Health care and job creation are important, but Obama must address racism
A racially conscious approach to lawmaking is essential to rooting out institutional racism.
Will President Obama pull it all off? That’s the question everyone seems to be asking as they wait to see if the Obama administration can deliver on everything from healthcare reform to job creation.Skip to next paragraph
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As the media focuses on Senate votes and market debacles, though, there is a larger issue that threatens to rip the country apart. That issue is race.
Nearly two years ago, then-candidate Barack Obama acknowledged the urgency behind confronting our racial divide when he said, “Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.”
So let's address it.
Societal shifts in attitude on race and the presence of institutional racism embedded in our laws are an ever-present challenge for elected officials.
Right now the current unofficial policy of colorblindness ignores the issue. But what if racial equity was a standard for government effectiveness?
The findings of a recent report by my organization, the Applied Research Center, and our partners in eight states indicate the importance of racial equity across the board.
The findings illustrate how a racially conscious approach to lawmaking is essential to rooting out institutional racism. Taking equity into account means addressing the causes of inequality and racially disparate outcomes.
We found that when elected officials consciously considered the effects of policy proposals and budget measures mindful of racial issues, they increased the state’s ability to address racial disparities and prevent unintended consequences that harm whole communities.
The results of the study countered the theory that colorblindness is the best policy when it comes to addressing race issues in politics.
Thus, racial equity should be a standard for measuring government effectiveness. It rightly redirects the focus of legislation from political intent to an explicit evaluation of the impact of laws on communities of color.
In Nevada, where high-interest home loans were concentrated in black, Latino, and native American communities, the state passed a law that delays the eviction of foreclosed homeowners until the completion of mediation.
Washington state legislators funded a community healthcare program where 61 percent of recipients were from communities of color.
In Denver, graduation rates for blacks and Latinos are 47 and 38 percent respectively. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. signed a bill that provides technical assistance to high-needs school districts serving black and Latino communities.
In each case we can see how solutions were applied to address the greatest need and where the potential outcome could undo disparities. That’s what racial equity is about.
Of course it’s a fine line when making such decisions. Sometimes lawmakers may, intentionally or not, reinforce institutional racism and aggravate existing racial inequities.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, for example, bypassed legislative consent via his allotment and line-item veto powers to cut funding to General Assistance Medical Care, Renters Credit programs, and state aid to local municipalities, all of which disproportionately serve the state’s native, Latino, black, and immigrant communities.