It’s hard to know what to say about the (now moribund?) plan to pay reparations to Black Californians other than the obvious:
- California was not a slave state;
- Neither did California have de jure segregation; and,
- Even if it did, few if any people alive today would have had anything to do with either one.
The first two are not insignificant points. Given the sad state of civic literacy, one cannot expect even a Cal graduate (or should I say, especially a Cal graduate) to appreciate the Compromise of 1850. Some years ago, in a graduate seminar (political science, of course) at SDSU, I was confronted with the reality that people just a few years younger than I was thought Lincoln had been a slaveowner. I can’t help but think that part of the motivation behind the reparations effort is to muddy the historical waters.
As to the third, the committee (known formally as the AB 3121 Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African American) has tried to solve this problem by extending the sins of the 19th century into the 20th. Thus, in its interim report, the committee states that “[i]n California, federal, state, and local governments created segregation through discriminatory federal housing policies, zoning ordinances… and discriminatory federal mortgage policies known as redlining.” Yet California enacted laws against housing discrimination as far back as 1959.
Redlining, an outgrowth of New Deal programs to encourage home ownership, has been more-or-less corrected through the Fair Housing Act (1968), the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (1974) and the Community Reinvestment Act (1977). It should also be noted that redlining was made worse by Great Society efforts to revitalize and redevelop poorer neighborhoods, both black and ethnic white, which often left whatever bits remained less than desirable. This phenomenon was aggravated by the careless building of freeways (another big government project) which isolated communities and left many of its residents stuck in homes that, despite depreciating values, found few buyers.
According to a calculator on the CalMatters website, a person living in California since 1970, well after the great civil rights achievements of the ‘60s and the societal transformations that came with them, would be eligible for as much as $1 million. The cost of the program overall could reach into the hundreds of billions.
But the real cost of reparations would be much higher than that, I’m afraid.
The travesty of the reparations committee is not that the claims are invalid but that they are the final push of a 50-year-effort to reconstitute American society on racial and ethnic grievance. In other words, a quasi-totalitarian push to undo history and start from scratch. Problem is, there is no scratch.
Scratch is what the Jacobins in revolutionary France and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia strove for. The Year Zero was when the world would be made anew, all wrongs made right, the last made first. In other worlds, Heaven on Earth. Combined, about 2 million people were killed.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not predicting millions of deaths if reparations are passed, but reparations can only serve to feed resentment between races and fuel racial and ethnic disharmony in a state that is already deeply divided along class, ethnic, and political lines, even more so than the rest of the country.
Or as El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells put it in a recent appearance on Fox News, “it’s going to stoke racial tensions; it’s going to stoke racial jealousy, one group being pitted against another group. I can imagine that’s going to increase violence.”
And in all of the talk about what Black Californians have been denied, there is no discussion of what they gained:
- Access to what has been one of the world’s most dynamic economies;
- Access to, what on paper at least, is the greatest public education system in the history of the world;
- Access to a vibrant society that gave birth to Hollywood, Silicon Valley, surf and skate culture, and many other social developments (ranch-style houses, drive-in restaurants, the strip mall, yoga) that have made the California lifestyle (until recently) the most desirable on Earth.
Did the economists at the reparations committee include these factors in its methodologies? I certainly didn’t see them in the bill of particulars.
And what about the possibility that—and this is only a guess—Black Californians have a higher net worth than Blacks in other states of the Union. Should they then pay reparations to their brethren in other states?
There has been an attitude that reparations is just another silly idea from the folks in Sacramento. Governor Newsom has contributed to this by his ambivalent response. But make no mistake, as goes California, so goes the nation. I expect that the governor’s response will eventually settle on the idea that reparations are a great idea, it’s just unfair to make one state bear the burden of centuries of injustice. Better to wait until he’s president so he can craft a “comprehensive” response.
J.S. Scifo is a North County resident who has worked in national and state politics.