February 26, 2024
Despite recommendations from a California task force to make reparations a reality, residents of the Golden State still oppose doing so by two-to-one margin, according to a new poll from the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies.

Over the last few years, the idea of reparations — which would compensate the descendants of American slaves — has surfaced across the country. Though a state task force recently recommended making cash reparations a reality in California, voters in the Golden State oppose doing so by a roughly two-to-one margin, according to a new poll from the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies.

“The findings reveal the racial and political contradictions of California voters,” Cristina Mora, co-director of the institute, said in a statement. “While many can empathize with the plight of Black Americans, not all of these feelings will translate into support for policies that address longstanding racial harms. And though this might be an information issue for some groups, the fact that even liberals are divided indicates that campaigns for racial redress will face a steep uphill climb.”

The poll found that 43% of Democrats favor the idea, while 42% oppose cash reparations. Republicans overwhelmingly reject the concept, with 91% opposed. And while 76% of Black voters favor cash reparations, 65% of White voters and 59% of both Latino and Asian and Pacific Islander voters don’t like the idea. Among the 59% of overall voters who oppose cash reparations, 44% strongly oppose the idea, suggesting that the task force’s recommendation faces significant obstacles even in deep blue California.

The task force was created after George Floyd was murdered by a White police officer in Minneapolis in 2020. In the aftermath of his death, the country faced a racial reckoning — and in California, it led to the formation of the Reparations Task Force. In June of 2023, that team released its 1,080-page analysis of the legacy of slavery, and its recommendations of relief for those most affected. Suggested policies include everything from cash payments to the descendants of slavery, to implementing policies to end the death penalty, to applying rent limits to historically redlined neighborhoods.

The cash payments would vary depending on different root causes of inequity. To address health disparities, the task force recommended Black residents receive $13,619 each year that they lived in California, drawing on the differences in life expectancy between Black and White residents in the state. There would be additional sums to address over-policing, mass incarceration, and housing discrimination, which would be doled out to residents depending on the amount of time residents have lived in the state.

Now, those recommendations are heading to the state capitol, where they will be assessed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.

“Without a remedy specifically targeted to dismantle our country’s racist foundations and heal the injuries inflicted by colonial and American governments, the ‘badges and incidents of slavery’ will continue to harm African Americans in almost all aspects of American life,” the report reads.

Still, it’s unclear how cash reparations will fare in Sacramento. Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday — and the poll results suggest endorsing the idea would be politically risky, particularly if the governor decides to run for president in the future. Voters who oppose the idea said it would be unfair to ask today’s taxpayers to pay for past wrongs, and that singling out one group to receive reparations is unfair to other groups that have also been wronged.

Even so, voters largely agree on the long-lasting impact of slavery, the poll found. Sixty percent of California voters said the legacy of slavery affects the position of the state’s Black residents today — though that opinion is largely split along party lines, with two in three California Democrats agreed with that statement, while two in three California Republicans took the opposite view. Regardless, how the notion of cash reparations fares in California is being closely watched and studied elsewhere.

Feelings in the Golden State seem to mirror those across the country, with 62% of Americans opposing the idea of reparations nationwide, according to a 2021 poll by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“For opponents of reparations, it is not about the cost or the difficulty of the policy, but about perceptions of the worthiness of the contemporary recipients of cash payments,” Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science at the institution and director of the 2021 poll, said in a statement.

Still, research from the Brookings Institution found that the average White family has about 10 times the amount of wealth compared to the average Black family — and that even when comparing those with higher education, White graduates had more than seven times the amount of wealth as Black college graduates. That divide has happened, the research states, because Black Americans were robbed of opportunities to build wealth — not just after slavery, but after Jim Crow-era segregation, redlining practices, and other discriminatory policies over the decades.

“The African American story in the United States is marked by repeated failed promises to right the wrongs of the past—both distant and recent—and failure to acknowledge and take responsibility for the structural racism that perpetuated these harms,” read the task force’s report.

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