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Reparations Task Force prepares to tackle eligibility with eye towards Supreme Court

In this June 11, 2020, file photo, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, wears a face mask as she calls on lawmakers to create a task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans, during the Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif.
Rich Pedroncelli / AP
In this June 11, 2020, file photo, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, wears a face mask as she calls on lawmakers to create a task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans, during the Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif.

All eyes have been on California since last summer, when the state’s Reparations Task Force began to study the ongoing impact that slavery and racism continue to have on Black Californians.

As the nation’s first investigatory body to study and recommend reparations for Black Americans at the state-level, California’s plan could become the blueprint other states or the federal government use to address reparations.

The task force’s ultimate goal is to recommend a reparations proposal by 2023 that could be implemented by the California legislature.


Over the course of 2021, the task force’s nine members met five times and have heard testimony from community members, academics and people whose lives have been shaped by the vestiges of slavery, exclusionary housing, racist infrastructure projects and other forms of discrimination.

The task force will take up the major issue of who might be eligible for California’s reparations program at it’s first meeting of 2022, which will take place Thursday, Jan. 27, through Friday, Jan. 28. The task force will also hold expert panels on the issues of discriminatory technologies and health.

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Ahead of the meeting, Kamilah Moore, attorney and chair of California’s Reparations Task Force, joined KPBS Midday Edition to discuss the tensions behind defining eligibility and how the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on race-based affirmative action could impact the task force’s work.

Below is an excerpt of the interview. It’s been edited for clarity:


Q: From the beginning, the number one question has been who will get to qualify for reparations? This Thursday, the task force will hear from Secretary of State Shirley Weber about how to define eligibility. Can you walk us through some of the possible parameters of who will be eligible? And what are some of the tensions and issues that are arising around this question?

A: The tension lies in how AB-3121 was actually written. The language of the bill states this is a Reparations Task Force for African Americans with a special consideration for African Americans who are descendants of persons enslaved in the United States. So, the latter part is making a distinction between African Americans or Black Americans who had ancestors who were enslaved in the United States versus maybe somewhere else, like in the Caribbean or South America, or not enslaved at all. There are some people in the Black diaspora, namely Continental Africans like Nigerians or Ghanaians, who may not have chattel slavery in their ancestry or in their lineage. And so the tension lies or the question lies in who's eligible? All these groups or some of these groups?

But I will also say, yesterday we found out that the Supreme Court of the United States will take up the question of whether race-based affirmative action is constitutional or not. They will have a decision on this by July 2023, which is also the end of our Reparations Task Force. As chair, I am paying attention to those developments from the Supreme Court of the United States very closely because whatever they decide may also have ramifications on what we decide in terms of who is eligible for reparations in the state.

Q: How might the SCOTUS decision on affirmative action impact who you decide is eligible?

A: We know that this is a conservative Supreme Court, so if they decide that race-based affirmative action is illegal or unconstitutional, then that could mean that any race-based initiatives that we come up with might also be challenged in the courts. If that happens, it would be up to us to be very crafty in order to be able to evade some of those challenges.

Q: According to William Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, authors of “From Here to Equality,” reparations, must include acknowledgment, redress in the form of atonement or restitution and closure. In other words, reparations are a process. Do you see the task force meetings as part of the acknowledgment part of reparations? Or do you think there's limitations currently set up because the institutions and individuals who caused the harm aren't always there bearing witness?

A: I would say that the first half of our meetings since June, until now, we've really been dealing with trying to identify, compile and synthesize the relevant corpus of evidentiary documentation, not only on the transatlantic slave trade and the institution of slavery, but of more the contemporary forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against Black Americans. And to your point, you know, the task force is still working through getting culpable actors in the room or figuring out when that is most appropriate to do so. But I think we're satisfied with how things have gone so far in terms of allowing space for the injured group to kind of cathartically share how they have been impacted by anti-Black discrimination in their lifetimes. Moving forward, it's up to us as task force members to bring in those culpable actors into the room and we're going to have more intentional conversations about how to do that.