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‘It Means Fixing’: What You Need to Know About Reparations for Black Californians

The call for reparations is specifically about race and slavery, but it touches on fundamental issues of accountability and fairness.

In 1850, California entered the union as a slave-free state. Yet the state benefited from the exploitation of enslaved black and Native Americans, as shown in Gold Chains, the ACLU’s comprehensive look at the hidden history of slavery in California. The beauty and promise of the state’s beaches and palm-lined educational facilities stand in stark contrast to its ugly past.

The ongoing ramifications of slavery manifest themselves in gross disparities in the criminal justice system and health outcomes. Historical data also shows that no progress has been made in reducing wealth inequality between black and white households over the past 70 years, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

KQED’s coverage of the State’s Reparations Task Force is for anyone asking bigger questions like, why are there disproportionate numbers of black people homeless? Why are incarceration rates highest among black people? How do guns get to black communities? Why do black communities lack what is readily available to predominantly white communities?

Grocery stores, libraries, restaurants, banks and basic investments are lacking in black communities, many of which were formed due to discriminatory redlining policies. And when investors descend into black communities, why are black people displaced?

History provides context, and yet our education system fails to lay out the guidelines.

Slaves work in a gold mine in California in 1852. (Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Why were black people not compensated for more than two centuries of slavery and the restrictive and discriminatory laws that followed were enacted to stifle their progress?

“Ironically, mending is a problem that has been used as a divisive problem, but it means mending relationships – it should be seen as a very positive thing to do,” Charles P. Henry, Emeritus Professor of Afro-American Studies Americans. at UC Berkeley, I said in an interview.

“Unless you get agreement on the basic facts of what happened, and then acknowledgment of what happened, it’s impossible to move on to the next process,” Henry continued.

If you feel a sense of pride and appreciation for this state and the nation as a whole, examining California’s history is key to imagining a more equitable future.

I have compiled this FAQ to help readers understand the work of the Reparations Task Force and how that work fits into broader local and national conversations. Consider this a living document, as I will update this space as the working group progresses.

What is the definition of repairs?

The term “repair” comes from “reparation”. Scholars often see reparations as a form of reparation that can take two forms: restitution or atonement. Restitution is often seen as concrete and monetary, while atonement focuses on the ethical, moral, and intangible nature of apology. One without the other wouldn’t fly for real repairs.