scott Lewis; attorney Kamilah Moore (Chair); San Diego council member Monica Montgomery Steppe; and attorney Donald K. Tamaki.
As a Japanese-American, Tamaki stands out from his African-American peers, but brings with him his past legal experience securing redress stemming from the forced incarceration and overall maltreatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Grills is a clinical psychologist with over three decades as a mental health practitioner. She is presently director of the Psychology Applied Research Center at Loyola Marymount University, and her professional experiences have led her to recognize the limits of present-day psychology.
She makes it a point to categorize “Western” psychology as, in her view, too “Euro-American,” in its world view to adequately address the realities of Black existence in these United States. She would like to see a more tailored approach at the community level to address the specific needs of the individual neighborhoods that comprise Black America.
“Community Psychology” has its roots in the mid-20th sociopolitical climate of anti-poverty movements, civil rights, environmental reform, feminism, and the peace movement. Grills’ conclusions were formulated during her maturation in the educational system.
“In graduate school I designed a special minor for myself that focused on assessment and treatment with African-Americans. My goal was to make psychology more relevant to Black people and people of color and to force the discipline to deal with its own racial biases and limitations as they relate to truly serving the needs of African-Americans,” Grills said.
As a relatively young country, the United States has had a substantial history in reference to reparations. As previously mentioned, the seizure of property and internment of native-born Japanese necessitated (limited) remuneration decades afterwards. Belated compensation has been made to the descendants of Hawaiians, and more recently, the Native Americans more commonly known as Indians.
Curiously enough, some (but not all) members of the Confederacy received compensation for their loss of labor and land in the wake of the Civil War, as noted by California State University emeritus professor Dr. David L. Horne.
Just a few years out of Columbia Law School, Kamilah Moore was specializing in entertainment and intellectual property when she learned about Newsom’s initiative.
“I was working in entertainment law in Los Angeles when I heard about California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans. Given my background in reparatory justice [redress for a wrong inflicted] and human rights, I applied,” she remembers.
Today, Moore serves as chair of the Task Force. During the course of her legal studies, she spent a year in Amsterdam familiarizing herself with international law and global reparatory justice. Expanding her horizons gave her a new perspective on the legacy at home, which fits within the governor’s concept for remediation.
“If you look at the bill that Governor Newsom signed in 2020, it states that any of the recommendations or proposals that come from the task force have to comport with international human rights law standards,” she explains.
Horne is in agreement with this.
“According to the U.N. Conference against Racism, Xenophobia, and other Forms of Intolerance, held in 2001, slavery and the slave trade were crimes against humanity and should always have been designated as such,” he notes.
Echoing Grill’s sentiments, Moore hopes funding will be secured to establish wellness centers in Black communities and address mental health issues and rising suicide rates among Black youth.
The tip of the iceberg
“...the slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.”
— W.E.B. DuBois in reference to the gains (and loses) during Reconstruction
Moore’s new awareness of the global implications of these circumstances are timely. If and when this political quest for compensation is successful, the subject of slave reparations in California is only part of the picture. The Golden State for all its past misdeeds after all, was not even part of the Confederate States where most of the damage was inflicted.
In mid-America Evanston, Ill., the city hierarchy is making amends for their past history of housing discrimination. To do so, they will provide home ownership assistance to the tune of $10 million, which will go to descendants of residents who suffered under the yolk of zoning ordinances and other forms of prejudicial treatment during the town’s history.
Among the major institutions of higher learning that benefited from African slavery are Brown; Harvard; Columbia; Georgetown; Maryland; Princeton; Virginia; and Yale.
On the corporate level, high powered companies whose origins are rooted in servitude from the Middle Passage include Bank of America; Brooks Brothers; Lehman Brothers Inc.; JP Morgan Chase & Co.; New York Life Insurance Company; and the luxury jewelry giant Tiffany and Co.
On top of all this, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex and husband of an “American commoner” has admitted the English monarchy’s culpability in the Middle Passage, in which millions of unfortunates were transported into bondage in the New World.
In his recently published bestselling memoir “Spare,” he wrote of his family’s profiteering from “…exploited workers and thuggery, annexation and enslaved people.”
In light of all this, the events transpiring in California may just open the floodgates for future litigation across the nation and beyond.
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