The Reasons for Reparations — and Why They're Necessary to Achieve Equity

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The hunt for racial equity in the United States may strike gold in California.

At least that’s how many hope the work of the California Reparations Task Force, the first statewide body to study reparations for Black people, will pan out. The task force could potentially change the course of history by creating a malleable reparations model that the federal government could adapt for a nationwide package.

The term “reparation” is derived from “repair.” But before we can seriously consider atonement and financial restitution for more than two centuries of enslavement, America, like California, must first acknowledge that, because of enslavement, racial inequities persist. Even though California staked a claim as a free state, Black people have endured marginalization and systemic racism since the state’s inception, as KQED’s yearslong project on reparations continues to report.

Anti-Black racism in America is a vestige of chattel slavery. The task force has mined the lingering effects on society, releasing an interim report (PDF) last year that provided nuggets on how closely linked California’s past is to the present. The durability of systemic racism can be difficult to digest. That’s why Manjula Varghese, a digital producer and editor for KQED Arts and Culture, produced a five-part video series that enriches the reparations debate and, most importantly, provides enlightenment on why reparations are a necessary tool to achieve equity.

Directed by Varghese, with assistance from Lakshmi Sarah, a weekend digital producer and reporter, and Chinwe Oniah, a Bay Area-based filmmaker, the series explores how the perpetual influence of chattel slavery — disparities in education, health, wealth and more — affects the lives of Black people in California.


The series will delve into the history of the reparations movement in America, while also exploring a part of California history that is rarely discussed: the hostility toward Black settlements, and how thriving Black communities were systematically torn apart and turned into ghost towns. KQED’s viewers will be introduced to the nine-member task force and, as part of the lead-up to the release of the task force’s landmark report this summer, viewers will meet people who have been digging for reparations for decades.

The task force has until July 1 to deliver reparations recommendations, which are expected to include direct payments to eligible Black Californians. From there, California’s state Legislature will determine what to do with the recommendations to address, among other things, political disenfranchisement, housing segregation, environmental racism and an unjust legal system.

Anything less than a significant investment in the communities that have historically been denied opportunity will signal that the report was fool’s gold.