BERKELEY'S NEWS • OCTOBER 01, 2022

Berkeley Conversations panel discusses reparations for slavery

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KEN LUND | CREATIVE COMMONS

During a virtual Berkeley Conversations event facilitated by Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Cherminsky, five guest speakers discussed slavery reparations. The event was held in light of the passage of AB 3121 in September of 2020.

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FEBRUARY 14, 2021

Several months after the passage AB 3121, a panel discussed reparations for slavery at a virtual Berkeley Conversations event Thursday.

Titled “A discussion on reparations: California and beyond,” the event was facilitated by UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky in light of the passing of AB 3121 in September, which established the nation’s first task force to study and develop reparations for slavery.

Five guest speakers discussed the historical, legal and sociocultural contexts of reparations, methods for implementation and accountability.

“It’s a step forward that the state of California and some cities have committed to studying reparations and even funded certain efforts,” said Cecilia Lucas, a campus lecturer in the peace and conflict studies department and global poverty and practice minor. “But the snail’s pace of governmental action, a long history of broken promises and symbolic concessions without material impact means that if we want to see real progress on the issue, we need to start implementing it ourselves at the community level.”

Lucas said reparations require change at the government level to ensure Black people are not subject to harm again. This includes the establishment of legislation and redistribution of funds from the military, police and prisons to reparation efforts at the community level.

Money will not solve the issue of reparations alone, she added, noting several community reparations efforts that focus on both monetary aid for Black people and cultural and educational redress for white people. These efforts promote ideological change in individuals, which involves educating white people to recognize accountability and their privilege in the growing wealth divide.

john a. powell, campus professor of African American studies, ethnic studies and law, agreed, adding that money does not fix the country’s larger systemic problem that must change to address reparations.

“Race and racism is used to structure every aspect of society,” powell said. “They create a system that creates inequality and denigrates the lives of people. I worry that if we pay people but don’t change this system, the system will reproduce itself within one generation.”

Jovan Lewis, campus assistant professor of African American studies and geography, said reparations need to be addressed in the global context. He turned the discussion to the Jamaican “Lottery Scam,” where he said young Jamaicans serving North American companies in customer call centers use the contact information of vulnerable white Americans and senior citizens to accumulate wealth.

Lewis said some participants in the scam justified their actions, calling it a form of reparations for both colonial slavery and the contemporary poverty Jamaicans experience. While Jamaicans were historically enslaved by the British, various participants consider the debt of reparations to be “transferable” to white Americans who have contributed to Jamaican poverty.

“Racial capitalist foundation and whiteness is the same between British colonialists and middle-class white Americans,” Lewis said. “White supremacy and its ordering of the world effectively makes the reparative blame broad.”

Contact Annika Constantino at 

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FEBRUARY 15, 2021


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