Facing Race in 2006

By Rinku Sen Nov 15, 2006

In the wake of last week’s election, many of us are still celebrating a historic shift in Congress. But we need to remember that a shift from one party to another, even in a month of historic firsts like Deval Patrick’s election as Governor of Massachusetts and Keith Ellison’s as the first Muslim Congressperson, isn’t the same thing as actual change. As we look forward, a question remains: Will “blue” control in Congress and State Legislatures across the country provide a new framework for addressing the nation’s deepening racial divide? The three FACING RACE: Legislative Report Cards on Racial Justice that we released this week provide a set of standards that begin to answer that question. Illinois came out the winner, with a Democratic Governor and largely Democratic legislature passing a number of bills that met our criteria for being a racial justice bill that passed the statehouse. In California, partisanship killed many good bills, and in Minnesota no one is doing what they should even while the state becomes more diverse and its racial disparities grow. In every case, though, the state government missed opportunities to greatly improved quality of life for all its residents. In California, the two parties fell apart over a plan to include undocumented children in state health care coverage, and the Governor vetoed a bill to set up a single payer health care system that would have insured 6.5 million people. In Illinois, the statehouse failed to create a new system for funding schools that isn’t based on property taxes. Yesterday the Census Bureau released new statistics on racial disparities that reveal a widening gap between whites and people of color in income, homeownership and education. In each of the states we studied and in legislatures across the country real solutions exist to deep and persistent patterns of racism. State legislatures can make policy that makes them worse or makes them better. Facing Race 2006 begins the process of holding our leaders accountable for turning those opportunities into real policy that talks race explicitly, honestly and structurally. Read the reports: FACING RACE 2006: California Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity FACING RACE 2006: Illinois Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity FACING RACE 2006: Minnesota Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity