EDITORIAL: Conversation About Race, Equity Needed in D.C.

Members of the D.C. Council hashed out amendments to the District‘s FY2020 budget this week in a nearly six-hour session, described as “heated,” “rancorous,” “deceptive,” “fierce,” and “divisive,” just to name a few of the monikers given by local media.

No doubt, the debates between the 13-member council became heated, and rightfully so with the kinds of quality-of-life issues in front of them.

The future of the District‘s only public hospital on the brink of closing, the relocation or revitalization in place of the Districts top academic high school, and the much-needed improvement of some of the nation‘s worst public housing units, were among the decisions needed to be addressed and that impact the health care, education and housing of the District‘s most vulnerable citizens who mostly happen to be Black.

It was apparent that sensitivities ran high when inferences of gentrification and race were subtly inserted into the debates, but it was refreshing to observe those members that refused to tiptoe around the two subjects District residents discuss and feel impacted by nearly every day, all across the city.

Others have said it, and we concur, that there needs to be a real discussion about race and equity in this city. Council member Kenyon McDuffie (D-Ward 5) already started the process earlier this year by introducing legislation that would require government officials to evaluate programs and policies through an equity lens. He is engaging a cadre of diverse leaders to serve as a working group tasked with forging processes. He also hosted a Race and Policy Symposium last fall with more than 400 attendees at a venue in Ward 8.

McDuffie asserts that, “Decades of structural and institutional racism in the District, and to be sure, in America, has created widespread racial inequities, which are pervasive and exist across all indicators for success….” And, it is his belief that, “Only by building systems that are intentional in their design to account for implicit bias and systemic inequities will every District resident truly have the same opportunities to prosper.”

Members of the working group have struggled with defining “safe places” where honest discussions about race and equity can occur. The Council Chambers is a likely place.

Now that the budget was passed unanimously, it would appear that the issues of race and equity have been put to rest. Not so. The proof will be defined by impact of their legislative decisions over the 12 months.

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