Letter: Racial equity must be priority of next mayor

In Boston’s mayoral race, each candidate has tended to focus on an agenda he is personally most comfortable with. But at the core of most municipal crises the candidates single out—education, housing, development, public safety, transportation, jobs and others—are stark racial inequities.

Three recent reports—“The State of Black Boston” by James Jennings, “The State of Equity in Metro Boston” by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and “Health of Boston 2012-2013” by the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC)—paint a compelling picture of how apparently citywide problems are often, in fact, problems faced disproportionately by African American, Latino, Asian and other marginalized communities.

The Great Recession has left high unemployment figures, but for white residents unemployment in Boston was 4.9 percent in 2010, compared to 10.3 percent for Latinos and 13.2 percent for African American residents. Per-capita income for African Americans in Boston is less than half that of whites, contributing to higher shares of income paid towards housing costs and disproportionately higher foreclosure rates. Unconscionable gaps by race and ethnicity exist at every level of educational achievement, and extend to basic health outcomes like infant mortality, asthma rates and life expectancy. These data don’t even touch on many of the lived experiences of racism in Boston, such as the lack of rapid transit (subway or trolley) in African American communities, and interpersonal racism.

These inequities were created through decades of local, state and federal policies, and are deepened by pervasive racial bias (usually unintentional) at the workplace, schools, lending institutions and elsewhere. Some Boston agencies are attempting to reduce these inequities in a systematic way, such as at the BPHC’s Center of Health Equity and Social Justice, but most have no responsibility for identifying and reducing inequities, and no institutional support for staff to learn about and apply a racial equity lens to their work.

On behalf of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, I recently sent a letter to both mayoral candidates and all eight candidates for at-large City Council, asking them to adopt a policy similar to Seattle’s Race and Social Justice initiative. In Seattle, every department develops a racial equity work plan, identifying short- and long-term goals for reducing inequities. The City’s Budget Office requires every department to use a “Racial Equity Toolkit” to analyze the equity impact of each budget decision, including potential unintended consequences.

Equity is a particularly pressing issue for JP. We live in one of the last truly diverse neighborhoods in Boston, but gentrification is rapidly displacing the Latino population from Hyde and Jackson Squares, and we are at risk of going the way of the South End. Protecting this diversity, and moving beyond it towards equity, will require every department of City government to prioritize equity and move beyond race-unconscious policies that often unintentionally reproduce disparities.

I hope other residents of JP will join the neighborhood council in asking our new elected officials to continue pursuing their priorities for the City—with equity.

Benjamin Day

Chair, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council

Jamaica Plain

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