Despite two long years of intensive study, research, and public hearings, the California Reparations Task Force has come to the mistaken conclusion that the way to end systemic racism is by injecting more race into the system.
The Task Force’s final report provides a flurry of policy proposals as reparations for the damage to African Americans from slavery and its vestiges, which includes discriminatory acts through the present day by both government and private actors. To fix all of this, the Task Force insists that every aspect of the state, from education to healthcare, must be more race-conscious, with policies specifically benefitting or prioritizing African Americans and descendants of enslaved persons.
The Task Force justifies this by ignoring a host of factors that could cause disparities between African Americans and other groups and presuming that the sole culprit is racial discrimination, which emanates from a pervasive and enduring “white supremacy” that persons of any race apparently can perpetuate. All Californians of every other race and ethnicity therefore owe the debt of reparations.
Not only would the system be more color-conscious, but it also would be bigger than ever. Many of the policies that the Task Force recommends do not bring meaningful change to state institutions, much less constrain their power or reach. Rather, the Task Force would grow the state and task it with additional racial data collection and race-conscious goal-setting.
These are just some of the policies from the more-than-1,000-page report that the Task Force recommends the state legislature adopt:
Ending Proposition 209
The Task Force believes that color-blind policies enable injustice. As such, it recommends repealing Proposition 209, which amended the California Constitution to categorically prohibit discrimination and preferential treatment based on race in public education, employment, and contracting. California voters soundly defeated an attempt to overturn Proposition 209 in 2020, so another attempt by the Task Force likely will prove difficult.
Eligibility for Reparations
An individual can be eligible for reparations in two ways: if he or she is 1) a black descendant of an enslaved person or 2) a descendant of a free black person that was living in the United States before 1900.
No Evidence Needed for Compensation
Eligible recipients will receive “cumulative compensation” to remedy a history of racial harm. This compensation is distinct from restitution, which compensates individuals for particular injuries they suffered. Cumulative compensation remunerates individuals simply for being a member of the eligible class of recipients.
Accordingly, eligible recipients of cumulative compensation do not have to provide evidence that they experienced any harm to be compensated. Harm is presumed based on membership in the eligible class because of the historical record the Task Force assembled that “demonstrates that all members of the eligible class have been affected and must receive indemnification to undo the harm done.”
Cumulative compensation would be provided to eligible recipients for five different types of harm: health; housing discrimination; mass incarceration and over-policing; unjust property takings; and devaluation of African American businesses. Eligible recipients are presumed to have suffered each of these harms, and the amount of compensation they would receive under each harm depends on a recipient’s length of residency in California.
Different timeframes are established for each harm, starting in 1850 and lasting to the present day, and differing amounts are paid out under each harm for each year a recipient resided in the state. Recipients need to have lived in California for at least six months to qualify.
For example, the state would provide eligible recipients $13,619 for each year they have lived in California between 1850 to present for health harms. The amount of $3,378 would be given for each year of residency between 1933 and 1977 for harm from housing discrimination. The New York Times calculated that a lifelong state resident who is 71 years old could be eligible for about $1.2 million in total compensation from each of the harms combined.
Additional Compensation to Come
Because of the considerable amount of time that will be required for the legislature to calculate the individual amount every eligible recipient can receive in cumulative compensation, the Task Force recommends that an immediate and substantial “down payment” be paid upfront while cumulative compensation is determined. The legislature would determine the appropriate amount for the down payment. Even more payments would be made in the future after the legislature develops evidence of additional harm.
In addition, the state would provide a guaranteed income for descendants of enslaved persons.
The Task Force sees a “first order need” for more government, recommending at the outset a “fully funded independent agency dedicated to advancing all of the recommendations” of the Task Force. This new agency would be the California American Freedmen Affairs Agency. It would be composed of numerous offices designed to carry out the Task Force’s recommendations and provide oversight of other agencies. In addition to these functions, the state would fund the agency annually so it can support and re-create African American cultural hubs through the financing of African American businesses, art, and media.
The Task Force recommends several race-based benefits in education, directly contravening Proposition 209.
They recommend funding to recruit African American teachers for K-12 schools, including funding to pay for the education of African Americans and descendants of enslaved persons pursuing education degrees.
There also would be funding to academically support African American athletes, and the provision of free college tuition for students eligible to receive reparations.
African American students would be prioritized in efforts to increase participation in computer science education.
The legislature would also increase the participation of students from underrepresented backgrounds in computer science education, especially African American students, by prioritizing funding and developing initiatives for most underserved schools and populations.
Race-Based and Race-Focused Funding
The Task Force recommends subsidizing down payments, mortgages, and homeowner’s insurance for descendants of enslaved persons living in formerly redlined neighborhoods. Alternatively, financial aid would be given to any first-time homeowner that is African American, with funds reserved specifically for those who are descendants of enslaved persons.
The state would also provide African Americans with stipends or fee waivers to obtain government-issued documents such as driver’s licenses, identification cards, birth certificates, and passports to meet any voter registration or identification requirement that may be promulgated.
Community-based organizations that provide substance abuse treatment, with a focus on organizations run and staffed by African American professionals and serving the African American community, would get increased funding.
Funding would be provided for scholarships and loan forgiveness for physicians and mental health professionals who focus on providing services to African American LGBTQ+ individuals through medical clinics, mental health treatment programs, and community-based organizations providing mental health services in African American communities and in communities where a significant number of African American residents live.
There also would be state-funded grant programs for community-based organizations offering programs to address violence in African American communities and in communities where there is a significant African American population.
Grants from the California Department of Industrial Relations would be given to eligible registered entities to increase African American participation in registered apprenticeship programs.
A forgivable, interest-free loan program also would be available to owners of small businesses in African American commercial areas.
The state also would fund African American-owned minority depository institutions, such as banks, thrifts, and credit unions. State agencies would additionally be required to develop and implement standards and procedures to prioritize the use of African American-owned institutions to hold agency deposits.
Funding would be given to pay for care provided by doulas and midwives to African Americans.
The state also would develop government procurement processes that specifically support local African American farmers in farm-to-school and farm-to-institution programs.
Increased Barriers to the Housing Supply
Burdensome regulations and mandates are restricting the construction of new homes, which are desperately needed in California. The Task Force’s solution is to increase these regulations. They recommend that the state enact a requirement for new developments to satisfy “Responsible Development” standards. New developments would, for example, need to prioritize the building of medical facilities instead of coffee shops.
Similarly, cities and counties identified as having historically redlined neighborhoods and consistently segregated communities would be required to submit all residential land use ordinances for review and approval by a state agency. Adding an additional layer of bureaucracy to a city’s or county’s development plan will increase the time it takes to build more homes.
California already imposes a burdensome process on localities to plan for housing. The state requires all cities to periodically adopt a state-approved plan to accommodate the city’s supposed “fair share” of regionally needed housing, known as the “Regional Housing Needs Assessment” (RHNA). The California Department of Housing and Community Development determines what that share is based on several factors, including population projections, job growth, and transportation needs. Cities must then demonstrate how they will plan for their share of housing that the state allocates to them. The Task Force wants that already lengthy and complex process to advance racial equity and withhold funding from cities if racial targets are not met. The process is already flawed, and the Task Force’s race-based reforms will just make it worse.
Meanwhile, rather than expand housing options by allowing more efficient development, the Task Force burdens the rights of existing property owners by recommending that they be prohibited from running criminal background checks when screening potential tenants. Housing providers will be deprived of their right to know about potential tenants and to make a fully informed decision about who to rent to. Rental property owners have a constitutional right to decide who to allow on their private property.
Mandatory “Anti-Racism” Training
The Task Force calls for personnel in several industries to complete mandatory “anti-racism” training, including teachers and school personnel; students in mental health care, psychology, and therapy programs; and workers in housing-related fields.
They also recommend the completion of anti-bias or implicit bias training to students and professionals in several sectors, including homeless service providers; students in medical and dental schools; social workers; and candidates in other medical care provider programs, all of whom must complete anti-bias training to graduate and obtain their licenses.
Similarly, the Task Force recommends mandatory training for public school personnel, staff, and administrators statewide to increase cultural humility and cultural sensitivity around the treatment of all African American students and school personnel. Mental health professionals also would be required to complete annual competency and cultural sensitivity training that certifies they are qualified to work with African American LGBTQ+ populations.
Unfortunately, anti-racism or anti-bias training typically subjects participants to racially hostile instruction that coerces obedience to race-centric ideologies or viewpoints. Mandating such training would further institutionalize the state’s sordid fixation on race.
A Call for Federal Reparations
The Task Force doesn’t want to be the last word on reparations. It urges the federal government to provide reparations as well.
In It for the Long Haul
The effort to reverse equality in California likely will not happen all at once; Steven Bradford, state senator and member of the Task Force, remarked, “We won’t do it in one legislative session. We won’t do it in one bill.”
The recommendations are ultimately more of the same familiar and rejected policies that benefit and burden groups based on race, rather than remedy specific acts of government discrimination against individuals. The result is the betrayal of a color-blind Constitution and its promise of equal treatment. Fortunately, there are still those committed to fighting back to protect that constitutional promise.