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. 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. 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). 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.