Tags Posts tagged with "ERASE Racism"

ERASE Racism

From left: ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross, Duke University professor Kim Manturuk, John Hopkins University professor Nathan Connolly, SBU professor Christopher Sellers. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

While de facto segregation among Long Island’s school districts and housing has been entrenched for decades, there is a growing academic movement to bring people closer together.

As part of the forum, “Housing and Racio-economic Equality” Elaine Gross, president of the Syosset-based advocacy group ERASE Racism, which co-sponsored the event, along with professors from Duke and Johns Hopkins Universitys discussed the history of racism and segregation in the U.S. and how it has affected public housing and education. Gross argued that there is racial segregation and inequality crisis in housing and public education on Long Island. 

“There are folks that think that things are fine how they are,” she said. 

At the forum hosted at the Hilton Garden Inn at Stony Brook Univesrity, Gross argued that there is severe government fragmentation on Long Island, which in turn makes it easier for racial discrimination in housing and public education. 

“Segregation is profitable, and it didn’t end — it is still ongoing.”

— Nathan Connolly

Nathan Connolly, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University, said we have to rethink what we know about segregation. 

“We are under the impression that segregation ended due to a combination of moral arguments, like [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s] I Have a Dream Speech, and that segregation was too expensive to maintain,” he said. “Segregation is profitable, and it didn’t end — it is still ongoing.”

Connolly added due to many Jim Crow era policies, white supremacy has been baked into our political and governing structure.  

“In the 1920s people began to institutionalize groups like the Ku Klux Klan,” Connolly said. “They had chapters in cities like Detroit, Chicago and Washington, D.C.— it was a dominant force of political organization.” 

In many ways, the experts argued Long Island, in terms of its development of housing, is the perfect picture of what structural racism looks like. 

Gross stated some towns and school districts on Long Island are more segregated than others, showing areas like Levittown, whose black population has only risen 1.2 percent since 1947. At an ERASE Racism forum in December, Gross provided data from New York State Department of Education that shows a school district like Port Jefferson is made up of 80 percent white students, while in a district like Brentwood close to 80 percent of students are Latino while 12 percent are black. 

The panelists argued this racial steering of populations dates back to the time of the Great Depression.

“[There was] a notion that anything that allowed unregulated movement of people would lead to economic instability,” Connolly said. “You had to generate a way to keep everyone in place, while at the same time ensuring broad economic growth.” 

One way this was done was through redlining, or the denial of services to different races through raising the prices on services, or in this case, homes.

Connolly said by removing these people’s options in moving around or getting a loan with a low interest rate it meant they couldn’t own homes and couldn’t accumulate equity, which in turn generated a racial wealth gap.  

Gross mentioned examples of this racial steering on Long Island. Three years ago in Commack, African American renters asked about vacancies at an apartment complex. They were told there were none. When white individuals asked, they were shown the vacancy, given applications and were encouraged to apply.  

ERASE Racism, along with the nonprofit Fair Housing Justice Center, took property owners Empire Management America Corp. to court, arguing it had violated the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Suffolk County Human Rights Law. The duo reached a successful settlement of $230,000 and required changes to the rental operations at the apartment complex. 

Kim Manturuk, associate director of research, evaluation, and development at Duke University provided possible solutions to segregation on Long Island. 

“Adapt a metropolitan approach, that has these cross district governing bodies that try to simplify, organize together things like education, infrastructure development among other things,” she said. 

Though she cautioned that even when you have these procedures in place, it’s no guarantee that you get the desired results, and they need to find ways to make desegregation profitable. 

“We need educators that buy into this change.”

— Elaine Gross

She mentioned in her own community of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, they have something called the Penny for Housing Fund. 

“One penny of every property tax dollar collected in the entire county goes into a housing fund. We use that money to incentivize developers to build housing that has an affordable housing component that cuts races and ethnic lines,” she said. 

If developers want to build a housing complex in the North Carolina county, they would have to set aside 10 percent of the apartment to families that are making 80 percent below the median income in the area. 

Gross said the change needs to begin on the local level. She stressed the importance of building diverse communities. 

“We need educators that buy into this change,” she said. “Also students — educating them about our history, one that is not heard about in schools.”

Gross said it will take a collaborative effort to show that something like this can work.  

“People don’t believe — it is hard to dispel myths to them in the face of facts,” she said. “Unless they can see it and see the students and the community thriving, they won’t buy into it.”

Elaine Gross, Christopher Sellers, Crystal Fleming, Miriam Sarwana and Abena Asare speak about race at ERASE Racism forum. Photo by Kyle Barr

In a politically charged time, race is seen as a third-rail issue, one that if touched leads to political headache in the case of a politician or a rough time around the holiday dinner table for everyday folks.

Which is why Elaine Gross, president of Syosset-based ERASE Racism, which wishes to examine and make meaningful change to race relations in New York, said Long Island was the perfect time and place to start meaningful conversations about race and racism, both in the overt and covert displays of prejudice.

“Even though we are becoming more diverse, that doesn’t mean we have what we want going on in our schools,” Gross said. “Long Island is home to 2.8 million people so we’re not a small place, but tremendously fragmented.”

The nonprofit, which was originally founded in 2001, made its first stop at Hilton Garden Inn, Stony Brook University Nov. 29 during a five-series Long Island-wide tour called How Do We Build a Just Long Island? The mission is to start a dialogue about meaningful change for race relations in both Suffolk and Nassau counties. Four panelists, all professors and graduate students at Stony Brook, spoke to a fully packed room about their own research into the subject and took questions from the audience on how they could affect change in their own communities.

Christopher Sellers, history professor and director of the Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy, has studied what he described as “scientific racism,” of people who look at the superiority and inferiority of other races as an objective truth, an idea that was born during the enlightenment and colonial period used to justify conquering nations overseas. It’s a form of understanding identity that lives on in many people, Sellers said.

“It’s as old as western society itself,” he said.

Race is an important issue in a county that is very segregated depending on the town and school district. An image created by the nonprofit and compiled with information from the New York State Department of Education shows a district such as Port Jefferson is made up of 80 percent white students, while in the Brentwood school district 79 percent of students are Latino and 12 percent are black.

Panelists argued that racism exists and is perpetuated through local policy. Abena Asare,
assistant professor of Modern African Affairs and History said that racism currently exists in the segregated schools, in lack of public transportation, zoning laws and other land-use policies created by local governments.

“Many of the policies on our island that insulate and produce structural racism are based on a false narrative on what Long Island was, who it is was for, and the fear of where it is going,” Asare said. “Creating new futures requires that we expose the version of the past that justifies or separates an unequal status quo.”

Crystal Fleming, an associate professor of sociology at Stony Brook, spoke about how historically the idea of white supremacy is ingrained in America’s social consciousness, that lingering ideas of one race’s entitlement to security and citizenship over other races have helped perpetuate racist ideas and policy.

“When we talk about systemic racism, it’s not black supremacy, it’s not Native American supremacy, it’s not Asian supremacy, it’s white supremacy,” Fleming said. “We need to be brave and talk frankly about these matters.”

Miriam Sarwana, a graduate student in psychology at Stony Brook, said after the civil rights movement of the 1960s racism did not simply die, but it became subtle, only used in the safety of the home. This is compounded by the lack of interaction between races on a daily basis.

“These biases are influenced by the social, societal and cultural [elements] in our lives, and can be influenced both directly and indirectly,” Sarwana said. “A white adult has little or no interaction with African-Americans, and then starting childhood this person may be exposed to negative images of African-Americans.”

The panelists said that the extreme segregation in school districts has resulted in an even greater disparity of resources and attention for nonwhite races. The issue, Asare said, after the forum, was that the 125 public school districts on Long Island have remained insular, leading to communities becoming disparate and inclusive. She said the best way to deal with this is to consolidate school districts, even along town lines, which could lead to bigger savings for school districts, more resources to less-served districts and allow for better cross-pollination of races between schools.

“The fact that those types of discussions are not normally occurring here speaks to a larger issue, that segregation works for a lot of people around Long Island,” Asare said.

The final Erase Racism forum in this series will be held Dec. 10 at the Radisson Hotel in Hauppauge at 6 p.m. Visit www.eraseracismny.org for more information or to register for the event.

by -
0 710

This week, the nonprofit organization ERASE Racism, of Syosset, and the Stony Brook Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy will hold the first of a series of five forums meant to start a public dialogue about structural and institutional racism on Long Island.

We applaud these two entities for coming together to advance an obviously vitally important discussion. Professor Christopher Sellers, the director of the SBU center, and Elaine Gross, president of ERASE Racism, each said separately in interviews the goal in hosting the first event and the subsequent forums is to begin a regionwide discussion about barriers certain groups face in their daily lives, not in some far-off time or place, but here and now close to home.

They each also referenced the misnomer that race-related issues are a thing of the past in this country, and that the Civil Rights movement or election of our first African-American president of the United States somehow delivered us to an end point in creating a just and fair place for all to live and prosper.

Gross stressed that the point behind hosting the forums and the desired byproduct is not a finger-pointing or shaming session intended to label people as racists, but rather it’s an educational opportunity meant to present attendees, and hopefully by extension the larger community, with a look at life through the lens of those who are part of racial minority groups.

According to ERASE Racism, today three out of every four black students and two out of every three Hispanic students attend school districts where racial minority groups make up more than half of the population, a phenomenon the nonprofit likens to modern-day segregation. Both figures represent a more-than 50 percent increase compared to 2004, meaning Long Island’s schools are becoming more racially segregated as time goes on.

“It is embedded — it doesn’t require that all of the players be racist people, or bad people, it only requires that people go along with the business as usual,” Gross said of structural racism.

On top of that, according to a report released by the FBI Nov. 13, hate crimes increased by 17 percent in 2017 compared to the prior year, a jump exponentially higher than any of the previous two years, a trend all Long Islanders and Americans should be inspired to stop and consider when reading.

We are glad to hear such an important discussion is not only taking place but being spearheaded in part by our hometown university. We hope that those who can make a point to attend, and those who can’t, do their due diligence to find out what it is all about.