“Race, Crime, and Inequality”

2014 MacArthur Award Winner Jennifer Eberhardt, Stanford University.

2014 MacArthur Award Winner – Jennifer Eberhardt, Stanford University

I had the opportunity to attend a short lecture and Question and Answer session with Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt, a psychology professor at Stanford and preeminent scholar on race. She has conducted several psychological/sociological studies examining our perceptions of race and how they affect everyday things. Most importantly, she conducted many studies with the aim of examining the connections between our perceptions of race and crime, and how these could translate to issues within the justice system at nearly every level: particularly policing and sentencing/prosecution, along with the effects in other fields such as law and medicine. Eberhardt gave a presentation that explained briefly the studies she conducted, as well as their implications for further study.

For example, she conducted a study in which the participants (Stanford undergrads) were primed with visuals of different faces, white and black, and then had to complete a series of visual tests in which they had a very short amount of time to identify whether or not objects were weapons or non-threatening. Those who were primed with black faces more quickly identified weapons correctly, whereas those who were primed with white faces took longer to identify a weapon for what it was. These results were the same regardless of the race of the participants. Eberhardt conducted another test in which she sought to understand whether or not skin color was the only indicator that we use to identify race. She exposed participants to videos in which figures performed the same actions, and asked them which race the figures were. Most people were able to correctly identify the race of the figure despite the fact that skin color and features were entirely unknown. Lastly, she conducted a study in which she had participants play the game “shoot/don’t shoot,” in which they had to decide in a very short amount of time whether or not the person on the screen was holding a weapon or a non-threatening object. She had normal participants play this game and also police officers. Unfortunately she found that participants were more likely to mistakenly shoot black people with non-threatening weapons than they were to mistakenly shoot white people.

In general, the results were not terribly surprising. They were consistent with the idea that people have ingrained, often subliminal perceptions of race that create unconscious biases, especially when they pertain to race and crime. Thus, people can assume that they are not “racist,” and that they do not discriminate against people based on race, but it is clear from these studies that people do harbor these perceptions whether or not they are conscious of them. This issue is particularly relevant to the issue of environmental justice because it can help explain the ways in which people do not necessarily intentionally discriminate against people in terms of forcing them to live in more highly polluted areas, denying them housing, etc. The fact that people of color routinely face harsher conditions that are related to environmental issues is in part, intentional, but can also be attributed to these unconscious biases that affect the way we think about race and thus the way we treat people.

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Community-Based Action

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As communities of color continue to be targeted by extreme environmental conditions, they are finding unique and creative ways to express their opposition to further environmental degradation. They are also educating youth and kids about environmental issues to ensure a more aware and conscious citizen population. One very interesting project has been lead by Seattle’s community members and is outlined in Clayton Aldern’s article, “Seattle’s new environmental justice agenda was built by the people it affects the most.” Some of their environmental justice agenda items include increased citizen participation and green careers:

  1. “Design environmental policies and programs that acknowledge the cumulative impacts of environmental, racial, and socioeconomic burdens, such that Seattle ensures “clean, healthy, resilient, and safe environments” for communities of color, immigrants, refugees, people with low incomes, youth, and those with limited English.”
  2. “Create opportunities for “pathways out of poverty through green careers.” One strategy, for example, advocates for “support structures for people of color to lead in environmental policy/program work through positions in government and partnerships with community organizations, businesses and other environmental entities.””
  3. “When crafting environmental policies and programs, ensure that affected communities have “equitable access, accountability, and decision-making power.””
  4. “Center community stories and narratives and “lift up existing culturally appropriate environmental practices” during the decision-making process.”

As someone who is interested in community organizing, especially in the environmental justice field, I enjoy learning what strides communities are making. I strongly believe that if someone is invested in creating change in a community, it is vital to immerse oneself in the community and let the community members guide your response to the problems they face. Going into a community with an “I am going to fix all of your problem’s” attitude and not understanding the dynamic of the community is a problem that many engineers face. I try my best to learn from the people first, then impose my thoughts onto the situation at hand, so reading these steps helps provide insight into a community’s needs.

 

Video on Privilege in Environment Issues

For my final project in this class, I created a short video that explores the role of privilege in environmental issues.

My Biology teacher in middle school once asked me, “Have you ever wondered why all the oil companies and industries are located in low-income neighborhoods with majority people of color?”

This question led me on a journey into grassroots community action to shut down a refinery in my hometown of Pittsburg, California.

Hear more about my personal exploration into privilege and environmental issues through this video:

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Environmental Racism in the Bay Area

unnamed“Have you ever wondered why all of the oil companies and industries are located in low-income neighborhoods with majority people of color?”

When my 9th grade Biology teacher asked our class this question, I was perplexed. Yet, being in an environment where students did not always challenge the authority nor immerse themselves in learning outside of the classroom, I was never really able to significantly ponder that question until 11th grade, when reality came crashing down.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, Freedom Breathers, I became very acquainted with my city government, grassroots organizing, and, most importantly, knowledge, understanding, and questioning of complex and institutionalized injustices. From that experience, I learned that Pittsburg, California was only one of few marginalized communities that faces a large amount of industry, and thus, pollution, toxic plumes, and poor health conditions. I also learned that gentrification, income, skin color, education, and other factors are all linked, a concept that my freshman year Biology teacher had hinted at.

When reading the article, “Pollution, Poverty, People of Color: The factory on the hill,” I noticed a very interesting and important point: white people did not want African Americans entering or living in the same neighborhoods as them. This discrimination occurred during the World War 2 era, and still continues to this day. In fact, the tech boom has caused further acceleration of gentrification in most of the Bay Area.

Young, often white tech workers moved into San Francisco because of the many tech companies that house their headquarters in the city. The young tech workers are attracted to the city, and its abundance of food options, nightlife, and culture. Unfortunately, they are also affecting the local culture in a negative way, by pushing rents costs up. These higher costs can be afforded by the tech workers, but not the long-standing members of the community who are now being displaced out of San Francisco. These displaced people are often African Americans or Chicano/Latinos who have contributed to much of the culture and livelihood of the neighborhoods in San Francisco, such as the Mission District or Clarion Alley.

Where are these displaced people moving? They’re all being pushed more inland, to places like Oakland, Richmond, Pittsburg, and Antioch, where the population is predominantly low-income and from minority groups. They are being forced to live in places with limited resources and poor health conditions, which further divides the white population living in clean, healthy neighborhoods from the people of color living in – what should be -uninhabitable spaces.

These forced migrations into unsafe areas are definitely aspects of environmental racism. The fact that citizens in Porter Ranch, who are predominately white, received government help only a few months after a gas leakage, while communities of color facing environmental injustices continued to be ignored, even after years of asking for help. In many ways, discrimination against people of color is institutionalized and furthered by poor political practices.

I stand with the people of Richmond to increase more citizen level representation in city council and places of power, because only those who can identify with the issue can take the steps needed to fix it. By doing so, I hope that questions such as the one my 9th grade Biology teacher posed could be understood and discussed at an earlier age.

 

From fortune cookies to the story of Donaldina Cameron: My experience in Chinatown

CC BY-SA 2.0. Photographer:Ksayer1. Entitled: Fortune cookies 2

Last week our class visited 5 of the 41 alleyways in San Francisco’s Chinatown.An alleyway is defined as a street that is less than 32 feet wide between storefronts on either side of the street.

I had never been to Chinatown before and learning about it through a tour with Chinatown Alleyway Tours was an exciting and engaging experience for me. Through the tour we learned how the alleyways, have changed from dangerous walk ways that people avoided to the well lit and clean alleyways they are today. Additionally, the alleyways today reflect the culture and history and of Chinatown.

The alleyways used to have a high frequency of crime and grime since the city and the residents owning property on alleyways did not feel it was their responsibility to clean them up. The poor state of the alleyways motivated a group of teenagers to clean them themselves. Soon afterwards, store keepers became motivated by the teenagers and started cleaning the alleyways as well. The teenagers’ initiative to improve the alleyways is responsible for the pristine alleyways we see today and shows that teenagers can make a lasting impact in their towns.

The alleyways of Chinatown are historically rich. During our tour we visited a one room fortune cookie factory where the employees folded each tasty treat by hand. Although fortune cookies are often thought of as a part of Chinese cuisine, we learned that these cookies were originally created by a Japanese restaurant owner living in California who wanted to create a cookie that Americans would enjoy. His cookies proved to be very popular. When Japanese citizens were forced to relocate to internment camps during World War II, the Chinese decided to start making fortune cookies. The cookies continued to be very popular and are still served today in American Chinese restaurants.

Not only are the alleyways historically rich they also reflect the culture of Chinatown. Today murals can be found in most of the alleyways. The murals were painted in the alleyways primarily to visually communicate the culture of Chinatown but also to discourage graffiti. Some alleyways also have themes, including the Alphabet Alleyway which shows the English alphabet ‘jumping’ down the sidewalk past an elementary school. I found the Cameron House located on the Alphabet Alleyway to be particularly fascinating. In the 1900s, Chinatown was a dirty and unsafe place. Many girls and woman who immigrated from China were enslaved in the brothels. Donaldina Cameron, a missionary, worked with policeman to rescue these enslaved immigrants. During the day she taught the rescued women to sow and cook, and during the night she disguised herself as a man and went to brothels where she would help the women escape. Donaldina’s story is one of courage and strength and is a great example of the rich history in Chinatown.

After our visit to Chinatown, I now appreciate the community for much more than the good food that can be found there. Chinatown has worked hard to maintain its culture and celebrate its history through the alleyways and community centers.

Housing in San Francisco Chinatown

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Street corner in the San Francisco Chinatown

Rainy though it was, Chinatown in San Francisco was filled with life last weekend. The shops displayed brightly painted signs, and old men gathered under the bridge and other shelters to play cards and discuss the day. About two blocks up from the Chinese Culture Center, a local elementary school had a carnival with arts and crafts, live music, and delicious-smelling food. I haven’t visited Chinatown in about ten years, and the place might not have changed, but my perspective and understanding of the community has, thanks to our trip with Chinatown Alleyway Tours.

Led by college students with local ties to the area, we got to see some of the more unique, interesting parts of Chinatown and learn more about its culture and history from people who understand the community more than we would have if we had wandered Chinatown alone.

The most interesting part of the tour for me was learning about the zoning and rent-controlled housing in Chinatown. Zoning laws in Chinatown state that no buildings may be built above 65 feet without a special permit, which makes it difficult for big companies to move in and take over Chinatown, allowing residents there to resist being pushed out by big corporations, and the cheap housing available there is some of the only accessible housing that exists in the city. Most people can benefit from this, and people of all income levels may be drawn to live in Chinatown due to the low-rent options. However, the housing is often absurdly cramped: our guides described the one-room apartments that are available cheaply – it sounds barely livable, and not enjoyable. I think this raises further questions of housing justice.

While it is good that these apartments are available, and they are obviously better than living on the streets, I question the fact that there is nowhere else available in the city to live cheaply. A one-room apartment for an entire three-generation family is tiny. I imagine it becomes more difficult to cook and plan meals when you have such limited cooking space, and it might be impossible to work at home. This means that children in school may need to find quieter areas with more space to do work, and working family members who bring work home may have to find elsewhere to do it as well. This would add stress that families with more room in their homes don’t have to deal with, and may make it more difficult to succeed in school and work.

San Francisco housing is becoming absurd – people are being priced out all over the city. While Chinatown is one of the few places left with affordable housing, it does not mean that it is a comfortable place to live. I think it’s important to raise awareness of this problem and work to change it. There should be more rent-controlled housing available all over the city, and landlords who evict people from rent-controlled living spaces in order to charge higher rent should be required to subsidize the higher rents their former tenants would be forced to pay. It is difficult to make these things happen, but worth it to help people get the housing they deserve.

 

 

Chinatown Alleyway Tour

This weekend we had the honor of joining a tour led by two youth organizers with Chinatown Alleyway Tours in the San Francisco Chinatown.

As we toured the alleyways, we learned about the rich history of the district and the current struggles residents face. High density and a lack of new affordable housing have pressed community members. Despite this pressure, Chinatown is resilient and has persevered through community initiatives and active youth engagement.

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Pushing for Community-Led Solutions

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People’s Climate Change March

At the end of Fall Quarter, I wrote an article about effective service at Stanford. I interviewed leaders from various organizations, analyzed trends in student perspectives, and concluded that Stanford students have the potential to make a meaningful contribution if they perform thoughtful service, with a thorough awareness of their privilege as members of a prestigious university and a willingness to learn from and work with outside communities rather than coming in and “saving” them.

Students often approach service with the wrong mindset. Each of us perceives the world in a slightly different way; our perceptions are colored by our differing backgrounds and identities. These paradigms combined with the privilege of many Stanford students often result in two incorrect beliefs – first, that our perception of the world is inherently better than everyone else’s and second, that we can fix everything by teaching underprivileged people the “right way” to improve their lives without having to fully understand their communities. These assumptions foster condescension and a white savior complex. Tensions arise when Stanford students step into another community’s space, uneducated about the context of the issues, and try to teach people or impose their own values.

Unfortunately, this problematic approach extends beyond Stanford students. During our class discussions, it became evident that much of the efforts to address environmental harms and inequality, especially the food initiatives in West Oakland.These efforts in West Oakland were outlined in a recent article from KQED, entitled 3 Food Initiatives That Could Transform West Oakland’s Food Desert. Some of the food initiatives faced the same limitations, with rich foreigners intruding into underserved communities to “help” them without understanding the communities or the needs of the people. One specific example is Tom Henderson’s plans for a 20,000 – square – foot supermarket in the Jack London Gateway shopping center. Henderson, “Oakland’s king of EB-5 investments,” is willing to spend upwards of $25 million (just in start-up costs) to fill the gap of affordable grocery stores – while churning out a profit – but has been met with skepticism by many merchants and community activists in the neighborhood because of his lack of basic understanding about the community.

First, the Jack London Gateway shopping center has poor street frontage and limited public transit; with a target consumer base of a community in which most people walk or take the bus to shop every few days, the location offers unnecessary logistical challenges. Instead, most of the customers will be more affluent people with access to cars and the market will do little to address the crisis of food deserts.

Moreover, Henderson’s expensive marketing push will most likely alienate those in the community who perceive the store to be pricey. Overall, Henderson’s efforts are well intentioned but misguided. They may even lead to more harm than good, because if Henderson manages to intimidate his competitors with his ambitious supermarket but ultimately fails because of his inability to connect with the community, the neighborhood will be left in a lurch without other options.

Luckily, there are other community-based incentives, often led by people from or at least familiar with the communities. These efforts analyze the needs of the community and specialize to fit their needs. Some examples include the People’s Community Market and Mandela Foods Cooperative, which sell healthy staples at affordable prices and improve the general nutrition of the communities they serve. Lasting change must begin with understanding, both in service and in environmental justice movements. It comes from working with communities to serve their needs in the most effective way possible instead of coming in, ignorant and arrogant, to save the world.

 

California’s Environmental Justice Crisis

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In Julia Lurie’s article, Here’s What I Saw in a California Town Without Running Water, she speaks about the devastating conditions residents in East Porterville are living with due to the historic and current California’s drought. Lurie states that residents “use paper plates to avoid washing dishes, eat sandwiches instead of spaghetti so there’s no need to boil water, and collect water used for cooking and showers to pour in the toilet.” Families are also forced to use public facilities to take showers.

I find Lurie’s article meaningful because in the Bay Area we can get lost in the abstract idea of California’s drought, but East Porterville is a close by example on how the drought is directly affecting California’s residents. This proximity not only allows me to empathize with East Porterville residents, but it also motivates me to learn more about environmental justice with the hope that everyone in California will have clean running water access soon.

Article Spotlight:

Here’s What I Saw in a California Town Without Running Water

Julia Lurie

Revitalization or Replacement?

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This week, we read an article entitled, “Forgotten Area Between Atherton and Redwood City Seeks Revitalization,” written by a KQED contributor from the Peninsula Press. The article sought to explain to the readers where the neighborhood of North Fair Oaks was, that it had long been neglected as an unincorporated, densely packed pocket within the booming Bay Area/Silicon Valley area, and that it desperately needed development. The article detailed San Mateo County’s plans to “revitalize” the neighborhood by cutting the lanes down to two, widening the sidewalks, and putting in turning and bike lanes. The article generally supposes that these changes will be positive for the community, although it notes that some community and business members feel left out of the loop when it comes to the planning and approval of this project, which began to be planned a little over a year ago.

As a resident of this North Fair Oaks neighborhood for 18 years, I’m extremely skeptical of this newfound attention to the area. It seems to me that developers have finally realized that amidst the tech-boom and development of the Bay Area and its population boom, there are few pockets of undeveloped area left with potential for extremely valuable investment and land to be developed. However, the inevitability of the transformation of North Fair Oaks, or “Lil Mex,” as those familiar with it usually refer to it, from a neighborhood of generations of immigrants from Mexico with a vibrant community of small businesses, including one of the highest concentrations of Taquerias near and far, to a gentrified stretch of trendy big businesses to mirror the transformation of nearby Downtown Redwood City, looms very large. In the last 10 years or so, the downtown area of Redwood City has been “revitalized,” and what used to be a sleepy, historic district with small businesses and affordable housing is now beginning to resemble a metropolis, with giant new apartment buildings and tech company office high-rises taking over the already densely populated area. Traffic is terrible on weeknights, and there are few lanes other than the main road, Broadway, which travels from east Redwood City through downtown.

My fear is that the community of North Fair Oaks will have their “needs” addressed in such a way that attracts new attention to the area and begins a process of gentrification that renders it impossible for the community of Latinos to live there with their humble origins and current incomes. Furthermore, on the strictly environmental side of things, the cutting of four lanes to two will only increase traffic and smog in the area. In terms of food justice, many of the small Taquerias that feed the community there may be pushed out, and there may be decreasing access to affordable food that isn’t Jack in the Box or McDonalds.

“It doesn’t look like Atherton, but that’s okay.”

In terms of a proper approach to “revitalizing” this neighborhood, I’m not convinced it needs that much revitalizing. It doesn’t look like Atherton, but that’s okay. The brightly colored, small facades of the beauty salons and Taquerias look more like the places these residents came from, and it’s cruel to measure a neighborhood’s worth next to Atherton, an entirely white, extremely affluent suburb that is consistently ranked as the area with the highest median home prices in the entire country. If San Mateo County is concerned about North Fair Oaks, they can start by funneling more money into the schools, into tax breaks for the cash-strapped residents, or into building more affordable housing for those who are displaced by downtown’s recent boom, not simply giving the neighborhood a makeover so as to attract gentrifying outsiders.

The latter process of gentrification has been done already in Marsh Manor, a small shopping center 5 minutes away from this stretch of Middlefield, right by my house. Marsh Manor used to consist of small community businesses, like a pizza place, a Laundromat, a liquor store, a hair salon, a Taqueria, a bakery, a florist, and a market full of union employees who watched me grow up and knew my name for 18 years. Now the stores are slowly turning over as the owner realized the potential for Marsh Manor to draw Atherton and Menlo Park clientele: the market has been made over with all new ownership and employees, as well as renovations for a deli, parking lots are being bulldozed, the laundromat, liquor store, and pizza place are gone, replaced by a Brewery, a Gourmet Pet Food store, and an upper-scale Brunch restaurant. These places are not frequented by the community nearby, but by non-Redwood City residents attracted by the makeover.

In conclusion, I again express my fear that North Fair Oaks, which is really the last area of affordable living, including housing and living, in the Bay Area other than EPA, will soon by demolished by development prospects in the name of progress, and the entire community will slowly disappear.