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Report Card on Racial Equity confirms experiences of inequities

With Washington state legislators having been rated on average “D” in the “Report Card on Racial Equity” by the Washington Community Action Network (WACAN) released in December, it’s no wonder that Spokane Leadership Team volunteer Tia Griffin feels the area has slid back in race relations since she was growing up in the 1970s in Spokane.

Tia Griffin

Tia Griffin speaks out based on her experiences.

Leaders from the state’s African American, Latino, Asian, Native American and Middle Eastern communities presented the report on the 2011 and 2012 State Legislatures’ performance on racial and economic equity.

The 52 organizations endorsing the report represent the changing demographics—with 30 percent of residents being people of color.  Washington is home to more than 886,000 immigrants.

Disparities based on race are often the result of the legislative policy decisions on education, housing, taxes, health care, civil rights and tribal sovereignty.

“Legislators have a choice,” said Marley Hochendoner, executive director of the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance and speaker during the release of the report in Seattle. “Their votes can either increase access and opportunities, or reinforce barriers that deny some families the opportunities they need to thrive.”

Forty-one percent of legislators received failing grades, presenters said, challenging the next session to open the path to equity by expanding Medicaid, implementing the Basic Health Option, adopting the Washington Voting Rights Act, prohibiting mandatory instant online verification of eligibility to work in the United States, abolishing the death penalty, protecting worker safety and stability, expanding access to dental care and broadening access to early learning.

The 25 bills reviewed in the Racial Justice Report Card met at least one of six criteria:

• Does it explicitly address racial outcomes and work to eliminate racial inequities?           

• Will it increase access to public benefits and institutions for communities of color?

• Does it advance enfranchise-ment and full civic participation for everyone in the state?

• Will it protect against racial violence, racial profiling, and discrimination?           

• Is it enforceable?  Are adequately funded mechanisms in place to ensure accountability?

• Will it exacerbate existing racial inequities, or have unintended consequences on communities of color?

“We can’t afford to let the Legislature avoid our revenue crisis by passing yet another all-cuts budget in the upcoming session,” said Tia, a Gonzaga graduate and Spokane mother of four. “Closing corporate tax loopholes and having the state’s wealthiest pay their fair share will allow us to preserve vital investments in education, health care and other programs that are necessary to providing more equal opportunity and prosperity for all people in Washington.”

Tia, the 16th child of a retired Air Force sergeant, graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Gonzaga University’s organizational leadership studies program in 2006.

The graduate of Mead High School spent 15 years away from Spokane, residing in Orange County, Calif., with her sister and brother-in-law.  While there, she worked and completed an associate’s degree at Fullerton Community College.   She returned in 1998.

Tia has worked nights as a nursing assistant and has held other part-time jobs.  Along with volunteering, she is rearing her children, seeking employment and seeking to further her education.

Meanwhile, she experiences in her own life, the lives of her teens and their friends, and life in the community some of the disparities from inequities in public policies.

Out of her experiences, she is speaking out.

Sometimes she has seen Marshall Island, Latino, Asian and African-American students from Rogers on the streets during the school day.  She learned they were kicked out because they fought back when they experienced racially based taunting and bullying.

Knowing some of her children’s classmates have experienced that, she reflects on what it means for them and why it happens.

“There is need to expose issues of racism in education,” Tia said.  “In Spokane, prejudice is not open, but hidden.  The ‘N’ word has been used not only among students but also in some high school books.”

If students fight when bullied, they go to juvenile justice.  If they don’t go back to school, the state’s truancy law is applied against them and their parents, she said.

Tia said courts do not consider racial harassment a valid reason for students to skip school, so it punishes students.

 “It’s embedded in the system,” she said.

Tia has tried to organize other parents, but they fear retaliation by teachers, she said, adding that she finds that clergy want to help.

In the health care system, she said Pacific Islanders, Bosnians, Russians and African Americans find some doctors may cut corners in their care because they use state-funded insurance..

“We need to break through bias.  We need to talk with neighbors and share stories,” she said.

Having worked as a nursing assistant, she knew that, when she had an infection, the doctor should have taken a culture before prescribing an antibiotic that was not effective. Because he did not do the culture, which costs $300, she had to take a second round of antibiotics. 

Taking antibiotics for 14 days is not good for anyone’s body, Tia said, adding that skipping the step of doing a culture could lead to a kidney infection if a person is not knowledgeable and persistent.

If people do not know what treatment they should have, they may have complications.  They need to challenge doctors on matters that affect their lives and health, she said.  “When medical professionals cut corners, supra infections can be released in the body, further weighing down state medical care costs.”

Tia has found bias in employment with some retailers not hiring people of color.

“If youth of color cannot find jobs they may turn to selling drugs or stealing,” she said.  “As they get older and have no job experience, their opportunities decline.”

Tia finds it hard to find work.

“The ‘No Blacks Allowed’ signs today are hidden, but the lack of people of color working can be seen all around us,” she said, telling of going into a store that had a sign in the window saying they were hiring.  When she asked for an application, they said they were not hiring.

“If people do not have a job, they cannot pay mortgages, feed their families nor meet any basic needs.  This may lead to homelessness. Today families are forced to double up with several generations living together.

 “Business needs to give people a chance to work,” she said.

In addition, for those who find a job, “at-will” firing is another opportunity for racism, because an employer does not have to say why a person is fired, she said.

“It’s better for me to work than live on welfare.  I’m willing to work hard,” said Tia, who grew up in Morningstar Baptist Church in Spokane and now attends Calvary Chapel.

“We need to expose and uncover these issues that are part of the new civil rights era in Spokane,” Tia said. “We want something better.”

She said there is limited legal aid assistance for low-income people to challenge discrimination in work, health care and education.

Volunteering with the Washington Community Action Network, she has assisted behind the scenes and gives presentations on the racial justice report card.

When direct approaches do not work, she has another talent to renew her spirit.  She sings and writes gospel music. One song she has written deals with being a single parent and trusting God.

While Washington CAN’s report card on racial justice looks at legislators’ votes on issues related to race, it does not look at why the inequities are happening.

“We need to talk about why there are inequities,” Tia said, who became involved with Washington CAN through a message online from MoveOn.org. 

She went to a meeting at Salem Lutheran and was excited that people cared about issues she cared about.  They went to representatives’ offices to say what changes they want to see.

They did phone banking and trainings to learn to advocate for the community, and have presented Washington CAN displays to provide information and networking.

The racial justice report card is at washingtoncan.org.

For information, call 206-389-0050 or email Tia at seeadvocacy@hotmail.com.




Copyright © February 2013 - The Fig Tree


Published by The Fig Tree, 1323 S. Perry St., Spokane, WA 99202
509-535-4112 / 509-535-1813



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