LGBTQ leaders back providing reparations

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 9, 2023
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Assemblymember Corey Jackson, Ph.D., left, and Jovanka Beckles, an AC Transit board member who is running for a state Senate seat, both support California's reparations task force and its recommendations. Photos: Courtesy the subjects
Assemblymember Corey Jackson, Ph.D., left, and Jovanka Beckles, an AC Transit board member who is running for a state Senate seat, both support California's reparations task force and its recommendations. Photos: Courtesy the subjects

When it comes to providing reparations to California's Black residents due to the systemic discrimination and racism they and their ancestors have experienced for decades, LGBTQ leaders in the state are largely in support of doing so. But when it comes to offering cash payouts, there is less clarity among out electeds on how to do so.

The state's Reparations Task Force in late June released its final report and recommendations for what next steps Golden State legislators can take to redress the historical atrocities perpetrated against African Americans in California. Among its suggestions was having the Legislature issue a formal apology and look at enacting 115 reforms to state laws and policies.

But the headline grabbing section of the report was the suggestion that Black Californians should be financially compensated. It recommended that the "community of eligibility" for reparations be "based on lineage, determined by an individual being a Black descendant of a chattel enslaved person or a descendant of a free Black person living in the United States prior to the end of the 19th Century."

While news reports in the spring had suggested those eligible could receive a payout of $1.2 million, the task force laid out various calculations in its final report for how to determine how much those eligible could be owed by the state.

"While below, the Task Force delineates methods for awarding cumulative compensation to the whole of the class of eligibility, many African Americans in California have suffered particular injuries that can and must be addressed through restitution or particular compensation," noted the advisory panel, whose full name was the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.

Rather than coming up with a lump sum payment, the task force suggested a new entity be established by the Legislature that could receive claims for compensation due to various discriminatory policies faced by eligible individuals, process them, and render payments "in an efficient and timely manner."

It also offered suggestions for what payments eligible people could receive, such as $13,619 being its "estimated value of health harm to each year of life an African American individual has spent in California, to which an eligible descendant would be entitled." The task force report also included a way to compensate Black non-Hispanics for the excess drug felony arrests they have faced that it estimated would cost the state $228 billion (in 2020 dollars) to pay out in reparations.

At the time of the task force report's release, Governor Gavin Newsom avoided directly answering reporters' questions about the idea of cash payments. In the spring he had made headlines for saying about reparations to the descendants of enslaved people that "dealing with that legacy is about much more than cash payments."

While hailing the task force for issuing its final report, lesbian Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) made no mention of any cash amount for reparations in her statement she had issued June 29. She did say the document would "deeply inform" state legislator's conversations on what policies and legislation were needed to address the issues the report detailed in specific arenas, from housing and health care to education and the legal system, plus the vaguer "and more" catchall phrase.

"I fully recognize that my experiences as a white woman are different than those of Black Californians, but I share the goals of equality, equity, and justice that this report seeks to advance," stated Atkins. "We all need to read this report, truly reflect on the pain and inequality it so clearly details, and take action. We can't lose this moment."

Black LGBTQs could play roles

In interviews with the Bay Area Reporter two out Black elected officials who could play key roles in the statehouse in coming years on implementing the task force's recommendations both voiced support for paying out reparations.

Gay state Assemblymember Corey Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris), the first LGBTQ Black member of the Legislature who notes he is a direct descendant of slavery, has made anti-racism a main focus of his freshman term this year. Speaking to the B.A.R. in the spring, he said he supports "any and all reparations." But providing reparations "is not just a dollar amount," Jackson also stressed.

"It means to me dismantling current systems to ensure future generations of African Americans are not being harmed by the state," said Jackson. "I think reparations means a series of policies, investments and, yes, it could also mean financial recourse as well. But that is not the totality of what reparations is."

He noted that few of the task force's recommendations will require "writing out a check to people." As for how much he thought eligible Black Californians deserve in fiscal compensation, Jackson demurred on stating a definitive figure.

"I don't have a dollar amount to argue for. I don't have enough expertise to say that," said Jackson, adding that he would look to the financial remedy that the task force came up with and the formula it used to determine such payments. "Certainly, it is not a subjective thing. It has to be more objective."

Lesbian AC Transit board member and former Richmond city councilmember Jovanka Beckles, who is both Black and Latina, has made her support for reparations a key talking point in her 2024 campaign for the East Bay's open 7th Senate District seat that spans western Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

Highlighting the issue of reparations in an email she sent out ahead of the first observance of Juneteenth as a state holiday in June, two years after it was designated an official federal holiday, Beckles argued, "We will never achieve the equal society so many of our forebears dreamed of without them."

Beckles, who was born in Panama City, Panama, and immigrated to the U.S. with her parents in 1972, took part in local listening sessions that the state reparations panel held. She told the B.A.R. she made it a point to bring up that it is not just Black people born in the U.S. and descendants of slaves who have been impacted by the country's systemic racism.

"We talked about the African diaspora and the ways Black people throughout the world have been subjected to oppression and racism," said Beckles, adding that the reparations conversation needs to include people regardless of which country they were born in. "We were born in Black skin and it was still used ... even in countries like Panama and Latin American countries Black folks experience racism. When we come to this country, we still experience racism."

She noted that the same discriminatory policies faced by American descendants of enslaved Africans, such as redlining laws that restricted where they could own homes or bias in workforce hiring, impacted Black immigrants to the country.

"We still feel the oppression that all descendants of enslaved Africans are experiencing," said Beckles.

In a statement responding to the final report issued by the Reparations Task Force, Jackson said he endorsed and stood behind its findings. While he didn't specify any dollar amount owed to the state's African American community, Jackson pledged to champion the task force's recommended measures in the Legislature.

"These findings not only resonate with my personal experiences, but they reflect the lived reality of the African American community," he stated. "Now that the task force has finalized its recommendations, it is incumbent upon California to take decisive action and rectify the deep-rooted systemic racism that has permeated our state's institutions."

Talking to the B.A.R. Jackson said that reparations are "absolutely" in order due to the discrimination African Americans have faced for generations.

"Mind you, if you are white and have ancestors who have been here since the Louisiana Purchase, many got free land as their economic foundation. If you were white before the 1960s, or during the 1960s and 1970s, the likelihood is that you got a good mortgage loan or business loan that was way better than any African American could get themselves," said Jackson. "If they even got one, there were clear advantages and disadvantages based on your skin color. For the majority of the existence of this nation, that has put African Americans in the type of dire situations we find ourselves in.

"So, if you ask, 'Are reparations in order?' Absolutely, yes," he added. "If you don't say yes then you have no clue about the history of this nation whatsoever or worse."

Beckles told the B.A.R. she supports direct payments for those who qualify but also acknowledged that checks of $1 million or more are likely "not going to happen so let's be realistic about it."

Recognizing any payments will be dependent on the state's budget, Beckles suggested it could start out with smaller amounts that assist those eligible in building up their self worth. She pointed as an example to a $400,000 reparations housing program approved by Evanston, Illinois leaders last year that gives qualifying households up to $25,000 for down payments or home repairs.

"Money is always an interesting obstacle, whether talking about reparations or just feeding and housing people, and the issue of providing people with quality health care always is an issue," said Beckles. "If we all make health care a human right and provide free health care for all, I believe that just in those savings alone that will help us be able to provide other social safety nets."

As for requiring any reparations cash payouts be spent on certain purchases, Jackson told the B.A.R. he was open to such a stipulation. After all, he noted generational wealth for American families has long been gained via property ownership or financial investments like stocks.

"In America, the best way to build wealth is to own assets, such as to own land or own property, and that was denied to African Americans for centuries," said Jackson. "Not just denied, it was even taken away and stolen. And so I think that at the minimum it should be a part of reparations."

The state's reparations report can be downloaded here.

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