(LifeSiteNews) — The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 jumpstarted the global trend toward repairing historical injustices by providing a national apology and $20,000 to each of the 82,000 surviving Japanese Americans interned during World War II.
Most of the 120,000 ethnic Japanese forced to leave the west coast were from California and two-thirds were U.S. citizens. Descendants of internees were excluded from the redress law, the product of a national commission process involving public hearings, expert testimony, and a final report calling for monetary reparations.
California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans is following the same playbook, but for a much less compelling redress claim. The task force first met in June 2021 and issued a 500-page interim report last June. The final report will go to the state legislature by July 1.
Last month the reparations task force approved recommendations for cash payments to black citizens of up to $1.2 million apiece, depending on the harms linked to slavery that an individual suffered and how long they have lived in the state.
Governor Gavin Newsom authorized the task force in 2020 following the killing by police of George Floyd and the often-violent wave of national protests led by Black Lives Matter. The “summer of rage” included the toppling of historical statues and renaming of public buildings, further promoting identity politics and the culture of victimhood.
However, Fortune magazine called estimates of financial damages generated by the task force’s statistical models “striking in their precision.” CalMatters provides a reparations calculator showing how much money a black person could claim based on five categories of assumed injuries.
Compensation due for “health harms” from 1850, when California entered the U.S. as a free state, to 2020 was pegged at $13,619 per year. Annual damages for “mass incarceration and over-policing” for the years 1971 to 2020 priced out at $2,352. “Housing discrimination” cost black people $3,366 per year from 1933 to 2020. The annual tab for “devaluation of businesses” from 1850 to 2020 was $77,000. The panel’s economic consultants are still running the numbers for “unjust property takings” from 1850 to 2020.
Eligible claimants for the proposed payouts would need to be descended from a “chattel enslaved person” or a free black person living in the U.S. before the end of the 19th century. No evidence of personal harm would be required.
With California currently running a budget deficit north of $30 billion, now is not the best time for an unprecedented, race-based entitlement program that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars. But the real problem is the flimsy case for slavery-related reparations for black people.
The Japanese American redress movement was the topic of my master’s thesis at California State University, Sacramento, in 1996. My doctoral dissertation at Kyushu University in 2007 examined redress movements by Chinese, Koreans, and former Allied POWs for forced labor in Japan during WWII. I looked at reparations for American slavery for both projects, while considering efforts to repair historical wrongs in various countries.
Until recently, academic observers had viewed the redress claim for slavery as relatively weak, based on factors commonly used by researchers to distinguish “meritorious” claims.
Slavery certainly meets the criterion of being a well-documented human injustice, existing from 1619 to 1865 in the American colonies and then the United States (but never in California). Seven generations later, however, it is not possible to identify any living black persons as members of a distinct group that continues to suffer harm causally connected to slavery.
The reparations task force’s report takes a novel approach, treating all black people as a single class of victims suffering ongoing harm from white supremacy – not from slavery per se. Appearing in the report 59 times, “white supremacy” is said to be the ongoing cause of “systemic racism,” which appears 25 times.
“Badges and incidents of slavery” is a term coined by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883 to describe racial discrimination against black people after emancipation. “Badge of slavery,” or a closely related term, appears 20 times in the report.
“From colonial times forward, governments at all levels adopted and enshrined white supremacy beliefs and passed laws in order to maintain slavery,” the report finds. “This system of white supremacy is a persistent badge of slavery that continues to be embedded today in numerous American and Californian legal, economic, and social and political systems.”
The “Pathologizing Black Families” chapter calls out “racist beliefs [that] tore apart Black families on the auction block during enslavement… and underlie the continued removal of Black children from their parents in the foster care system.” The report adds that state and federal child welfare systems and financial assistance programs “have based decisions on racist beliefs created to maintain slavery and which continue to operate today as badges of slavery.”
But an editorialist for the Wall Street Journal, who happens to be black, recently pointed out that “Great Society programs implemented under President Lyndon B. Johnson subsidized counterproductive behavior that took a huge toll on the black family. Subsequently, many of the positive trends among the black demographic in the first two-thirds of the 20th century – from declining crime rates to educational and economic gains that were narrowing the gap with whites – either stalled or reversed course.”
This reality suggests black people might deserve reparations from the national Democratic Party instead of California taxpayers.
Black author Shelby Steele, in a Wall Street Journal article last week called “Reparations Are No More Than a Dream of Privilege,” argued that “Black Americans tragically turned our focus from rights and laws to identity politics and victimization.”
The black community since the 1960s has been “all but overwhelmed with social programs and policies that seek to reparate us,” Steele writes. “The reparational model of reform, in which governments and institutions try to uplift the formerly oppressed, has failed.”
The revisionist 1619 Project and critical race theory have also bolstered a pro-reparations mentality in bastions of wokeness like California, where politically correct redress claims no longer need to be as meritorious as before.
Native Americans now living in California surely suffer from badges of genocide, according to the task force’s logic. Mexican Americans continue to be injured by badges of dispossession of the entire state. Discrimination against Chinese Americans dating back to the Gold Rush also must be redressed.
The interim report frames the task force’s mission as “studying the institution of slavery and its lingering negative effects on society and living African Americans.” It succeeds mainly in proving that racism against black people predated slavery in America, enabled the institution to flourish for 250 years, and did not disappear after the Civil War.
Slavery was an indefensible evil and racial discrimination is wrong. But whereas Japanese Americans were paid a symbolic amount of compensation for their firsthand experience of being unjustly interned, black Americans who were never enslaved would get far bigger checks based on theoretical damages attributed to systemic racism.
Black Californians should not receive class reparations simply for being black.
William Underwood began studying reparations movements for historical injustices in 1995 and received his Ph.D. in political science from Kyushu University in Japan.