California has become the first US state to adopt a law that will allow black residents and descendants of slaves to receive reparation payments.
The legislation was written before the police killing of George Floyd and coronavirus, but signed on Wednesday by California governor Gavin Newsom.
‘After watching last night’s debate, this signing can’t come too soon,’ he said. ‘As a nation, we can only truly thrive when every one of us has the opportunity to thrive. Our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions.’
The legislation, authored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, does not commit to specific payment amounts, but establishes a task force that will study the impact of slavery on black people in California and recommend who should receive what from there.
‘This is an extremely important time for all of us,’ Weber said. ‘California tries to lead the way in terms of civil rights, and we have a responsibility to do that.’
The law received bipartisan support, and advocates hope that it will serve as a model for the entire country on how to make amends not just for slavery, but for the ongoing policies and issues which disproportionately affect black people living in the US.
Weber said that while there is ‘tremendous opportunity’ in California, the state has more work to do to acknowledge its history with race and inequality.
‘California has come to terms with many of its issues, but it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery,’ she said. ‘After 400 years, we still have the impact.’
While California was founded in 1850 as a state where slavery was illegal, there were still several laws that allowed residents to own slaves as long as they purchased them before the statehood.
One of the founding principles of the United States was the right to own slaves, with the foundations of the modern US built by black slaves working for white owners.
Slaves suffered horrific cruelty and injustices, including being separated from their children, sex attacks, vicous beatings and lynchings.
Slavery became illegal throughout the United States in 1865, but the lingering effects on black communities in American can be seen today.
Canada has signed reparation policies in 2008 to evaluate its brutal history of their indigenous population, and South Africa has also gone through a reparations process to deal with the effects of its racist ‘apartheid’ era.
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