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Reparations: How ‘Intentional’ Government Policy Denied Blacks Access to Wealth

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

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Stock photo of a vault with access denied written across it

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the Black community owned less than 1% of the United States’ total wealth, the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans was told during its fourth meeting.

Mehrsa Baradaran, a professor at the University of California Irvine, School of Law, shared the statistics during the “Racism in Banking, Tax, and Labor” portion of the two-day meeting on October 13.

From her perspective, the power of wealth and personal income is still unequally distributed. And that inequality, in her view, has always been allowed, preserved and compounded by laws and government policy.

“More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged,” Baradaran told the Task Force, tracing the wealth gap from the period after the Civil War when President Lincoln granted formerly enslaved Blacks their freedom to the present day.

“The gap between average white wealth and Black wealth has actually increased over the last decades. Today, across every social-economic level, Black families have a fraction of the wealth that white families have,” she said.

Baradaran has written a range of entries and books about banking law, financial inclusion, inequality, and the racial wealth gap. Her scholarship includes the books “How the Other Half Banks” and “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap,” both published by the Harvard University Press.

Baradaran has also published several articles on race and economics, including “Jim Crow Credit” in the Irvine Law Review, “Regulation by Hypothetical” in the Vanderbilt Law Review, and “How the Poor Got Cut Out of Banking” in the Emory Law Journal.

Baradaran, a 43-year-old immigrant born in Iran, testified that her work on the wealth gap in America was conducted from a “research angle” and she respectfully “submitted” her testimony “in that light,” she said.

In her research, Baradaran explained that she discovered an intentional system of financial oppression.

“This wealth chasm doesn’t abate with income or with education. In other words, this is a wealth gap that is pretty much tied to a history of exclusion and exploitation and not to be remedied by higher education and higher income,” Baradaran said.

According to a January 2020 report, the Public Policy Institute of California said African American and Latino families make up 12% of those with incomes above the 90th percentile in the state, despite comprising 43% of all families in California.

In addition, PPIC reported that such disparities mirror the fact that African American and Latino adults are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and have higher unemployment rates, and African American adults are less likely to be in the labor force.

Many issues support these activities that range from disparities around education, local job opportunities, and incarceration to discrimination in the labor market, according to PPIC.

“While California’s economy outperforms the nation’s, its level of income inequality exceeds that of all but five states,” the report stated.

“Without target policies, it will continue to grow,” Baradaran said of the wealth gap. “And I want to be clear of how this wealth gap will continue to grow. It was created, maintained, and perpetuated through public policy at the federal, state, and local levels.

“Black men and women have been shut out of most avenues of middle-class creations. Black homes, farms, and savings were not given the full protection of the law. Especially as these properties were subjected to racial terrorism. The American middle-class was not created that way (to support Black communities),” Baradaran said.

A June 2018 working paper from the Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute written by economists familiar with moderate-to-weak Black wealth backs up Baradaran’s assessment.

Published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the authors of the report wrote that strategies to deny Blacks access to wealth started at the beginning of the Reconstruction era, picked up around the civil rights movement, and resurfaced around the financial crisis of the late 2000s.

Authored by Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schularick, and Ulrike I. Steins, the “Income and Wealth Inequality in America, 1949-2016” explains a close analysis of racial inequality, pre-and post-civil rights eras.

The economists wrote that the median Black household has less than 11% of the wealth of the median white household, which is about $15,000 versus $140,000 in 2016 prices.

“The overall summary is bleak,” the report states. “The historical data also reveal that no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years.”

Baradaran recently participated in the virtual symposium, “Racism and the Economy: Focus on the Wealth Divide” hosted by 12 District Banks of the Federal Reserve System, which includes the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

There are some positives that are not typically included in discussions about the challenges Blacks have experienced historically in efforts to obtain wealth, Baradaran said. Many African Americans, specifically in California, were able to subvert the systems that discriminated against them.

“Black institutions have been creative and innovative serving their communities in a hostile climate,” Baradaran said. “I’ve written a book about the long history of entrepreneurship, self-help, and mutual uplift. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have provided stellar education and Black banks have supported Black businesses, churches, and families.”

California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, titled “The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,” created a nine-member commission to investigate inequity in education, labor, wealth, housing, tax, and environmental justice.

All of these areas were covered with expert testimony during the two-day meeting held on October 12 and October 13. The task force is charged with exploring California’s involvement in slavery, segregation, and the historic denial of Black citizens’ constitutional rights.

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

“Banks and corporations have engaged in lending and hiring practices that helped to solidify patterns of racial inequality,” Jacqueline Jones, a history professor from the University of Texas told the Task Force.

The Racism in Banking, Tax and Labor segment also featured testimonies by Williams Spriggs (former chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University. Spriggs now serves as chief economist to the AFL-CIO), Thomas Craemer (public policy professor at the University of Connecticut), and Lawrence Lucas (U.S. Department of Agriculture Coalition of Minority Employees).

The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans will conduct its fifth and final meeting of 2021 on December 6 and December 7.

African American News & Issues

The Case for Reparations for Slavery: Cal Task Force Hears Painful Personal, Family Stories

During the two-day meeting that concluded September 24, participants shared details of harrowing incidents that happened in California and across the country.

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The phrase " Reparations for black community " on a banner in men's hand with blurred background. Demand. Dishonest. Payment. Money. Slaves. Black people. Social inequality. Protest. Tough life

Last week, California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals took an expansive but deeply personalized look at the history of slavery, racial violence and injustice in America and traced how that past still shapes how we live now.

During the two-day meeting that concluded September 24, participants shared details of harrowing incidents that happened in California and across the country. Their stories will help the panel determine what compensation should be for descendants of enslaved people in the United States who provided free labor for nearly 250 years and survived discrimination, lynching, racial violence and Jim Crow laws for more than a century after that.

The nine-member panel listened to close to five hours of emotional testimony presented by slave-trade experts, academic scholars, historians, and members of the Black community.

“The pain is real,” said California Secretary of State Shirley Weber after hearing testimony from individuals sharing personal and family experiences of bigotry and enslavement.

Weber, too, testified in front of the Task Force on September 24.

“I think when we all reflect on it, we try not to reflect on it often because it is extremely painful,” said Weber, who authored Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, signed into law in 2020, that created the California task force that is currently investigating the history and costs of slavery and discrimination in America – and the extent of California’s involvement.

Weber, providing a broad understanding of why she penned AB 3121, discussed how her family was forced out of Arkansas and fled to Southern California after her father attempted to organize union rights for sharecroppers.

Weber also shared a largely unknown part of history that has direct ties to why reparations are being discussed. She highlighted the 1919 race riots in Elaine, Arkansas, which has not gotten the attention of other mob incidents of racial terror that happened in places like Chicago, St. Louis and Tulsa.

Historians document a series of those massacres that occurred from April to November 1919 as “Red Summer,” when a wave of anti-Black riots and lynching took place after World War I. The word “red” symbolizes the color of the fires that engulfed burning, Black churches.

Weber’s family was from nearby Hope, Arkansas, but during her research, she discovered that Black farmers “were chased in the fields, the cotton fields” murdered by non-Black people “to strike a sense of fear” in African Americans. Weber said “hundreds of people” were killed.

Weber, whose father was born in 1918, a year before Red Summer, says she was more concerned with her grandfather’s mental state after the incident because he was “fearful of white people.”

“Elaine, Arkansas, had the worst race riot of any state in the nation. It was considered the deadliest race riot in the United States. Deadlier than what happened in (Tulsa) Oklahoma,” Weber said. “It’s now being researched and looked at, but I have to begin to ask myself ‘what impact did the race riots of 1919 have on my grandfather?’”

Bertha Gaffney Gorman, who worked for The Sacramento Bee newspaper from 1971 to 1978, was one of the only Black reporters in the newsroom at the time. She also testified to “tell her family’s history” and discrimination they experienced in the Golden State.

Gorman is the grandmother of Amanda Gorman, 23, the first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017 who recited her powerful poem “The Hill We Climb” at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration. The younger Gorman, who graduated from Harvard University, was born and raised in Los Angeles.

A Texas native who was born in 1940, the elder Gorman said members of her family “were free on paper but not in reality.” Gorman said that Black Codes and vagrancy laws restricted freedom for members of her family and bound them to serve as cheap labor.

Her family witnessed intimidations, beatings and hangings of free Black people who “continued to work for their enslavers, lived in the same shacks, and experienced the same cruelty and control,” she said, drawing parallels between their life conditions and those of their enslaved ancestors.

Gorman shared specifics about racism she experienced working and living in the state’s capital city.

She moved to Sacramento in the late 1950s to attend Sacramento City College. While enrolled, Gorman lost her job because she tried to take a test for a clerk position for the state of California.

Eventually, Gorman was able to land a job with the California State Assembly, but says she was given every “imaginable excuse” to prevent her from taking the test before she realized it was the color of her skin that was holding her back.

“I hope my story will further the understanding of the legacy of harm and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that our people suffered and (that affected) my ancestors and their descendants. And the discrimination that followed them from Texas, New Mexico to California,” Gorman said.

Isabel Wilkerson, the author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” said during her testimony that about 6 million Black people left the Deep South’s former slaveholding states and moved to western and northern states and territories from the 1900s to 1970s.

After arriving at their destinations, they struggled with housing, employment, and educational discrimination, the author said.

“I am testifying because not enough Americans know the truth and full history of our country or the origins of the division we now face and thus of the karmic, social, economic, and indebtedness to African Americans that the country has inherited,” Wilkerson said.

Members of the task force are: Kamilah V. Moore, a Los Angeles-based attorney, reparations scholar and activist; vice-chair Dr. Amos Brown, a civil rights leader and respected Bay Area pastor whose journey to leadership started under the tutelage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960s; Cheryl Grills, a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles; Lisa Holder, a nationally recognized trial attorney; Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena); Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles); San Diego Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe; Dr. Jovan Scott Lewis, chair of the Department of Geography at the University of California Berkeley; and Attorney Don Tamaki, Esq., an attorney best known for his role in the Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. the United States. Tamaki overturned the conviction of Fred Korematsu who refused to be taken into custody during the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II.

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African American News & Issues

Jobs, Mental Health, Gun Violence: Cal Leaders Discuss Helping Black Men and Boys

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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Young Black Boy Reading a Book, Stock Photo courtesy of California Black Media

The California Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color held a meeting last month that brought legislators face-to-face with community organizers to discuss investing in African American and other youth of color in a “post-pandemic California.”

Introducing the various panelists, committee chair Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, spoke about the bipartisan nature of the committee’s goals.

He said people from different backgrounds and political perspectives reach agreement when talking about the plight of youth of color because their conversations are based on hard numbers.

In California, per capita, Black men and boys are incarcerated more than any other group; are unhoused more than any other group; are affected by gun violence more than any other group; and in public schools, Black children’s standardized test scores fall only above children with disabilities.

“One of the things that brings both sides of the aisle together is data. What we would like to see is either internal audits or accountability measures to show that your numbers are not only successful but you’re keeping data over a period of time showing your success rate,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Committee vice-chair Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), a Republican, agreed with this assertion.

“I am looking forward to the instruction that we’re going to get today,” Lackey said. “This is a part of our population that deserves the attention and a much stronger effort than has been displayed in the past.”

The first topic discussed during this meeting was gun violence, as panelists towed the line between cracking down on gun violence and preventing the over-policing of communities of color.

“How can we do this without returning to a punitive approach that grows the prisons, the jails and the criminalization of our community without achieving the public safety we so desire,” asked the Rev. Michael McBride who is known in the Bay Area as “Pastor Mike.” McBride is a social justice advocate and the national director for Urban Strategies/LIVE FREE Campaign with the Faith in Action Network.

The meeting was an opportunity for participants representing community-based organizations to share ideas with legislators with the hope of influencing their decision-making.

As of 2019, California had the seventh-lowest firearm mortality rate in the country. But with the state’s large population of almost 40 million people – the largest in the country — that still equated to 2,945 deaths that year.

“As everyone knows, there are probably too many guns in too many people’s hands who should never probably ever have guns,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Jones-Sawyer addressed the racial element of victims of gun violence in America.

“Many of those individuals were Latino and African American so it behooves us that post-pandemic, we need to figure out what we’re doing, what we need to do if we want to protect our boys and men of color,” Jones-Sawyer said.

He also offered up part of a solution.

“This year we need to infuse the California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program (CalVIP) with a large sum. We did put in money for a large sum to fund the work that we so desperately need to get not only guns off the street but out of the hands of people who should not have them.”

The second topic on the agenda was post-pandemic mental health care.

Le Ondra Clark Harvey, chief executive officer of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, spoke on the intersectional nature of mental health issues in communities of color.

“Historically, Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) communities’ mental health and substance abuse disorder services have been impacted by several factors including access to treatment, cultural beliefs and stigma,” she said.

Largely, Clark Harvey said mental health treatment for BIPOC people has not been preventative.

“When BIPOC individuals do seek help, it tends to be at a time of crisis; at an emergency room, a psychiatric hospital or due to some type of interaction with law enforcement,” Harvey said.

She also spoke about the increase in opioid use, suicide and calls to crisis hotlines for boys and men of color.

Two of the programs in California mentioned during the meeting that are making headway on mental health problems facing Black men and boys are COVID-19 Black, an organization dedicated to lessening the effects the pandemic has had on the Black community, and Strong Family Home Visiting Program, a Los Angeles County-based program that provides in-home family support services.

Wraparound service approaches to care were also discussed as a way to shift “focus away from a traditional service-driven, problem-based approach to care and instead follows a strengths-based, needs-driven approach,” according to the California Department of Social Services.

The last topic of discussion was on career pathways and building generational wealth for communities of color.

Tara Lynn Gray, director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, highlighted that most of the disparities in communities of color can be traced to economics.

“Some of the challenges facing boys and men of color stem from economic challenges in their communities and lack of investment for years prior to this administration,” Gray said.

“The pandemic induced economic hardships that we’ve experienced have exacerbated those issues with many businesses closing their doors and roughly 40% of Black and Latinx businesses closed,” Gray continued.

Gray claimed that it is not all doom and gloom, however, as she mentioned what the state has done to assuage these disparities.

“The good news about the challenges we have seen is that our leadership, both in the administration and in the Legislature, have created access to programs, resources and financial assistance for small businesses to help with economic recovery and make an impact on some of the challenges facing boys and men of color,” Gray said.

Gray also spoke about investing in business opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Through the California Reinvestment Grant Program CalCRG, for example, the state has been directly funding community-based organizations across California to expand job and re-entry programs for Black and other men of color who were impacted by the “War on Drugs.”

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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African American News & Issues

Oakland, Stand Up and Be Counted in This Recall Election

At a vote center, you can vote in person, get help in multiple languages, cast your vote by using an accessible voting machine, and utilize same day registration and cast your ballot Voters can vote at any center in the county up to 10 days before Election Day.

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Election Mail in Ballot

In the next two weeks, we all have a decision to make that will shape California for years to come. The recall election is currently underway and on election day, Sept. 14,  the votes cast will decide not just the future of Gov. Gavin Newsom, but that of the whole state.

As your Oakland NAACP president, I encourage all registered voters of our community to get out and vote, either by mail or at the polls. The NAACP, which has been fighting for the right to vote for Black Americans for over a century, is today bringing a state-wide message to all Californians – no matter who you choose, vote in this election for your future, and for your community. If you are not registered, it’s not too late to register to vote in person.

The recall ballot, asks two questions. The first question asks if you support recalling (removing) Gov. Newsom. If more than 50% support the recall, Newsom will be removed from office. The second question lists all the recall candidates vying to be governor. Whoever gets the most votes will hold the office through January 2023, the remainder of Newsom’s term.

Whether Newsom remains or is replaced, whoever is declared governor after election day will have authority to make important decisions that impact your lives and your access to important services — like funding for our public schools and how the state taxes you pay are used to support state programs.

The outcome of this election will decide who manages the budget of the world’s 5th largest economy. It will determine the path we take on problems like housing affordability and homelessness, or the historic drought and wildfires we’ve seen this past year. And that’s just to name a few.

The Oakland NAACP wants the community to understand that its vote has power and that it is critical to ensuring our democracy works. We learned that from those that preceded us, people like James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three activists associated with the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE), who were abducted and viciously murdered in Mississippi in 1964 during the civil rights movement. Their sacrifice — alongside countless other racial equity fighters — is a reminder that the right to vote as a US citizen can never be taken for granted.

Thankfully, our state makes voting so convenient that there is no excuse for anyone not to vote. In 2016, California lawmakers passed the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA). The VCA expanded early voting in Alameda County. Traditional polling places have been replaced with vote centers which serve as a one-stop shops for all your voting needs.

At a vote center, you can vote in person, get help in multiple languages, cast your vote by using an accessible voting machine, and utilize same day registration and cast your ballot Voters can vote at any center in the county up to 10 days before Election Day.

All registered Alameda County voters have been sent a ballot in the mail. Returned ballots have already been counted. The deadline for registering or re-registering for the recall election was Monday, Aug. 30. If you missed the deadline, you can “conditionally” register and vote at any vote center after the voter registration deadline, up to and including Election Day.

The Secretary of State website also offers a tool to help you find early voting and ballot drop-off locations in your neighborhood. You can use the BallotTrax tool to confirm that your vote has been counted.

Too many fought for too long for our right to vote for us to pass it up. You have a choice to make – take this chance to shape our futures.

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