By Kimberly Perry
We know the District’s young people can accomplish anything when given a fair chance. And we also know how much stands in their way—particularly those most affected by poverty and racism. These are powerful injustices, and they must be met with an equally powerful response.
A Legacy of Systemic Racism
Even in 2020, Black and brown residents in the District earn less money and do not have equal access to quality medical care, child care, and education. Women-led household income consistently lags behind couple-led households and even single-male led households. Black youth are over-policed and at higher risk for suicide than white youth. These statistics are undeniable affirmations of the failure of “color-blind” policies, which instead cement a legacy of systemic racism.
We believe this data must be used as a starting point for innovative and equitable solutions that will transform our city.
While gains have been made in children’s health insurance coverage, unemployment rates, and some education indicators, the number and impact of negative outcomes for Black and brown families is staggering. And importantly, this data was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve seen how the coronavirus kills Black residents at almost six times the rate of white residents, and more than half of the District’s Black households with children experienced loss of income since the pandemic started as compared to a third of white households with children.
Racist Policies Cut Across Class
For years, advocates have pursued “color-blind” solutions to address policy failures, and as the data shows, we are still suffering deeply racist outcomes. For example, our efforts to raise family income looks like a success on paper because the average pay for families has increased, but when we break it down by race it’s clear that policy makers have failed to promote shared prosperity for everyone. The gains Black and brown families have seen in their incomes are dwarfed by the wide gap with white families’ incomes. And even those on reasonably stable financial footing are still more likely to experience poor outcomes in health and education. This last point should drive home the inescapable fact that racist policies cut across class. We will be unable to address any kind of inequality, without addressing racism. The effects of COVID exacerbate inequalities and amplifies the District’s fragmented response to serving its residents.
Concentrated Income Inequity and Poverty Only Persists for Black and Brown Families
It is apparent that all of these years we’ve been trying to solve the wrong problem. In the District of Columbia, concentrated income inequality and poverty only persists for Black and brown families. What we now know for sure is that the legacy of systemic racist policies is the cause of persistent racial poverty and generations of unnecessary suffering. What we must advance are anti-racist policies that will lead to racial equity.
Equality and Equity Are Fundamentally Different
Equality and equity are fundamentally different concepts. When you advocate for equality, you settle for less. In other words, if the starting points are staggered and children and young people are given the same kind of resources, the outcome will still be equally staggered because not everyone came from the same place.
On the other hand, if we can agree on a set of common goals for all children–and provide our kids with the opportunities that each of them needs to reach it—we can achieve an outcome that is truly equitable for all children, regardless of the neighborhoods where they were born or the schools they attended.
Innovative and equitable investments like universal early education, preventive health care homes, trauma-informed education, mental health care, and safer communities resulting from community social workers and less over-policing are all a part of the solution, and these investments need to be protected and sustained.
Working Toward Change
DC Action is committed to undoing the racist policies and practices and working toward change. We do not, nor could we ever, lead this work alone. Our march toward equity is grounded in data and the voices and experiences of those most challenged. We advocate and fight in partnership with many statewide coalitions and campaigns that believe as we do, that all children and youth deserve to grow up safe, resilient, powerful, and heard.