Equity is the Antidote for Inequality

I’m continually inspired by Angela Glover Blackwell, executive director of PolicyLink. In a recent interview she states, “We will be a failed Nation if we don’t overcome the legacy of racism,” and she’s right. By the end of 2019 the majority of 18 years and younger in America will be people of color (POC).  Census Bureau predicts by 2044 the U.S. will be a pluralistic society; no race will be the majority. (See link below to watch the interview)

You see, Angela isn’t being an alarmist. She’s stating what each of us know inherently but haven’t taken the time to unpack. “The fate of our nation is dependent upon those who have been marginalized and discriminated against,” Angela adds.  So, no longer is building an equitable community seen as a “moral imperative,” it’s now become an “economic, democratic and national imperative.” The future demographic of America will be a majority of POC, and currently in America POC are disproportionately living in poverty.  If we keep to the status quo, the future of our Nation “will have little to no middle class” in our life time.

In an piece by Angela for Standford Social Innovation Review she writes, “These demographic shifts matter to every American. Not because there is something frightening about a nation where whites are no longer the majority. Rather, it is because the costs of society failing people of color are climbing as the population grows—and because the benefits of strategies that expand opportunity for people of color would extend to all. Knock down walls of exclusion and build accessible pathways to success, and everyone gains.” (See link below for full article)

I recently was meeting with a constituent when I explained the rapid demographic changes in America and the importance of equity work. He met my concerns with, “April, it will work itself out.” Institutions do not intuitively and automatically transform simply because white’s are no longer the majority.

During a City Club event Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Institute stated, “The racial demographics (of America) are changing dramatically. Obviously not as rapidly here (Bellingham)…. You need to be prepared for it. One, because it will manifest itself and two, because white supremacists and white nationalist look for places like this (Bellingham) that have a strong majority white population to move and to set up shop. So this puts you (Bellingham) at risk.” (Link to Lecia’s talk below). Bellingham’s population is 79.81% white (2016 census data).

Bellingham isn’t a white dominant culture by accident. We have a legacy of racism that runs deep and policies that continue to segregate our residents by class. And because class and race are so highly intertwined, those policies that have segregated us by race as well. Our northern schools are busting at the seams, with elementary schools where the majority of students are POC and where over 70% of students are living at or below the federal poverty level. While an elementary school less than a few miles away has a population that is over 80% white and barely reaching 20% of students living at or below the federal poverty level. This is the result of not distributing our resources equitably to help all achieve equality.

There is so much we can do at the local level. But first we must acknowledge that we are participating in oppression of others daily. We must be curious and do the work to pull back the curtain and expose ourselves to the realities of implicit bias, institutional and systemic racism, white privilege and white fragility (more links below if you want to get started now). We must talk about racism and inequities and dedicate ourselves to transforming our systems and institutions to reflect equity in every policy and practice.

Equity is the antidote for inequality!

Equity is NOT a zero-sum game. Angela explains equity as the curb-cut effect: When we ensuring everyone can participate and contribute, ultimately everyone will benefit. Curb cuts were initially intended to improve access for those reliant upon wheelchairs for mobility. After the rapid adoption of curb-cuts, communities realized a ripple effect of unintended benefits like easing the burden of people pushing strollers and those delivering goods with hand trucks and a number of unencumbered pedestrians’ lives saved because the curb-cuts orients people to cross at the corners. Angela states so eloquently, “When we solve problems for the most vulnerable with nuance and specificity the benefits cascade up and out.”

curb cut

Policy with a Conscience: Angela Glover Blackwell (listen to the end to hear words from Mayda Del Valle) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgmB3x14eHU

The Curb-Cut Effect by Angela Glover Blackwell https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_curb_cut_effect

City Club Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Institute. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnRuOubYEnQ

Robin DiAngelo on White Privilege and White Fragility https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HydwbCrm7zU            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIPRQ24amHw

I recently attended a phenomenal race equity training by Cikeithia Pugh of Equity Matters NW out of Seattle at the Bellingham Public Library. We must invest in race equity trainings and make readily available to ensure we are transforming our City from the inside. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. Cikeithia’s training taught me a LOT of what I didn’t know. If you are in a decision-making role for your business or organization, invest in race equity trainings often for staff and board members and commit to ensuring your work is equity grounded!