Ward Connerly Resurfaces to Oppose Reparations for Black Californians
Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media
During the early 1990s, Ward Connerly, then-President of the California Civil Rights Initiative Campaign, was the leading African American supporting Proposition (Prop) 209, the ballot initiative that outlawed Affirmative Action in California in 1996.
Well, he’s back.
This time, Connerly, now 82, he is speaking up in opposition to reparations for Black Californians. He is making his objection as the state moves closer than any government in United States history has ever come to providing comprehensive restitution for slavery to Black Americans who are descendants of enslaved people in the American South.
On June 4, Connerly tweeted that Prop 209 could stop any form of reparations for Black Californians from happening.
“It is (Prop) 209 that will prevent our Legislature and Governor from doing something so ridiculous as to compensate some of us based on the color of our skin or being the ancestors of slaves,” Connerly posted.
Last week, the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans submitted its first “interim report” to the State Legislature. The 492-page, 13-chapter report details the committee’s findings thus far covering a range of historical injustices against Black Americans in general with specific citations of systemic discrimination in California.
There are chapters dedicated to examining enslavement, housing segregation, unequal education, racial terror, political disenfranchisement, among other wrongs.
The final report is due July 2023.
Connerly, who has established himself as a national crusader against race-based preference rules, is one of the first high-profile figures in California to speak out against the task force’s efforts to make amends for historical harms committed against Black Americans.
Chris Lodgson, a member of the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California (CJEC), one of seven “Anchor Organizations” sanctioned by the task force to host “listening sessions,” organized to engage the public, responded to Connerly’s post, stating “a conservative businessman from Northern California made an unjust comment.”
“In my gut, I believe you’re wrong. You underestimate the people of California. Also, just because someone might be resentful of something doesn’t mean you don’t do it (to correct) the harms,” Lodgson tweeted on June 6.
“You make a good point that we should carefully consider, and I will,” Connerly replied to Lodgson.
The task force is currently considering five forms of reparation awards: compensatory damages, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition.
The five remedies for human rights violations were pioneered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). The IACHR is an “autonomous judicial institution” whose focus is the application and interpretation of the American Convention on Human Rights, the organization states on the Organization of American States (OAS) website.
On March 30, the task force decided in a 5-4 decision that lineage will determine who will be eligible for compensation. The panel then quickly moved to approve a framework for calculating how much should be paid — and for which offenses — to individuals who are Black descendants of enslaved people in the United States.
An expert team of economists was appointed to calculate the damages listed in the interim report and determine what constitutes harm and atrocities for the descendants of enslaved and free Black people who were in the U.S. in the 19th century.
The expert team includes Williams Spriggs (former Chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University. He currently serves as chief economist for the AFL-CIO), Dr. Kaycea Campbell (Chief Executive Officer for Ventana Capital Advisors and Associate Professor of Economics, Los Angeles Pierce College) and Thomas Craemer (Public Policy Professor at the University of Connecticut).
William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr., the director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, and Kirsten Mullen, a writer, and lecturer whose work focuses on race, art, history, and politics, are also members of the panel of experts.
The panel recently reported that a “conservative estimate” of two million African Americans in California have ancestors who were enslaved in the United States. According to the US 2020, there are about 2.6 million Black Californians in a state that has a total population of nearly 40 million residents.
During a task force meeting on Feb. 23, Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California Berkeley’s law school suggested that the panel establish lineage-based criteria instead of a race-based standard because it could be easily challenged and overturned in court because of Prop. 209.
“If reparations are given on the basis of race that anyone who meets the definition of being Black is entitled to reparations because all have suffered from the legacy…I don’t think it could survive a challenge under Proposition 209,” Chemerinsky told the task force.
Chemerinsky continued, saying, “If it is in education, if it’s in contracting, or if it’s employment, then anything that is deemed as preference on the basis of race is, per se, impermissible.”
Since it first convened on June 1, 2021, the task force was aware of the challenges it would face during its two-year journey and after its charge is completed. Task force member and attorney Don Tamaki brought this to the panel’s attention in December 2021.
“The report is going to get criticized, scrutinized, and really taken apart,” Tamaki said then.
“It just doesn’t make sense that someone should benefit for something that happened to their great, great grandfather or great, great grandmother. I don’t feel responsible for intergenerational debts,” Connerly’s tweeted on June 4. “Now, the CA Legislature wants to rewrite history & have us believe that CA was a northern representation of Mississippi.”