Chattel enslavement has left replicative damages on United States society. Although racism affects everyone, anti-Black racism and the legacy of enslavement has echoed through centuries of political, legal and social change. The Black political legacies from Reconstruction, Jim Crow, civil rights, Black Power and the War on Drugs have fueled the movement for Black Lives Matter and reparations.
We are at the intersection of saying Black Lives Matter and backing it with restitution. Many Black Americans say we restore the original promise of 40 acres and a mule, also known as Special Field Order 15. But will Black lives actually matter with reparations?
This question is being grappled with by many organizations and citizens in California. Coalitions such as American Descendants of Slavery, the National Coaliton of Blacks for Reparations in America and National African American Reparations Commission are a few organizations who have made the case for reparations and been involved with this work for decades.
What has also become obvious through conversation with nonprofits, coalitions, elected officials, elders and community members is the idea that reparations does not look one particular way for a whole population. People of African descent in the United States live intersectional and diverse lives. Some folks oppose the idea of reparations. Others want to see it come to fruition in various ways, through housing, education and land—the list continues. What is crucial to the fight for reparations is we need to move the needle forward through policy and legal action.
The African American Community Service Agency has been following the California Reparations Task Force (AB 3121) and working to inform the community of what is taking place in its meetings. The committee has been tasked with a two-year appointment to create recommendations for the state. It has been meeting since June 2021, and in April 2022 had its first ever in-person meeting in San Francisco at the first AME church.
The task force holds virtual and in-person meetings for convening and public comment. Various organizations, educators, community organizers and lawyers have testified on matters of reparations. These testimonies are important because they have helped to frame reparations. Behind the scenes, the task force is working with economists to outline the socio-economic impact of racism and future fiscal impact.
In June, after a year of convening, the task force published an interim report. The California task force is investigating topics of the utmost importance such as enslavement, racism in environment and infrastructure, political disenfranchisement, racial terror, housing segregation, an unjust legal system and the wealth gap, to name a few. These chapters are providing government officials and the public with historical and contemporary evidence of anti-Black racism in California and nationwide. Approximately 500 pages of toil, violence, discrimination and legal racism make the case for reparations salient.
Surely, reparations is not a one-size fits all solution, and racism has affected Black/African American communities differently across the United States. Some have been able to obtain home mortgage loans, while others have been living in public housing. Great numbers of African Americans have been able to obtain a college education, while some have labored at minimum-wage jobs for decades. A select few have been able to move to affluent suburbs while others have been affected by environmental racism and generations of redlining in urban epicenters. As we see the call for reparations expand across the United States, it is important to respect how each community will move forward with restitution.
The African American Community Service Agency has developed a coalition run by the reparations research fellow, formally known as the Reparations Advisory and Action Coalition (RAAC). The group is an informal effort to gather people who are passionate about reparations for African-descended people. Meetings have been focused on goal setting, education about reparations, a countywide campaign and updates about reparation policies. This is a first step in achieving a longer movement for repair. We thank our local and national community that has supported us, whether it be 501(c)(3)s, students, legal advocates, activists or historians.
RAAC wants to create a Santa Clara County Reparations Committee which will focus on the African American community here. Other cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco have appointed committees to investigate how their own policies have created anti-Black systems. Santa Clara County can be the next metropolitan area to take on this responsibility and critically analyze how decades of neglect has influenced its Black population.
As the RAAC continues to develop, we want to partner with local organizations on community events and educational opportunities. With more advocacy and community leadership we can make Silicon Valley and the Bay Area a leader in addressing Black restitution and alleviating anti-Black policies.
We encourage everyone to keep up with California Assembly Bill 3121 and national legislation such as H.R. 40 (National Commission to Study Reparations) and H.R. 517 (Slavery Rememberance Day Resolution). These bills are steps leading to a moment much larger, perhaps a country reckoning with its founding practices of racialized labor.
Reparations is not a hand out, it is a recognition for all of the free labor derived from African people to build the infrastructure of the United States of America. From cotton and tobacco plantations to the State Capitol and the White House, Black lives have been continually undervalued, underpaid and unrecognized. However, our community has a legacy of resiliency, and the work of the reparations movement has gained more attention locally and nationally now more than ever.
Lavere Foster is the associate director of the African American Community Service Agency. Wesley Cox is the reparations research fellow for the African American Community Service Agency.
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