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2022 Midterm Ballot Measure Summary

Midterm elections are less than a month away, and it’s important to know what’s on the ballot. Voters in most states will decide on a variety of ballot measures. This week’s blog is a summary of 2022 ballot measures regarding cannabis legalization and voting rights.

Recreational Marijuana

Five states have the opportunity this fall to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

  1. For the first time in state history, Arkansas will have a ballot measure to potentially legalize recreational marijuana.
  2. Missouri is the second state with a recreational marijuana ballot measure this fall. In addition to legalization, the initiative would expunge non-violent marijuana offenses.
  3. North Dakota has a second opportunity this fall to legalize recreational use after voters rejected the initiative in 2018.
  4. In South Dakota, voters will have a chance to redo the marijuana legalization measure that passed in 2020 but was ultimately overturned by the South Dakota Supreme Court.
  5. The final state with cannabis on the ballot this fall is Maryland. In 2014, the state decriminalized possession for 10 grams or less, and the voters now could legalize it entirely.

Voting Rights

Voters in seven states will decide on various policies related to voting rights.

  1. In Nevada, voters will decide whether to switch to open top-five primaries and ranked choice voting. If the state votes yes, it will join Maine and Alaska in using the system.
  2. Only five states are without some form of early voting, and it could be down to four after midterms. Connecticut voters will decide on a constitutional amendment allowing no-excuse early voting.
  3. Michigan voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would permanently establish several expanded voting initiatives. The proposal would explicitly outlaw any regulations that interfere with one’s right to vote.
  4. A constitutional amendment in Arizona, called Prop 309, would create stricter voting rules. If passed, the amendment would eliminate the two-document alternative to photo ID, and mail-in ballots would be required to have a voter ID number and date of birth.
  5. In Nebraska, voters will decide on amending the state constitution to require photo ID to vote.
  6. Ohio has a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would bar local governments from allowing certain groups to vote. Non-citizens, non-residents, minors, someone registered for less than 30 days, would not be allowed to vote in local elections.
  7. Louisiana has a ballot measure similar to Ohio’s, which would bar non-citizens from voting.

The Racial Wealth Gap and Education

Last week we talked about racial discrimination in the home appraisal industry, a practice which has contributed to the inability of Black families to build generational wealth like white counterparts. Undervalued homes are just one example of many obstacles Black Americans have faced in pursuit of generational wealth. Today, we’re discussing higher education and its relationship to the racial wealth gap.

Education as “the great equalizer” may have been true when Horace Mann made the claim in the mid-1800’s, but it’s no longer the case. Going back several decades into the mid 20th century, graduation rates from both high school and college have steadily increased. The racial wealth gap, however, has remained as wide as it was in the 1960’s. These trends clearly prove that education alone is not the “great equalizer.”

Pursuing higher education can lead people to higher-paying jobs and better financial outcomes, but it comes at a cost for those without generational wealth. Those that can go to college and not enter into massive debt have the upper hand on students that have no choice but to take out loans for college.

People that currently lack generational wealth must take out loans for college and ultimately can’t build wealth quickly. This is how the feedback loop works to exacerbate the racial wealth gap.

To make any progress on the racial wealth gap, the student loan gap needs to be addressed first. The debt relief announced by the Biden administration this summer is a start to resolving the issue. Giving $20,000 to Pell grant recipients is a racial equity initiative, given that 89% of Black borrowers and 84% of Hispanic borrowers received Pell Grants.

That debt relief initiative alone should not be expected to resolve the student debt crisis or the racial inequities that exist within the student loan borrower population, nor will it solve the racial wealth gap at large.

Education is important to closing the racial wealth gap. However, the current state of higher education is not conducive to achieving equity. President Biden’s student debt forgiveness initiative is a welcome and well-intentioned start, but it doesn’t address the problem of college affordability at its root.

Without addressing college affordability, the student loan debt and generational wealth gaps will continue to widen. The debt burden resting disproportionately on people of color is the result of many decades of injustices across several facets of society. It’ll be very hard to close unless our elected officials address inequities in several institutions – from housing to education, and more.

Systemic racism in the home appraisal process

The United States has a history of racist housing policies such as redlining and exclusionary loan practices. While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 technically prohibited discrimination in housing, the effects of those historical policies persist today. A major example of this is the current widespread phenomenon of racism in the home appraisal process.

We’ve seen multiple examples of racism or bias effecting Black homeowners and the value of their properties, with a recent example from a Maryland couple. Upon first appraisal, Nathan Connolly and Shani Mott’s home was valued at $472,000. Nathan, a history professor and expert on historical racism in American housing, had a white colleague stand in for the family during a second appraisal.

The second appraisal valued the home at $750,000, making the difference $278,000. A quarter of a million dollars is quite a significant gap in valuation. While this is one egregious example that garnered media attention, the practice is quietly pervasive in the industry. It happens to individual Black households, like the aforementioned example, and entire neighborhoods of color are undervalued.

The Brookings Institution found in 2018 that homes in majority Black neighborhoods are valued at half of homes in neighborhoods with no Black residents. Moreover, when juxtaposing homes of similar quality in comparable neighborhoods, Black neighborhoods were worth almost 25% less than white neighborhoods. The study found a strong correlation between race and home value that can’t be explained by differences in quality.

Bias is prevalent and exacerbated by the demographic makeup of the property appraisal industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 97.7% of the industry is white, 4.3% are Latino, while Black and Asian appraisers make up 1.1% and 1%, respectively. Racial diversity in the industry is very much needed.

We might be on the way to progress, however. The Biden administration released a plan in March 2022 called the Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity Task Force, so several federal agencies and offices can collaborate to root out the problem. The plan proposes several actions that will be integral to progress. Those include strengthening laws against racial discrimination at all stages of the valuation process, enhancing fair housing practices and accountability among appraisers, educating and empowering consumers to report bias, better researching the systemic issue, and diversifying the industry.

We hope the federal government’s plan will be swiftly put into action to squash racial discrimination in home appraisals, to afford Black families the long-denied opportunity to build wealth like our white counterparts. Until we see data indicating a change, it’s never a bad idea to get a second opinion on the value of your home.

 

The Jackson water crisis: environmental racism

Most have heard by now about the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi. The capitol city of Mississippi has had a deteriorating water system for years, coming to a head now because state elected leaders opted to continually ignore the issue. Why might that be? Systemic environmental racism and neglect are to blame.

Unfortunately, the current situation is reminiscent of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which is known as one of the most egregious examples of environmental racism in recent years. The water crisis in Jackson may be even more blatantly racist.

Demographically, Flint is a slight majority Black city with 54% while Jackson is over 80% Black. Flint occurred after state officials switched the water source in attempts to save costs, and the current crisis in Jackson is a result of chronic neglect. Every local, state, and federal elected official with jurisdiction over Jackson has known about the water quality issues for years. Only some were interested in fixing the problem.

Gov. Tate Reeves, the guy who doesn’t believe systemic racism exists and has celebrated “Confederate Heritage Month” multiple times, has thus far deflected any responsibility. Reeves recently tried to blame the city, claiming he hadn’t seen any water system improvement plans and in 2020 said the city needed to do better “collecting their water bill payments before they start going and asking everyone else to pony up more money.”

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba pulled the receipts, however, producing documents from the last several years that showed the city’s funding requests and plans for necessary repairs. Reeves, clearly no friend of Black folks, got caught lying about his neglect of the largest city in his state.

Gov. Reeves is not the only person deserving of blame though – an incalculable number of people have been involved in perpetuating systemic environmental racism through redlining and historical disinvestment. Environmental injustices such as the Jackson crisis are a direct result of racial segregation and redlining, as many scholars have noted in the wake of this emergency.

The residents of Jackson affected by the legacy and fallout of systemic racism need state leadership that works toward equity and against environmental injustice. While Gov. Reeves is not wholly responsible for the circumstances, he exacerbated the issue by ignoring it.

It’s time for local, state, and national elected representatives in Mississippi to come together and deliver clean water and environmental justice to residents. Such an egregious environmental disaster as this is unacceptable for the people of Jackson and other cities alike.

 

Women’s Equality Day

Last Friday was Women’s Equality Day, a holiday marking the passage of the 19th Amendment that granted women in the United States the right to vote. The holiday being called “Women’s Equality Day” is rather misleading, however. The 19th Amendment made white women equal at the ballot box, but Black women were still discriminated against, marginalized during the first feminism wave, and excluded from the ballot box until years later.

True equality is achieved regardless of race, sex, or any other identity, making this holiday somewhat of a misnomer. Every August, it’s important we recognize firstly how Black women were largely excluded from the voting rights conversation and secondarily that the 19th Amendment was still an important historical milestone.

First wave feminism lasted from around 1848 until 1920 when the 19th Amendment was passed, making it the era of feminism known to fight for women’s suffrage. Some historical figures regarded as suffragist heroes were indeed racist, and although that is not surprising for the time period, those details are often overlooked in a glossy re-telling of history.

Initially allied in pursuit of universal suffrage under the American Equal Rights Association, a tumultuous relationship eventually came to exist between Black male and white female activists. The group started to splinter around the late 1860s as talks of the 15th Amendment arose, leading famous activists in the group such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and others, to disagree about how to move forth.

Some activists supported the 15th Amendment, which proposed to, and eventually did (though a historical formality), give Black men the right to vote. Others like Anthony made racist arguments against it, claiming that white women were more educated and thus more qualified to get the right to vote first. Black women played an important role in the fight for voting rights and tried to emphasize their unique position, but in an argument about whether Black men or white women should vote first, Black women were ignored.

It’s undeniable that 1920 was far different than today. The Negro National Baseball League was newly founded, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was still years down the road. However, both can be simultaneously true; the fight for the 19th Amendment paved the way for women to gain more rights and the movement often excluded the idea of Black women obtaining voting rights. “Women’s Equality Day” is a rather inaccurate name to commemorate the passage of the 19thAmendment, as first wave feminist advocates were no champions of equality between Black and white women.

Bill Russell: His Legacy Lives On

Just a few weeks ago, we lost a basketball legend and an even greater man. Bill Russell is widely considered to be one of the best basketball players of all time, but he’ll be remembered for more than just his athletic ability. Born in Louisiana in 1934, Russell’s career spanned the height of the civil rights movement in the United States. He’ll forever be admired for not only his athletic prowess, but his resilience competing through racist abuse and pioneering what we now know as “sports activism.”

For those who aren’t basketball fans, we’ll start with some statistics to contextualize Russell’s legendary status. As a player, he was a 12-time NBA All-Star, an 11-time NBA Champion, five-time league MVP, and he was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1975. Russell’s number six was retired by his longtime team, the Celtics, and after his passing he became the only player with a number retired by the NBA. Those aren’t his only accomplishments either: Russell won two NCAA championships at the University of San Francisco, played 13 years in the NBA, won a team gold medal at the 1956 Olympics, and even coached in the NBA for eight years as the first Black coach.

Russell’s basketball career was remarkable, and even more so considering everything he went through that his white counterparts didn’t. Although the Russell family was consistently subjected to racial injustices, he didn’t let that discourage him from using his platform to speak out. While playing for the Celtics, Russell marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., hosted an integrated basketball camp in Mississippi, and led a strike of a game in St. Louis when the hotel restaurant wouldn’t serve Black players, among several other instances of strength.

He wasn’t afraid to stand up for civil rights during or after his playing career. Former President Obama recognized this by awarding Bill with the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Up until his passing, he supported today’s players fighting against social injustices, such as Colin Kaepernick. Russell was one of the athletes who paved the way for sports activism and passed the torch to athletes like Kaepernick, LeBron James, Serena Williams, Simone Biles and more.

It seems this year the NBA is honoring Russell’s legacy in more ways than one. They, of course, retired his jersey number across the NBA. Now the league announced it won’t schedule any games on election day this fall. Rarely would the NBA rearrange games for anything, but if one thing is certain, Bill would’ve loved this move. It’s only right and very fitting that, amid current voter suppression efforts, the NBA would honor him in this way.

Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery

Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery: two lives taken unjustly, barbarically, and much too soon. Both murders in Spring 2020 forced the U.S. into a period of racial reckoning, further brought into the spotlight by the murder of George Floyd later that summer. We never forgot their names, and we never will.

This week, over two years later, justice was rightly served against the several people responsible for Taylor and Arbery’s murders. Looking at the larger picture, we know how Black bodies are treated by the justice system here in the U.S., and to see these charges can feel like a rarity. We’re thrilled that the families of Taylor, Arbery, and Floyd will see their loved ones’ murderers facing accountability, and we hope a new standard has been set. These charges sure give us hope that we’re in the process of real, tangible change.

In Arbery’s case, the father and son responsible for the murder both received a second life sentence for a federal hate crime, in addition to the first life sentence for murder. Although it feels shocking for these men to receive a sentence they deserve, statistics on hate crime convictions show that we may be entering a new era of accountability.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics analyzed hate crime convictions from 2005 to 2019, finding that the conviction rate was 83% from 2005 to 2009, and that number increased 11 percentage points to 94% in 2015 to 2019. We’re hopeful this number will increase to 100% as data is gathered moving through the 2020s.

The tragic losses of both Taylor and Floyd were different than a hate crime carried out by citizens – instead coming at the hands of police. As we know, they’re often shielded from the law and enabled to evade accountability, but the strong charges from the U.S. Department of Justice in Taylor’s case gives us hope that police accountability is becoming the standard, rather than the exception. Announced on August 4 by the DOJ, the officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death are being charged with a litany of offenses ranging from violating her civil rights, to unlawful conspiracy, and more.

Certainly, the fight persists to both end police brutality against Black bodies and obtain justice in all cases. The strong action taken this week in Taylor and Arbery’s cases shows, however, that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is serious in holding everyone accountable to the law, regardless of name, stature, or nature of the crime. We have reason to hope and believe the tide is changing.

August is Black Business Month

Amid current inflation highs, we hear chatter every day on the airwaves and in our communities about economic stability. Everyone has their own proposed solution to our economic strifes, but the answer is clear to us; Investing in Black businesses will strengthen our economy at large. August is National Black Business Month, so we’re highlighting how investing in Black businesses would be a strong intervention to permanently stabilize our economy.

Let’s start with some statistics, because there’s no denying that systemic racism in the U.S. led us to the racial wealth gap we see today. According to a Federal Reserve survey from 2021, Black-owned wealth accounted for 2.9% of the country’s total wealth, yet we made up almost 16% of the survey population. Conversely, white Americans owned almost 87% of total wealth, yet comprised only 68% of households in the survey. Reaching racial wealth equality would mean that Black Americans own five times the current amount of wealth held.

Additional statistics show that particularly among small businesses, generational wealth is key to growth. A 2007 study from scholars at UC Santa Cruz, published in the Journal of Labor Economics, found that white business owners were significantly more likely to have had a family member own their business and pass it down, in comparison to Black-owned businesses. Black entrepreneurs are significantly more likely to start from the ground up, rather than inheriting an already-established business.

Moreover, white-owned businesses are more likely to be employer firms, which means businesses with more than one employee. According to Brookings Institution data from 2019, just 4.1% of Black-owned businesses were employer firms compared to 19% of white-owned businesses. Not only do Black people own less businesses compared to white folks, but the businesses are smaller as well.

So, what if there was a plan to both reach racial wealth equality and better the economy at large? The Path to 15|55 Initiative shows us how this can become a reality by investing in and growing Black-owned businesses. Research from the Path to 15|55 Initiative shows that if just 15% of Black-owned businesses were able to hire one more employee, that would grow the American economy by $55 billion, in addition to creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. It’s a clear and proven intervention that will work to eliminate systemic barriers, while growing the economy. Path to 15|55 is working to secure investments from larger entities, but what can we as individuals do to help?

Firstly, individuals with the capital to invest in Black business absolutely should. Most folks, however, don’t have that much extra money laying around. On an individual level, we must encourage all friends, family, and allies in our lives to support Black businesses. Speak to everyone you know about amplifying Black-owned business on social media and giving them reviews on platforms like Google or Yelp. Spread the word about the ways we support and advocate for Black-owned businesses, because striving for racial wealth equality benefits all of us in more ways than one.

BIPOC Mental Health Month

Designated by Congress in 2008, July is known nationally as BIPOC Mental Health Month. The resolution was intended to raise mental health awareness among marginalized communities and to destigmatize seeking treatment. Fourteen years after the issuance of the official observance, we need to discuss past progress and how we can build upon it going forward.

As we’ve written about before, many are aware of racial disparities in our medical system. However, the disparities within mental healthcare systems specifically are not as widely known. Studies consistently show white folks are given a higher standard of medical care than the BIPOC community, in both physical and mental healthcare.

Bebe Moore Campbell, the activist for whom the observance is officially named, understood the barriers to accessing mental health services in BIPOC communities and the need for normalizing mental healthcare. As a mental health advocate, journalist, author, and teacher, Campbell used her many talents to raise awareness about the mental health progress needing to be made. She understood the issue is two-fold: destigmatizing seeking help and improving the care BIPOC do receive.

Already this year, the Biden administration took tangible action to improve mental health services for the entire country. Although the initiative is long overdue, the new 988 mental health hotline will serve as an alternative to 911. To ensure full functionality, state governments must fund and foster the program as it did with 911.

The new mental health hotline is a much-needed intervention that should increase access for everyone, but stopping there wouldn’t be equitable. We need to focus attention and resources on BIPOC communities, and Congress is a great avenue to do so. This year, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to do just that – use our resources to improve BIPOC mental health outcomes.

H.R. 1331, the Strengthening Mental Health Supports for BIPOC Communities Act, would address systemic barriers to access mental health services. States that receive federal grant money for mental health services would be required to report information regarding BIPOC treatment outcomes, recruitment and hiring of BIPOC providers, and cultural training of non-BIPOC providers.

This bill is part of a larger package that would address several BIPOC health inequities, and Congress should absolutely move on all these initiatives. What better way to celebrate BIPOC Mental Health Month than to take strong action? It’s time Congress set forth new care and accountability standards for those receiving federal grants, in turn improving our mental health access and quality of care.

Voter Disenfranchisement Part 2: Taxation Without Representation

We’ve all heard the phrase, “No taxation without representation.” Our early elementary school teachers made sure of that. It was the rallying cry of revolutionaries fighting the British occupation and control of what would become the United States. But it’s more than a nifty wartime slogan – there’s real meaning behind it. Why should our government order someone to pay taxes without giving them a fair shot to influence the spending of that revenue? We wouldn’t pay the taxes of other countries, after all. That tenet of our country’s founding is a political truism.

So why have we strayed so far from this idea?

Right now, over four million people pay U.S. taxes without any representation in Congress. The residents of Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the North Mariana Islands, and Washington, D.C. are all subject to the whims of Congress without any say in the matter. In the U.S. Capitol, they don’t hold any votes. That group of residents equals that of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota combined. This is among the largest group of disenfranchised voters in the entire world.

Territories and the District of Columbia all boast delegates in the House of Representatives. These delegates can speak and vote in committees, introduce bills, and even offer amendments during debate. They cannot, however, vote on the House floor. And there are no territorial delegates in the Senate. In short, voters from the above list of non-states don’t share the same agency as others in influencing our laws and policies. This is even more shocking when you consider residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the North Mariana Islands do not pay federal income tax. They do pay most payroll taxes, including Social Security and Medicare, however.

No matter how you look at it, we’ve violated our revolutionary philosophy. Instead of ensuring all those subject to U.S. rule can influence it, we’ve walled off millions from doing so. Unsurprisingly, most of these non-state residents are minorities.

Activists and politicians alike have made multiple attempts to shake something loose from this situation. Congress has proposed and debated statehood for Washington, D.C. several times. In one instance, they even offered a constitutional amendment to codify the notion. Thus far, all these movements in pursuit of representation have failed. In 2016, District residents made their will clear by voting in favor of statehood at a stunning 86%. We must do everything we can to influence our elected officials to heed their calls and enfranchise nearly 700,000 voters at once.

Perhaps accomplishing that will spur action in Puerto Rico, Guam, and all the other territories. And perhaps this is why Congress has historically opposed the idea – once the District is made a state, they’ll have no choice but to follow through with other territories. We all know how difficult voting rights reform can be, but this issue demands our attention. Wherever votes are disenfranchised, we must prioritize and advocate for solutions. Even if that means resorting to our revolutionary slogans.

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