by Robbie Jackson
In the year 2020 while the whole world was unsure of its future, San Francisco, no stranger to trailblazing, chose to look to the past to better define its future. In February an official reparations committee was put together. This committee consisted of 15 seats. Each seat is
dedicated to an aspect of Black San Francisco.
By December the committee had published a full draft report that detailed reasoning for reparations, who the committee consisted of, as well as plans of action. “Everybody has been very respectful,” says Dr. James Lance Taylor, professor at San Francisco and one of the members on the committee. “We haven’t had one incident where one member has disrespected another person in a discussion and we’re talking about pretty intense issues. It does get emotional sometimes. But I think being a part of this process is being so close to history. Since you’re not famous you really don’t think it will amount to anything but who knows … 10 years 20 years down the line they may raise all our names and say these are the people that ushered in reparations in SF. We have certainly inspired reparations elsewhere … Places like Boston, Detroit, Sacramento, Berkeley School District and Berkeley began their own committee.”
It’s true! All across America people are beginning to look at reparations from a realistic
perspective, turning ideas into actions, and actions into real deal results. San Francisco
Reparations committee is an alarm clock that has awakened Black America to the idea of
“In Evanston, Illinois, after they originally tried to roll out their reparation program (and it wasn’t working well), they decided to give everyone Black in the city $25,000,” says Dr.Taylor during our conversation.
“That’s because of us. We had a representative from Evanston come talk to us. We made it possible for them to think that it’s reasonable because we’re talking about five million per Black SF resident.”
Starting the committee alone caused a ripple effect that has become impossible to undo. During our conversation with Dr. Taylor he broke down the benefits. “Reparations are not just about the end. Reparations is you as a Black journalist interviewing me as a Black professor about this. Let’s say it never happens. Do you think all of the meetings in this year and a half will amount to anything? Do you think people have gotten better over this time? Reparations are not about the end. It’s about the means, because the means is where it’s waking the Black community up. Us getting reparations or not is almost secondary to the fact that we’ve been awakened. It awakened Black America to the specific focus on economic racism, and that’s what reparation focuses on. Not personal racism. Not institutional racism, but economical racism. It hasn’t been enough of that talk. Economic racism is nothing but racial capitalism. That’s what we are looking to reverse.”
It’s crazy to think at one time some questioned if Black people deserve reparations. The
the answer could clearly be found in the 400 plus years of documented slavery. “Before the idea of reparations ran into issues when people questioned if descendants of slaves deserve anything,” says Taylor. “Five million actually inspired the world. Instead of underselling ourselves. $50,000 a person or $100,000 a person (which would have pissed off the people who feel we deserve
nothing). It says to us, we are important.
“We value what happened to our people far more. I’m talking about just losing housing. I ain’t talking about slavery. I’m talking about losing your grandma’s house. That’s the five million right there. We have sat back and watched white folk get wealthy for the past 70 to 80 years thinking that it was white people’s greatness and their management of their money and affairs. When the truth is being white ain’t nothing but reparations in itself. That’s what being white is in America – it is reparations.”
Dr. Taylor goes on to elaborate on the Black community deserving reparations saying, “The
injuries are indisputable. Black people should not spend a second answering people around
questions of if reparations are deserving. That is beyond question. Nobody doubts that. The
only reason we have not gotten reparations already is because another white generation like the
past 15 or 20 generations who continue to take no responsibility for the crimes against Black
humanity, they pretend to have nothing to do with it yet are baptized in the wealth created by our
ancestors’ body in labor.”
If you thought California’s hands are clean when it comes to slavery think again. Dr. Taylor goes on to explain saying: “It was 400 years of slavery in California, under five different governments and Black people were bound in that the whole time. California had fugitive slave laws. California tried to kick Black people out since day one and wouldn’t allow them to vote or serve on jury duty.”
Now with no doubt that California started as a free state that has a deep history of being anti
Black and racist the conversation has now shifted to whether or not it’s realistic. I asked Dr. Taylor when he feels real action will occur. He responded: “I would say in the next five years. We have until June to give the City the plan. You would have to imagine it would have something to do with what London Breed says. I was disappointed in Breed’s comments where she openly rejected the 50-million-dollar permanent community for reparations.
“I think the Black community should be disappointed. I think the Black community should put pressure on Mayor Breed because she can only do what we pressure her to do. She may want to support reparations but if we don’t create enough of a fight in the city for her to take sides, she will take the side that’s going to leave her looking good. London Breed will move if we move her. If Black folk could get enough unity, and solidarity across our issues, differences, our neighborhoods, generations and any other impediments we can form an operational unity in Black San Francisco.”
The Bayview will continue to report on the developments because it’s clear that progress is
being made and the people need to know about it! Especially since the power of the people will
be needed in order to bring this idea to reality as we continue to push the line. Stay tuned for
more! Reparations are on the way!
Robbie Jackson is a student of the San Francisco Bay View’s Community Journalism Class, which is funded by the California State Library.