For some, it’s still an open question if systemic racism exists. But that existence has been proven by many writers and researchers, over many decades. The evidence is in. People are hurting. People are dying. So the question, for this community and our elected leaders, is how do we dismantle systemic racism?
The path is not straightforward. These structures and systems are foundational to our country, our cities, counties, states and schools. As we made them, they made us.
As I reflect on how Clark County can move forward, here are four steps we can take to get started. These are based on my own reading, research, and conversations with those who have been doing this work for years. I don’t present them as a comprehensive plan, but as a place for us to start.
Acknowledge the Problem
Public institutions need leaders who understand systemic racism exists and causes real suffering. It must be addressed, and we are making some progress here in our county.
Last month, the Vancouver City Council held listening sessions to better understand the impacts of systemic racism. Also last month, the Clark County Council resolved to address systemic racism and take meaningful action. And last week, Evergreen Public Schools voted to commit to equity and inclusion.
These are our steps to acknowledge systemic racism is real. Those steps need to be followed by consistent and meaningful action.
As leaders we can be good listeners even when we hear hard things. Starting a conversation about race begins by listening carefully, and with honest, open-hearted curiosity.
When we listen to our neighbors with an open mind, we’ll hear that our public policies over generations have consistently hurt people of color. We should listen not just because it’s the right thing to do; we should listen because it’s how good government works.
To deny the perspectives of entire constituencies is unconscionable for elected officials. Effective public leadership welcomes new voices and works to eliminate inequities. With open minds, as we listen to those most deeply impacted by policy, we can learn from their experience to propel change.
Do the Work Internally
We can use an equity lens to see if our own organization’s house is in order, and employ knowledgeable experts to create a plan tailored to our county.
Good plans inspire and engage. A plan might call for a community-led equity commission with meaningful authority to advise. A plan might call for a citizen review board of law enforcement, with the power to compel testimony. With a new equity lens, municipalities can review policies and practices and explore if and how they may lead to disproportionate impact.
Stay on Target
Ending systemic racism will last longer than a news cycle, and we need to stay actively engaged. Seeking and acknowledging truth, especially when that truth is hard, can be uncomfortable or even painful. But to begin to end systemic racism, we must begin to accept hard truths.
Temple Lentz is a Clark County Councilor representing District 1.