California’s reparations task force is calling on the Golden State to issue a formal apology for former Gov. Ronald Reagan coining the term “welfare queen” and for a disproportionately low number of Black Californians working as doctors and lawyers as part of a broader effort to make amends for slavery and racism.
The task force, which was created by state legislation signed by incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020, formally approved over the weekend its final recommendations to the California Legislature, which will then decide whether to implement the measures and send them to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Among the recommendations is for California to issue a formal apology enacted by the legislature and signed by the governor for slavery and anti-Black racism.
“The legislature must apologize on behalf of the state of California and the people of California for the perpetration of gross human rights violations and genocide of Africans who were enslaved and their descendants through public apology, requests for forgiveness, censorship of state perpetrators, and tributes to victims,” the task force writes in its proposal.
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California never allowed slavery in its history, but pro-reparations advocates argue the state still worked to uphold the institution and discriminated in other ways against Black Americans.
“In issuing its apology, the legislature must formally apologize on its own behalf, and on behalf of the state of California, for all of the harms outlined in the [task force’s final] report, and for the atrocities committed by California state actors who promoted, facilitated, enforced, and permitted the institution of chattel slavery and its legacy of ongoing badges and incidents of slavery that form the systemic structures of discrimination,” the committee writes. “California — its executive branch, courts, and legislature — denied African Americans their fundamental liberties and denied their humanity throughout the state’s history, from before the Civil War to the present. By participating in these horrors, California further perpetuated the harms African Americans faced, imbuing racial prejudice throughout society through segregation, public and private discrimination, and unequal disbursal of state and federal funding.”
The task force demands the apology include a “censorship of the gravest barbarities carried out on behalf of the state by its representative officers, governing bodies, and the people,” highlighting several examples in a “non-exhaustive list.” Among the list was Reagan using the term “welfare queen,” which the task force called “racist coding to promote his philosophy of her preferring a limited government.”
The task force says Reagan deployed the remark when he served as the governor of California from January 1967 to January 1975. However, the term “welfare queen” became popularized when Reagan used it during the 1976 presidential campaign after he left the governor’s mansion.
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The so-called welfare queen referred to a mixed-race woman named Linda Taylor, according to a 2019 biography that portrayed her as a con artist and criminal. While Taylor was prosecuted for welfare fraud and reportedly abused the system, critics argue she was not a good example of a typical welfare rule breaker and her story of her was used to fuel stereotypes. The task force argues the “welfare queen” is a racist term to denigrate primarily single Black women who live on government benefits.
“This terminology conjures stereotypes of single Black women as hypersexualized, aggressive, and dependent on government income with frivolous spending habits,” the report states. “Despite that the majority of welfare recipients are white, this racist label blamed African American women for shortfalls in the United States’ social safety net and suggested they were more responsible for their poverty than others.”
Beyond Reagan, the task force also wants the California Legislature to apologize for there being disproportionately fewer Black doctors and lawyers.
“African American physicians are underrepresented in California’s medical field, further exacerbating the inequities in the healthcare system,” the task force lists as one of its “barbarities” for which the state should apologize.
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In another example, the report states: “White people comprise 39% of the state’s adult population yet are 66% of California’s active licensed attorneys, while African Americans are 6% of the adult population in California and only 3% of all attorneys.”
Many of the listed examples, however, refer to more widely recognized forms of racial discrimination, such as segregation. In total, there were about three dozen items listed, ranging from California “disenfranchising” Black citizens through “racial barriers to vote” like poll taxes and literacy tests to a physicist and Confederate from South Carolina serving as the first acting president of the University of California.
In its report, the task force calls on the legislature to establish a program or government body “to facilitate listening sessions that allow victims and their relatives to narrate personal experiences and recount specific injustices caused by the state of California.” These listening sessions “should inform the language of the legislature’s apology and the methods enacted by the legislature to satisfy victims.”
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The task force also says the legislature should commission plaques or other public commemorative tributes to commemorate victims as well as “honor survivors and raise awareness of descendants’ ongoing struggle for justice.”