Dismantling Structural Racism through Policy

Housing is a concrete example of structural racism. In 1917, 50 years after enslavement was abolished, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled exclusionary zoning unconstitutional—but intentionally designed systems to keep Black people from owning property persisted. Soon after, the Federal Housing Authority introduced redlining policies in more than 200 American cities. Governments color-coded city maps to determine where to make secure investments and show which neighborhoods would be considered off limits. Residents of neighborhoods deemed “off-limits” were often denied home loans or given restrictive home financing options. Unsurprisingly, these red-zoned neighborhoods—neighborhoods that were deemed as “hazardous” and having “undesirable populations”—were predominantly populated by Black residents. The neighborhoods also suffered from disinvestment from businesses.

Though it is no longer legal, the impact of redlining still affects many Black Americans today.[1] The homeownership gap between Black and white Americans is vast. According to the U.S. Census, while 44 percent of Black Americans owned their homes in the first quarter of 2019, 73 percent of white Americans were homeowners.[2] This ties directly to generational wealth: In 2016 the net worth of white families was $171,000, 10 times that of a Black family ($17,150).[3] That gap continues to grow. Policy and inequity go hand-in-hand.

Racist and discriminatory policy-making isn’t just a thing of the past. We see evidence of it within the issues that Voices for Healthy Kids has prioritized: walkable neighborhoods and safe streets, availability of safe and appealing drinking water, safe and accessible green spaces, access to healthy foods and drinks, early education programs and the ability for local governments to make decisions that best reflect their community’s needs. These policies, absent a commitment to advance racial equity, can continue to create or maintain oppression and inequitable conditions for communities of color and Indigenous communities.

We can disrupt the history—and current practice—of using policy to create harm by ensuring racial equity is centered in public policy. This means saying we acknowledge, understand and seek to remedy an unjust system. It means showing our refusal to continue causing psychological, physical, emotional, financial and mental harm to people solely because of the color of their skin and their cultural backgrounds.

Some examples of policies that Voices for Healthy Kids prioritizes to advance racial equity include:

  • Increasing funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to create incentives for healthy food purchases (i.e., Double-Up-Bucks for fruits and vegetables) and allow families to make their budgets stretch a bit farther without sacrificing good nutrition. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, African American households have higher food insecurity than the nation as a whole, and SNAP has lifted millions of African Americans out of poverty.[4]
  • Advocating for sugary drink taxes and directing revenue from taxes into programs and services deemed important by people who live in the communities most impacted by the beverage industry’s marketing and sales tactics—and who are more likely to be diagnosed with illnesses caused by consumption of  sugary drinks, including type 2 diabetes, tooth decay and heart disease.  
  • Establishing early care and education (ECE) policies to ensure that quality programs are available and affordable where they are most needed, serve communities of color and Indigenous communities, offer healthy foods and beverages, provide places to be active, and limit screen time to ensure a healthy start for children. These ECE programs can provide budget relief to working parents who may otherwise need to choose between working and costly child care.
  • Removing preemption so that local governments are able to make their own decisions based on what their residents need. Sometimes, in an effort to help their community, a local government will pass a law that the state government disagrees with. So the state government will overturn it, even if it passed by a vote of local residents. People know what’s best for their community and, when they work together to come up with a solution, the state should listen to them and help make it work.

Additional resources

Our toolkits provide valuable background information on a range of issues that advance racial and health equity. They serve as step-by-step guides for how to build campaigns. Inside each toolkit, you’ll find resources like key message guides and customizable graphics, as well as sample language for action alerts, social media posts, letters to the editor and op-eds.


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