California: A path forward on race

A diverse crowd recites the Pledge of Allegiance at a political rally at CSU-Dominguez Hills in Los Angeles. (Photo: Joseph Sohm)

In 1968, California officially adopted a nickname, “the Golden State,” to convey a sense of opportunity for all who live here. But a new initiative confirms that, nearly a half century later, Californians still face profound opportunity gaps based on race.

The Advancement Project California along with our partners announced Race Counts (www.RaceCounts.org), an initiative that paints a picture of racial disparity across issues from healthcare and economic opportunity to education and housing.  Race Counts is the most comprehensive research done on racial disparities in California counties, with the largest number of data sets compiled across seven issue areas.

The only way to turn things around and open up opportunity to all Californians is to transform the policies and the systems that continue to prop up racial inequality.

Here is what we found: Significant racial disparities can be found in all corners of the state and in all issue areas.

Given the breadth of the data we collected, it’s possible for the first time to see how the full weight of racial bias and discrimination bears down on specific communities of color in the state. The Black community, for example, faces the highest levels of disparity on measures of life expectancy, homeownership, school suspensions, household income and incarceration. Latinos, who make up the largest number of people living under disparities, fare worse than other communities of color in access to quality housing and the proportion employed in managerial jobs, among other measures.

Even in the most progressive counties, the data affirm that a rising tide does not lift all boats.

The Bay Area, for example, has experienced huge growth and prosperity in recent years but its counties are all listed among the most racially disparate statewide.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles is home to the highest number of residents impacted by racial disparities, and the counties of the Central Valley all rank among the lowest performing in the state and often have high disparities.

The disparities uncovered by our research did not just happen. They are the product of decisions over several decades that reserved the spoils of the state’s growth and prosperity mainly for white people.

Therefore, the only way to turn things around and open up opportunity to all Californians is to transform the policies and the systems that continue to prop up racial inequality.

Fortunately, California has made some progress on this score over the last few years.

In a state that for a long time was known as a leader in adopting divisive, race-based measures (such as the infamous Proposition 227, which enacted harmful and restrictive policies for bilingual education), it’s reassuring to see that we are now at the vanguard in resisting hate and discrimination.

For example, with Propositions 47 and 57, we have taken a strong stand against mass incarceration, which is devastating communities of color. California also is a leader in pushing for more racial equity in education, healthcare access and other issues.

But the Race Counts data show we still have a long way to go. Through this new initiative, community groups and policy makers now have data and tools to bring new attention to disparities that exist, initiate conversations, and take action to advance the cause of equity and justice for all Californians.

For decades, Californians supported and tolerated a system that deliberately prevented communities of color from enjoying the fruits of the state’s growth and success. But now the tide is turning. In the face of a national political scene dominated by polarization and hate, Californians of all races are standing up to say, “Enough.”

We can be the Golden State. But it’s going to require stepped-up organizing and action at all levels. And it’s going to require all of us to take a hard look at the data on disparities so we can see where we stand, and where we need to go from here.

Ed’s Note: Chris Ringewald is associate director of research with the Advancement Project in California.

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