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Race: Are we so different

A blog looking at the changing face of race around our region, created in cooperation with Pacific Science Center, the University of Washington Department of Communication and the City of Seattle Race and Justice Initiative

December 18, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Race project | Racial disparities exist despite changing attitudes

Editor’s note: This is the first of five blog posts taking a deeper look at the racial disparities in our communities, from education to juvenile crime and homelessness.

Seattle boasts itself as a city that embraces diversity.

The Puget Sound area is home to some of the most racially diverse places in the nation – the Tukwila School District, identified in The New York Times as the single most diverse in the U.S., and Southeast Seattle’s 98118 area.

Here, most people have good intentions. But efforts to end racial disparities have made little progress:

  • Seattle-area schools have diverse student populations, but many minorities aren’t making it to graduation. Dropout rates in King County school districts among Hispanic, Native American and African-American students are consistently higher than rates for white students. Read more.
  • A substantial drop in juvenile criminal-court proceedings has mostly been driven by fewer white kids being referred, charged and sentenced, an analysis of juvenile prosecution shows. Read more.
  • African Americans make up about 8 percent of Seattle’s population, but that figure more than triples among the city’s homeless populations, where African Americans represent 30 percent. Read more.
  • Despite recruiting efforts, University of Washington demographics have changed little since a 1998 initiative banning racial quotas. Read more.

Disparities here are not a result of attitudes but of entrenched systems within city institutions, said Elliott Bronstein, public-information officer for the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.

“Any person in Seattle comes to work, by and large, wanting to do their part to create equity. The data shows something different,” he said. “Despite our best intentions, there’s something deeper at work that keeps dealing the cards in an inequitable way.”

The city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) is working to identify the problem and solve it.

It started nine years ago as an internal initiative in Seattle government to end institutional racism from within. Since then, it has expanded its reach outward to end disparities within education, housing, employment, criminal justice and other institutions.

When most people think of racism, they think of individual acts of prejudice or bias.

Institutional racism is far-reaching and sometimes unintentional, promoting racial disparities within systems.

“There are biases both explicit and implicit built into all of our systems that contribute hugely toward how the cards get shuffled and dealt,” Bronstein said. “Our belief is that the most effective way to change that is to acknowledge that fact and look closely at how race and racism play out within a system and develop a specific strategy.”

One of its efforts to end institutional racism surrounds the Pacific Science Center’s “RACE: Are We So Different?” exhibit, which, as of Dec. 1, has brought in most of the center’s 65,000 visitors since its Sept. 28 opening, public-relations specialist Katelyn Del Buco said. Exhibit-specific numbers aren’t available.

As of Dec. 5, about 210 business, nonprofit, school and other groups registered for the workshops, which include 75-minute pre-exhibit and 2-hour post-exhibit discussions.

Diana Falchuk, RSJI outreach specialist, coordinates the workshops.

“The goal is to help folks really understand the difference between individual racism and institutional or structural racism so that we can begin to address those within our groups,” she said.

“We’re thinking about the policies, practices and procedures – as well as the behaviors, unstated morals and culture – of an institution that works to the benefit of white people and the detriment of people of color,” Falchuk said.

Ashley Stewart is a journalism student at the University of Washington.

| Topics: disparities, diversity, Race Project

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