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Racial and Gender Justice

In this Issue - From the Editor

Race-Regionalism Nav graphic

The election of Barack Obama represents a turning point in the role of race in United States politics. It proves conclusively that the United States electorate has moved past simple prejudice based on the color of a person’s skin. And it demonstrates that there is a majority coalition in favor of progressive change. This is a milestone, and it offers an outstanding opportunity to advance a new national agenda.

Unfortunately, the election in itself does very little to challenge the economic and social system that inflicts racism on vast segments of the people in this country. To make change, our movements will need to maintain consistent grassroots pressure on the new leadership. But we also need to deepen our understanding of how racial inequality is maintained. Furthermore, we need a solid theory of how and where we can redistribute opportunity so that communities of color and low-income people can gain their fair share of benefits and remedy past wrongs.

Bay Area Health Inequities

The generation of Americans born at the beginning of the 21st century can expect to live, on average, 30 years longer than those born at the beginning of the 20th century. And at least 25 of those years are attributable, not to antibiotics, vaccines, and other medical advances, but to improvements in our physical and social environments, such as food and water sanitation, workplace and traffic safety, restrictions on the use of tobacco products, and housing conditions.[1]

Geographic distribution of poverty rates in Bay Area counties.

In fact, the odds of being healthy can depend very much on the community in which you live. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, people who live in West Oakland can expect to live on average 10 years less than those who live in the Berkeley Hills. Similarly, people in Bayview/Hunters Point can expect to live on average 14 years less than their counterparts on Russian Hill, and residents of Bay Point can expect to live on average 11 years less than people in Orinda.[2]

Life expectancy in the Bay Area—and around the nation—conforms to a pattern called the “social gradient.”[3] The more income and wealth people have, the more likely they are to live longer. This pattern can be seen in the graph “Bay Area Life Expectancy by Race/Ethnicity: Data from 1999-2001” (on page 85), which correlates life expectancy to the extent of poverty in specific areas (census tracts). People who live in places where there is the least poverty can expect to live, on average, 10 years longer than people in places with the most poverty.

Does the Marin Transportation System Shut Out People of Color?

A recent Texas Institute of Transportation study confirms what many rush hour commuters in the Bay Area have long suspected—traffic congestion here is the second worst in the nation, Los Angeles being the worst.[1] Specifically, in the North Bay, Marin County has logged the largest percent increase in traffic in the Bay Area between 2005 and 2007; up 20 percent from 2004.[2]

Segregation is Still Wrong and Still Pervasive

Pervasive housing discrimination by public and private actors helped create, and now maintains poor, minority neighborhoods. Until the end of World War II, physical violence, racial zoning, and discriminatory real estate practices kept blacks closely confined to the ghetto.[1] In many cities, white property owners attached restrictive covenants to deeds that forbade blacks from buying homes in their neighborhoods.[2] Real estate agencies engaged in a variety of discriminatory practices, including racial steering of blacks and whites away from each other andblockbusting, which involves selling a few homes in a white neighborhood to black tenants, buying neighboring homes at lower prices from panicked white homeowners, then reselling the homes to middle-income blacks at a premium.

To this day, blacks and Latinos at all income levels are discriminated against by real estate agents, who show them only a small subset of the market and steer whites away from communities with people of color.[3] Mortgage lenders also systematically lend less money to blacks and Latinos compared to whites of similar income and background.[4] These patterns of resegregation do not end at city borders but also extend into suburbia. A recent study of metropolitan Boston showed that nearly half of all black homeowners were concentrated in seven out of a total 126 communities.[5]

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