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‘If Not Us, Then Who?’: Inside California’s Historic Push For Reparations

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In 2020, California initiated a historic feat to deliver reparations to its Black citizens. Now, the task force in charge of developing the sure-to-be landmark policy is sharing some of the remarkable stories of triumph, loss, and the hope to right the nation’s wrongs.

We were denied the financial security and wealth associated with land ownership,” California resident Dawn Basciano, whose family arrived in Coloma five generations ago enslaved to a white family, told The Guardian.

Basciano’s ancestors, Nancy and Peter Gooch, were forced to leave an infant son in Missouri before arriving in California. By 1850, they were freed and their descendants would go on to amass some 400 acres of land in Coloma. Like many formerly enslaved African Americans, the land was seized by the state government using eminent domain and the family was never compensated.

Basciano’s family story is just one under review by the California Reparations Task Force put in place thanks to a law penned by California Secretary of State Shirley Weber.

In June public hearing, Weber described California as a prime place to lead the charge in delivering reparations to Black people.

“We came to understand very clearly that California has the ability and power to do it,” she said. “And if not us, then who?

What the Task Force has been doing since 2020

After California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Weber’s legislation, a nine-person task force made up of civil rights attorneys and activists, lawmakers, and scholars, began gathering evidence of slavery’s lasting legacy on Black Americans.

“The economic injustices, the education injustices, the social injustices, the judicial injustices go on and on and on,” Weber said in June. “We must be aggressive in our efforts to be honest and direct and figure out what we need to do in California and be an example to the rest of the nation in how we begin to reckon with ourselves.”

The task force has spent months listening to expert testimony, hosting public hearings, and considering proposals for reparations programs.

Additionally, the panel reviewed the ways other countries repaid victims of injustices, including the $89 billion restitution Germany paid to Holocaust victims, and America’s $20,000 payments to Japanese individuals unlawfully incarcerated during World War II.

One of the issues the group is coming against is that many of the injustices Black Americans face “can’t be quantified” to a specific dollar amount.

Some experts say it would take 228 years to close the wealth gap created just from the homes and land stolen from Black people alone. The return of the Bruce’s Beachfront property is evidence of the millions in assets seized from Black communities at a time when farmland and homes would’ve provided generational wealth from Reconstruction on.

“What do reparations look like? There is so much,” Basciano said.

The task force is eyeing policies like universal pre-k, monetary compensation, low-interest loans, public apologies, and free college tuition for the descendants of slaves, in its proposal expected next summer.

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