8 Things You Should Care About if You Care About Racial Justice

November 29, 2017

Hands holding the world

When you think of the term “racial justice,” what comes to mind? Maybe you think of the iconic images of the civil rights movement, or athletes peacefully kneeling, or perhaps citizens taking to the streets, chanting for change.

As important as these images are, the fight for racial justice most often plays out across the dozens of mundane ways that people of color routinely experience racism every single day. These aren’t usually the sorts of events that make the news or stir up crowds: they’re just a fact of everyday life for people of color, a persistent form of discrimination that many white people may not recognize or understand, simply because they’ve never had to face that sort of treatment themselves. Racism infects every corner of American life, from grocery shopping and voting to the movie industry and climate change. If you care about racial justice, then you need to care about these eight things. 

  1. “Food Deserts”

    Studies have shown that the availability of supermarkets decreases as a neighborhood poverty increases. But even at comparable levels of poverty, African American neighborhoods have the fewest number of supermarkets. Overall, only 8% of blacks live in a community with one or more grocery stores, compared to 31% for whites. The lack of good food and the scarcity of supermarkets has a serious impact on the health of communities of color.

  2. Climate And Environmental Justice

    All communities around the world are dealing with the impacts of climate change, but so-called “frontline communities” (most frequently communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities) have been, and will be, hit the hardest. After all, they already live in the most vulnerable and, in some cases,  least-desirable areas. It’s no coincidence, for example, that African Americans are way more likely to have a power plant or toxic facility in their neighborhood. These communities are most vulnerable to environmental damage and the worst effects of climate change for one big reason: they were planned that way.

  3. City Planning

    Like we were saying, cities were not created equal. Urban and suburban racial segregation didn’t happen organically: it was most often the result of intentional planning. Those highways weren’t blasted through black neighborhood after black neighborhood by mistake. The fact that public transportation is so often inaccessible by communities of color isn’t a fluke. And prospective black homeowners didn’t simply face bad luck when they were turned away by mortgage lenders: it was intentional redlining.

  4. Vacationing While Black

    An experiment showed that Airbnb hosts were 16% less likely to accept guests with African American-sounding names. Even in this sparkling new, app-driven economy, racism rears up. Ask yourself: can you imagine having your vacation put on hold just because of your name? Acknowledging that this problem had become widespread, Airbnb recently teamed up with our friends at the NAACP to fight racism on its platform.

  5. Voter ID Laws

    Is it just a weird accident that the voter ID laws passed by so many states make it hard for people of color, in particular, to vote? No. A federal appeals court struck down North Carolina’s law last year, saying, memorably, that it targeted African Americans with “almost surgical precision.” As it turns out, some of our leaders really don’t want people of color (among others, like the poor) to participate fully in our democracy. As our friends at Demos put it, racism is destroying the right to vote.

  6. Mass Incarceration

    Consider this: people of color make up 37% of the US population—and 67% of the prison population. That’s hard to fathom, until you think about how African Americans are more often stopped and searched than whites and how they’re arrested more often for things that whites often get away with. And how, once they’re arrested, they are more likely to be convicted. And how, once they’re convicted, they’re more likely to serve longer sentences. So suddenly, what started as a fact of everyday street-level racial injustice, becomes, when multiplied across street after street, city after city, the epic national problem of mass incarceration. (A side effect of mass incarceration? Millions of Americans who have been convicted of felonies can no longer vote. Our friends at the Say Yes to Second Chances campaign are working hard to restore the ability to vote to about 1.6 million nonviolent former felons in Florida.)

  7. Healthcare

    It’s not only that communities of color have less access to adequate healthcare, or that people of color are treated differently even once they find the medical help they need. It’s that racism itself can make people of color sick—more than 700 studies have been published since 2000 about discrimination and health which, taken together, establish a connection between racism and the toll it takes on the physical, mental, and emotional health of those who experience it. Maybe it’s no surprise that more than 100,000 black people die prematurely each year.

  8. School Segregation

    Yup, Brown v. the Board of Education was decided back in 1954. No more “separate by equal,” right? Well… not exactly. In some areas, schools are more segregated now than they were in the 1960s. This is a problem that actually never went away—today many kids attend chronically underfunded segregated schools with inexperienced teachers in crumbling buildings. This comes back to urban planning and public policies that create the segregation we see in neighborhoods and cities. We have to do better.

We MUST do better. Here’s how you can help:

  • Watch the amazing video below from our friends at Demos about the roots of systemic racism.
  • Sign this very important petition to restore the Voting Rights Act, ensuring that voting is accessible to every American.
  • Start a conversation. Once you know the truth, it’s hard to keep it to yourself. So tell a friend, a sibling, a roommate, your kooky uncle…that systemic racism is real, and we all need to be fighting to end it.