Pressley, Lee, Kendi discuss anti-racist policies
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley dove into an online conversation on equity in policymaking with fellow U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee and anti-racism scholar Ibram X. Kendi on Feb. 4. They spoke on how policy can be more anti-racist, and how equity should already be built into policies on public health and criminal justice.
Kendi started with a discussion on how the pandemic has unearthed existing inequities in the health care system. When giving his thoughts on the pandemic’s unbalanced effect on communities of color, Kendi said, “Instead of people realizing that this was the result of longstanding systemic racism, Americans almost reflexively responded by saying, whoa, what are Black people or brown people doing wrong? What’s wrong with them?”
But it wasn’t Black and brown populations that were being careless during the pandemic, he said. They were out working, as essential workers have been since the first lockdowns in early 2020.
“I think for far too long, we have blamed Black and brown people for the causes of disparities and inequities, not realizing that when we’re doing that we’re being racist,” Kendi continued. “As opposed to recognizing that the problem in society is conditions, is structures, is systems, is policies and procedures and practices.”
He also defined “anti-racist” for the viewers, a term he uses in his best-selling book “How to Be an Antiracist,” as “someone who is expressing an idea of racial equality or supporting policy that leads to racial equity and justice.”
Pressley joined in to give examples of legislation that contributes to the fight against racism.
“Certainly I seek to legislate in a way that is precise and prescriptive, and that addresses the disproportionate hurt and harm that has been legalized and legislated against Black Americans in all marginalized communities,” Pressley said.
She cited the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, created by Pressley, Lee, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with another Pressley bill to abolish the death penalty and her push to cancel student debt as all directed at marginalized communities.
The Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, if passed, would create a National Center for Anti-Racism at the , that will conduct research and create three regional centers of excellence in anti-racism. The bill would also start a Law Enforcement Violence Prevention Program within the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention.
“I certainly don’t want us to recover to a pre-COVID insufficient, unjust status quo,” Pressley said.
Lee chimed in with another piece of legislation she has formed along with Pressley and Sen. Cory Booker. She was the first Black person to serve as co-chair of the bipartisan Cannabis Caucus in 2019, and recognized that the industry had work to do toward racial equity.
“It’s all white guys, right? And so I had to get in there and say, ‘You’ve got to deal with [racist] policies in our criminal justice system, specifically marijuana offenses,’” Lee said.
Lee and Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and reinvest in communities harmed by the war on drugs.
“We’ve got to expunge the records,” Lee said. “And we’ve got to put resources into real restorative justice, which means … everything to help repair the damage of these racist policies.”
When looking at policies that reinforce racist systems, Kendi said that if a bill has race-related language in it, many lawmakers see it as racist policy. In his eyes, however, focusing on the outcome of a bill is more important.
“It’s hard to prove the intention. It’s very easy to prove the outcome — and the outcomes of our policies are plain as day for our people,” Kendi said.