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California moves to create genealogy office for reparations eligibility

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(The Center Square) – The California Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would create a new state agency for implementing the state’s reparations task force recommendations and determine which individuals qualify as descendants of American slaves.

SB 1403, authored by State Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, would establish the California American Freedmen Affairs Agency. The bill would direct CAFA to implement suggestions from the state’s reparations task force, a body created by the state legislature, which recommended that eligible black residents of California could be owed up to $1.2 million, according to CalMatters.

Chief among the task force’s recommendations was the creation of CAFA as a cabinet-level agency to implement any of the Task Force’s recommendations that are enacted by the state legislature and signed by the governor. CAFA would also create a “Genealogy Office” charged with developing a process for determining and assist with determining individuals’ eligibility for “descendant” status.

After passing the Judiciary Committee, the bill kept its provision defining descendant as including “descendants of a free Black person living in the United States prior to the end of the 19th century,” but amended its section that had included “African American descendants of a chattel enslaved person [living in the United States]” to now more widely include “descendants of an African American chattel enslaved person in the United States.”

According to analysis shared by the National African American Reparations Commission, lineage-based reparations programs such as these could result in white Americans becoming the majority of those qualified for reparations.

“California is 6.5 percent Black and 72 percent white. Imagine even half those Black people could prove their ancestry was tied to slavery. A large-scale DNA study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics concluded that, nationwide, about 3.5 percent of people who identify as white—including around 5 percent of white Californians—have at least one percent African ancestry,” wrote Michael Harriot. “If the task force incorporates the suggestion that lineage can be proven by establishing ‘negative evidence,’ it is entirely possible that white people could claim the bulk of reparations.”

Based on the current definition, it is unclear the extent to which one must descend from an enslaved African American to qualify for reparations.