Why and How Race Ties to Place: California

Here is a new and interesting report on “race and place”published by PolicyLink and California Endowment that explores much important territory with data on the costs of structural and systemic racism. It begins this way:

One number may determine how healthy you are and how long you live. It is not your weight, cholesterol count, or any of those numbers doctors track in patients. It is your address. If you live in a community with parks and playgrounds, grocery stores selling nutritious foods, access to good jobs and to other economic opportunities, clean air, safe streets, good schools, ample health care and social services, and neighbors who look after one another, you are more likely to thrive. If you live in a neighborhood without these essentials, you are more likely to suffer from obesity, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic ailments You are also more likely to die of a stroke, a hear attack, or certain forms of cancer. You are more likely to be injured or killed during a crime, in a car crash, or simply crossing the street. Healthy people and healthy places go together. This simple fact, supported by a deep, evolving body of research, is propelling a broad- based movement in California and in this nation to improve the health of people. . . .

and then adds:

Woven throughout the nexus of health and place is the often unspoken strand of race.

There is much food for thought in this research report about the links of space and racism in this report, and it uses a “structural racism” perspective from the Aspen Institute.

Yet the report never really calls out white decisionmakers as such, as the responsible white parties for the many racial inequalities the report’s data document so well. ‘Tis interesting how most critical reports on racial inequality still defer to white sensibilities in that way. Is this sidestepping of white racism by name a sort of white racial frame in its liberal version?


  1. Maria Chavez-Pringle

    I think the sidestepping of white racism is a liberal way of being “aware” while lacking the need to take responsibility, which would require action, a capacity to empathize or even be introspective. It helps them to hear what is going on without having them act on what is going on.

    The liberal version of the white racial frame is very interesting. One of the anonymous reviewers of my book manuscript said something to the effect of, “I agree with everything you say, but you say it in a way that is hard for me to listen to without getting offended.” So, I was told to soften the language. Liberal version of white racial frame.

  2. Blaque Swan

    To the extent that white sensitivities should be catered to over and above scientific findings certainly indicates some sort of white racial frame. Don’t get me wrong, I know how you say is as important, if not more so, as what you say. But to go about as though everybody feels the same as white Americans – yeah, that’s some version of a white racial frame.

    After all, clearly neither Kanawaza nor those who approved the publishing of his piece were concerned with the sensitivities of black women.

    But to Maria’s point – it makes me want to scream!! What is it that white readers have to feel “offended” about? Why is it that when we have these discussions, whether about “race and place” are the Latin-American experience, we have to be concerned about white people? When it comes to studies on IQ that may offend people of color – or hypotheses on women’s aptitude for mathematics – people will site the importance of addressing what is rather than what we’d like to be. They’ll say their only hope is to find the truth.

    But when it comes to research that consistently, time and time again, finds racism has a negative impact on every aspect of the lives of people of color (with the possible exception of spiritual/religious faith), there’s no one to blame? As though there’s just some mysterious, dark force called “racism” that no one can seem to control. When it comes to research that indicts white Americans for injustice, there’s no one arguing that true science doesn’t worry itself with people feelings. There’s no one to defend the speaking of truth.

    Oh, I’m sure that somewhere in social-psychology, there’s a phrase for this phenomenon. I’m sure it has something to do with cognitive dissonance and ego-defense, and the like. People prefer the status-quo when they’re the ones on top, and they don’t want to change. Researchers have found that there is less empathy for members of an out-group. And wouldn’t you know it: humans are bad at introspection! Apparently, as a species, we just haven’t evolved the capacity for being good at direct introspection. (I just learned that last night myself, and I can provide the link(s) for anyone who would like it.)

    Whatever the phrase may be, it’s application is infuriating and confounding. I mean, we’re talking about racism, but we have to be careful not to offend white people? Are you kidding me?!

  3. Maria Chavez-Pringle

    Thanks for your response, and it is infuriating and confounding. But we’re not just talking about racism. We’re talking about power. And I am constantly reminded that I should be careful not to offend those in power even if it is their own crap that they should be ashamed of! For example, tonight at a function I told a senior white male faculty member that I it looks as though I may be getting my second book contract and he literally walked away from me! My friend and colleague (a very insightful reflective white woman I was with) said, “You have to be careful not to make enemies with people who feel ashamed of their lack of production.” She was stating the truth about power. White power. And while I agree with everything you say, it is still a reality we must contend with. It’s like walking on egg shells!

    • Blaque Swan

      Yeah, you got a point. People do get offended when you start poking at their power, their sense of self. The thing is, though, that in objective terms, when we’re talking about the impact of racism, whites are supporting characters at best. It’s just the white racial frame that places them as leading characters no matter how few lines they have. To the extent that they can lead, it’s only as antagonists, as Lex Luthers.

      So when white Americans claim to want racial harmony, and white liberals in particular claim to want racial justice, just exactly how do they think we’re going to get there if we’re more concerned with the feelings of racism’s beneficiaries than we’re concerned with the opportunities of racism’s victims? That’s dumb!

      Yeah, it is like walking on egg shells. The last time I remember consciously walking on egg shells was in college, my junior year. I had a classmate who was renting a room from a woman who had won an Oscar, and he invited the class over for some end-of-year party. If I wasn’t the only black person there, I was certainly one of only two. We were just sitting around talking when the Oscar-winner said the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery but states’ rights. Now mind you, the only reason I went in the first place was to see the Oscar, so I played dumb. “If it weren’t for slavery, do you think they would’ve cared about states’ rights?” My professor said, “No”; my point was made; and not only did I see the Oscar, I got to hold it!

      It’s heavier than it looks, but it’s sooo nice to hold. Even more than money “stinks but sure smells good.”

      But I digress.

      I also remember the first time I got some steel-toed boots on those egg shells. . . .Long story cut by over half, that was my first hint that political life was not for me. Neither that nor teaching in the public high schools where I live. Smashing those egg-shells just felt too good!

      I cut the story short because I wanted to be sure to get to this point before I lose you! =)

      Something just occurred to me. We have to be careful not to offend. So that means, for example, your senior white male faculty member would be somewhat justified if he were to become angry, right? I mean, if we’re not to offend but do, then they’re rightfully offended. Yeah?

      But when I’m offended by the notion that it’s my responsibility to integrate the “white tables” in the cafeteria, I’m derided as the “typical angry black woman.” How ridiculous is that?!

      Anyway, I know where you’re coming from. Nowadays, my first instinct is to get folks talking to the point that they can’t deny their cognitive contradictions.

      So I’m curious, exactly what do you say in this book that’s so offensive? If anything, I’ve found you more soft-spoken than offensive. More like Obama than, say, the 1980s Jesse Jackson. More MLK than X. You know? I don’t think anyone can tell the truth and be less offensive than your posts. Egg shells notwithstanding, there comes a point where being less means lying. You know? Is that what the reviewer’d have you do? Lie?

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