California wants to acknowledge racism as a public well being disaster
SB 17 would lead to identifying racial and ethnic differences and addressing structural racism in state policies and budgets.
By Richard Pan, especially for CalMatters
State Senator Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat, representing the 6th Senate District, [email protected]. Dr. Pan, a pediatrician, is chairman of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.
The Declaration of Independence states, “We take these truths for granted that all human beings are created equal.” Despite our best efforts, not all Americans enjoy equal opportunities.
The COVID pandemic underscores the persistent racial disparities in health, education, and wealth granted to different Americans. The coronavirus does not discriminate based on race, but the spread and severity of the virus depends on the circumstances of its victims.
Black and Latino Americans are twice as likely to test positive for COVID-19 and nearly three times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID, while Native Americans are three and a half times more likely to be hospitalized. Native Hawaiian and Pacific islanders are three times more likely to develop COVID than whites and have the highest mortality rate of any race and ethnic group. Asians with COVID are 57% more likely to be hospitalized and 49% more likely to die than whites with similar socioeconomic characteristics and underlying health conditions.
But I think the Californians want to achieve the ideals of the American Declaration of Independence and try to create a more perfect union. It is for this reason that I am drafting Senate Bill 17 calling on California to recognize racism as a public health crisis and to set up a Racial Justice Bureau and a Racial Justice Council to hold us accountable.
The office will analyze the outcome data to identify racial and ethnic differences and inform the council, which will provide recommendations to the governor and legislature on tackling structural racism in state politics and the budget.
As a doctor with expertise in public health, I recognize that health is greatly influenced by the social and physical environment. Racism causes chronic stress and differences in the prevalence and severity of chronic illness, as well as infant, maternal, and all-cause mortality beyond socio-economic factors.
Racial differences are not just limited to health and go back to the founding of our country. Numerous government policies discriminate racially against Americans, beginning with the continuation of slavery in the Constitution through the 13th Amendment. While many such guidelines have been removed with great effort throughout our history, many others remain and new discriminatory guidelines are proposed.
Institutional and systemic racism insidiously permeates our communities. An example of how inequalities don’t just go away with inclusive policies is the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that made redlining or designating black neighborhoods as bad investments illegal for lenders.
Redlining was widespread in California, and although it’s been illegal for decades, its legacy continues. Previously redesigned neighborhoods were geared towards undesirable developments such as highways or industrial plants, resulting in lower life expectancy and a higher incidence of chronic illnesses in children and adults due to pollution. These color communities have persistently lower housing values, lowering property taxes to fund neighborhood public schools, resulting in fewer educational resources, lowering wealth for families in the community.
According to the Advancement Project’s RACE COUNTS COVID-19: Statewide Vulnerability and Recovery Index, people of color have less access to early childhood education, have health insurance, own a home, choose and feel safe in their neighborhood.
Throughout our nation’s history, racist government policies and practices have marginalized, disenfranchised, and prevented all Americans from having equal opportunities for success and independence. The system was literally turned against color communities, and the effects were profound, creating wide disparities in housing, public health, incarceration rates, employment, and education.
America was founded on the ideal of equal opportunities for all willing to work hard, and the California dream is the promise of chance and happiness. California funded free education and infrastructure to provide more equality of opportunity to the people moving to the Golden State from our country and around the world. We must now seek justice for all Californians to have a fair chance to thrive in our great state and country. We have to pass SB 17 so that we can identify racial inequalities in our state and work to eliminate them.