“A truly great city leaves no one behind.”
These are the words of the newly released report from the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities. Organized by Austin Mayor Steve Adler late last year in response to the police shooting of 17-year-old David Joseph, as well as a larger national conversation on race, the task force includes a long list of local community leaders. For months they worked on identifying problems and coming up with solutions to institutional racism across five sectors – education; real estate and housing; health; finance, banking, and industry; and civil and criminal justice. The task force was headed by Colette Pierce Burnette (president and CEO of Huston-Tilottston University) and Paul Cruz (superintendent of the Austin Independent School District).
What is institutional racism?
The report’s authors define institutional racism as racism that is perpetuated by powerful social organizations (as opposed to individuals) that implement racial inequality through deliberate and organized processes. But, they note, that when it comes to government, institutional racism can also take the form of inaction and neglect, “when government actors fail to address racial injustice, when they allow such injustices to continue unabated, they are also engaging in institutional racism.”
The report itself is 70 pages long and is definitely worth a read. To get you started, we’ve highlighted and summarized a few of the sections below.
First, the report’s authors call on everyone in Austin, especially elected officials, CEOs, and executive directors to take the time to:
- Engage in personal soul-searching
- Commit to life-long undoing racism trainings
- Learn how to have courageous conversations about race
- Develop a deeper understanding about the impact of race in everyday life
- Commit to act as an agent of change in eliminating racial disparities in Austin
- Build on the work of previous and current activists
As the report’s authors explain, minority communities are much more likely to be home to toxic industries, an over concentration of alcohol and tobacco stores, as well as the legal and illegal of dump sites of pollutants. This of course, has an impact on health. In order to truly address the impact of racism on health, the report’s authors say, “it will require a commitment – that will be uncomfortable – to re-prioritize and reallocate resources to begin to ‘turn the Titanic.'”
Some of the report’s recommendations to address these inequities include:
- Regularly reveal, report, and act on health disparities
- Create an Office of Resilience within the Austin Public Health Department to ensure all services and systems are trauma-informed and trauma-responsive. (Trauma can both exacerbate and lead to poor health outcomes).
- Dedicate funding for cultural sensitivity training for community health workers
- Create accessible, neighborhood-specific health resource directories
- Map disparities in exposure to environmental pollutants and then take action to fix them
- Incentivize public-private initiatives that increase food access in underserved communities
- Create school-to-workforce pipelines to encourage a more diverse healthcare workforce
In 2014, Austin was named the most economically segregated major city in the country. It is also the only fast-growing city that is losing its black population.
The report’s authors point to both historic and current city actions associated with housing and land planning as perpetuating a racist and discriminatory system. They reject the argument that market forces alone are responsible for today’s gentrification, saying that this fails to recognize the ways that explicitly racist government policies in the past are, “directly responsible for segregation and gentrification driven displacements we witness today. City government has yet to take full responsibility, much less redress these past racial injustices.”
Here’s what they recommended the city should do as a path forward:
- Create a dedicated affordable housing fund to carry out a comprehensive program to redress institutional racism in Austin real estate and housing
- Provide opportunities for those that have already been displaced from their homes in East Austin to return
- Recognize the rights of longtime East Austin residents to stay in their homes, by creating programs that offer paths to home ownership and provide assistance in paying taxes and repairing older homes
- Tie together housing, transit, jobs, and schools to create thriving communities
- Embrace integration and diversity as a core value in neighborhoods and across the city
The report’s authors also take the time to point to the many ways in which these issues intersect. A decision years ago to direct polluting industries to East Austin can have significant impacts on not only the health of neighborhoods for years to come, but also on gentrification, and urban sprawl, and education. Disparities in the city’s justice system can affect both physical and emotional health. It’s all interconnected. You can read the entire report here>>