by Afatasi The Artist
Good afternoon. My name is Mo McNealy; I am an artist, a futurist and a proud generational San Franciscan. I believe that dreaming and creating a New World consists of honoring our past accurately, engaging and confronting our present, and visualizing and imagining a new future.
I am deeply concerned about the continued population decline of generational, Black San Franciscans, such as myself. According to a San Francisco Human Rights Commission Report, the Black population of this city is the only demographic which has consistently declined since its height of 13.4% in 1970, to the 5% still in the city today. It is my fervent belief that we need – now more than ever – to imagine ourselves in the future of San Francisco; enabling us to view our current reality in this city as something that can be reconstructed now, to the benefit of all communities. With so many wealth-less people in our community, we need transformative change for our collective brighter future – only reparations can do this.
There are a lot of misconceptions about reparations. It is not only atonement for slavery. Forty acres and a mule was promised during the time of my great-grandparents. Had the government honored Special Field Order 15, my grandmother would have had a different outcome; instead she was listed as a six-year old sharecropper in Mississippi on the 1900 census. My father, who grew up during the heyday of lynching, fled the horrors of the Jim Crow South. He was drafted into WWII to fight Nazis, moved to California in the 1950s, only to be redlined by Wells Fargo bank to the Lakeview district of SF and paid less in wages than his white counterparts in education.
My siblings, myself and many of you, lived through the ongoing War on Drugs in San Francisco, and saw urban renewal rip the last remaining families and businesses out of the Fillmore – our friends, family and community displaced before I even reached adulthood. Our community has faced ongoing racism and discrimination in San Francisco in the areas of banking, education, housing, politics, policing, the workplace and we have yet to receive real justice for these harms.
Black Americans, in San Francisco and across the country, were legally excluded from economic wealth building programs like The Homestead act, the GI Bill, The New Deal and Federal Housing Administration mortgages, just to name a few. These were racist public policies that created the racial wealth gap and allowed it to flourish.
In addition to these exclusions, Black Americans, historically and still are, legally targeted for harms: Sharecropping, convict leasing, white domestic terrorism, eminent domain, racially restrictive covenants, redlining, the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, medical experimentation and educational apartheid. The badges of slavery still exist and follow us until this day. These harms are all included in our case for reparations.
Harmful false stereotypes that Black-Americans are lazy, unintelligent, and prone to criminality, were the foundation of the public policies that created the conditions that we are in today. It is public policies like reparations that must be implemented to correct these harms. There must be sweeping systemic changes; there is no amount of saving, no amount of small business savvy nor educational advancement, that can combat the effects of the racist public policies that are keeping us in poverty in San Francisco. I am calling upon all elected officials; you must be brave and courageous enough to stand up for us when it is hard.
Reparations is not charity nor a pittance, it is a debt that is owed. It is an economic public policy rooted in a righteous justice claim for the of lineage, Black American community. In the book, “From Here to Equality”, Dr. William Sandy Darity states, “… the failure to pay a debt in a timely fashion, does not extinguish the obligation; particularly since the consequences of past injustices continue to be visited upon the descendants of the direct victims. A national act of procrastination does not eliminate the debt.“
Whether it is through this San Francisco Reparations task force, the California Reparations Task Force, or the Federal Reparations Task Force forming on the horizon – in the words of the often misquoted and mischaracterized leader of the Civil Rights Movement Dr. Martin Luther King jr., “We are coming to get our check!!!”
Afatasi is a native, activist and artist from San Francisco.