Human rights

Reparations, a “human rights issue” that will boost the economy: chair of the CA task force

The value gap is a MarketWatch Q&A series with business leaders, academics, policymakers and activists on reducing racial and social inequality.

The precedent-setting California Reparations Task Force released its first report on Wednesday, the culmination of a difficult and at times emotional year of work.

The nine-member task force, created in 2020 after the passage of Assembly Bill 2131, first met last June. He is responsible for studying the lingering effects of slavery and recommending to the state legislature how black Americans might be compensated. Local repair efforts are underway across the country, but California is the first to look at the issue at the state level.

The nearly 500-page interim report details California’s involvement in slavery, as well as its post-abolition policies and laws that served to further deprive and harm black residents. The report also presents recommendations to try to remedy these harms, including financial compensation and the modification and updating of policies and laws. A final report from the task force that will recommend a more detailed plan for the repairs is expected next year.

The interim report calls for implementing “a comprehensive program of reparations for African Americans.” Its many recommendations range from general to specific, such as:

  • Establish an office to support potential applicants in their genealogical research and to confirm their eligibility.

  • Fund a long-term truth and reconciliation commission.

  • Provide housing subsidies and business loans.

  • To provide funds for free tuition at California colleges and universities.

  • Fund black voter registration efforts.

  • Eliminate racial disparities in police checks.

Task Force Chair Kamilah Moore, a 30-year-old entertainment lawyer and Los Angeles-based reparations expert, calls reparations a “sacred political project” that “stems from a broken promise to black people” after the prohibition of slavery. (The task force’s vice chair is Amos Brown, a well-known pastor and civil rights activist who serves as president of the San Francisco branch of the NAACP.)

Prior to the document’s release, Moore spoke with MarketWatch about the challenges the task force has faced and will continue to face, as well as the financial and economic case for reparations and how it would affect the nation. The interview has been edited for length and clarity:

MarketWatch: How did you come to chair the working group? What has been the hardest part of chairing the working group so far?

Moore: Any California resident could apply to serve on the task force, so I applied and was nominated by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. At our first meeting last June, the working group elected me chair. I made a speech. I guess that was pretty convincing.

I’ve studied [intellectual-property] and entertainment law, but I also studied restorative justice. When I was at Columbia [University], I asked them to create a class on repairs. I also participated in a study abroad program my third year of law school, in Amsterdam, and did my thesis on Global Restorative Justice in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

As for the hard part, because reparations is a hyper-political issue, there are varying opinions on what it looks like and who should be eligible within the black community. There is still a lingering conversation about eligibility. [Editor’s note: Resisting a call to open up reparations to all Black people living in the United States, the task force voted 5-4 to limit eligibility to descendants of U.S. slaves. At times, the public testimony and debate on the issue became heated.]

I had to deal with all that, and it was difficult.

Another challenge is communication. We’re trying to get the right communication medium to share what we’re doing with the black community and the wider Californian community. We strive to educate people about why California is doing this and to show what the state’s role was in keeping slavery going.

MarketWatch: For those who have not paid attention to this question, what would be your summary of the financial and economic arguments in favor of reparations?

Moore: We had conversations about the racial wealth gap and the lineage wealth gap [or the lack of generational wealth experienced by enslaved people and their descendants]. White Americans have far more wealth than Black Americans, and we have the stats in the report to show it.

A team of economic consultants worked with us for our report, a team of five people, including three economists. One of them is Thomas Craemer, professor of public policy [at the University of Connecticut], who researched reparations for slavery and calculated lost wages. He argues that the debt owed to the descendants of slaves in the United States is in the quadrillions.

The aim is for the team of economic consultants to propose different forms of compensation for the community based on the particular harms that the working group has highlighted: homelessness; discrimination in housing or eminent domain; mass incarceration; police violence; and cross-generational harms. Trauma can be transmitted through a family, through epigenetics. How do you find a model to compensate for this?

“At the end of the day, I would like reparations to be considered a non-partisan issue.”

MarketWatch: What should all Americans know about how you think the reparations will affect the economy?

Moore: I expect it to have a positive impact on the economy, to go beyond the mainstream message that reparations are a handout or that black people are not good with money. I trust economists who have studied the issue, like Dr. Lisa Cook, who became the first black woman to serve on the Federal Reserve Board. She talked about reparations and how it could positively benefit the economy.

[Editor’s note: Cook, in a 2020 podcast interview, said all non-enslaved people in the economy at the time had benefited from slavery and that “we absolutely need some sort of reckoning with that.” Proposals to study the possibility of reparations “should all be taken seriously,” she said.]

[Reparations] will work to close the lineage/race wealth gap, which in turn would boost the economy, via the proliferation of African Americans being able to buy a home or vehicle, open a business, and/or contribute to the existing economy. Compensation could also help cover health and other cost-of-living expenses.

There are scholarships on Jews who received reparations [because of the Holocaust]. Their descendants did better in education and other areas compared to those who did not receive the payments. This is an example of the importance of reparations.

MarketWatch: Do you think the task force has engaged enough black people in California on this issue? And out of state?

Moore: Yes and no. We have gotten a critical mass of support in some respects, but we need more awareness. This is not to deny what we have achieved so far.

So far, most of our meetings have been from 9 to 5 on weekdays. Californians have to work. The only people willing to [make time for those] are people who are already very passionate about repairs. When we have our new communications company, they can use an entire year’s content to get the message out. We will be building more support over the summer. Our next meeting is in September and will be in person, and hopefully we will have a full house for that.

Out-of-state black people — all people in general — should look to California, as it paves the way for many progressive issues. As California goes, so goes the nation. The eligibility decision in particular has the potential to set a precedent, and probably has already done so.

More broadly, something found in AB 2131 is a preemption clause, which states that no matter what California does on reparations, the federal government is not off the hook. This does not prevent the United States from acting as well. The California task force is aware and aware that reparations is primarily a federal issue. We recommend that President Biden create by executive order a reparations commission.

MarketWatch: Are you concerned that California’s reparations efforts will be undermined by polarization in that country? Are you optimistic that state lawmakers will take the task force’s suggestions and take them to the finish line?

Moore: I’m optimistic but really conflicted, looking at the reality of where we are. [Polarization] has the potential to affect the work we have done so far.

I’ll just be honest. If you saw the details that the Buffalo shooter [allegedly] had on his rifle, at the butt of the rifle, it was written: “Here are your repairs.” What has been on my mind since day one is white supremacy. For white supremacists, reparations are a threat. I think of our [unpaid] Workgroup security.

Many people who are against reparations are oblivious, uneducated and misinformed. We need an education campaign on [the task force’s report that shows] how California benefited from slavery, had anti-black laws, was home to the Ku Klux Klan at one time.

At the end of the day, I would like reparations to be considered a non-partisan issue. It is a human rights issue.