Reparations: San Francisco says “Sorry,” but no cash

Remember when you were dating, and you got a handshake instead of a kiss?

Now imagine you got a handshake instead of $5 million.

Illustration: NBC News

That’s how some Black San Franciscans are feeling after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors issued a formal apology for slavery, racism, and discrimination, but not one red cent in reparations.

Earlier, the San Francisco African-American Reparations Advisory Committee had issued a report with more than 100 recommendations on how to put things right in a state that never had slavery and whose population is only 5% Black, while the national statistic is 13%.

When being organized, the committee was mandated to include someone displaced by gentrification, someone who had been incarcerated, someone who is or was homeless, someone between 14-24 who had worked with African-American community groups, a parent or guardian, and someone who had or does live in public housing, in addition to people with actual financial and technical knowledge.

But those requirements were not the howlers.

The laugh-out-loud element was the “ask,” which started with a $5 million lump sum cash payment, plus $97,000 a year, plus free housing, education, and a lifetime supply of Happy Meals. (OK, I am joking about the Happy Meals, but I already reacted to the demands in a previous column you can find here.)

Instead of satisfying the insane demands for ransom money, the Board of Supervisors issued the apology, with some of them indicating there might be something tangible in the pipeline. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier praised a state reparations task force for its work — because there is no such thing as excessive virtue signaling — but was unusually silent on the “ask” for the $5-million-plus. That’s probably explained by the uncomfortable fact that California — for the first time in history — is losing population, and a reverse racial gold rush would bankrupt the state. Money is an issue. San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who is Black, eliminated $4 million from the city budget for a proposed reparations office.

Which is not to say that some form of reparations might be approved, there and elsewhere. Even Philadelphia is studying the idea, and a Philly apology would be a slam dunk.

But cash on the barrelhead? That’s a half-court shot with the Palestra lights turned off.

It. Won’t. Happen.

In the past, reparations money has been paid, but to people who directly suffered — such as Japanese internees in the U.S., and Jewish Holocaust survivors — but not to their descendants.

But that doesn’t slam the door on other kinds of redress, such as I discussed here.

When Newsom failed to produce moolah, a group of Black Californians — not all Black Californians, certainly — began chanting something like, we don’t get your money, you don’t get our votes, which reduces a moral wrong to a cash equation. It becomes transactional, and ugly.

That’s what happens when you offer people free stuff. They lose their minds.

Like the young people with college debt. President Joe Biden — in a nakedly transactional move — promised to wipe away their debt in exchange for their votes. After he whet their appetite for ill-gotten gains, and did not produce, they abandoned him.

So we have a generally meritorious idea — acknowledging America’s racist past, coupled to a coarse one — cash payments.

Fewer than one-third of Americans support cash payments for past wrongs. And that number is dropping. 

Americans are generally fair-minded and could see some form of assistance — such as in housing, employment and education — to those whose ancestors suffered discrimination.

But cash to individuals? That will fly as well as a penguin.

9 thoughts on “Reparations: San Francisco says “Sorry,” but no cash”

  1. Stu, what is the difference between giving cash vs. assistance in housing, employment and education? Doesn’t that assistance have a cost and a value? Wouldn’t all Americans like a little assistance now and then just as we’d like a little cash?

    1. It is an acknowledgment of the ACTUAL discrimination suffered by LIVING people, not long-dead slaves, and the bias endured by Blacks was more severe and long-lasting than any other group.

    2. I agree with Stu. There is a difference. My approach would be to take the most egregious and traceable instances to develop a methodology, and a measure, if you will.

      Take for example the Tulsa Massacre (I think it is criminal that this was not even taught in schools until the 2000s. I’m pretty well-read, but I was shocked, and felt a bit betrayed that I had been kept ignorant of it, until some 40 years after I left school).

      According to Wikipedia: “between May 31 and June 1, 1921… mobs of white residents, some of whom had been appointed as deputies and armed by city government officials attacked black residents and destroyed homes and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The event is considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history. The attackers burned and destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the neighborhood—at the time one of the wealthiest black communities in the United States, colloquially known as “Black Wall Street”
      Or, here it is with pictures [gift link]

      This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill race riot. Fire bombs were dropped from airplanes on the neighborhood. The city government passed out firearms to citizens to go into the neighborhood and kill people.

      This wasn’t “the ghetto” filled with gangs, drugs and crime. This was a prosperous, middle-class, and even wealthy community filled with doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Hence “Black Wall Street.” Ten thousand people were left basically homeless. The Red Cross had to come in and described the victims as having “all the characteristics of prisoners of war: homeless and helpless, abandoned by their home country, confined in specific areas, denied basic human rights, treated without respect and deprived of their possessions…”

      Not a single person was prosecuted for the bombings, killings and arson. The police chief was fired after being found “negligent” for failing to prevent the “riot.”

      Stu is right–given Tulsa–that San Francisco is kinda of a silly place to have a commission.
      Tulsa did have a commission in 2001. You can read its 188 page report here.

      It did recommend reparations. Instead, Oklahoma gave 300 college scholarships for descendants of Greenwood residents, erected a memorial to the victims, and invested in economic development in Greenwood. Estimates of the damages in lost property alone is about $37 million in today’s dollars. Add in 100 years of interest, and the number is huge. I think this is a case where cash should have been forthcoming. Anybody who could show that they, their parents, or their grandparents lost property should have been allowed to put in a claim.

      Would you object to that? Heck, do you object to the scholarships and economic development dollars being spent due to what, in my view, can best be described as a government-sponsored American pogrom?

      The issue is not quite over. One of the last surviving victims of the massacre has appealed dismissal of her lawsuit against the City to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. [gift link]

  2. Who owes me money for denying job, financial and cultural opportunities based on my gender for thousands of years? Who owes reparations to those who lost all value in their homes by allowing “reverse gentrification” to occur in our cities in the 1960s?
    Life is often unfair. People have suffered discrimination based upon race, ethnicity and gender for generations. Thankfully, we made it a bit more fair, but there’s no reason to make it unfair in the opposite direction. Enough of that is happening as it is.

  3. Here’s a suggestion: as an act of reparation for having been denied the vote for so many years, every white president, judge, congressman, and senator should be replaced by a black man or woman. Then, let the fun begin.

  4. All you folks looking for reparations, get a job, work on bettering yourselves. Do it the old fashion way, stop looking for handouts. It’s like saying that my great Uncle committed a robbery 80 years ago and is deceased and I have to go to prison because I am his nephew. The City is hiring go fill out an application you deadbeats. Reparations how about me, my family came from Ireland and worked as indentured servants. Is there anything left in the City Hall till for me….

  5. Excellent article, Stu. Thank you for the additional information on the horrendous Tulsa Massacre, Tom.

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