Shine Light On Society’s Inequitable Institutional Practices, Public Policies

A young George Floyd was said to have told a friend “I want to touch the world.” Little did he know that 30 years later, his murder at the hands of police would ignite protests across the country with people demanding seismic change.

In 8 minutes and 46 seconds, George Floyd exposed to the world what Black people have long known: Black lives are not equally valued in this country.

But while his murder was a very visible display of inhumanity, the systemic racism that has consistently devalued Black lives and poses barriers to opportunity every day, is largely invisible and goes unrecognized by most Americans.

Under the cover of policy and institutionalized practices, racism and inequities persist. We need to acknowledge this. We need to repair this. And, we need to make it right.

We need to remember that it is individuals operating within systems and structures that enable these behaviors to continue unchecked. We need to examine and shine a light on how our society’s institutional practices and public policies have kept a “knee on the neck” of Black Americans for generations.

While outright discrimination in everything from hiring to housing to education was made illegal long ago, the racial wealth gap is widening. Homeownership has always been the way that most Americans started on the path to wealth creation. However, a recent analysis published by WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR station, and City Bureau showed that from 2012 to 2018, lenders invested more money in a single majority-white neighborhood than they did in all of Chicago’s majority-black neighborhoods combined.

Certainly banks and our financial system, have actively made discriminatory lending decisions, but this also extends to how realtors and appraisers value properties, where businesses and retailers choose to open their headquarters and storefronts, how cities invest in public amenities like transit and parks and, how we zone for housing development.

This translates into the persistent wealth gap that a recent study from Northwestern University highlighted, showing that Black households with children had just one cent of wealth for every one dollar of wealth held by non-Hispanic White households with children.

What these insights reveal is a pattern that shows that racism shows up in far more insidious ways that lead to unjust and disparate outcomes and growing inequity that ultimately impacts us all. 

At the Trust we are working alongside community leaders and leading thinkers to examine and reimagine the policies and systems changes needed to generate greater investments and increase economic security and household wealth in Black and Latinx communities.

The Trust is calling for the reform of unjust policies that have led and continue to lead to unjust outcomes. In just the past year, we have called on federal regulators to strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act as a tool to increase investment in Black and Brown communities and to hold banks more accountable.

We are advocating for policies at the city, state and federal levels to prioritize equitable Transit Oriented Development (eTOD) and investment near transit hubs in communities of color.

We are exploring innovative ways to get cash in the hands of the people who need it most and who know best how to use it, instead of through byzantine and piecemeal public benefits systems.

And as the City of Chicago is considering reforming and eliminating the government-sanctioned predatory debt practices of municipal fines and fees, we are ensuring community voice is at the table.

The list does not and cannot end there. Our city, our region, our nation, is at a pivotal moment where we need to act and rebuild stronger. As a leading philanthropic entity and civic actor we can and will use our voice alongside community partners and leaders to reimage systems that intentionally or unintentionally perpetuate inequity and fail to address the impact of racism on our structures, policies and institutions.

Like the video of George Floyd being callously murdered by a white police officer, once we see these systemic and racial injustices, we can’t unsee them. We must act.


Dr. Helene Gayle is president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust.