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Interview: Assemblywoman Shirley Weber On How California Can Address Systemic Racism – Capital Public Radio News


It’s been several months since protests against racial injustice and police brutality broke out across the country. California has since approved new laws, which Democratic leaders say will address some of those issues, including a measure to study the impacts of slavery and recommend reparations for African-Americans. 

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber chairs the California Black Legislative Caucus. She spoke with CapRadio’s Nicole Nixon about which laws she believes can help address systematic racism. 

Interview Highlights 

On a bill creating the nation’s first reparations task force

If you say which one is going to really affect African-Americans the most, it probably will be the reparations bill. It should really inform all of California about just how pervasive racism has been and is in most societies. When it’s instituted, it doesn’t just quickly go away. It’s self-embedded in so many aspects of that culture that if you don’t change dramatically in a very aggressive and affirmative way, you end up wondering why you’re doing certain things because you’re still lingering from the effects of it. 

On what forms reparations could take other than cash payment

Well, hopefully, it won’t just be cash payments, because I look at the situation, when you’re dealing with something that’s 400 years old, it’s hard to say we can give you $20,000 and make you well. There’s been quite a bit of work already done on reparations. We hope that the commission will build on that and utilize that as a foundation to ask critical questions like, what is the damage that’s been done and how do we remedy what is taking place?

California was not, quote-unquote, a slave state, yet it did a number of things to support slavery. It did a number of things to treat African-Americans as second class citizens in the state. And the effect that had on the citizenry and its opportunities in terms of economic development, business, education, those kinds of things we hope will be revealed as we look at the legislation that was passed and the various practices that existed in California. 

On opponents who say they weren’t slaveholders and shouldn’t have to pay into a reparations fund

They’re absolutely correct. They are not slaveholders, but they still benefited from it and they continue to benefit from it. Because if you take land or you own land and you were part of an insurance company that basically insured slaves and made sure that the slave system stayed in place … While you didn’t own a slave, and you may not have been around at that time because it was so long ago, you still have access to that wealth. You still have access to the attitude that society has about that wealth and you still prosper from it. 

So there’s no question that while those who are walking around now can say, well, I wasn’t a slaveholder, why am I having to do this? It’s because you live on the benefits of what slavery produced and you see the benefits every day. 

On her legislative priorities for 2021

We will be pushing the decertification bill. And that one was very important and should have gotten through. And decertification is such a simple concept because almost every profession wants to get rid of the people who are giving them a bad reputation. And yet our state doesn’t have adequate process and procedures to accomplish that. Well, California is very progressive in some ways. It is very regressive in those areas. And so that bill is important. 


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