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

What’s race got to do with it? Transgender women of color and prisons

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.

Kanautica Zayre-Brown

The case of Kanautica Zayre-Brown has sparked a conversation about the treatment of transgender people in North Carolina’s prisons – and seems certain to result in a federal lawsuit.

Transgender people of all gender identities face unique struggles when dealing with law enforcement, the courts and prisons – in changing their gender marker, being identified by their proper name even after it has been legally changed, in how they are housed, where and with whom they must shower or use the restroom.

Zayre-Brown is one of many transgender women of color who disproportionately face these struggles on top of the daily complications of navigating government systems while transgender.

Nearly one in six transgender Americans — and one in two Black transgender people — has been to prison, as documented by Lambda Legal’s Protected and Served survey.

Those numbers are not a surprise for those who study health and safety outcomes among transgender people in the U.S. Transgender women consistently face poorer health outcomes, more interactions with law enforcement and experience more violence. The numbers are even more grave for transgender women of color.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender survey showed stark racial inequalities and far worse outcomes for Black transgender people than for the Black U.S. population as a whole.

Among its findings:

Last year at least 26 transgender people were murdered in the U.S., according to the Human Rights Campaign. That number is likely low – the result of both under-reporting and the frequent misgendering of transgender people killed violently. All but one of those deaths were transgender women of color.

Candis Cox

Last week  Candis Cox, a Black transgender activist who has become one of the state’s most prominent LGBTQ voices, spoke to Policy Watch about Zayre-Brown’s case and the struggles of transgender women of color in society.

Cox pointed out that despite having lived as a woman for years, having undergone hormone therapy and gender confirmation surgery and having legally changed her name, the prison system still refuses to acknowledge Zayre-Brown’s identity or even call her by her legal name.

Cases like Zayre Brown’s show that for transgender people, even “doing everything right” doesn’t guarantee your government or society will accept you for who you are, Cox said. This is especially true for transgender women of color like she and Zayre Brown, Cox said.

“A lot of these policy makers, what I see is they are okay with wrapping their head around concepts — especially when we start talking about minorities — if they are willing to play the game and ask very little of the system, contribute and be something that they can point to as some shining example that is a white-washed version of something,” Cox said.

“But when we start talking about people who are navigating the actual systems of our society — like the prison system — they’re just another black criminal,” Cox said. “They’re no longer people.”

 

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

Kavanaugh nomination: Uncomfortable shadows of the past

Early on in the the nomination of D.C. Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court, political researchers exploring Kavanaugh’s likely ideological ranking on the political spectrum placed him right next to Justice Clarence Thomas, suggesting affinity between the two when it comes to how they would act on the court.

The current sexual assault accusations against Kavanaugh invites a second comparison about what they might have in common even off the court–namely, their denigration of women–and the Republicans’ consistent willingness to overlook it. There are obvious parallels between the way current GOP leaders and the President are treating the current accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and Anita Hill, who emerged in 1991 with sexual harassment claims during the Thomas confirmation process.

Decades after Anita Hill made the words “sexual harassment” common language and just a year after the #MeToo movement brought down titans in the business, political and entertainment sector, Republicans are still jeering and dismissing sexual assault and misogyny instead of stopping it. President Trump–as though tweeting from a time warp–is predictably blaming the survivor and dismissing Ford’s trauma since she didn’t broadcast it the day it happened. Kavanaugh’s second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, may even be denied the opportunity to testify before Senators.

The Republicans’ response to these devastating accusations against their nominee is part of an overall pattern to turn the back the clock for women. The implications for our nation’s future are dire, particularly for poor women and women of color who will face the greatest consequences if we end up with another Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.

Activists worried about the fate of Roe v. Wade have mailed thousands of coat hangers to Senator Susan Collins, a critical deciding vote on the Kavanaugh nomination, signaling their concerns about rewinding the era of back alley abortions.

North Carolina women share these concerns but, frankly, we’re more worried about hand-cuffs than coat-hangers these days, since access is a bigger issue than safety for most women. Today, nearly half of all abortions today are conducted with FDA-approved medications, not surgery.  Studies show that medication abortion is incredibly safe resulting in complications in fewer than .4% of cases. In some states, over half the abortion are already conducted using pills at home, not on a table in a clinic. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center, What's Race Got To Do With It?

Racial and ethnic gaps in infant mortality have grown in North Carolina

Infant mortality data reveal longstanding economic and social disparities that exist along racial and ethnic lines — disparities that are actually getting worse in many cases. Overall infant mortality has declined from 1991 to 2016, as the number of deaths prior to age 1 per 1,000 live births in North Carolina declined from 12.2 deaths to 7.2 deaths. However, when disaggregated by race and ethnicity, the data tell a more complex story.

The infant mortality rate is declining more rapidly for white children compared to many communities of color. From 1997 to 2016, the rate declined 22 percent for white infants but only decreased by 14 percent for African-American and Black infants. Mortality among Hispanic and Latinx infants actually increased by 25 percent during the same time period.

The more rapid decrease in infant mortality for white infants has compounded disparities that already existed across groups. Deaths among Hispanic and Latinx infants have historically been closer to white infant deaths, though there has been an increase in the percentage of Hispanic and Latinx infant deaths from 1997 to 2016.

These changes equate to an increase from 2.2 to 2.68 times the number of African-American and Black infants, meaning that for each white infant that dies per thousand births, there are nearly three African-American and Black infants who die. For Hispanic and Latinx infants, these rates increased from 0.68 to 1.2 deaths for each white infant that dies per thousand births from 1997 to 2016. In addition, if the disparity gap were closed and the white infant mortality rate was reflected across all racial and ethnic groups, 238 fewer African-American and Black infants and 19 fewer Hispanic and Latinx infants would die each year.

These growing gaps in infant mortality are rooted in disparate access to economic opportunities and resources that impact health. While two leading causes of infant death in the United States are attributable to preterm births and birth defects, the underlying root causes point to social factors such as family income, access to health care and insurance, access to prenatal care, mother’s education, and experiences of discrimination and systemic racism. Addressing and eliminating racial barriers to economic opportunity is a vital step in protecting infants and giving everyone in North Carolina the chance to live full and healthy lives.

Suzy Khachaturyan is an MSW/MPH intern with the NC Budget & Tax Center.

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

WRAL: Records show racial tension, post-Trump feuds in North Carolina schools

Here’s a must-read: WRAL News has published a fascinating deep dive into campus racial tension and post-election feuds in a North Carolina school system.

The report, which draws on accounts collected by an Orange County Schools administrator, details ugly incidents in which students of color were harassed or threatened by their peers.

It captures student clashes over President Trump’s election, boasts by Trump supporters, threats of deportation leveled at Hispanic students, and it reports, in at least one instance, backlash against students perceived to be Trump supporters.

According to the report, school system leaders collected the stories as school board members considered a ban on clothing that displays the Confederate flag, as well as Nazi or KKK symbols.

From the WRAL report:

In May 2017, an assistant principal entered a boys’ bathroom at Cedar Ridge High School in Orange County. There, scrawled on the wall, was a threat: “Kill all (racial slur).” He soon found similar graffiti in other bathrooms. Swastikas and slurs littered the walls.

A few months earlier, a Cedar Ridge High teacher heard a student yell “white power!” as they walked to the bus, but she couldn’t make out who it was. Back in her classroom, she found a swastika scratched into a desk in her classroom.

“You going to get deported,” a student told a classmate. The conversations were so upsetting to one student, they went home early.

During the 2016-17 school year, Orange County school leaders recorded 70 incidents at their middle and high schools involving racist threats, political feuds about Trump, clashes over the Confederate flag and other similar fights. They documented the incidents in a report known internally as the “confidential student-specific incidents data,” which noted the date, what happened and the consequences.

Orange County Board of Education members reviewed the document in closed session in May 2017 but didn’t release it publicly.

WRAL News requested a copy of the document this past spring after discovering it existed. Several months later, the school district released the five-page document with numerous redactions, citing student privacy. Of the 70 incidents, 16 are completely redacted and 24 are partially concealed.

The document has never been shared publicly until now. Its existence has prompted several questions: Why did Orange County Schools collect this data when other local school systems did not? Why did they not share it publicly? What did they learn from it? And why have they stopped collecting it?

Orange County Schools Superintendent Todd Wirt said he and his staff collected the information during the 2016-17 school year at the request of the school board, and they discussed it privately in closed session later that school year.

“This wasn’t about the district hiding this information,” Wirt said. “It was about protecting the students that were on the particular document and providing our board with accurate information to help them make a really difficult decision.”

That difficult decision, Wirt said, was whether to ban the Confederate flag on school grounds.

Last August, the school board decided to ban all clothing depicting the Confederate flag, swastikas or any KKK related symbols or language. The decision came after months of pressure from parents and students who urged the school system to change its dress code.

Before making a decision, the board wanted an accurate count of issues stemming from the Confederate flag and racial and election-related incidents in schools, not just anecdotes from a handful of people, according to Wirt. The superintendent assigned the task of collecting the incidents to Jason Johnson, his executive director of schools.

“Basically, each [school] administrative team, they just kind of kept the incidents in a spreadsheet and then I just ran around and got it from them so I could collect it and put it all in one location,” Johnson said.

While the middle and high schools reported dozens of incidents, the elementary schools reported none, according to the superintendent.

“We reached out to our elementary principals and, at the time, honestly, we just weren’t seeing those same types of behaviors at the elementary level,” Wirt said.

After collecting the reports from middle and high schools, Johnson scanned the pages. The stories of students’ hateful language and actions saddened him but didn’t surprise him, he said. He was already aware of some of the stories through his work with the schools’ principals. But others were new.

“You know, I’m an African-American male, so I’m probably a little bit more hurt than anything,” Johnson said. “I think it’s just very painful that we have a few kids – and I do mean a few – that will say some of the things they said or do some of the things they’ve done. But I also know that’s an opportunity to teach.”

The stories didn’t surprise the superintendent, either.

“This is year 20 for me in public education. I was a high school principal for quite some time. I don’t know that surprise would be the right word,” Wirt said. “I honestly was probably most surprised by some of the responses and animation around the election, more than anything from the document.”

The records captured multiple feuds between students over the election of Trump and some displays of support for his victory.

One day after the election, four students walked the halls of Gravelly Hill Middle School chanting “build a wall” within earshot of Hispanic students. That same day at Orange High School, a white student pulled into the parking lot with a Trump flag flying on the back of his truck. He got out and ran around the parking lot with the flag and a Trump mask on his face.

A few days after the election, a parent emailed Orange High School leaders regarding “a negative comment that a teacher had made about the type of people who voted for Trump.” And on a bus ride from C.W. Stanford Middle, a student called others “white crackers and Trump voters.”

In Johnson’s time leading schools, it has “never been this way around election time.”

“I don’t remember anything that compares to it,” he said. “I was a principal when we had the first black president, and we didn’t have anything like this.”

Read more

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

It’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day: Here’s why that’s important

Image: www.womendadvancenc.org

By Antionette Kerr

Why are we still telling Black Women to work twice as hard?

It’s time for equal pay

The women in my family set high standards for what “hard work” felt and looked like. In many ways these lessons gave me strength and inspiration. I have a tremendous amount of respect for their wisdom and I credit them for my fierce work ethic. But lately, I’ve started to challenge the old adage that as a Black Woman I have to “work twice as hard” to be considered successful.

Demanding equal pay is especially important for communities of color who have been told that they had to work “twice as hard,” and be “twice as good” to be successful. This belief is so widely accepted that even former first Lady Michelle Obama advances it in speeches across America.

I echo the thoughtful sentiments of Guardian writer, Britni Danielle. “There’s one mantra many black parents drill into their children’s heads throughout their life: be twice as good. It goes that as black folks in America, we’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far as our white counterparts,” she wrote. “Some semblance of this speech has been handed down for generations, and given our history in the US – forced into chattel slavery, oppressed under Jim Crow, and racially stigmatized to this day – it’s proven itself to be true.”

This is especially ringing true for women of color. According to equalpaytoday.org , “Each year, Equal Pay Day for All is held in April, but when we look at the wage gap for women of color, the gap is far greater. When compared to all men, women earn $.80 (cents) on the $1. When compared to White, non-Hispanic men, Black/African American women earn only $.63 (cents) on the $1. This means the typical Black woman must work until August 2018 to be paid what the typical White man was paid at the end of December 2017.”

The “work twice as hard” speech has become a rite of passage in many communities of color. Read more