To say that White Americans have a lot to answer for is the understatement of the last several centuries. But some cities, including Culver City, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood (and San Luis Obispo), are looking for ways to better understand their racist pasts and pay some kind of restitution to African Americans. City leaders have willingly accepted the encouragement they have received to give their Black residents a boost after centuries of racist policies which have done everything from holding them back to taking their lives.
This week, the Culver City Council discussed its ongoing effort at developing a Reparations Policy during a packed-agenda regular meeting. City staff reminded the council of ideas they are considering, which include a potential tax on cannabis sales to fund programs likely to benefit Black residents. But what really struck a chord was a presentation from Kamilah V. Moore, Chair of the California Reparations Task Force. Ms. Moore, who was also a recent State Senate candidate for the district that includes Culver City, laid out for the council a brief history of our country’s as well as California’s own shameful record since the 13th Amendment was adopted in 1865. In so doing, she classified the following 12 chapters as badges or continuing acts of slavery suffered by the Black community:
- Racial Terror
- Political Disenfranchisement
- Housing Segregation
- Separate and Unequal Education
- Racism in Environmental Infrastructure
- Pathologizing Black Families
- Control Over Creative, Cultural, and Intellectual Life
- Stolen Labor and Hindered Opportunity
- Unjust Legal System
- Mental and Physical Harm and Neglect
- Wealth Gap
But Moore offered additional chilling facts. The following represent only a few:
California isn’t immune just because we fought for the Union. According to Moore, in 1852, California enacted a very aggressive fugitive slave law that deported freed or free Black people to the South to live as slaves.
In addition, California’s Homestead Acts granted White Californians millions of acres of land while excluding Black Californians entirely. This has created a huge accumulated wealth gap that expands to this day. It turns out that 46 Million white adults in this country still benefit from those land grants. In fact, Moore cited that in 2019, White households owned nine times as many assets as Black households.
While African Americans make up six percent of California’s population, they make up 18.9 percent of those killed by police officers and 40 percent of the unhoused population. The state also saw an 88 percent increase in hate crimes against Black Californians in just 2019 and 2020 according to the FBI.
Following her presentation Council staff proposed possible next steps for the city to take, including:
- Increasing its racial equity efforts through the Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE), the Race Equity Action Plan, and the General Plan Update
- Following West Hollywood’s step of commissioning an in-depth historical context study to better understand how racist policies of the past have shaped the city, and then act based on findings
- Considering something like Santa Monica is doing with their right-to-return policy on housing prioritization (I wrote about this a bit here: https://bit.ly/3QmqVnL)
The racist state initiative Proposition 209, which prevents any kind of preferential treatment or affirmative action in California, forces cities like Culver City and Santa Monica to target specific programs rather than people. But as Culver City Mayor Daniel Lee stated Monday evening, there are ways to ensure amends to African Americans are made by targeting programs where we know African Americans are found – the unhoused and the Foster Care system, for example.
It needs to be said, by the way, that Prop 209 is itself an indictment of Californians since our voters passed it in 1996, and then refused to disband it through Proposition 16 in oh-so-recent 2020 when more Californians voted than ever before.
The council seemed inclined toward options one and two above and would be open to doing something with housing. We encourage Culver City to move forward with all deliberate speed. The African American population has waited for some financial and other restorative justice measures for far too long. And we certainly hope cities like Santa Monica are far from done with their efforts and can develop additional programs to right the wrongs of its racist past. We’re not only rooting for these cities and West Hollywood to do so but encourage other Westside cities and Los Angeles overall to get cracking as well.
Resource: GARE Website: https://www.racialequityalliance.org/
Image by Chris Gorgio