California reparations push could give black residents hundreds of thousands of dollars — here’s what they say they’d do about it

Keisha Brown, 49, is married with five children and lives in the Bay Area suburbs. Even with two incomes, she and her family are struggling, she says.

The rent keeps going up. Must use credit cards. The house they rented in Antioch, California is now worth about $700,000. That’s more than Brown, who works in human resources, and her husband, a bus driver, could buy.

Keisha Brown

(Courtesy of Keisha Brown)

So if California becomes the first state in the country to provide perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in reparations to its eligible black residents, it would be a significant boost to Brown and her family.

“Of course [reparations] it would mean better for our kids,” Brown said. “It would provide some stability and leave something for our children. They won’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul like we had to.”

Of California’s estimated 1.8 million black residents who are descendants of enslaved people, reparations could allow many of them to finally buy a home, pay off student loans, try to build generational wealth and more. MarketWatch spoke with Brown and other black Californians at various stages of their lives, and all said reparations would help them in some way.

Economic advisers to the state’s reparations task force — established by law and the first of its kind at the state level — recently presented calculations for certain scenarios that include hundreds of thousands of dollars in reparations for every Californian who can prove they are a descendant of an enslaved person.

Among those characters:

  • Reparations based on the national average racial wealth gap: $358,293.

  • State-level value-based reparations for certain damages: $223,239 for housing discrimination and redlining; $124,678 for disproportionate mass incarceration; $127,226 per year of life expectancy for health impairment due to differences in health care and other factors.

  • Reparations based on a hybrid model that would take into account both the national racial wealth gap and state-level damages: The task force would determine what percentage of the national racial wealth gap California should “pay back.”

More dollar figures may come. Task force chairwoman Kamilah Moore told MarketWatch that “there may be even more requests from economic advisers to come up with more monetary reparations” between now and mid-December, when the task force is scheduled to hold its next public meeting in Oakland.

See: Historical report states case of compensation for descendants of slaves in California

The task force released its first report over the summer and is due to present its second and final report to the state legislature by June of next year. State lawmakers will consider the task force’s recommendations and could eventually write legislation on what type and how much reparations black residents should receive.

“Beginning” and “Game Changer”

For Zion Harris, a dancer and choreographer based in Los Angeles, hundreds of thousands of dollars “would definitely be a start. I’m still really young,” he said.

Zion Harris

(Courtesy of Zion Harris)

The 22-year-old, the youngest of five children who never knew his father, said “there were many struggles in my family”, including when his mother, a bus driver, had a stroke and aneurysm after more than a decade. before. She was unable to work for several months and they lost the family home in Hercules, California.

Harris said the money from the reparations could help him buy a car and a house, among other things.

He said it was important to him as a gay, black man to share his creativity with the world, but he struggled financially despite spending countless hours on his craft. He said he earned about $60,000 last year for appearing in a Coach ad with Megan thee Stallion, plus dancing at the Grammys with Lil Nas X and appearing in music videos by Christina Aguilera, Nicki Minaj and other artists.

Since August, Harris has been a dancer on reggaeton star Daddy Yankee’s world tour and spoke to MarketWatch from Costa Rica. Booking the tour helped give him some breathing space because it’s a regular job.

“As of right now, I’m financially stable because I’m on tour,” he said.

Receiving reparations, Harris added, “would help jump-start more of what I’m trying to do in my career.”

Even those with established careers would welcome what they think they deserve because of systemic racism.

Dante King, 46, a lifelong Bay Area resident, teaches African-American studies as visiting faculty at the University of California-San Francisco. He teaches a course at the Mayo Clinic and has worked in human resources focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. He also self-published a book titled “The 400-Year Holocaust: The Legal, Psychopathic, Sociopathic Black Genocide of White America—and the Revolt Against Critical Race Theory.”

Dante King

(Amy Osborne / Courtesy of Dante King)

Reparations “can be a game-changer for people like me who still suffer from discrimination,” King said. He’s the first in his family to go to college, has PhD debt, and is no longer a homeowner. He would use the money to pay off his loans and buy a house again. He also hopes to be able to leave a legacy for his nephew.

“That could change the lives of so many people I know — the previous four or five generations, the discrimination they faced even after slavery put them in the predicament they’re in,” he said.

The state’s black homeownership rate in 2019 was 36.8%, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, compared to 63.2% for whites, 60.2% for Asians, and 44.1% for Latinos. And black families in California earn 60 cents for every $1 white families earn, according to a Public Policy Institute of California analysis earlier this year based on data from the American Community Survey. The PPIC cited factors such as disparities in education, employment opportunities and incarceration along with discrimination in the labor market.

Education and Qualifications

Those disparities are why Gigi Crowder, executive director of the Contra Costa County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is campaigning for a center in Contra Costa County in the Bay Area to provide financial and wellness education for black people.

Gigi Crowder

(Courtesy of Gigi Crowder)

Crowder, 60, said she would personally benefit from reparations. She took out loans to help her two sons pay for college so she could use the money. She, too, would like to leave a legacy to her sons and their possible future children.

But uppermost in her mind is how she wants the black community to benefit from reparations in the long run, which is why she’s pushing for the center. Crowder said she worries that because some African-Americans “have been less exposed to large dollar amounts,” there is a risk that the reparations money will not have enough of an impact on the community as a whole.

“Some guidance on how to use the money to make sure you have generational wealth would be good,” Crowder said. “Whatever dollars come to us, how are we going to build with them?”

She acknowledged that some people might find her concerns offensive, such as black people not knowing what to do with the reparations money. But having previously worked to reduce disparities in communities as manager of ethnic services for Alameda County Behavioral Health Services, she said education is key.

People have missed out on important opportunities because they weren’t aware of what was possible, Crowder said: “I know people who have talked themselves into applying for PPP. [Paycheck Protection Program] loans or who lost their homes even though they could have kept them.”

Harris, a dancer, said he thinks Crowder’s push for a financial and wellness center is a great idea. “Educating people about how to get help is good,” he said. “They don’t teach us about taxes or savings accounts or starting a business in school.”

Finally, Crowder, Brown and King all expressed concern about how they or others would prove their eligibility — they must be a descendant of at least one enslaved person or a direct descendant of a free black person who lived in this country before the end of the 1800s — if and when the time comes and it will be necessary to obtain reparations. Proving parentage could require resources that some people may not have.

“Where do you start?” Brown asked, adding that she had done genetic testing but was unable to pinpoint where her ancestors came from in Africa. “You have to pay money to track it all down.

Among the task force’s recommendations is to establish an Office of African American/Freedmen’s Affairs to address past harms and potential future harms, which would include an administrative arm to assist applicants.

Moore said she intends to discuss with the task force how the state could reduce the burden on individuals who want to prove eligibility.

“The standard is settled, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need refinement,” she said.


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