When I read a report from the National Urban League on the State of Black America I shudder. It's bad news with few practical suggestions on how to make the bad news good.
This year it told us that African Americans have significantly narrowed the earning gap with European Americans, but we still have "barely one-tenth the net worth of white households." That means that black households have a net worth of $6,166 and white households have $67,000, and that is considered an improvement?
So when I read about the number of African Americans in prison (25 percent of all African American males are in the system somewhere), and that the unemployment rate is over 50 percent in the African American community among adult men (roughly from 18-45 years old), I know that they are tied directly to the net worth disparity.
But the state of Washington still clings to I-200 and the myth that this law creates a level playing field where race will not be considered in how the state spends it's money. The law is bunk because the playing field has never been level and I-200 guarantees that it never will. So we are left with African Americans on a slippery slope toward poverty and prison and community residents of all races spending a huge portion of their income on dogs and security systems.
Southeast Seattle is the place where the major impact of I-200 can be felt. It is the place where the unemployed roam the streets in small packs, people can be found sleeping in cars and the place where many of the released prisoners come back to. It's the part of Seattle that has some of the worst problems.
These lost souls eventually drop out of the system. They stop voting. The politicians start to ignore the few who do, and they don't knock on our doors or send us election mail.
So where do we go from here? The bad news is obvious but how can we turn this bad news into good news?
First get rid of I-200. Secondly allocate resources to the people who need them the most. If most of the city's problems stem from the income gap, with a disproportionate number of African Americans in prison or unemployed, it's time to allocate resources specifically to those problems.
It's also time for the leadership of the African American community to put pressure on the community to be more productive, the politicians who serve our community, and the Democratic Party. The only major federal, state, county or city agency with any funding that has black or African American in its name is the African American Commission, and it's barely funded.
This is not just an issue that affects African Americans. A huge portion of Washington's tax dollars are being used to keep people in prison and paying law enforcement as well as feeding and housing the homeless or near homeless. Another big chunk of money is needed to keep emergency rooms open and somehow take care of people, especially those who don't have insurance and are shot, stabbed or other wise injured by violent crimes.
I can hear the detractors- where does the money come from? We can't afford it!
Every taxpayer is entitled to receive back some portion of the money they spend on taxes and that is the only way of creating a level playing field.
I hear conservative politicians talking about the people's money and how it's important that people get a return on their tax investment they pay the government. That sounds good to me and it's time that the same logic is used when talking about the African American community and Southeast Seattle.
I-200 was not designed to fix these problems, and that's why states other than Washington and California voted it down. It's time to talk openly and honestly about race and realize that what affects one racial group in America will eventually affect everyone around them.
I can't speak for California, but in Washington it's time to reassess who our friends are. Their silence or support of I-200 is the ideal litmus test.
Learn more about Affirmative Action and Initiative 200 by visiting www.capaa.wa.gov/affirmativeaction.html.
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