Regulation of public, private spaces should be at forefront of conversations about race, policy expert says |

Regulation of public, private spaces should be at forefront of conversations about race, policy expert says

Camille Busette, director of the Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative at the Brookings Institution, spoke at the final Seminars at Steamboat.

Space and its regulation should be at the forefront of conversations about race in the U.S., race and policy expert Camille Busette told attendees Monday during the final Seminars at Steamboat talk.

This regulation comes in many forms, according to Busette, the director of the Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative at the Brookings Institution, which focuses on issues of equity, racial justice and economic mobility for low-income communities and communities of color. How heavily policed neighborhoods are, redlining that is still impacting people of color today and other symbols like Confederate statues across the country are all factors in who feels welcome in a space.

“Office buildings and schools were named after Confederate leaders, all to say to freed men and women that this is still our space, and we will do with it what we like,” Busette said. “You are not welcome here.”

The regulation of space has tangible effects, Busette said. The Economic Policy Institute found that voting among Black residents is lower in places with a preponderance of Confederate street names and statues.

Space regulation increased in the 1930s, when people put up signs saying “No Negros” or created a separate entrance for people of color, Busette said. Residential covenants and redlining — the systematic denial of various services to residents of specific communities — have led to the value of similar homes being less in Black neighborhoods than in white.

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“Blacks in particular were subject to terrorism. Lynchings and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 are previous examples,” Busette said. “In the modern day era, racial bias in policing is another example of terrorism. As it turns out, this is an especially effective way of regulating space.”

Regulation of space has consequences, Busette said. About 19% of Black people live in poverty, where that number for whites is close to 7%. Busette also said the racial wealth gap and higher incarcerations rates for people color, are consequences.

“We know that whites are more likely to use drugs in the U.S., but Blacks are more likely to be arrested and convicted for processing drugs,” Busette said.

This regulation of space is also a very American phenomenon, Busette said.

“We have created Indian reservations; camps for Japanese Americans; and cages for young children coming from Mexico, Central and South America,” Busette said. “The results are rarely good.”

The practice of slavery in the U.S. has shaped many of the current dynamics between races, Busette said. After the Civil War, Blacks were poorly compensated if at all, and this has led to current wage disparities.

While there are gaps in wages between men and women and between those with or without a college degree, these are amplified when looking at people of color, Busette said. African American women earn 63 cents for every dollar white men make. African American men make 75 cents per dollar white men make, and are also much more likely to be unemployed.

College degrees also don’t net the same level of financial gains for people of color, particularly Black men, as they do for whites, Busette said. All of this leads to public policies that have discriminatory results, she said.

Some are easier to see than others. Policies that have led to many Black neighborhoods being located near high-pollution areas or have provided less money for schools in these areas are clear examples, Busette said.

A more complicated example is credit scores, Busette said. While they seem neutral, credit scores use algorithms that assume everyone starts in the same place, which in reality is not the case.

“That initial assumption that everyone starts in the same place is obviously flawed,” Busette said. “Credit scores reward your ability to pay. Your ability to pay is based on income and wealth. If you are starting on the back foot on both of those things, it is going to be very difficult for you to do well in the kind of credit scoring system that we have.”

While many Blacks are getting college and graduate degrees and working in private industries, the racial wealth gap has not closed, Busette said.

“We haven’t seen the racial wealth gap close to any appreciable level,” Busette said. “There is a set of policies having to do with finances, the wages that you are paid, with the kinds of benefits you get at jobs, that don’t end up being equivalent.”

Rather than focusing just on overtly racist policies, Busette said the effort needs to be focused on assessing the outcomes of these policies and how equitable they are.

But it is the people of color who are impacted by this system that are more optimistic about the future than white Americans.

“How do we build on this optimism,” Busette said. “How do we create a sense of belonging in all spaces, after more than 400 years of working extremely hard to say you do not belong.”

Busette said there also needs to be a focus on belief systems as well as outcomes. Changing street names and taking down Confederate statues are some of the ways this can be accomplished.

“How do we imagine a future where this legacy of spatial regulation and this legacy of tolerance of real disparities, consistent racial disparities in pay and compensation and wealth, exist?” Busette said. “How do we reimagine that future and what role does policy play in our ability to address both the belief system and the outcomes?”

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