‘Ingrained and embedded’: Seminar spotlights institutional racism in systems, communities, individuals

The Riverton Peace Mission’s webinar on institutional racism last week offered a crash course on the societal structures that work together to create and sustain systemic inequality.

The facilitator used stories, multiple videos, and group activities to illustrate how institutional racism is “ingrained and embedded” into daily life in the United States, creating “inequitable opportunities and outcomes” in the workplace, the housing market, healthcare settings, education, and more.

The disparities even impact youth sports, she said, describing a citywide T-ball league in one Wyoming town that formed teams based on geographical location.

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The team from the wealthier – and whiter – portion of town clearly had more resources, she said, including better equipment and plenty of parent volunteers whose jobs came with benefits that allowed them to take time off to be with their children.

Parents from the team based in the part of town with “more racial minorities” and “more poverty,” by contrast, often “couldn’t take the time off to coach,” she said, and their children didn’t always come to practice with “the right” equipment.

“Those are some examples of how the system plays at an individual and a community (level),” she said. “They all work together … and they are internalized by the individual (to create) the bias that we have, the prejudice.”

h/t National Equity Project

She encouraged her audience to consider their own environments through the same lens, examining their work organization’s hiring practices, for example, or noting the racial makeup of the employees they see at local government offices.

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“Look at the schools – are they segregated?” she asked. “Are there programs for single parents? … Are the churches helping out? (Does the city) have walking tracks that go through those low-income housing developments that they’re putting in? Do they have grocery stores?”

Government policies can help alleviate the impacts of institutional racism by ensuring that people living in poverty still have access to the resources and “networks” they need to “keep themselves healthy,” she said.

The wealth gap

The facilitator reminded her audience that there are “underlying and sometimes long-standing reasons that there are poor outcomes in a community” – like the institutional policy of redlining that helped create the wealth gap that continues to persist between white people and people of color in the United States.

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This graphic shows homeownership rates for racial groups in the United States in 2017. h/t National Community Reinvestment Coalition
h/t NCRC

That wealth gap affects a community’s “health outcomes,” she said, asking her audience to imagine a goldfish in a bathtub filled with water.

“It’s having a good time,” she said. “It can get to its food. It knows where the warm spots are. It can get around in there. (They) don’t have to worry too much about anything. … Their parents are bringing in the water from the faucet.”

Next, she asked the group to imagine a goldfish whose tub was nearly empty.

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“They couldn’t get around,” she said. “Their health would probably go down. It would be a sudden shock if they lost their well-being.”

Wealth is a “buffer” that helps keep people healthy and “stable,” she explained – but “not all people have the wealth.”

It is up to the community to decide whether it will ensure that its less-wealthy residents still have “access to opportunities and resources (so) they thrive,” she said, urging her audience to “call it out if it’s something that you see.”

RPM co-chair Chesie Lee said her group has noticed a consistently high rate of public intoxication arrests involving unhoused Native American people in Riverton over time.

Using the lens of institutional racism, she identified a lack of housing as a root cause of the disparity.

“I can have a problem with alcohol and get drunk at home and it’s not a crime,” Lee said. “But if I don’t have (a) house to live in, then I can get arrested for public intoxication.”

Those are the kinds of “important realities” that are often the “hardest to see and talk about,” the facilitator said.

“We can’t see it because we live it every day,” she said. “We need to start looking at ways that we can address it (and) jump in that arena with courage and see what you can do to help … make changes.”

Summit

Lee announced this week that the Riverton Peace Mission received a grant from Christ Episcopal Church in Cody to cover the costs for the upcoming Summit for Our Unhoused Neighbors, which will take place March 16-17 at the Wind River Casino.

“A summit will bring people together to develop the means to cooperatively address this need,” she said. “Not easy, but doable.”

A planning meeting for the summit will be held 1-2 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10, on Zoom. Click here to register. 

The next installment in the Riverton Peace Mission’s monthly online series is scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2.

Visit their website for more information. 

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