The oppressive over-policing of minority communities is just the beginning.
Americans need to go beyond discussing tyrannical policing and begin addressing the many other systemic issues that disproportionately affect communities of color. Reforming and rebuilding our policing apparatus must happen. No doubt. However many more social problems continue to be ignored. If America is to address racial injustice, the nation must approach the various systems of oppression targeting minority communities as well.
Solely focusing on police brutality only tells one portion of the racial injustice story. There are many pervasive aspects of our society that perpetuate social inequities. While over-policing is a major issue that must be addressed, it serves no one if America continues to ignore the many aspects of modern society that lead to crimes of desperation, poverty, homelessness, addiction, physical and psychological health problems.
From disparities in healthcare to education inequality to housing discrimination, America has myriad issues that keep people oppressed and poor. The very same contrasts in public access to resources have been keeping generations of Black, Latino, and Indigenous people poor and struggling to advance in a society that constantly laments their suffering by yelling at them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
The problem in addressing these issues stems from those who see themselves as unaffected by the social inequities that plague America. Others believe they are protected from inequality because of their wealth, race, or religion. The reality is everyone is impacted by inequality and injustice. A majority of Americans just couldn’t be bothered to care. That may be changing.
Studies have shown that the lack of social programs in poor and minority communities inevitably puts an unnecessary strain on public services. Ensuring civil society offers equitable programs in neglected communities is only the beginning. While reforming the police is at the forefront of the conversation, it’s base-level social justice. The battle for true justice means simultaneously taking on many of the core issues while focusing on the mission of racial and gender equality.
It starts by addressing policy loopholes — in the public and private sector — that allow for the continuation of racial and ethnic prejudice in policing, banking, real estate, finance, business, employment, economic opportunity, and community investment. Policies put in place by white supremacy that convinces Americans to view minorities as second-class citizens. A viewpoint that is now so normal some people don’t realize they’re perpetuating it.
The perspective of American society that views minorities as “lesser than” affects every aspect of life in lower-income and minority communities. These prejudices impact policy via rhetoric that resembles thought and results in the acceptance of oppressive policies based on the language of discriminatory stereotypes. All of which are policies that warrant discussion.
Healthcare disparities have arguably the biggest negative influence on communities of color. The impact of COVID-19 on minority populations and the discussion about racial injustice are finally bringing this issue to the forefront of the conversation. After many years of minorities sounding the alarm, mainstream America has been given a peek behind the curtain of the healthcare crisis.
As America learns that Black, Latino, and Indigenous people are more adversely impacted by the coronavirus than others, the issue of healthcare in these communities has yet to receive the attention that the disparities in how America polices them are getting. These systemic issues in healthcare are largely driven by discriminatory beliefs born of racial animus and prejudicial thought that negatively impact funding, access, and overall concern for the members of those communities.
The Office of Women’s Health points out that while there have been some improvements in health care for minority women, it also addresses how “serious health disparities still exist.” Minority women are still behind white women in many areas, “including quality of care, access to care, timeliness, and outcomes.” More shocking is the rate of Black women dying during childbirth.
A series of publications by the Center for American Progress examined the maternal and infant mortality rate among Black women and infants. What they found was that “African American women are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth than non-Hispanic white women, and socioeconomic status, education, and other factors do not protect against this disparity. Instead, sexism and racism are primary drivers.” A disturbing truth America isn’t quite aware of.
There are also many other contributing factors when it comes to access to healthcare. Finding and accessing quality, culturally appropriate care can be problematic. Women in poor and minority communities don’t have access to the services they need. The lack of access to specialists, reproductive healthcare, and mental health care is unsettling and must be addressed.
By investing in minority communities and the people who live there, civil society can then provide medical care through a healthcare system that is demographically similar to the people they serve. While diversity training has increased in the healthcare industry, we have a long way to go to achieve consistent and culturally sensitive healthcare centered on the patient.
Action Step: If you work in the healthcare industry, you can begin taking action now by ensuring the health and well-being of women of color, particularly Black women. If that means calling out racist or culturally insensitive behavior at work or if it means checking in on Black, Latino, or Indigenous folks a little more often, then do so. Every little step is a step towards changing the status quo.
Education is always a top issue for Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities. Many people believe that equal opportunity exists in our nation’s public school system. However, using the logic that’s driven by the (racist) idea promoted by Charles Murray, a conservative policy influencer, suggests that the achievement struggles of minority students are related to genes, culture, or a lack of will. Murray’s work has been used to dictate education policy by several politicians (Texas Governor Greg Abbott cited his work in education during his campaign against Wendy Davis in 2014).
Educational outcomes for students of color are a function of unequal access to qualified educational resources. Despite the differences in teacher quality, curriculum, funding, and class sizes, the prevailing view in American society is that if a student of color does not achieve, then it must be genetic. As such, policies are determined based on these prejudicial criteria leaving schools with the most need receiving the least amount of resources.
Most students of color in America attend predominantly minority schools. They attend schools that are more than twice as large as predominantly white schools. Class sizes are larger; teachers are less qualified in the fields they teach; lower-quality materials and books all play a role in the disparities in academic achievement among one other glaring factor: discipline.
Countless studies indicate disciplinary actions that keep children out of school are counter-productive, yet minority students are still more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts. Students of color who are suspended at higher rates also perform more poorly on standardized tests, according to Stanford University Research linking the achievement gap between students of color and white students. The research found that “a 10 percentage point increase in the black-white discipline gap in a school district predicts an achievement gap that is 17 percent larger than the average black-white achievement gap.”
Solutions being offered include introducing ethnic studies programs and culturally relevant education to help close the gap in education disparities. Non-disciplinary policies that include positive behavior interventions and support systems, instead of punitive measures that keep children away from school. Measures that have shown promise in helping raise the chances of academic success among minority students.
Action Step: If you work in the field of education — in any capacity — you can also begin to implement some minor changes in the way you conduct your everyday activities. Each child learns differently and their circumstances could determine their interests. Taking little steps to ensure the children who struggle aren’t being tossed into the school to prison pipeline will save lives and boost academic success. Each step you take could have a huge impact on day one. You just have to commit.
Housing discrimination continues to persist against Black and Latino populations. Despite seeing a general decline since 1989, Black people and Latinos continue to “face a significant risk of receiving less information and less favorable treatment than comparable white customers,” says the Urban Institue. This is most prevalent in rental transactions where 90% of complaints originated despite renters having a greater need for affordable housing.
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) reports that despite the 27% of discrimination complaints being based on race or national origin, 55% of complaints are for disability-based discrimination. The NFHA also notes that disability is often much easier to detect than other forms of discrimination because most of the complaints are about accessibility barriers.
However, HUD’s (Housing and Urban Development) annual report to Congress for the fiscal year 2017 shows 38% of discrimination cases are based on race or national origin with the vast majority of disability discrimination being based on accessibility barriers. These numbers are based on the combination of data from the Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) agencies and HUD.
There are many intersections where housing meets other issues. For example, minorities can’t simply move to a better school district when housing in those districts costs substantially more. Low-income and minority groups are then left out of having their children receive the quality education that is found in white suburbia. Housing is also essential to the health and well-being of citizens. Lack of decent affordable housing can lead to poor physical and mental health which inevitably leads to increased public healthcare costs in communities that are already struggling.
In spite of legislation prohibiting discrimination, the wage gaps that keep 24% of Indigenous people, 22% of Black people, and 19% of Latinos in poverty, also prevents these groups from acquiring better housing in areas that provide more opportunity. Housing discrimination takes many forms and they work in conjunction with one another. Whether it’s a rental transaction or a purchase, minorities typically see higher prices and fewer options while searching for housing.
Historically, housing has been used persistently as a tool to prevent minorities from overcoming poverty. In many ways, its use is more pervasive than ever. A major underlying problem here is the unequal access to credit and higher interest rates for communities of color. America must do a better job of ensuring quality, affordable housing for poor and minority communities. This alone will provide equity for those populations and it can be the first step in helping lift people out of poverty.
Action Step: If you work in housing, take a look at policies at your workplace that are discriminatory. Watch for discriminatory behavior and language. Take little steps to avoid using prejudicial practices and ideas when dealing with communities of color. These communities struggle enough to find quality affordable housing without the system leaning against them. In order to end housing discrimination, it has to be done with advocacy from within.
Do your part. Be that advocate.
Not too long ago, Toyota agreed to pay back $22 million to Black and Asian buyers after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that they had charged these customers higher interest rates. Pretty crazy, right? Well, it happens far more often than you think. A recent study by the University of California Berkeley revealed minorities pay higher interest rates when buying a home too — helping drive wealth inequality.
The study revealed that lenders make between 11% and 17% more profit on home purchase loans to minority borrowers. In fact, minority homebuyers pay nearly a half-billion dollars more interest a year than white borrowers with similar credit. Pew Research also indicates that minority homebuyers pay higher interest rates saying, “In 2015, fewer than two-thirds of black and Hispanic householders had mortgage rates below 5%, compared with 73% of white householders and 83% of Asian householders.”
The report went on to say, “by contrast, 23% of black householders and 18% of Hispanic householders with mortgages were paying 6% or more on their home loans, compared with 13% of white householders and just 6% of Asian householders.” The barriers to acquiring financial and social equity are vast and are again used as tools to prevent the advancement of poor people of color in America. Nearly eliminating the ability to build generational wealth.
When America talks about growing wealth inequality, people tend to ignore that the proportion of Black families with zero or negative wealth grew to 37% between 1983 and 2016. Similarly, the rate of Latinos with zero or negative net worth remaining twice as high as whites — despite dropping by 19% over the past 30 years — gets very little attention as well.
Homeownership and total worth are equally skewed towards white families. A report from inequality.org titled, “Racial Wealth Divide,” showed that 72% of white families owned their homes compared to only 44% of Black families. Latino homeownership increased dramatically by nearly 40% between 1983 and 2016 but remains far below the rate for white families at 45%.
Wealth inequality is an intersectional problem because of so many contributing factors. The barriers to escape poverty all come together to keep low-income and minority communities poor by closing as many avenues of egress as possible. To escape poverty the status quo must be challenged. The level of apathy in a capitalist-centered society — with very few actual capitalists — is profound.
This particular problem has to be addressed largely from a policy and community investment perspective because that’s what is needed. Investing in poor and underserved communities while enforcing anti-discrimination laws and each person doing their part to bridge these gaps is how society opens the doors for minority communities to accumulate generational wealth and social equity.
Action Step: If you are in a position to offer minorities better hourly wages and benefits such as health insurance, please do so. Helping bridge the wage gap and ease the cost of living for those struggling the most will open the doors to many possibilities. Meanwhile, it’s on all of us to force policy change.
E. Pluribus Unum
Are you overwhelmed yet? Don’t sweat it because there’s a lot more. We haven’t even touched on redlining; mass incarceration; infrastructure being used to destroy minority communities; environmental racism; the oppression and torture of immigrants of color; and many other issues that must be addressed to achieve racial equality in America. Make no mistake, this will be a long-fought cause and your commitment will be tested at times.
While the topics in this article not exhaustive, it is meant to give newcomers to the fight against racial injustice an idea of what they’re up against. This has not been easy and it’s going to take more than showing up at some protests to get it done. Don’t get me wrong, protests work. But to accomplish what is really needed, everyone must do their part in their personal and professional lives regardless of where they live or work or their social environments.
The first step in making a difference is by becoming aware of our own behavior. Changing the subtle ways we think can make a huge difference in other’s lives. What you may think is nothing might mean the world to the person across from you. Awareness of our own implicit biases is the key to eliminating the systemic issues minorities face in America.
Everyone has them.
Be aware of those around you that may hold discriminatory or blatantly racist beliefs and those that don’t. Take note of allies who will stand behind you should you decide to call out discriminatory policies where you work or the prejudicial behavior of your coworkers. Society can no longer stand by and allow biased beliefs to dictate actions against people of color.
The sooner everyone takes tangible action in their everyday lives, the sooner America can begin to see real change. Awareness is critical. Pay attention to what’s happening around you in your local area. Get involved in issues concerning the social inequities described here. Make sure you read and listen to what people of color in your area are saying. Get informed. Stay active.
From school board meetings to city council meetings to what is happening in your state’s legislature, take a stand on whatever the issue may be. A lot of the issues regarding social justice stem from language hidden in policies and agendas. Speak out against those. Contact your elected officials and voice your concerns about specific issues and never relent. Be persistent.
Listen to the language coming from politicians up for election. When you hear anything that sounds discriminatory or prejudicial, make sure to call it out and begin actively supporting their opponent. Racist language should never be tolerated in any circumstance. Then take action in the voting booth.
To solve these problems, America needs a concerted effort on all fronts.
Are you ready for this?
(Originally Published at An Injustice! Magazine)