July Fourth is a sham. Only reparations can make it real

July 4th is cancelled.

Not really. But this year of all things feels like it should be.

I remember the words of abolitionist Frederick Douglass who asked in 1852, “What the American slave is your July 4th?”

He, of course, answered his own question: “A day which, more than any other day in the year, reveals to him the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is continually subjected. For him, your celebration is a farce.”

In fact, 170 years later, with half Congress defending a coup attempt by a former president and his racist mob, and the Supreme Court stripping women of their rights and threatening others to do the same, I wonder how an American could have “freedom” without consider it a farce.

It’s just the words of another black man, George Fatheree, that stop me.

A real estate transaction attorney, Fatheree is perhaps best known for representing the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce, the black couple who were evicted from Manhattan Beach a century ago and whose land was confiscated in a racist act of paramount importance.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a deal to return the land known as Bruce’s Beach to its clients. Under the terms, the district will pay $413,000 per year for the lease and reserves the right to later purchase it for $20 million plus transaction costs.

Supervisor Holly Mitchell called it an example of what “can be done when government gets involved”. Supervisor Janice Hahn called the deal “the right thing to do”.

But Fatheree had more, well, patriotic thoughts on the matter.

“This is the first time a black family has been given back land where it was wrongfully taken under racially discriminatory means,” he told me. “I actually think the timing is poignant because we’ve never been more divided as a country than we are now.”

Americans are losing faith in trustworthy democratic institutions because they are not acting in the public’s best interest.

A recent AP-NORC opinion poll found that 85% of people are pessimistic about the country’s direction, including a growing number of Democrats. Meanwhile, the percentage of adults who consider themselves “extremely proud” to be American has reached an all-time low, according to Gallup.

Fatheree calls this a “legitimacy crisis”.

“When government is doing something wrong and they acknowledge it and then don’t do anything about it,” he said, “people lose trust in government — our elected officials and our institutions.”

In its simplest definition, redress means that the government acknowledges that it has done something wrong and then does something about it. And that is the truest form of patriotism. A love not only for the country but for the people who inhabit it.

People gather around a table outdoors.

At a signing ceremony, sitting Governor Gavin Newsom shakes the hand of Anthony Bruce, great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce.

(Jay L Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“We are in dire need of healing,” Fatheree said. “And I think by acknowledging injustice in this way — and trying to address it — we are creating a foundation for healing.”

Bruce’s Beach is just one example.

Of course, not everyone agrees that we need to celebrate this kind of patriotism on July 4th — or any other day of the year. Even as calls for reparations have grown louder, polls show that most Americans remain generally opposed, particularly when it comes to monetary compensation for slavery.

This poses a particular challenge in California.

A nine-person task force has been meeting since last year to draw up an ambitious reparations plan that is due to be approved by the state legislature as early as next year.

In preparation, members released a 492-page report last month detailing the many ways in which black people, often intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, have been punished by racist federal, state, and corporate policies for centuries.

Most of the information is based on research by dozens of experts who have testified before the task force over the past few months. (I should note that these are not conspiracy theories concocted by opportunistic cranks who claim our administration was wrong by “stealing” former President Trump’s 2020 election.)

The report also includes tentative recommendations for redress, such as eliminating tuition and ending inmate labor requirements for the descendants of slaves, and repealing Article 34, which requires voters to approve public housing projects.

Convincing lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom to agree to any of this — let alone more radical remedies — will almost certainly depend on the task force being able to garner enough public support.

Rep. Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) alluded to this during a recent Zoom call for reparations organized by the California Democratic Party.

“The strongest message that can come to the legislature – and hopefully the governor for signature – is that we are united and moving forward with reparations,” he said. “Because I’ll be honest with you. Not everyone in the legislature is 100% behind what we do.”

To that end, the task force and its allies have held listening sessions and collected input from black Californians about what they would like to see included in a reparations plan.

The proposals so far have been ambitious but far from coherent in terms of priorities.

“I don’t think we’re going to make a decision that makes everyone happy,” Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) said after a meeting at Leimert Park on June 16. “But I think it’s a start. And as you can see, there is still a lot to be fleshed out.”

Meanwhile, promoting the task force has been a challenge. It’s difficult to get public contributions if the public doesn’t know you exist or that a meeting is scheduled.

This is where the now famous story of Bruce’s Beach comes into play. So many people are so fascinated by what happened there that they are interested in the broader push for reparations in California.

Fatheree just hopes people don’t get hung up because she thinks Bruce’s Beach is the only model for what’s possible.

People sit on a grassy hillside at sunset.

People enjoy the sunset at Bruce’s Beach Park on Tuesday, the day the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the plan to return the beach land to Bruce’s descendants.

(Jay L Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“Ever since I took this case, I’ve received an email or a voicemail every day,” he told me. “They say, ‘My grandmother owned land in Texas, and they took it as a prestigious domain.’ Or often it is not a significant domain. They showed up with dogs and shotguns and just took it and forged the paperwork.”

So what happened to the Bruce family is not at all unusual in American history. But the specific details made it an ideal case to be a milestone for redemption, Fatheree said.

In 1912, the Bruces bought two lots in Manhattan Beach and opened a lodge and dance hall for black beachgoers. It became so popular that more black families soon moved in, attracting the attention of the Ku Klux Klan.

When the harassment didn’t work, city officials condemned the neighborhood and confiscated more than two dozen lots, including the Bruces’ lots, ostensibly to build a public park. But the country stood empty for decades.

Over time, the land passed to the state and then to the county, where it now operates a lifeguard facility. Land owned by other families is now a park overlooking the Pacific.

“We’ll never know what options the Bruce family would have had if the City of Manhattan Beach hadn’t uprooted this tree early,” Fatheree said. “And it’s not just the Bruce family. It’s the people who would have been employed at Bruce’s Beach, the people who would have gone there as kids and been inspired and met other people. The jobs that would have been created. We cannot estimate the missed opportunity.”

The idea that black Americans can somehow get better with a check or a program after hundreds of years of government-induced damage is far-fetched at best. But that’s not really the point of reparations.

What matters is that an honest and humble attempt is made to seek real atonement for everything from decades of housing discrimination to a criminal justice system steeped in systemic racism. And there are many ways to do this, not just return stolen land.

“There are a lot of good models and ideas out there,” Fatheree said. “What we need is the kind of political leadership and courage that we’ve frankly seen on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to move forward and implement it.”

It’s not enough to make me feel proud to be an American this July 4th or consider it any less of a hypocrisy. But, to repeat Fatheree, it’s a start.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-04/fourth-july-california-reparations-task-force-patriotism July Fourth is a sham. Only reparations can make it real

Alley Einstein

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