Commentary, News, What's Race Got To Do With It?

Say what? GOP changing its tune on drug testing for public assistance

The conservative Washington Examiner reported yesterday that Republicans in Congress may be backing off of their support for requiring food assistance beneficiaries to submit to drug testing.

This is from an article entitled “Opioid epidemic quiets GOP calls for food stamps drug testing”:

“Republican leaders say they will reject a drug testing requirement when they consider food stamp legislation this week, a dramatic change in position that’s mostly a response to the nation’s opioid epidemic.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said he’ll vote against any drug testing amendment to the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, otherwise known as the Farm Bill, which is set for committee markup Wednesday.

‘Given the heightened awareness today of the opioid crisis in this country as well as other drug addictions, punishing people at this point in time when we are working to get them off these programs may be counterproductive,’ Conaway said.”

Hooray for Rep. Conaway! As with the American Right’s better-late-than-never conversion on the broader question criminal justice generally — where even the Koch Brothers and their minions have finally come to the realization that the nation’s mad rush to lock up a huge proportion of its population was hugely wasteful and doomed to failure — the flip flop is extremely welcome. The sooner that Americans of all ideologies finally learn to treat drug abuse as a public health crisis and non-abusing drug use by adults as an entirely private matter, the better.

Still, as with so many other policy shifts resulting from the opioid crisis (e.g. the conservative “180” on the availability of opioid reversal drugs and clean needle exchange programs), one can’t help but wonder if this change would have happened if the most publicized face of American drug abuse was still a person of color using crack rather than a down-on-his-luck, white Midwesterner addicted to painkillers.

The hard truth is that, for decades, America’s war on drugs has been a war on African Americans. Now that conservative whites are finally waking up to the reality that drug addiction and the behavior associated with it can afflict people of all backgrounds, let’s hope it opens more eyes to racial inequities that continue to plague so many other aspects of our society.

Commentary, What's Race Got To Do With It?

The economic barriers that still confront African American North Carolinians

In case you missed it earlier this week, analyst Will Munn has authored an important new entry in the NC Budget and Tax Center’s “Prosperity Watch” series. His finding: Despit some progress the data confirm that African Americans in North Carolina still must confront large economic barriers.

Some progress in North Carolina over 50 years, but barriers persist for African Americans

Fifty years ago, the Kerner Commission concluded that “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing” and structural racism had created barriers to opportunity for African-Americans to earn, save and engage in civic life.

Reflecting on the Kerner Commission report after five decades, researchers from the Economic Policy Institute last week revealed that progress has been made in absolute terms for African-Americans but limited in removing barriers that maintain persistently high differences in outcomes for African Americans relative to whites.

Nationally, researchers from the Economic Policy Institute found that 34.7 percent of all African Americans nationally lived in poverty in 1968, compared to 21.4 percent today.[1]  Correspondingly, 10 percent of whites in 1968 lived in poverty compared to 8.8 percent in 2016.[2] In North Carolina the census of 1970 found that 38.7 percent of African American families lived in poverty compared to 11.1 percent of white families in North Carolina.[3] [4] In 2016, a similar measure found that 23.4 percent of African Americans in North Carolina lived in poverty while 12 percent of whites experienced the same economic status.[5] Both nationally and statewide these numbers represent progress for African Americans with a decline in absolute poverty rates and a reduction in the difference in the experience of poverty for African-Americans and whites. While that difference was 27.5 percentage points in 1968, the difference dropped to 11.45 percentage points in 2016.

Nationally and at the state level, differences in the unemployment rates by race have widened over the past 50 years.[6] An unemployment rate gap in North Carolina that was nearly 4 percentage points 50 years ago has now stretched to 5 percentage points.[7]

While important to acknowledge the drop in poverty both in absolute and relative terms for African-Americans, the persistent barriers in employment will continue to leader to differences in economic outcomes that keep North Carolina from reaching our full economic potential.

[1] Jones, J., Schmitt, J., & Wilson, V. (2018, February 26). 50 years after the Kerner Commission: African Americans are better off in many ways but are still disadvantaged by racial inequality. Retrieved from https://www.epi.org/publication/50-years-after-the-kerner-commission.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Bohme, F. G. (1976). 1970 census of population and housing: procedural history (United States., Bureau of the Census). Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census.
[4] Social Explorer Tables, Census 1970, Social Explorer & U.S. Census Bureau, Poverty Status for Families
[5] Social Explorer Tables: ACS 2016 (1-Year Estimates), ACS 2016 (1-Year Estimates), Social Explorer; U.S. Census Bureau, Poverty Status in 2016
[6] Ibid.
[7] Social Explorer Tables: ACS 2016 (1-Year Estimates), ACS 2016 (1-Year Estimates), Social Explorer; U.S. Census Bureau, Unemployment Rate for The Population 16 Years and Over

 

News, What's Race Got To Do With It?

What’s race got to do with it? UNC emails highlight views on Confederate statue controversy

Editor’s Note: This is part of an occasional series of NC Policy Watch blog posts examining disproportionate impacts on race — in the environment, education, the courts and other sectors — and the structural issues that lead to these inequalities.

My story this week on the main Policy Watch site examines hundreds of UNC Board of Governors emails concerning the ongoing controversy over “Silent Sam” – the only Confederate monument on a UNC campus.

The emails were sent last summer in the wake of deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville and protesters toppling a Confederate statue in Durham. They give some insight into how fractured, contentious and backbiting relations have gotten on the UNC Board of Governors. But it’s worth remembering that UNC President Margaret Spellings and UNC Chancellor Carol Folt touched off the political firestorm at the center of the story by reaching out to Gov. Roy Cooper to convene the N.C. Historical Commission to decide the statue’s fate.

A majority of the board signed on to a letter that called the gesture “weak” and “hand-wringing,” suggesting that the university should meet protests that might threaten the statue not with a discussion of how to deal with the statue but by arresting the protesters.

It would later be revealed that Spellings and UNC Chancellor Carol Folt joked the University of Texas – in Spellings’ native Lone Star state – was “smarter” for immediately taking down their statues while North Carolina’s university system is mired in state-level political fight over the matter with no simple solutions.

The movement to remove the “Silent Sam” statue from UNC’s campus is very diverse. Students, staff, professors, alumni and even members of the UNC Board of Governors from various racial backgrounds have argued that the statue is racially offensive. But as emphasized in an interview with Dr. Valerie Johnson, a Bennett College professor who taught on UNC’s campus and is now on the historical commission, the greatest burden of the issue rests with Black people who are confronted with a monument to the confederacy on the campus where they work and study.

“If you have a big, gigantic statue to something that touts the supremacy of one group over another, that’s not a true reflection of the history,” Johnson said in her interview with Policy Watch. “You have one single view of that history.”

“I know this is a point of contention,” Johnson said. “Because some say the Civil War was an honorable cause. But for those of us who believe in the Union and understand what was at stake, it was seditious activity.”

“We can have conversation about that, but if that’s the only statue that is there, the only thing that is interpreting that aspect of history, you will get folks who recapitulate that – that it was an honorable endeavor, an honorable war,” Johnson said. “I want that to be in contention.It was not okay to enslave other humans. It’s still not okay. Full stop. Period.”

For Johnson and other professors from a large and growing list of departments at UNC and beyond, reducing the conversation about “Silent Sam” to one of law and order and the need to simply arrest protesters is offensive on multiple levels.

As Durham District Attorney Roger Echols made clear in a statement on those charged with toppling a Confederate statue in his city, the issue is far more complicated. This is from Echols’ statement: Read more

Environment, What's Race Got To Do With It?

What’s race got to do with it? Census data show Black, Latino neighborhoods especially vulnerable to air pollution

Editor’s Note: This is part of an occasional series of NC Policy Watch blog posts examining disproportionate impacts on race — in the environment, education, the courts and other sectors — and the structural issues that lead to these inequalities.

With nearly all Black or Latino residents, a census block group in east-central Winston-Salem, including areas near two city parks, is disproportionately burdened by air pollution. Another block group near the highway interchange is also a minority neighborhood with chronic exposure to diesel emissions and other air toxics. (Maps: EPA Environmental Justice Screen)

Some time next year it’s expected money will start flowing from North Carolina’s $92 million Volkswagen settlement fund to projects designed to reduce diesel air pollution. Chosen by DEQ and approved by a federal trustee, the projects, such as installing electric car charging stations or retiring diesel school buses for cleaner hybrid/electric models, must address areas that are disproportionately harmed by air pollution.

And most of the time, these areas are predominantly Black, Latino or American Indian and/or low-income.

Public policy has a way of piling on these communities. Rarely will you see a million-dollar home abutting a landfill, but these working-class neighborhoods may be burdened not only by their proximity to an interstate, where they live in a cloud of microscopic and damaging pollutants, but also dirty neighbors: major industry, dumps, Superfund sites, power plants, gas stations and other sources of pollution.

These same Black, Latino, American Indian and low-income residents are also more likely to endure health problems (and often with irregular access to health care) from those very pollutants: childhood asthma from bad air, for example. According to federal health statistics, Black children are four times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for asthma, as compared to non-Hispanic white children. And in 2015, Black children had a death rate 10 times that of non-Hispanic white children.

Policy Watch used the EPA’s environmental justice screening tool to analyze several Census Block Groups in the state that appear vulnerable to both pollution and racial disparity. Here are some of our findings:

  • In one South Raleigh area bisected by the heavily traveled South Saunders Street, more than two-thirds of the 1,910 residents are Black and/or Latino. These neighborhoods also rank in the 97th percentile in EPA Region 4 for proximity to traffic. (This means these residents live closer to highly trafficked areas than 97 percent of census block groups within the eight Southeastern states in Region 4.) The block groups have similar rankings when compared to those statewide.
  •  In Winston-Salem, many underserved neighborhoods hug the major thoroughfares of I-40 and US 52. In east-central Winston near Rupert Bell Park, a block group that is 99 percent minority ranks in the mid-80th percentile both state and region-wide for ozone pollution and air toxics cancer risk. More than 1,470 people live in this block group. (See map at the top of the page.)
    The 1,055 people — all Black and/or Latino — who live near the I-40/ US 52 interchange are especially at risk of pollution-related illness. This block group ranks in the 92nd to 96th percentile for exposure to diesel emissions, air toxic cancer risk and respiratory hazards.
  • And in Fayetteville, a neighborhood of 2,309 at the northern gateway to the city is 69 percent minority, according to EPA data. Regionwide, it ranks in the 84th percentile for diesel particulate matter and 94th for its proximity to Superfund sites, which can also contribute to air pollution.