Racism is not a new problem. It is not an accident, either.
Our country’s forbears consciously wrote laws and policies to keep people of color from the rooms of power, to subjugate and oppress them, creating generations of suffering.
Building racial justice must be an equally active process.
Racial equity is more than an absence of discrimination. It’s more than the absence of overt, state-sponsored subjugation.
When we finally admitted people of color into the room, we did not scrub the room of our bias or give their thoughts and ideas the same weight and consideration as those of white people.
Our racism donned a mask, became more subtle, coded and covert, but still ingrained in our perceptions, actions and institutions every bit as dangerous and undermining. Policies and legislation created and enacted over the years have helped white Americans prosper, while those same policies and legislation actively made life more difficult for people of color.
Racial justice demands dismantling the oppressive systems we’ve created and erecting deliberate structures to achieve and sustain racial equity.
At Metro Caring, we embrace diversity and ask ourselves: are we modeling the inclusion and justice that we seek? We recognize that systems have oppressed and marginalized groups of people by identity, and we work to dismantle the patterns of thought and behavior that built this system. We examine our role in ensuring Metro Caring is a place where every individual knows they matter, that they belong, and that they are included.
But that alone doesn’t keep Coloradans from going hungry.
Coloradans don’t go hungry because there is a shortage of food, or because they’re lazy or make poor choices. Coloradans go hungry because they don’t earn enough to buy groceries.
By the time rent, health insurance and utilities are paid, there isn’t much left for grocery shopping. And while hunger is an issue that can affect anyone, people of color face hunger at far higher rates than white people do, forcing us to examine connections around race, poverty and earning a living wage.
The Overlooked & Undercounted Report from The Colorado Center on Law and Policy, notes more than a quarter of Colorado households, about 430,000 households or 1.5 million Coloradans, don’t earn enough income to cover basics like food, shelter, transportation, health and childcare.
Two thirds of those families don’t meet the official poverty definition, leaving them largely hidden and beyond the reach of government assistance. Latinx households struggle with inadequate incomes at the highest rate: 47%, followed by Black households at 46%, Asian and Pacific Islander households at 29%, and whites at 21%.
The killing of racial minorities by police is but one violent, senseless example of racial injustice; income disparities are a second and there are thousands of other examples of racial injustice that slowly and systemically deprive racial minorities of their rights, opportunity and wellbeing.
Institutional racism was baked into our social safety net — set up in response to the Great Depression. The GI Bill helped white Americans prosper and accumulate wealth in the postwar years; it didn’t deliver on that promise for veterans of color.
In fact, the wide disparity in the bill’s implementation ended up driving gaps in wealth, education and civil rights, helping white veterans, but doing so at the expense of veterans of color. Our federal government sought to keep Black families out of white neighborhoods through “redlining” in The National Housing Act.
The National Highway Act implementation spurred neighborhood displacement, demolition and economic disenfranchisement. Divestment from communities of color purged neighborhoods of grocery stores, sidewalks and parks.
Nonprofits and the charitable food system have perpetuated and contributed to inequities in our practices. For example, hiring majority white staff to serve majority communities of color; providing food that does not meet the cultural needs of diverse communities; stripping people of choice in what they eat; distributing unhealthy food discarded by retailers; and most critically, blaming the people who face hunger for their situation by promoting self-sufficiency programs as the answer without also fighting for structural reform.
We’ve spent decades and billions of dollars managing the problem of hunger rather than solving it. At Metro Caring, we are committed to tackling root causes and to reimagining new solutions to old problems, including racism. We are doing the work to imagine a future that is still a possibility, not a current reality.
To become a truly anti-racist society, we must go beyond police reform. We must make dismantling structural racism an explicit, public (federal, state and local) priority, especially during the economic recovery. The time to take action to ensure additional systematic racial inequities are not imbedded in our recovery responses is now.
The roots of an unequitable food system go deep, and transformation is necessary.
As a community, it is imperative that our values center our work. We continue forward, together, until we collectively reach a place that we are safe, nourished and well — without exception.
Teva Sienicki has worked for a more inclusive Colorado for 20 years, in roles that varied from anti-poverty community organizer to marriage equality advocate, English as a Second Language teacher and now as CEO of Metro Caring. Sienicki is a nationally-recognized leader in the hunger prevention movement.
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