California Reparations Movement Reaching Tumultuous Crossroads

The final meeting of California’s Reparations Task Force ended in a whirlwind of strong sentiments this week, with one attendee calling for a “divorce” from the United States. This extraordinary outburst occurred a month after the nine-member panel urged California state legislators to consider providing up to $1.2 million in reparations for a still-undefined group of Black residents, a sum purportedly aimed at addressing past racial discrimination and the repercussions of slavery.

Reggie Romanie, an impassioned speaker at the gathering, argued that this proposed sum was insufficient for the kind of reparative justice he sought. Romanie exclaimed, “Reparations is about ‘repair.’ To me, I qualify. I’m going to tell you how you repair this. First of all, America, from the evidence that they gave us, you’re guilty.”

Drawing on the contentious 1619 Project, which incorrectly suggested America’s foundation was designed to protect slavery, Romanie spoke of a symbolic marriage between Black Americans and the nation, urging a subsequent divorce settlement. His fiery rhetoric resonated with attendees, signaling the depth of sentiment harbored by some community members over reparations.

The demands for reparations go beyond financial settlements. Don Tamaki, a member of the task force and a Japanese-American attorney, underscored the similarities between the black American quest for reparations and the Japanese-American struggle for restitution. Tamaki’s remarks underscored the far-reaching impacts of civil rights movements on shaping America’s contemporary social fabric.

But as is often the case with such emotionally charged subjects, progress is rarely a straight line. State Sen. Steven Bradford (D), a task force member, conceded that reparations “likely won’t happen with one legislative cycle or two legislative cycles, or one bill.”

These high-stakes discussions expose a broader division in California and across the nation. The decision of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who initially resisted the reparations proposal, to eventually support it, signifies a shift in attitudes that will need to be navigated by other states.
As the meeting drew to a close, another speaker, Donnie Brown, asked attendees to stand in unity for the cause. When Brown asked, “What do we want?” The crowd responded with cries for “Reparations!”

However, finding a workable solution that can command broad support from the people who would stand to gain from reparations transfers and the taxpayers who would be compelled to fund such a program remains a significant hurdle.