Roots of racism
It was with dismay and incredulity that my colleague Sen. Christopher Belt and I read the recent op-ed by Jim Nowlan on causes of poverty in East St. Louis and his proposed solutions. Mr. Nowlan writes as if housing segregation is a thing of the past, that a primary cause of poverty is dysfunctional families and, in his words, "underperforming subcultures." One of his solutions is to have "African-American families" learn parenting from "Korean and Chinese" Tiger Moms -- a tired, old trope that poverty is a matter of choice. In reality, poverty is largely the result of years of state and federal policy that reinforces harmful and often racist structures.
In fact, while de jure segregation may be diminishing, de facto segregation is very much alive across the state. It is prevalent in local (largely suburban) zoning ordinances, mortgage approval processes and rental practices. Where you live drives so much about your future: whether you have access to healthy food, a good education, and comprehensive health care services.
To truly address poverty in Illinois, we need serious solutions that address root causes: affordable housing in all communities with equitable access to financing; health care transformation that aims to erase documented disparities in life expectancy; access to career pathways training; and modifying zoning ordinances with discriminatory impacts.
My Senate colleagues and I are actively working on these solutions, including bills facilitating affordable housing, an increase in apprenticeship programs in underserved areas and three-year funding for hospital and health care transformation projects in communities experiencing the largest life expectancy disparities. By using our institutional power to undo the racist systems our institutions uphold, we can begin to address the disparities that we see in communities like East St. Louis.
I agree with Mr. Nowlan on this: racism will not be erased soon. But its discriminatory impacts won't be erased at all if we, a self-proclaimed "white country boy" and white suburban mom, kid ourselves that it's all just a matter of individual choice.
Sen. Anne Gillespie