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Media owners own too much of our culture. We need change.

In 2019, alongside our partners at Dove, the National Urban League, and Color of Change, Western Center became a founding member of the CROWN coalition to stop discrimination based on hair – specifically, to protect Black people’s right to wear their hair naturally. Since the CROWN Act passed in California, similar measures have passed across the country, and conversations about discrimination and representation have spread like wildfire. Every day people share examples of overcoming discrimination and taking pride in representation – embracing their true, whole selves. Putting an end to race-based discrimination is one step in the fight for equity in workplaces, schools, and on our screens, and representation is another. There is also a deeper well to look to as we cleanse the groundwater of this country’s white supremacy – looking at who owns what.

Diversity in media is about more than representation on screen – it’s also about who has the power to decide what content is put in front of audiences and who gets to influence culture.  Media is culture, and culture shows our values. While we’ve seen a push for more diversity and representation on screen, not enough has been done to diversify media ownership.

Like other highly monopolized industries, mergers and acquisitions between media companies are frequent. As it stands, there are six major media companies and five major tech companies dominating the media landscape, meaning a relatively small number of people control film production, television, news, and other media. Through consolidations, large companies continue to set the tone for media discourse, ethics, and actions over smaller entities that try to compete or are eventually absorbed. That is why in 2022 so many people still are not adequately seen, heard, or represented in our content.

Everyone has a story, but when the same kind of stories with the same kind of characters continue to be uplifted over others, it’s a signal to the culture about who is important and relatable. But it is a faulty signal – the small, homogenous group of media owners who make decisions about “what audiences want to see” have too limited a perspective to really know. Even when project (Black Panther) after project (anything created by Shonda Rhimes) after project (Insecure) proves old business models wrong, the same people continue to hold the power to greenlight or cancel projects, and storytelling is stifled.

Ten years ago, writer and producer Issa Rae was told she needed a white character for her projects to be successful and for audiences to care. That sentiment, which still exists, is a product of the explicitly racist history of American media, founded by the same white supremacy as the rest of the country. But ever the trailblazer, Issa expanded the network of creators in Hollywood through her show, and continues to do so – an example of Toni Morrison’s wisdom: “If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

Issa stands on the shoulders of trailblazing creator/ owners like Oprah Winfrey, Ava Duvernay, Reese Witherspoon, and Tyler Perry, all of whom create countless opportunities for talented people from diverse backgrounds. But for every new model for content production and distribution, there is a legacy media brand holding back bourgeoning creators. And while companies like Netflix offer a welcome disruption for media production and distribution, when we look at ownership, it is clear there’s a long way to go.

It’s not just the media industry that needs a shift in ownership, in fact, the idea of ownership anywhere in the U.S. is complicated by its history of slavery. The racial dynamics of ownership are particularly stark in sports, where discussions about the need for change happen, but ownership largely stays the same. Of course, sports connect right back to media, and a small group of people unwilling to give up profitable reins to change racist systems.

There is a silver lining – the beautiful thing about culture is that it can be shaped into anything we want, and in that way, creators have the freedom to construct whatever narratives they want. However, as things stand, most don’t have the backing to reach a mass audience, so they’re stuck hoping someone with power will “take a chance” and see the value in their stories.

The media industry is notoriously hard to break into and extremely susceptible to “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” But media consumers should be able to find relatable content providing a true reflection of what modern society looks like. With that goal in mind, the evolution of the media landscape must include more open doors for diversity in media ownership so more diverse voices are supported, greenlit, and shared.

It’s not about hair

“The “it’s just hair” mantra also perplexes Courtney McKinney, communications director for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “For so long in this country black people have been told that how we exist naturally and care for ourselves in order to work or to get an education or to just be is unacceptable. And the psychological damage from that is so profound and so beyond just hair,” she says.”

It’s not about hair

Asian Americans Should Vote Yes on Prop 16. Here’s Why.

I’m Asian American, and I’m voting Yes on Proposition 16. I know that may seem contrary to stories out there about Asian American opposition to affirmative action, but the reality goes far beyond stereotypical narratives. In fact, there are many Asian Americans who support Prop 16 for very good reasons.

The Prop 16 ballot measure would restore affirmative action in public education, employment, and contracting. By repealing Prop 209, Prop 16 would allow state and local entities here in California to implement race-conscious affirmative action programs once again.

Prop 16 extends far beyond undergraduate admissions in higher education, which has occupied much of the public discourse on affirmative action. In this context, Asian Americans have become the mascot of anti-affirmative action campaigns, arguing that Asian Americans would be harmed in college admissions, and corralling Chinese Americans to sue universities for their affirmative action programs. Yet, in reality, Asian American attitudes about affirmative action vary, and surveys show a majority of Asian Americans do support affirmative action, myself included.

I also support affirmative action as a health advocate. Asian Americans lean progressive as a voting base, which means they are largely interested in improving and expanding access to health care. The majority of Asian Americans believe health care is a very or extremely important issue this election season and that the government should expand health coverage to all people regardless of immigration status.

Affirmative action has its place in the progressive health care agenda.

The health care system involves public education, employment, and contracting—three areas where Prop 16 would restore affirmative action. Take for example, the six University of California medical schools. These are training grounds for California’s future health care workforce, and hubs of medical innovation. We need a racially diverse medical student body to have a physician workforce that provides culturally competent care to our communities. We also need a racially diverse medical student body to train researchers who will conduct studies that take into account non-White subjects and replace outdated racist models.

Despite the current existence of diversity programs in each UC medical school, UC San Diego had only 13 Latinx students out of an entering class of 134 students, and UC Irvine had five Black students and seven Latinx students out of a class of 104 students. Together, Black, Latinx, and Native American faculty make up only about 8% of U.S. academic medical centers, a rate that has stayed just about the same since Prop 209 was passed nearly 25 years ago in California. These statistics are widely disproportionate with the state’s demographics, where Latinx people comprise 39% of the state population, Black people are 7%, and Native Americans are 2%.

Prop 16 would allow UC medical schools to target outreach and recruitment directly to Black, Latinx, and Native American groups, as well as underrepresented Asian American ethnicities, and allow the schools to consider race explicitly in their student admissions and faculty hiring. This does not mean admissions and hiring criteria will be lowered for certain racial and ethnic groups, and it does not mean quotas will be set aside for certain groups.

The Medi-Cal program is another health care example. Government contracting is a large source of income and jobs in communities; the California Department of Health Care Services contracts with third-party vendors to operate significant parts of Medi-Cal. Minority-owned businesses face several structural barriers in winning procurement bids, like having less working capital and the ability to meet high insurance bonding requirements, and existing in different social networks.

Prop 209 made it unlawful in California to run race-conscious government procurement programs that would remove some of these structural barriers. Without repealing Prop 209, the state remains unable to directly target outreach and set contracting targets for minority-owned businesses. The Equal Justice Society estimates a $1 billion to $1.1 billion loss per year for women and minority business enterprises due to Prop 209.

Medi-Cal contracting also involves services for building and maintaining IT systems, evaluating medical billing claims, and creating consumer outreach material, among other functions. Under Prop 209, contracts continue to be awarded to primarily white-owned and operated corporations. In April 2020, the state selected Deloitte in a $12.1 million bid as the vendor to develop the new CalSAWS system, a statewide IT system that would centralize case management for all welfare programs including Medi-Cal. Deloitte beat out minority-operated businesses such as Alluma, which offered costs at half the rate of Deloitte. Similarly, DHCS has consistently selected the behemoth government contracting service, MAXIMUS Federal Services, Inc. to administer many Medi-Cal functions.

By examining how affirmative action could create a more equitable health care system, it becomes clear that there is so much more to the affirmative action debate than Asian American undergraduate admissions. Affirmative action impacts economic opportunities for all underrepresented minorities. Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian American businesses stand to benefit, as do racial and ethnic minorities working in government. Affirmative action also impacts who designs our health care systems and who works in the health care system. This, in turn, determines the medical treatment available for different communities.

So many of us are outraged by the racial disparities unveiled by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Asian American families, alongside other families of color, have lost grandparents to the virus in nursing homes, and we worry for family members who continue to report to low-wage jobs without PPE and regular testing. Low-income Black and Latinx Californians are dying at higher rates than high-income white Californians. These health disparities, as much as they are tied to disparities in underlying conditions, are tied to poverty, a direct function of income and wealth. Better health care and better job opportunities are the solutions we need to create a more equitable California. Prop 16 offers one solution in that direction.

Many of us, including myself, were not of voting age in 1996 when Prop 209 was passed. Or, we might have voted for it without realizing its ramifications in the ensuing decades and during a global pandemic. We’ve arrived at a moment now and we should take it head on: vote Yes on Prop 16.

Go to https://voteyesonprop16.org/why-prop-16 for more information and read the text of the proposed law. Learn more about the longstanding work of the Equal Justice Society to repeal Prop 209 and restore affirmative action in California. View more resources and actions to take with Chinese for Affirmative Action.

Racism fuels wildfire 

California is burning out of control, in part, because of racism toward indigenous people and practices. We can’t afford to continue this way. 

At the beginning of the month, the Trump Administration issued a memo to stop diversity training for federal agencies; the Administration called lessons about America’s history of racism “anti-American propaganda.” This week, the president came to California, where millions of acres burn out of control, in part, due to a legacy of racism.

It’s hard to hear bad things about the country you love — it’s hard to learn about all of the times this country betrayed itself to uphold systems and philosophies founded on white supremacy. It’s frustrating to learn, if you didn’t already know, that racist practices shaped this country. It’s more frustrating to see the results play out in the form of uncontrolled burning land and stifling, apocalyptic skies.

Climate change is undoubtedly playing a role in the increasing intensity of fire season, but wildfires were a part of the California landscape before our human consumption footprint got so out of control. The path away from a dystopian America is to look ourselves in the eye, see who we really are, and move forward.

The United States, California, and every other state in this country was founded via the violent removal of people who lived here first — people who held and hold the wisdom we need to survive, live, and thrive here now. For California, the first step toward healing – for the land, for our communities, and for our people — is to resurrect practices from the land’s native ancestors, those who knew that survival requires balance, communion, and stewardship.

According to reporting by the New York Times, “In recent years, momentum has built for purposefully setting fires in certain areas to help thin vegetation and restore ecosystems that would naturally burn more frequently, if not for California’s policy of more than a century requiring that all fires be put out. Before Euro-American settlement in California in the 1800s, about 1.5 million acres of forest burned each year… roughly the same amount that has burned so far this year. That aggressive fire-suppression policy came at the expense of Native American tribes, who had for thousands of years harnessed fire to help ensure that the forests where they lived were healthy — that the plants that fed them were able to flourish, that fires didn’t burn too hot and destructively.”

Both the state and federal government “historically banned tribal burning;” for more than a century California has denied native tribes the right to practice traditional controlled burn techniques, while forcibly displacing them.

We can’t afford to continue with the paradigm of constant expansion and displacement rooted in “Manifest Destiny,” a European-colonial philosophy that ignores, disrespects, and neglects centuries of learned knowledge by native people. That fatal disconnect is illustrated by communities that overturn prescriptions for controlled burns over concerns of inconvenience, only to burn from uncontrolled wildfire years later. Or continuing to build in high risk areas, and spending millions to protect homes in those places, when it would be best for the collective if the land was allowed to burn.

Instead of outrage-laced videos taking vague, unproductive jabs at climate deniers, Governor Newsom could instead take dramatic action to reprioritize indigenous people and wisdom on this land with the full weight (and resources) of the 5th largest economy in the world. He could also stop signing fracking permits and allowing the continued pollution of low-income communities across California.

Americans as a whole do not understand that racism is an insidious illness that plagues ALL of us. Though we have the most diverse country on the planet, we cling to a system founded by men who came from Europe, who did not have generations of learned wisdom about this land. Now that centuries have passed, we don’t have time for it anymore — it’s not working, and we’re choking.

In California, to move in a healthier, more sustainable and inclusive path forward, we should start with controlled burns led by native people.

PRESS RELEASE: Campaign across California launched to demand state leaders craft a budget for justice by taxing the privileged

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Coalition challenges state leaders to stop further budget cuts and invest in communities suffering from racism, inequality, recession, and COVID-19 

Sacramento, CA – Thirteen organizations representing frontline workers, teachers, seniors, environmentalists, and advocates for racial and social justice announced a Summer campaign – Commit to Equity – to demand the governor and state lawmakers tax the privileged to fund real systemic changes that lift up communities of color and vulnerable groups. The campaign also announced a “week of action,” with a series of events in Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Diego to demand leaders build a budget for justice, informed by weeks of protest against racism.

As state leaders have yet to reach a final budget agreement, Commit to Equity demands they:

  • Dismantle the systemic inequities created by underfunding our communities’ needs, inequities deepened by a cuts-only budget, which disproportionately harms Black and brown people;
  • End the systemic inequity of our tax code, which gives billionaires and corporations a pass from paying their fair share;
  • Put up a plan to tax the privileged to preserve and improve schools, healthcare, and vital community services, since people need them now more than ever to endure the impact of recession and pandemic; and
  • Invest in real systemic change in communities of color.

“Budgets reflect our values, and California needs to commit today to racial justice and economic justice as our guiding lights,” said Joseph Bryant, President of SEIU Local 1021 and member of SEIU California’s Executive Board. “It starts with rejecting racially disparate cuts, but it requires much more. We need to invest in Black and brown communities and economically struggling communities and require the most privileged and wealthy in our state to contribute more.”

“In this unprecedented moment, many people are asking, ‘How can I stand up for Black lives and racial justice?,’” said Marc Philpart, Principal Coordinator of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and Managing Director at PolicyLink. “We need extraordinary investments in health, housing, education, jobs, and social services, not austerity measures or investments that diminish our communities rather than strengthen them. Budget justice is essential for racial justice, and for finally creating a society in which Black Lives Matter.”

“We have legislators taking knees, state and local leaders calling for systemic change – all in response to recent mass demonstrations. But we’ve been ringing this alarm for years – especially in California, Western Center has called out systemic, racial, and economic injustice for decades,” said Michael Herald, Director of Policy Advocacy at Western Center on Law & Poverty.  “This moment can be different, but not without putting money where the talk is. We need a dramatic resource shift — tax the extraordinary wealth exacerbating inequality in California, and use it to heavily invest in the Black, brown, and low-income communities that are suffocated by systemic inequality.”

“Now more than ever, it’s critical for California lawmakers to invest in integrated programs that not only create and maintain union, family-sustaining jobs, but also protect us against the climate crisis and uplift our Black, Indigenous, and communities of color,” said Mary Creasman CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters.  “The Climate crisis is not just an environmental issue – it is an economic and justice issue as well. It’s not a coincidence that those hardest hit by economic and climate crises are black and brown communities. We need to do better and budget cuts to core services and critical environmental programs is not the answer.”

“As one of the world’s largest economies, California can no longer stand for a budget and tax system that is balanced on the backs of Black and brown communities, seniors, children, and our most vulnerable,” said Ronald Coleman, Director of Policy and Legislative Advocacy at Health Access.  “The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated existing inequalities, and a budget system that relies on cuts, as we saw this year, puts our long-term health, economic recovery, and needed investments towards equity, all at risk. This campaign calls for a new vision for revenues that support the health and financial well-being of all Californians struggling to recover through the pandemic, while helping us thrive into the future.”

State budget cuts are not equally felt and exacerbate inequities laid bare by the pandemic and recession.

  • Cuts to CalWORKs are over 700% more likely to affect African Americans
  • Cuts to child care slots are over 730% more likely to affect African American children than white children
  • Cuts to home care are over 300% more likely to affect African American seniors and people with disabilities and 300% more likely to affect African American workers
  • Cuts to K-12 education are 230% more likely to affect Latinos than white Californians.
  • Black people dying from COVID-19 in numbers that are nearly twice their share of the population.
  • 76% of COVID-19 deaths in California are individuals 65+.
  • Older adults of color are dying at rates up to 3x their share of the population.
  • Residents and staff of nursing facilities and residential care facilities accounting for 46% of COVID-19 deaths in California.
  • Since COVID-19 impact began in mid-March, over 6 million Californians have filed for unemployment and $26.2 billion in benefits have been paid to workers in need.
  • Job losses have been most acute in sectors not able to telecommute, such as leisure and hospitality, retail, and personal services.
  • Lower-wage workers have disproportionately been impacted by job loss.

For more information about the impact of state budget cuts on communities of color, see this list.

A recent report found corporations pay far less in state taxes than a generation ago.

  • California’s state budget would have received $11.2 billion more revenue in 2017 had corporations paid the same share of their income in taxes that year as they did in 1981.
  • State policymakers have enacted several corporate tax breaks – many without expiration dates – adding up to $5.7 billion for corporations in 2019-20.
  • California spending on tax breaks for corporations far exceeds the amount the state spends on tax benefits for low-income Californians: In 2019, California was projected to spend just $1 billion on the state’s two largest tax credits targeted to Californians with low incomes – the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) and the Young Child Tax Credit.

Follow the campaign this summer on social media: Twitter @CommitToEquity, Instagram @committoequity, and Facebook.com/CommitToEquity.

The Commit to Equity campaign includes the following organizations:

  • AFSME California
  • Alliance for Boys and Men of Color
  • California Environmental Justice Alliance
  • California Federation of Teachers
  • California League of Conservation Voters
  • California Teachers Association
  • Health Access California
  • PICO California
  • PolicyLink
  • SEIU California
  • Sierra Club
  • TODCO
  • Western Center on Law and Poverty

The announcement of this campaign occurs alongside other efforts calling on leaders to have the values of justice and inclusion guide efforts to craft the state budget.  Last month, over 50 organizations signed onto a letter to state legislative leaders urging them to mitigate inequality, build a balanced economy, and generate more state revenues by creating a fair and equitable tax system.

See virtual press conference footage here.

CONTACT: Anthony Matthews, (202) 297-3830

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California’s Governor Resists Defunding Police, but Reparations Bill Advances

“California is only a single setting in this global moment of history, but some, such as Courtney McKinney of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, believe it can lead by example. “If California is willing to lead on other conversations around climate, around income inequality and around things like this, there is no way to have any of these conversations without acknowledging what has been done to Black people in this country.”

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The California Judicial Council and a case study for confronting racism in “neutral” institutions.

Earlier this week, the Judicial Council of California announced it was considering a vote to end the  emergency rule suspending evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement was alarming to housing and anti-poverty advocates, and we quickly raised the alarm about the harm such a move would cause for California communities – particularly Black and Brown renters.

Fortunately, the pressure generated both in public and behind the scenes led the Council to decide against the vote to lift the rule. Western Center played a role in pushing the message that lifting the rule would lead to mass evictions, exacerbating the current public health crisis and existing homelessness crisis, both of which are a direct result of the systemic racial inequality that people in California and across the country are protesting right now.

In a statement released after the decision to suspend the vote, the Council asserted its commitment to racial justice, and acknowledged its role in addressing systems that harm Black Americans:

In our profession and in our daily lives, we must confront the injustices that have led millions to call for a justice system that works fairly for everyone. Each member of this court, along with the court as a whole, embraces this obligation. As members of the legal profession sworn to uphold our fundamental constitutional values, we will not and must not rest until the promise of equal justice under law is, for all our people, a living truth.

The Judicial Council’s proposed action, and its subsequent decision to walk it back, is an important example of how easy it is for our institutions to fall into systemic failures that perpetuate racial injustice, and our duty as advocates to explicitly and forcefully call it out.

The COVID-19 public health crisis is also an economic crisis, especially for Californians, and it disproportionately effects people of color who are most likely to have lost work and their ability to pay rent. The paradox of racial inequality we see in the current economy is that Black and Brown people are more likely to lose their jobs because of the crisis, thereby losing income necessary for housing security, but they are also disproportionately employed in the very jobs that put them in contact with other people, increasing exposure to the coronavirus.

Additionally, and intimately connected to the protests against police violence happening across the globe, evictions always place people of color in direct contact with law enforcement. An estimated 365,000 renter households are in imminent danger of eviction in Los Angeles alone, with disproportionate impact on communities of color.  Evictions are enforced by sheriffs’ offices across the state, and the advancement of eviction proceedings forces law enforcement interaction with people in their homes. More evictions mean more interaction with cops.

While the judicial council decision is important now in the midst of uprising and a continued public health emergency, it is important that we do not lose sight of how eviction laws, in California and the rest of the country, reinforce the racist use of government force against people when they are removed from their homes.

It is important that we as Western Center use this opportunity to highlight the ways “neutral” government institutions can and do perpetuate systems embedded in white supremacy. Most systems continue on because it’s “how things are done,” or it’s “the responsibility of another branch.”

Systems resist change; they are built upon repetition to create efficiencies and consistent results. Systems gain legitimacy based on their own perpetuation. The time has come to acknowledge that the racism baked into American systems is illegitimate.

Our current process of evictions is a system designed for efficient and consistent results for landlords to eject tenants with little regard for the outcome. The restart of this process would have (and will have, should it resume without Legislative intervention) devastating effects on Black and Brown households and communities, especially if there is a rush to resume, and a failure to disrupt the patterns of inequity.

While we agree that checks and balances exist for a reason, we do not agree that means branches of government can cede their responsibility to protect people first and foremost. When the opportunity to protect arises, they must do so, even if that means doing things differently, or in ways they are unaccustomed to. We appreciate that the Council delayed resumption of this process because it creates an opportunity to change our approach to this inherently racist system. The times we are in call for thoughtful, longer term solutions, starting with items like our co-sponsored bill, AB 1436.

To move our state and country forward, things MUST be done differently. Otherwise, we will continue to capitulate to the white supremacy this country and state were both founded upon. We expect this conversation and these kind of actions to continue to take place, from the Judiciary, to the Legislature, to the Governor, and within our own organization. This is only the beginning.

California Courts Delay Eviction Freeze Decision, End Zero Bail During Coronavirus Emergency

“The Western Center on Law and Poverty, which advocates for low-income residents, warned before the vote that ending the freeze “is the wrong move.”

In a tweet, the nonprofit said: “If @CalCourts allows evictions in August, it will cause mass displacement, more interactions with police (sheriffs perform evictions), & push 1000s of Californians onto the street. A disproportionate number of CA renters are Black & brown.”

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