Emotions came to a head during a California reparations task force public hearing on Saturday when two men began an argument and had to be separated. While the argument veered into more personal territory than public policy, task force member Cheryl Grills said she saw the confrontation from the stand as a manifestation of the tension building over months of testimony. public.
“If you understand stress, you can understand a lot of what was going on in that room that day,” said Grills, a professor of clinical psychology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Public hearings on the issue of reparations have not turned into fistfights, but have been highlighted by black people taking the podium or calling in to express the depth of their emotions about how slavery has impacted them generations later, How important are repairs? , and in what form they should come. Some have tried to go beyond the two minutes allotted to speak. Some have spoken about others. Some broke the rules and spoke in person and then called to speak a second time.
The task force will present its recommendations for repairs in the state by July 1. There is a final public hearing in Sacramento scheduled for June 26.
“It’s a lot, I’ll tell you that,” said Tony Allen, an Oakland native who attended the public hearing Saturday. “I went to one in Sacramento too, and it’s the same thing: Black people are upset about what slavery has done to us in this country. You think you have a great point and you sit there for an hour and you keep hearing all these kinds of desperate pleas or screams. They are talking about jobs and prisons and communities and land and feeling displaced. It’s hard not to get angry. You don’t go there angry, but I’m not surprised when you get angry because you’re talking all day about the bad things that happened to your people.»
Grills said many of those who spoke at the public hearings suppressed their perspectives on racism and the reparations and harms of slavery, about themselves and the black population in general, for years. Sharing your intense feelings in a public forum can also be emotional, he said.
Reparations hearings have been the place to air the deepest grievances and pain because «the United States has never given us that forum,» Grills said.
The author «Zora Neale Hurston said, in essence, that there is nothing more painful than having an untold story buried deep inside you,» she added. “That is the situation of blacks. This assault has been against people of African descent, where for hundreds of years they have been in a world that deeply devalues them. If you’ve gone all this time without being listened to, at some point you’re going to get angry. And then, in these hearings, we’re trying to make sense of something that doesn’t really make sense, doesn’t have a justifiable foundation. So at some point, you want the world to acknowledge that yes, this happened and it hurt me. And it comes out in many ways.”
Donna Hammond, of Richmond, said she attended a hearing in Sacramento in March with the intention of observing. But the more she heard from people that first day, the more inspired she was to share. On the second day, she said that she called from her home to share her support for the task force for taking on such an arduous job.
“I didn’t realize it would be an emotional experience; I had never been in a public hearing before,” Hammond said. “But I can’t lie, he affected me. Hearing how many different ways slavery hurt us has been crazy. Things he didn’t think much of. I have learned a lot and it has been painful.”
The emotions behind the many testimonials have also worked the other way. More than a few people were offended by Saturday’s confrontation and left, Grills said.
“No matter what the discussion is about, it was not the place to have it,” he said. “What they don’t realize is that the rest of the community was still watching and several people have been deterred from the toxic nature. They’re like, ‘I can’t be a part of that. I have enough of that in my daily life. And I have seen that side with great sadness.”
Ultimately, Grills said the public hearings have been an invaluable asset to the task force and black Californians.
“The United States has essentially tried to dismiss or erase the truth about who we are and what they did to us, and then when you feel a glimmer of hope when you can tell your story publicly,” he said. “Reparations mean there is at least an attempt to right the wrongs, getting people to see you, to hear you, and getting some of that from speaking at hearings can offer a personal reflection that always needs to be posted. And that’s a good thing.»