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Government Responsiveness to Racial Inequity

California’s legacy of white supremacy continues to devastate communities of color. This is primarily reflected in deep-seated, long-standing disparities in life opportunities. Generally, people of color are less likely to have access to socio-economic and political opportunities and, correspondingly, experience less successful outcomes than their white counterparts. For example, as RACE COUNTS shows, people of color are less likely to have access to early childhood education programs, have health insurance, own a home, vote, and feel safe in their neighborhood. Conversely, they are more likely to live below the poverty line, be incarcerated, live in close proximity to environmental hazards, and give birth to children with low birth weights.

Most recently, the disparities in life chances and opportunities have been vividly revealed through the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding recession. According to the California Department of Health, the COVID-related death rate for Whites lower than their share of the state’s population, while the rates for Latinx people, Black people, and Pacific Islanders are higher than their respective shares of the population. Similarly, according to the Economic Policy Institute, while whites experienced a significant increase in unemployment between the first and second quarters of 2020 (3.4 percent to 13.5 percent), Latinx (5.4 to 18.1 percent), Black (6.0 to 18.3 percent), and Asian (3.0 to 14.2 percent) people experienced higher increases.

The disadvantages that people of color experience are not coincidences. They result from a long history of governmental and non-governmental policies and practices that were explicitly racist and ethnocentric, such as an 1850 California law that prohibited a “[B]lack or mulatto person, or Indian” from providing testimony in favor of or against a white person in a criminal case. Racially restrictive covenants that prohibited whites from selling certain homes to people of color is another example. However, in our current moment, four largescale structural factors—rather than explicitly racist policies—drive and reinforce the various disadvantages that people of color face: (1) inequitable systems that turn racial biases into disparities, (2) developments in our state’s economy that increasingly marginalize working-class and low-income people, (3) racial disparities in political power, and (4) the adoption of need- and colorblind policies.

Recently, and especially following George Floyd’s killing in May 2020, governments across the country have acknowledged that they have some role to play in combating the racial disparities that they have had a hand in creating and/or perpetuating. Within the last few years, nearly 200 government entities across about two dozen states have passed resolutions and ordinances pronouncing racism as a public health crisis and, by and large, going beyond the pronouncement by committing to do something about it. The federal government has also acknowledged systemic racism and committed to addressing it. Political Voice welcomes these acknowledgments and is working with community partners to encourage governments within California to build infrastructure that can truly impact the structural factors that drive racial inequity.

Learn about our state-level effort here.

Learn about our effort within the City of Los Angeles here.