Op-Ed: Reparations In California And What It Could Mean For Tennessee


Andrew Kyung, Staff Writer

The subject of reparations for African Americans has been a polarizing issue in American discourse for decades. Since 1989, Bill H.R.40 – the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act” – has lingered on the House floor, never reaching the Senate. The bill would identify the federal and state government’s former role in supporting chattel slavery, study its lasting harms, and devise avenues for appropriate remedies. With the federal government unlikely to consider a reparations program, California has taken it upon itself to consider the subject.

In 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom assembled a nine-person task force to study possibilities for the distribution of reparations to African Americans. Two years later, the task force has compiled researchto support a reparations program correcting mass incarceration, housing discrimination, unjust property seizure, devaluation of Black businesses, and healthcare inequality. The program is likely to be a costly undertaking; the task force has estimated that housing discrimination alone will involve compensation amounting to over $550 billion. 

This figure is one of several that will be polished by the task force and reported to the California state legislature within the year. Opposition to the subject of reparations has been vociferous. Criticism from the left involves the concern that the task force is not addressing the root problem; Will Swaim of the California Policy Center says that the task force “blasts overincarceration of black men but remains silent on the support of California’s police and corrections unions for the very Democrats who created the task force.”

California’s actions have prompted other executives across America to consider how a reparations program might be implemented in their jurisdictions. Last month, when New York City Mayor Eric Adams was asked whether he would follow California’s lead, he categorically responded, “I support it. I think it’s long overdue.” 

There is certainly some irony that California – a state that was admitted as a “free state” upon its conception in 1850 – is the only state government taking legislative action to achieve reparations. In Tennessee, discussion regarding reparations is seemingly nonexistent. Considering that nearly 70 percent of Republican-leaning Americans disapprove of a reparations program, it makes sense that Tennessee – a reliably Republican-leaning state – is not an area where reparations would be popular. 

But perhaps it should be a discussion here. Unlike California, the state of Tennessee was complicit in not just slavery but also Jim Crow policies which prevented black Americans from opportunities for decades. It is easy to forget that millions of African Americans harmed by segregative policies are still alive today. If America is truly a land of justice for all, maybe it is time to consider serving – or at least discuss serving – such justice to those who have been deprived of it.