In ancient Greek Mythology, Tantalus was punished by being hungry and thirsty, but forever having water and fruit held just out of his reach. Hence, tantalize.
That’s what reparations for slavery and Jim Crow are for black people—something held before them by politicians, professors, political writers, and others, but which they will never get. Yet the California Reparations Task Force continues to work, figuring out how much supposedly should be paid to each of the state’s 2.5 million black residents.
In June, I wrote in The Epoch Times, on the task force’s preliminary report, about how the state doesn’t have the money, and it would be impossible to figure out exactly how much to pay and to whom.
That’s also the case for the task force’s internal preliminary number of $223,000 owed to each black Californian, according to numbers quoted by media reports, as the task force works toward releasing a final report next July.
However, Chairperson Kamilah Moore told KCRA “that some reporting about what the economic consultants’ team presented has been misleading and that ‘the task force has not recommended anything yet.’” KCRA added:
Moore said that the report by the economics group tasked with calculating California’s harms selected five areas for possible remedies: housing discrimination, unjust property takings, devaluation of Black businesses, health harms and mass incarceration and overpolicing.
“So there are different monetary figures that correspond with each of those harms,” she said.
One of those figures reported accurately by The New York Times but then mischaracterized by other outlets, Moore said, is an estimated maximum liability from more than four decades of racist redlining housing practices of $569 billion. That would amount to $223,200 per person for each of the state’s 2.5 million Black Californians, the economists noted.
But in March the task force decided to go with a lineage-based community of eligibility “so that means that not all Black Californians in the state of California will be eligible for reparations,” Moore said.
This means the $569 billion amount represents a “maximum” liability but “in reality that monetary figure for housing discrimination will probably be much lower because again, it’s based on this idea that all Blacks in California in 2021 also resided in the state between 1933 and 1977 or are the legal heirs of eligible recipients, which more than likely is not the case,” Moore said.
But instead of making matters more clear, the Moore interview revealed the task force’s calculations are descending into mind-numbing complexity. How, after all, can one quantify “overpolicing”?
Moreover, a couple of friends mentioned the story to me in passing without the nuance Moore gave to the figures. Whether she knows it or not, that $569 billion figure is floating around the Southern California community. As one friend said, based on a radio report he heard, “That’s more than double the state budget,” which clocked at $234 billion for fiscal year 2022-23, beginning on July 1.
For California blacks, this task force is tantalus-torture in three ways.
First, it makes them think they’re going to get $223,000 per person, when they’re not going to get anything. To repeat, there’s no money, and there’s no way to figure out who would get what. DNA tests? Detailed examinations of U.S. Census records? Endless court cases? It just doesn’t work however you figure it.
Second, it obscures the real problem with real estate suffered not just by blacks, but by everybody—the immense rise in housing costs in California the past 20 years. Even that $223,000 per person would only be a down payment on housing that stretches upward to $1 million per house along the California coast. Meanwhile, interest rates have soared, making it even more difficult to afford a home.
According to the California Association of Realtors, in Q3 2022, just 37 percent of first-time homebuyers could afford a home in Southern California, down from 44 percent in Q3 2021. For the United States in Q3 2002, it’s 59 percent.
Assuming the money ever were given out, a lot of recipients would just take their bonanza and move to other states where housing remains more reasonable. No wonder the U.S. Census found blacks already have gone from 7.4 percent of California population in 1990 to 6.2 percent in 2020, fleeing like all types of Californians to cheaper states.
The state actually can improve housing affordability for blacks, but only by doing so for everybody. It can cut taxes, especially that 9.3 percent income tax rate that digs the heart out of the middle class. And it could reform the California Environmental Quality Act that impedes housing construction. Instead of wasting time, energy, and worry on the reparations chimera, the state should be pushing for these real reforms.
Third, the reparations tantalization is also a detour from something that really would help blacks earn more money: reform of the California public schools that fail especially badly through the “achievement gap” blacks and Hispanics have with whites and Asians. I wrote about that last month in my interview with Lance Christensen, who lost a bid to become state superintendent of public instruction.
Test scores taken after the severe COVID lockdowns found 84 percent of black and 79 percent of Latino students flunked math standards in 2022. Christensen remarked, “The numbers on black and Latino kids on literacy and math are jaw-dropping. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how we’re supposed to expect these kids to succeed in life.”
Reforms such as more school choice and performance pay for the best teachers continue to be rejected by the powerful California Teachers Association. The reparations tantalization only diverts attention from seeking real school reform to help these children.
Talking about money, the state now spends an average of nearly $24,000 per student. The money is there, but the structure is defective. Instead of “reparations” given to black students, what’s needed is “repairing” the existing system to give these kids the educations they need to excel.
What a waste. Real solutions exist to help black Californians, especially their children, but instead all they are given is magical numbers and false hopes.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.