This week, we have the chance to make a decision with our ballots about the place of Affirmative Action in Washington State. Despite its reputation as a beacon of progressive politics, Washington has been one of the very few states in the U.S. that has banned Affirmative Action since the passage of Tim Eyman’s I-200 in 1998.
In the years since, we have seen institutional racism continue to limit opportunities for Black and Brown Washingtonians, and inequality continue to grow.
Now, we need to approve R-88 on our ballots by November 5 to overcome decades of government and private policies that have helped White families grow their wealth and opportunity, while denying those opportunities to families of Color.
Washington State has a long history of racially restrictive covenants, reinforced by the Housing Act of 1934 and red-lining. People of Color were limited to specific neighborhoods and restricted from accessing essential financial capital to build their communities.
Those formal policies may no longer be legal, but now people of Color instead receive higher cost and higher risk mortgages. At the peak of the 2000s housing bubble, Black people were 50 percent more likely than White people to receive a subprime loan – even when they qualified for a better deal. As a result, when the financial crisis hit, they were much more vulnerable to losing their homes, critically damaging their credit, and undermining the stability of their communities.
While White families were able to buy new homes that have doubled or tripled in value, Black families could not build the same wealth. They have fewer resources to handle emergencies, send kids to college, finance retirements, and pass on wealth to their children. This lack of community resources also makes people more vulnerable to homelessness.
Since property taxes and money raised by local PTAs partially fund public schools, the devaluation of Black and Brown neighborhoods has resulted in less funding for schools with a majority of students of Color. Students in neighborhoods of Color attend schools with high teacher turnover rates and lack of access to class materials, computers, and other essential resources.
This, in turn, feeds the student achievement gap. In 2011-12, 71 percent of White students in King County attended majority White schools and 79 percent of Black students attended majority non-White schools. The Seattle School District ranks number five in the US for largest White-Black student achievement gaps.
As a result, people of Color have been excluded from Washington’s incredible growth.
New census data shows that the Seattle median household income hit $93,500 in 2018. This has come mostly to the benefit of White households. White households have more than double the median income of Black households. The median income for Black households was $42,500 in 2018, while the median income for a White household was $105,100.
Access to education, good jobs, and financial capital are essential to economic opportunity. We have denied access to all three to people of Color in Washington State.
The passage of I-200 has reduced the percentage of public contracts going to women and minority owned businesses from 10 percent to 3 percent. In total, this has represented a $3.5 billion loss for women and communities of Color.
Approving R-88 on this year’s ballot would provide a small, yet significant, step forward in acknowledging and undoing these barriers.
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