Amid the ongoing protests and demonstrations against police brutality, frustration over the deep and long-standing inequities in our societies and systems is on full display. The sin of white supremacy and inadequate, often racist actions by our nation, our state, generations before me, my generation and me drives a fiery desire for absolution. But standing up for Black lives requires us to think and do more. Statements in solidarity to remember those that have been the victims of racialized violence including Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others are a step. But we must pair our words with actions. Taking to the streets in solidarity is important, as is donating to community organizing, relief efforts and local bail funds. Those who are able must also match our words with bold and fearless actions that lead to long-term policy change. GBPI is in this fight to help undo centuries of barriers put in place to keep people of color from thriving.
Although GBPI is not new to this fight, we are still learning and growing. We have a history of disaggregating data to show the disparities in health, education and other socioeconomic indicators. We know that we must name race in our analyses and solutions to be effective in changing the policy landscape and improving economic opportunity for all Georgians. Race is a social construct that many would rather not discuss because of its painful history and influence in the United States, or because they do not believe it plays a role in policy. However, we must understand that public policy and government practices for centuries explicitly created and fostered racial inequity—and so-called “race-blind policies” do not correct the problem. In 2015, when GBPI came under the leadership of our current President and CEO, Taifa Smith Butler, we began our journey to be more race-forward as an organization, participating in trainings and working to center racial equity in our analyses and solutions. We decided that this is the right work that must be done now to accomplish our vision: a fair and inclusive Georgia where all people prosper. So we lean forward. In 2018, when we created a new strategic plan, we adopted racial equity as a core priority of our work. This effort is both internal—as we seek to foster an equitable workplace—and external—as we work to dismantle racist policies that too often determine the outcomes for Georgians of color.
This external work requires not just GBPI, but every single Georgian who is privileged enough to have a voice in our state, to act. It is important that white leaders speak up and do the work not just now, but also in the long run. In this moment, as I see “the America that is yet to be” on fire around me, I choose to lean in hard to the tools I have to effect long-term change. I see how often the voices of Black and Brown Georgians are left out of the policy conversation, as well as the barriers erected to keep them out, and vow to help enact change. For those who are hungry to be better allies and able to do more, I welcome your partnership to take on and dismantle systems of white supremacy and policy barriers that uphold and entrench racial inequities.
First, Georgia is one of a handful of states that have not expanded Medicaid. Doing so would open up access to affordable health care for thousands of Black and Latinx Georgians. In fact, of those who fall in the “coverage gap” and would immediately get access to a health insurance card, 36 percent are Black and 22 percent are Latinx. All data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting Black Georgians, who are more likely to contract and pass away from the virus. Health inequities, including those underscored by COVID-19, stem from centuries of disinvestment in Black communities and other policy failures, but Georgia can close the gap. If you want to stand with Black lives, ask state leaders to expand Medicaid.
Second, Georgia leads the nation in maternal mortality rates among Black women. Georgia has the opportunity to tackle this disgraceful position by extending Medicaid benefits to moms after giving birth, ensuring they continue to receive critical care and attention during the first year of their baby’s life. Georgia can reject our current position as the riskiest place for a Black mother to give birth in the nation and lead on this issue. If you stand with Black lives, extend Medicaid benefits for new mothers.
Third, Georgia leads the nation in persons under state supervision. Nearly 600,000 Georgians are living with a felony conviction—one in nine adults in the state—and half of Georgia’s adults have a record of some kind. Because Black Georgians are treated disparately in policing and sentencing and thus are over-represented in the prison system, the burden of a record weighs most heavily on Black communities. This steers Black Georgians to the bottom of the workforce, sometimes locking them out of jobs altogether. Allowing employers to access conviction records leads to racial discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission finds that the use of convictions as a screening tool carries a disparate effect because Black Americans are convicted at higher rates. Further, Black job applicants with a record are half as likely as similarly qualified white applicants with a record to receive a callback or job offer. Thankfully, there is movement in the legislature to begin to address this issue. If you care about Black lives, offer a clean slate to Georgians returning to society.
Finally, our state is managing through the biggest budget crisis we’ve seen in modern history. Our budget is a statement of our values and affects the lives of Georgians every day. The state budget should fund our schools, support our health care system and invest in the potential of our state’s greatest asset, our people. A well-funded budget with targeted funds flowing to schools serving students with low incomes, safety net programs and critical health care programs can help close racial disparities. But with mandated budget cuts across all agencies, we’re seeing proposals to cut the number of days our youngest learners will be in the classroom, lay off and furlough state employees, many of whom are people of color and decimate previous criminal justice reform efforts such as accountability courts and mental health supports for the incarcerated. These cuts will exacerbate health and economic outcomes for Black Georgians. If you stand with Black lives, reject across-the-board budget cuts and instead call for new revenues.
Yes, we all need to continue to challenge ourselves to understand the historical context that has perpetuated and protected systems of white supremacy. But we must also continue to act as we learn and evolve as better allies, partners and co-conspirators. Black lives are on the line.
At GBPI, we stand with Black lives, and we always will. We know that taxes, the budget and state policy all affect Black and Brown lives. Our work in this moment is to tackle the hurdles Black and Brown people face in our state that suppress opportunity. That is the imperative of this moment as state lawmakers prepare for a historic completion to a legislative session that will define how we as a community and state value and stand up for Black lives.
If you’re looking to support a group working to advance racial justice in Georgia, you can donate to the Georgia NAACP here.