Monday, May 22, 2023






        It was clear from the moment that California’s Reparations Task Force began pushing the idea of large cash payments to descendants of African-American slaves that there is insufficient political will to use money for making right what some call “America’s original sin.”


        Without doubt, much of what has built this nation was accomplished on the backs of those slaves. They established crops on plantations and farms from Rhode Island to Texas. They built the White House and the national Capitol. They paved roads and built bridges.


        Once legally freed, they were still kept in bondage by sharecropping and ultra-low industrial wages. They were denied home loans in a practice called “redlining,” they had segregationist Jim Crow rules imposed on them in many places.


        But California was never the center of Black slavery and discrimination. De facto slaves here were usually Native American Indians or Chinese laborers compelled to build railroads and rice farms, drain swamps and dig sewers.


        Plus populating brothels without hope for escape and becoming domestic servants.


        But the state’s Reparations Task Force has made no mention of these other actual and quasi-slaves. Composed entirely of African-Americans, the group discussed no one else.


        It eventually became obvious that even the politicians on that commission had no stomach for trying to push through the Legislature the kind of cash reparations some colleagues on the task force and others are demanding.


        Those demands most likely will form a significant part of the group’s final report to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature, expected in late June.


        But Newsom, coping with a $31.5 billion budget deficit, quickly made plain there will be no cash anytime soon for reparations to Blacks – and only Blacks – for the poor health care, housing discrimination and other hardships imposed upon most of them for much of California’s 173 years of statehood.


        Besides the lack of political will for this, it’s fast becoming clear that reparations favoring just one – and only one – group solely on the basis of its ancestry won’t get far in the courts. That’s because government favoritism of one group over others is not permitted under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees all who live in America “equal protection of the laws.”


        So if one person whose forebears suffered legally-sanctioned injustice is entitled to reparations, so are any other persons whose ancestors also faced government-imposed injustice.


        How is it justified under the 14th Amendment – ironically written and passed to protect Blacks released from slavery – to deny Indians reparations after their ancestral villages were systematically burned by the U.S. Army in the latter part of the 19th Century? How could descendants of Chinese forced laborers also be denied reparations?


        And yet, the Reparations Task Force in its preliminary findings released in May mentioned only Blacks. Even those who have lived in California as briefly as two years could be eligible for six-figure checks if the Legislature adopts the tentative task force plan.


        Yes, some ideas in that report might be practical and legal, even in this newly-arrived era of big budget deficits, but only if they are applied to all groups that faced government-sanctioned or -approved discrimination.


        This could apply to Jews prevented from buying many properties before the late 1950s through then-legal clauses in land deeds prohibiting sales to that ethno-religious group. It would need also to apply to Japanese who lost property while interned in special camps during World War II.


        This means reparations, which might have run up to almost $1 trillion for the 9+ percent of Californians who are African-American, might cost even more than that if other groups are treated equally, as the 14th Amendment appears to demand.


        Japanese and Chinese and Jews may not be able to prove they were systematically and deliberately denied equal health care, as the task force says Blacks were, but all faced – some say they still face – discrimination in housing, employment and college admissions, areas where the task force seeks compensation for Blacks.


        Which means something different must be worked out, or else no wrongs at all will be righted. 

Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is

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