‘We’re all getting a piece of that pie!’: the slavery reparations battle that could bankrupt San Francisco

San Francisco is perhaps America’s most liberal city; it has been at the vanguard of radical, progressive politics for decades. Now the city is at the forefront in the push for “reparations”, cash payments for its black citizens to right the historic wrong of slavery, its proponents pushing for $5 million per person. 

With the city facing an unprecedented rise in homelessness, drug overdoses and crime, in a new documentary for The Telegraph, I wanted to find out why local officials were so keen on handing over millions of dollars they can barely afford, in a state that never even had slavery, and whether America’s obsession with race will heal the wounds of time, or push an already divided population to the brink.

My first stop was at a black festival celebrating Juneteenth, where city punters gathered to commemorate the end of slavery in America.

San Francisco’s fifteen-person reparations committee handed over their final proposals, which include a policy to give every black resident $5 million, to city legislators at the end of last month.

At the festival I met up with Nikcole Cunningham, a member of the committee investigating how to make the policy work.

Ms Cunningham assured me the city can afford reparations, saying: “They can figure it out just like they figure everything else out…  The president didn’t ask us about money for Ukraine, but they found it.”

“Then they just say, well I don’t know if he [President Biden] does but, we’re in this budget, and they had to vote to not be in this big deficit, you can print money.”

“They don’t mind services for black people… money equals wealth and white people are fearful of black people ever having wealth.”

“They will let the Asian population have it. Why? Because most Asian people are raised with a level of authority to respect and also fear white people so they don’t mind Asians coming in here and having a business in their community or in our community. But you certainly can’t go to their community and do that.”

The San Francisco initiative is the latest in a long line of controversial proposals to pay slavery reparations to African Americans.

In 2019 the New York Times published a now-infamous essay entitled “The 1619 Project”, which argued that America’s true founding date was 1619, when it is thought the first slaves from Africa reached the then British colony of Virginia.

The initial essay’s author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, has recently made the case for reparations, even seeking to include the concept as a subject for discussion in high school maths classes.

To counter Mrs Hannah-Jones’ increasingly high-profile campaign, President Trump set up the 1776 Commission in 2020, which according to its website aimed “to enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776”.

Dr Carol Swain, an African American academic who served on the Commission, rejects the reparations proposals, telling me: “I cannot think of a worse time to be stirring the pot of racial conflict.”

“And we already have increased hatred against white people and Asians that I believe is fuelled by this whole progressive movement that seems to blame other people for decisions that people make on their own.”

“I have no confidence that any type of reparations paid out… would make a difference in the lives of average people and it would probably make them worse off.”

Dr Swain argues black Americans should take responsibility for the issues facing them, saying: “Part of the problem is moral, it’s spiritual, there’s no government fix and there’s no amount of money in the world that can change the conditions that many black people live under.”

“They themselves have to get tired of the crime.”

“They have to get tired of the fatherlessness in the homes and the behaviours that make black people not even want to live around certain black people.”

To watch the full documentary click here

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