Part 1: “I am always experiencing racism” King County communities speak their truth about racism

This blog post was reposted from Communities Count blog and written by the Best Starts for Kids Evaluation team in partnership with the Community Café Collaborative and other partners.

Image produced during the First Peoples’ Café discussion and generously provided by the Community Café Collaborative to be included to be included in this series.

In this blog post series, King County will be sharing data about seven questions related to racism from the 2019 Best Starts for Kids (BSK) Health Survey along with reactions and insights from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. Oppressive systems and racism continue to create disparities in access to services, education, economic attainment, and life expectancies for communities of color. The findings in this series describe experiences with racism that include bullying in schools; discrimination in public spaces; negligence at the doctor’s office; being overlooked for job opportunities; frustration, self-doubt, and mental burden to cope with perpetrations of racism; and others. While this series focuses largely on interpersonal racism, racism at the individual level doesn’t happen in isolation. Institutional and systemic racism are the largest drivers in disparities and inequities and allow space for individual-level racism to occur. Systemic racism needs to be addressed to make meaningful improvements in disparities. 

We’d like to acknowledge and thank the families who shared their personal experiences in the survey and community cafes.

What Did BIPOC Families Say About Racism Data In Their Community?

In 2019, the BSK Health Survey asked more than 6,000 parents and caregivers of young children about seven specific experiences of racism. We worked with BIPOC families to interpret and frame results for their community, including families who identified as African American, Afro-Latina/x/o, Cambodian (Khmer), Ethiopian, First Peoples (American Indian/Alaska Native), Hispanic/Latina/x/o, Middle Eastern/North African, Pasifika (Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander), Somali, and Vietnamese. In this blog we summarize key findings across these ten BIPOC communities. You can learn more about what families said in the full Community Café Collaborative report.

Families face racism to varying degrees in every facet of life, and racism is under-reported. Racism impacts the way families use services and engage with educational systems. Eight out of ten communities thought the BSK Health Survey findings for their community under-reported experiences of racism. Data about racism should be gathered in different ways to represent the full range of experiences with racism.

“No. The statistics are not correct. It could be 100% of the people here. I think it’s because people are so used to these types of encounters, it’s not seen as racism. But still it’s damaging even if you don’t have the right words for it.”

— FIRST PEOPLE’S CAFÉ PARTICIPANT

“The numbers are way too low. I am always experiencing racism.”

— PASIFIKA CAFÉ PARTICIPANT

Families are commonly subjected to racism in public and professional settings. Many survey respondents shared that they often faced racism from strangers and co-workers. A few families also experienced racism while spending time with families and friends.

“When sweeping the front of my house, there was a white man and he asked…can you call the owner of the house? He assumed that I was the maid but I told him it’s my house.”

— ETHIOPIAN CAFÉ PARTICIPANT

“In 2011, two kids were playing in the park, another white family was playing in the park, at the end they asked where are you from. After responding Afghanistan, their faces changed and they just took their kids and left. I felt shocked and upset.”

— MIDDLE EASTERN/NORTH AFRICAN CAFÉ PARTICIPANT

“At work, because of your accent they think that you can’t do the job, and that limits us and makes us feel bad…and it makes us feel inferior”

— LATINX CAFÉ PARTICIPANT

Families from most communities agreed that acts of racism were common at their child’s school. Families described racism in schools in – cafes with families to reflect on other survey results.

“Please listen to your children. If they don’t want to go to school, it’s because something is wrong. Support your children, maybe they’re experiencing discrimination and they don’t know how to recognize it.”

— LATINX CAFÉ PARTICIPANT

“One of my students was ignored by her teacher when she needed help the most. She felt belittled while asking for help from a system that is supposed to work for her and not against.”

— PASIFIKA CAFÉ PARTICIPANT

Most communities described racist occurrences in the healthcare system. In the African American café, one participant related that she went to a hospital a couple times a week for an ailment and was sent home with pain pills, but when going to a different facility, with Black doctors, she was treated for the issue in a more comprehensive way. Families shared that the COVID-19 pandemic compounded and accentuated these racist experiences. 

Families received support through their cultural communities. Families felt supported by cultural or language communities not necessarily their immediate neighbors, and as neighborhoods gentrified, participants felt less supported. 

“The neighborhoods are changing and don’t have the same dynamic. Gentrification is changing the neighborhoods…”

— AFRICAN AMERICAN CAFÉ PARTICIPANT

How Can The BSK Health Survey Be Improved In The Future? 

Families recommend gathering information about racism in several different ways to get the full picture, including: 

  • Adding survey questions that specifically ask about perpetrations of racism due to immigration and language. 
  • Expanding spaces where community members can provide input and context to the survey findings based on their experiences.  
  • Revising the survey language to be clear, specific, and well-translated.   
  • Fostering a continuous feedback loop with parent leaders, including having a presence in communities beyond asking for input on completed projects and involving families in every step of data collection and how data is used. 

More Findings Coming Soon 

Families expressed gratitude for the café process but shared that the topic of racism and its impact on their communities is vast. One survey and café project only touched the surface of what some families face in all aspects of their lives. Many participants and hosts expressed that they would like to delve deeper into the topic of racism by following threads raised during the cafés. King County is also committed to continuing to improve the BSK Health Survey questions and methods. 

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing additional products to summarize King County families’ experiences of racism. These products will be shared with families, community partners, and King County policy makers and program staff to inform ongoing anti-racism work in King County and Best Starts for Kids. 

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