Posted on September 22, 2023

Why Skeptical Californians Should Rethink Cash Reparations for Slavery

Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2023

According to a new poll, 59% of California voters surveyed do not approve of cash reparations for the descendants of enslaved Black people.

When asked why, and given five answers to choose from, most picked this: “It’s unfair to ask today’s taxpayers to pay for wrongs committed in the past.” The poll was conducted by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and co-sponsored by The Times.

That’s concerning, since the state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom are embarking on the huge task of poring over a 1,000-plus page report from a statewide task force that made dozens of recommendations for reparations including cash compensation.

But it’s not surprising. Americans learn little in school about the long-term consequences and costs of chattel slavery and institutionalized racism on generations of Black Americans. In some states, teachers aren’t even allowed to talk about the history of race in America. In Florida, public school students can now be taught, preposterously, that in some instances slaves developed skills that could be used “for their personal benefit” — as if any skill a slave picked up compensated for being enslaved.

Efforts to expose racism in schools and policies are attacked as racist and shut down. No wonder people don’t understand the history of slavery and racism in this country.

Allow us to educate California voters a little.

Obviously, no one today is a legal slave owner in the U.S. Nor was anyone alive today involved in reneging on the promise to grant freed Black slaves land in the 1860s.

But everyone alive today in the U.S. lives in a country where slavery was a horrific and sustained crime that morphed with its abolition into myriad forms of institutional racism that persist to this day — including in California.


The poll participants seemed to have some understanding of the lasting effects of slavery on Black Californians today. Sixty percent answered that they do believe the position of Black residents has been harmed to at least some degree.

Educating Californians on the state’s role in slavery and institutionalized racism — and why there should be a price literally to pay for it — will be part of the challenge lawmakers face as they work to design a plan for reparations for African American residents in the state who qualify.