The California Reparations Task Force is seeking reparations to overcome the legacy of privileged whiteness and racism in this country.
At a Glance
This week, Jean interviews Kamilah Moore, chair of the California Reparations Task Force. This task force has senators, state senators, and Amos Brown, who is nationally famous on this issue. Reparations seek to overcome the legacy of privileged whiteness and racism in this country. Information about the California Reparations report is available online.
I'm from Los Angeles, California, or Leimert Park, originally, some people call it South Central LA. I grew up in a predominantly African American neighborhood, in a household with a strong, Black American single mother who worked full time also raising three children, also going to school at the same time. As a child, I would read slave narratives. From a very early age I had this very deep sense of pride about African American history and culture. And I also had a deep understanding of what was owed to us based off of our contributions to this country, particularly 250 years of forced labor.
Explain "owed to us."
Two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, there were still Black people in this country that thought they were still enslaved, and it took Union troops to free the rest of our ancestors. During that period there were promises to made to these newly freed African slaves for help from the federal government to transition from slavery to freedom. Sherman that declared that these newly freed Africans would obtain 40 acres and a mule.
That was denied. So what I mean by owed, I'm talking to these very deliberate promises from the federal government during the Reconstruction period that were dismantled by racists like Andrew Johnson.
Please finish your story.
I majored in generic political science at UCLA, then went to Columbia Law School because they had really great programs in international law and human rights law. I wanted to be a reparatory justice scholar, I wanted to fight for reparations for the African American community.
How did the task force even come to be?
Shirley Weber, the first African American Secretary of State of California, also served in the California State Legislature as an assembly member. In 2020, she championed AB 3121, which is the bill that this task force's scopes and powers are predicated on. I was appointed by the Speaker of the California State Assembly, Anthony Rendon, and the nine member task force had our first meeting in June of last year.
I came prepared with a speech detailing why I would like to be chair and essentially the task force members were convinced and elected me to serve this role.
For 40 years or more, I've heard debates about whether there should be or should not be reparations, and would reparations for one group of people disenfranchise another group of people, and what about the people who never enslaved anybody and they're just trying to do their job and raise their families, why should they have to pay for it? How do you answer those questions?
There's this term called “standing in the shoes.” So, yes, no one alive today was a plantation owner. But it's not necessarily about slavery, it's really about the broken promise of the federal government; reneging has had unrelenting negative impacts against the African American community. So we're owed reparations for the institution of slavery as we're standing in the shoes of our ancestors. But we are also owed reparations due to those broken promises of reconstruction by the federal government.
And I had thought that the harm was done during segregation in terms of theft of labor, theft of property.
Not only are we studying the harms or the atrocities perpetuated against the African American community during the period of enslavement, but we're also addressing the atrocities committed against the African American community during the Jim Crow period. And then also the atrocities perpetuated against the African American community more contemporarily.
I'm discovering that Whites don’t know about the racial terror. They do not know what that was like. I used to lie in bed when we went to see my grandmother in rural Arkansas. We were scared that the White men were going to come in the middle of night and grab my father and brother. Every night I was there, waiting for the White men to show up with hoods to kidnap my father and brother. So this is just one little child, and it never happened. Imagine those for whom it did happen. And most Whites don't... I think that people don't get that for whatever reason.
You're a Jim Crow survivor, just like there are Jewish Holocaust survivors. What reparations are owed to Jim Crow survivors who are Black American or African American elders, who faced that racial terror every day, even if in your case the KKK never did it. But that's still a terror that left a mark on you.
There are 13 chapters in this historic interim report and in each chapter defines what we call a badge, an incident of slavery. The 13 major badges and incidents of slavery we decided to focus on, one of course is enslavement, but then after that, there's racial terror, political disenfranchisement, housing segregation, separate and unequal education, racism in environment and infrastructure, pathologizing Black families, control of creative and intellectual Black life, stolen labor and opportunity, unjust legal system, mental physical harm and neglect. And then lastly, the wealth gap.
When I saw that list, I said they got it. They have the whole, all of the ingredients that went into the recipe, they have it. Why was it necessary to pathologize the Black family?
That chapter gets to psychological warfare, for lack of better words. We see it from messages in the mainstream media, that we're lazy, that there's no fathers in the home, and the Black mother is a welfare queen, and all these negative images and stereotypes existed and were created by White supremacists to make Black Americans feel less than.
Let's talk about control over creative cultural and intellectual life.
In this chapter, you really see the contributions that African Americans made to this country despite the ongoing harms against us: the scientific inventions that we created but were not able to get patents; African American musicians whose intellectual property was stolen or not respected.
Let’s talk now about the wealth gap.
That’s the amount of money and wealth that White Americans have in this country as compared to what wealth African Americans have in this country. In 2019, White households owned nine times more assets than Black households. While you can inherit generational wealth, you can also inherit generational debt. Whether or not White Americans are the descendants of slave owners, they still, by and large, have inherited generational wealth. And African Americans, in contrast, have inherited generational debt.
And even in California, African American households have an average median value of assets estimated at $200, whereas White households in California have average assets of $110,000. It's because there are entire systems that were mechanized and weaponized against us to keep us at the bottom class economically.
There were deliberate policies enacted by the federal and state government that ensured that African Americans would be a bottom caste in this country, economically speaking. And now that we have released this historic 500-page report, there's substantial evidence to back that claim.
What's the evidence? And who is the "they" who did it?
The federal government created programs that subsidized low cost loans, which allowed millions of average White Americans to own their home for the first time. So, of the $120 billion worth of new housing subsidized between 1934 and 1962, less than 2% of those homes went to non-White families. Social Security and the GI Bill mostly excluded African Americans. The federal tax structure discriminates against African Americans. The federal and the California homestead acts essentially gave away hundreds of millions of acres of land, almost for free, mostly to White Americans. And today, literally as many as 46 million of their living descendants reap the wealth benefits of their ancestors getting that free land from the federal and California homestead acts of which African Americans were denied.
How do you read all this and not just get horrified?
Literally, this year long process that we've had in studying these issues, it's been a cathartic and emotional experience, because as you said, it's just horrifying.
What misconceptions did you have to conquer to even get this task force to where you are? I just can imagine, you all were vilified and labeled as a giveaway program and all of that. What myths did you all have to fight? And how did you fight them?
We're still fighting myths. One major misconception that we're fighting is this idea that California never had slavery or California was a free state. And so why is California leading this effort for reparations?
It was a free state only in name. The state legislature in California enacted their own Fugitive Slave Act which empowered White vigilantes to capture even free Black people who were living in the state of California to be deported to the South to be re-enslaved.
And the whole nation relied on the raw products produced in the South by slaves. So the wealth in the North, and the wealth in the West, relied on exploitation and enslavement.
When people talk about reparations it's usually reduced to checks. But that's not the tack you took, which is why I was so thrilled by it.
This next year we're going to have conversations about what reparations look like. But the compensation part we decided to reserve to our next and final report.
Well, the whole check thing is a source of tremendous controversy. What is going to be the counter to that?
Professor Sandy Darity, an acclaimed economist at Duke University, says that reparations aren't reparations until and unless there are sufficient cash payments given to the descendent community that closes the racial wealth gap. While there's an understanding that California may not be able to close the racial wealth gap alone, that's ultimately going to be the responsibility of the federal government.
What is your thinking about the recommendations? What's your favorite one that you really want to see happen?
The establishment of the California African American freedmen affairs agency. That is probably my favorite one because it came from community input. But it speaks to reversing the structural racism that negatively impacts our community. Now there'll be a freedmen education branch to offer free education and to facilitate free tuition initiatives, between claimants and California universities. There'll be a social services branch, a cultural affairs branch, a legal affairs branch, and a medical services branch. So in that agency, there will be a branch to process claims. There will be a genealogy branch to support potential claimants’ eligibility. There would be a civic engagement branch to support ongoing political education on African American history and to support civic engagement among African American youth.
So are you excited every day to go to work? I mean this is just wonderful.
This has been an exciting process, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve. You know, the nine member task force, we don't get paid for this work. This is a labor of love, a purely volunteer position. It takes a lot of time, insofar as I've actually had to take some time off from my real job. But now I'm getting back into the job market because I got bills to pay.
Thank you. I have enjoyed this. How can people reach you?
My Twitter is KamilahVMoore. You can subscribe to our mailing list on our website at State of California Department of Justice. You can also find links to our historic report, our executive summary, and our key findings and all that great stuff.
Thank you, Kamilah, for talking with us. And I wish you good fortune, speed, whatever, in your work.
Kamilah Moore is a reparatory justice scholar and an attorney with a specialization in entertainment and intellectual property transactions.
While studying abroad at the University of Amsterdam, Moore wrote a master thesis exploring the intersections between international law and reparatory justice for the trans-Atlantic slave trade, chattel slavery, and their legacies.
She earned a Juris Doctor degree from Columbia Law School in New York City, a Master of Laws degree in International Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam, and a Bachelor's degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Connect with Kamilah:
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