Racism and Its Impact

Telling Our Own Story | Episode
Jun 6, 2022 | 23 min

Examine the economic, geographic and financial history of racism in Iowa and its impact today. Explore racism’s presence in universities, agriculture and cities, and discover how it’s seen, how it’s  normalized, and how we can work on reversing it.


Funding for this program was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation, as well as generations of families and friends who feel passionate about the programs they watch on Iowa PBS.


-- things that have taught us that this is not the direction --

There's beauty, there's importance, there's --

How do you send your kids to quality schools?

-- mortgage at a low rate and get themselves into a house --


Ean Harrelle: How does racism show itself in housing? How does it show itself in education? And how does racism show itself in entrepreneurship? Systems of oppression have a funny way of showing themselves, none of which is a laughing matter.

Dr. Jeanne Dyches is an assistant professor at Iowa State University where she teaches classes on social justice and critical disciplinary literacy. Dyches designed her coursework to help people develop an awareness of complex, everyday practices that create and uphold power and balances.

Dr. Jeanne Dyches: I think it's important first to understand that a lot of times racism is very tricky and we don't see it in plain sight. And that is the way that it is designed. It's always a system that we're always playing in, something that we are socialized into from birth and even whenever we think that we are not a part of it, that is sometimes the most deeply socialized folks of all who don't have to confront the systems that they are complicit in. I don't think that it's necessarily anything that is specific to Iowa, but I do think the way that we negotiate whiteness and white privilege does have a regional specific form. And the way that we enact it here in Iowa is different than what it embodies in the South. So, I think it's important to understand that race and racism is always shifting, that race is this social construct, it's this idea that race isn't actually tethered to biology, but that in fact people decided centuries ago, hey race is a great way to classify folks and it gives us some sort of pseudoscientific way to justify creating these stratifications. So throughout history we've had race as being defined as one drop, we've had race being defined as what you look like, the texture of your hair, the size of your nose. And so even now how people choose to define themselves can really be dependent on a variety of different contexts. So there's a lot of different factors at play, but I would just say that race and racism is always happening.


Now, let's talk ownership. According to the stats from 2018, less than 30% of all Iowans rent the place where they live, but the number hits over 73% for blacks.


Joy Briscoe is an entrepreneur and U.S. Air Force Veteran who lives in Waterloo. Briscoe is the Executive Director of 24/7 Black or Black Leadership Advancement Consortium. The organization works to create access for black professionals through education and employment opportunities. Her work is focused on helping stimulate the creation of generational wealth and financial empowerment. She has seen the effects of the now illegal practice of redlining where certain lenders avoid providing service to individuals living in communities of color because of their race or national origin.

Joy Briscoe: Blacks in our community, they just I think it's like a 33% home ownership rate and people tend to think that that is something that just happens but it's not. That is a direct result of redlining.

Felicite Wolfe: Redlining, the simplest basic definition is like the map behind me a literal red line or a shading of red across areas of a community, of a neighborhood that was marked not worthy of investment. So part of the appraisal of these properties included the land, included environmental elements, but it also included the racial and ethnic makeup of the neighborhoods and often that held more weight than the other factors, that simply by being in an area where African Americans lived was enough to consider it a very risky investment.

Felicite Wolfe: The beginning of these maps was about the 1930s, so you're still dealing with Jim Crow laws in the South. The government tried to kind of make claims that well, African Americans would decrease the housing values. There was really nothing to back that up. By the time the Fair Housing Act was passed, the African American population who would have been able to secure a federal mortgage at a low rate and get themselves into a house that would have increased in value, well now those housing values had gone up. And so now they're not as affordable as they used to be.

LaNisha Cassel: It can be an entire generation where you're not able to put money aside. If you're making ends meet by working two or three jobs to pay a mortgage with an interest rate that is higher than your neighbors or people who live in another community because of those very reasons, how do you save money? How do you get ready for college? How do you send your kids to quality schools and to get quality nutrition? All of those things I think have led to people for lifetimes, for generations, barely making ends meet. So there has never been an opportunity to close that gap. Most people think about redlining and they think about mortgage, they think about just the banking industry in general when in fact it is something that impacts everything that we do. If you live in a community where there aren't resources, that's going to impact your education, it's going to impact your nutrition, your wellness, all of those things because you don't have the same access that other communities might have.

Joy Briscoe: It's super critical, right, because we should be allowed to thrive and we should be allowed to flourish and the fact that systemically we weren't able to live in certain areas, that's just, it's hurtful still that we're still battling that, it's extremely hurtful that there's people that don't believe we need to focus on that when there is actually policy that said we couldn't do these things. It's so funny that I have friends that live in areas that were known for their being affluent now and it's funny that when they look at their deeds, they have seen in their deeds that they weren't supposed to be able to purchase there and they're looking at this and dealing with this and saying, wow, this is something else that I literally wouldn't have been able to own a home over here. So it's something that we definitely have to change and we definitely have to be as forceful because I think people sometimes think these were things that happened so long ago and they don't realize we're not even talking about redlining. My parents, so that's like one generation up that heavily dealt with that.

LaNisha Cassel: People don't like to think that it's happening in their community but it's happened everywhere. It's not limited to Iowa, it's not limited to a certain community in the state but it's a nationwide thing. And we can see the impact today.


In 2021, Governor Reynolds signed into law House File 802. This is a bill, which established specific requirements related to racism training in governmental agencies, public schools and public colleges or universities. It contains language that prohibits the teaching of certain concepts, including that one race is inherently superior to another. The United States and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist. And that any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress because of that individual's race.

Joy Briscoe: All the policy right now that you can't even talk about truth and reality, that's insane. The fact of the matter is you cannot avoid mistakes in the future if you're unwilling to know what happens in the past.

Dr. Jeanne Dyches: So, there's a lot of subtext there around who are you concerned about creating discomfort for? If we don't talk about racism and sexism, who stands to be further disadvantaged from that? There is a certain insulation and protection that happens whenever we don't talk about what is happening around us. So by codifying into law that we can't talk about sexism and racism, we're not having these really important conversations. And it certainly says a lot about what Iowan values are that we are inscribing these into code. It's also really important for us to understand there's economic impacts of not talking about race and racism, environmental impacts. So we're finding out, there was a study by the EPA last year that found that disproportionately folks from black and brown communities are feeling the impacts of global warming and increased asthma, pretty much every single list you can look all these different systems from schooling, from health care, COVID, global warming, we're seeing that race and racism plays itself out on different stages, but oftentimes the ending point is the same where folks who benefit from those systems continue to benefit and then folks who are marginalized continue to be disadvantaged further. So we have to be able to talk about these things, not codify into law that we can't talk about them.

Dr. Jeanne Dyches: What is really unique about Iowa is this concept of Iowa Nice and this idea that it's not polite to talk about these ideas that create discomfort. But the problem is that if folks belonging to dominant communities aren't willing to move into that discomfort, then we can't disrupt and we can't create change. There has to be -- there's beauty, there is importance, there's necessity in being uncomfortable if we're going to create new possibilities for all people. But there's also ways that we can understand race and racism, again, in more institutional and historic context.

Of the nearly 500,000 students enrolled in Iowa schools, African Americans make up 6.2%. That's a little more than 30,000.

Dr. Jeanne Dyches: A very small population of our students are black and brown students, but they overwhelmingly comprise who is expelled and suspended from our classrooms. Those are systemic ways that we're seeing practices and beliefs disadvantaging students and folks more broadly here in Iowa. If we aren't willing to talk openly and honestly about sociopolitical factors, then what we know will happen historically and what we see happening right now is that kids, that's always where I go to first as a teacher and as a parent, kids who then become citizens are the ones who are the most impacted.

Dr. Dyches believes there is a hidden bias when it comes to discipline in the classroom.

Dr. Jeanne Dyches: Whenever we're not willing to talk about race and the fact that overwhelmingly something like 97% of Iowa's teachers are white women, okay, but then overwhelmingly we're suspending and expelling black and brown boys. So if we're not willing to talk about the bias and what is happening there, how can we ever address those issues in ways that are going to transform those experiences for our students? And we know that if you're suspended, expelled, that is going to have an incredible impact on your possibilities in your future.

Joy Briscoe: Kids learn a lesson. If you touch a stove when it's hot, you remember that it's hot. Well, right now we want to take away memory, we want to take away all the things that have taught us that this is not the direction we want to go in. And so I think that there are so many nuggets now -- it's undeniable. That's why people don't want to talk about it, because it's undeniable.

The unemployment rate for the state of Iowa comes in a little under 5%. But for African Americans alone that number is almost double. Now, let's talk about income for African Americans, both male and female. That stat is roughly 30,000. For all Iowans, that number is almost doubled.


Briscoe believes the company should focus on diversity in the workplace when looking to rehire a workforce that shrank during the global COVID pandemic.

Joy Briscoe: Go to a lot of these company sites in the cities in Iowa and look at who is on their CEO teams. And it's very hard if you aren't making what you need to make to survive to think about wealth and home ownership. It's just a nonstop cycle. So if you think about it's not just a black issue, it's not just a brown issue, it's not just an indigenous issue, if you are in business, if you are an entrepreneur, this is your issue. It shouldn't have to come down to dollars and cents, but it does. And dollars and cents says that if you want to have a sustainable business, especially if you're operating in one of the larger areas, you need to have a diversity recruiting plan. So I think it's funny because now you're seeing outreach and now people are saying, wait a minute, we can't do things business as usual. You can't, right? We've got to make our companies attractive for all people to thrive. And I don't think we've had to really focus on that as Iowans before. But it is long overdue. So that is one main reason why people should care. And again, it's the right thing to do. I can give you all the touchy feely stuff about, like of course I care about it, as a black woman that is where my intersections meet. So of course I care about it. But going away from the touchy feely, there is money there, there is an opportunity cost when we're not making sure that everybody is thriving in our community for everyone, not just for black communities. There is an opportunity cost for white communities and the communities as a whole. We've got to start reaching out and connecting with people that need employment, that need jobs. I think we were last at a 16% to 19% unemployment rate, but there's jobs out there to work. But, people want jobs where they feel like you care about them, fulfilling jobs. People are no longer looking for just a check. They want to know that you actually care about them as a person. And that has been a hard shift, that has been a hard pivot for a lot o employees. So if you haven't cared about the fact that black communities haven't thrived in the past, if you want a successful company going forward you need to start caring about that.

Joy Briscoe: I think that you had a lot of people that said, we're going to do better and we need to do better and we're ready to do better. And so that is encouraging and that's inspiring because when you have a rock this heavy, if you've got more hands pushing it up the hill it doesn't feel quite so heavy. And so I think that has been good. So we've had a lot of public private partnerships like businesses working with the school district, working with nonprofits to really see some change. So we created the Black Business Accelerator program in 18 months and we've already gotten 30 businesses through it in 18 months. And what happened when we created it was, again, with that theory, we didn't know if this would work but we said, intent, resources, centering who we're trying to help. We use those theories. And so what we saw was that all of our businesses in the pandemic, nobody lost money but all reported sustaining, most of them made more revenue. So that was something that showed us it works, it works, let's do this. And so now what we're looking to do is kind of take that same model and apply it to home ownership and when we talk about jobs. I'm proud of the community because right now we have good momentum going in all of those areas and we have a lot of leaders that are wanting to step up and get involved and continue to keep that momentum going. So that's awesome. And when I say leaders I don't mean because they've got a title, I mean just people that have a will and a desire and care about our community.


Dr. Dyches says that solving the issue of racism is about a switch in how people address the problem.

Dr. Jeanne Dyches: White folks need to understand that it's not folks of color's job to teach them about race and racism. That's number one. And it's really important to do some research and to do some reading and to do some really important critical work that is not always easy. It can be very painful, it can be very difficult and it's supposed to be. If you understand the psychology behind racial understanding there's this continuum and you're supposed to fall on different places and you'll sometimes back up and you'll sometimes go forward, but that's necessary to advance your understanding of who you are because you've been socialized. And so you're pushing against your whole life's sort of the subtext and the messages that you've been sent. And so you're pushing back against a lot, but you have to do that work if you're ever going to be able to contribute to change.

Dr. Jeanne Dyches: Racism is not people of color's problem, it's a problem that was created by white folks and this idea that we're not going to talk about it, we're not going to confront it is another new manifestation of whiteness. So we're not going to talk about it so therefore it doesn't exist and if you talk about it you can be charged with a crime. So the way that race and racism works is always changing. But what's fundamental is that it's always about power. I think it's so important for folks to think about how they can normalize talking about race and racism. It's a skill and the more you talk about it, the better you get at it. And I would also add to that a lot of folks, particularly folks who belong to dominant groups, need to listen more. There's a lot of value in listening to other people's stories, believing other people's stories and taking a minute to understand that your reality is not necessarily reflective of everyone else's.

Dr. Jeanne Dyches: I would also say that it's really important to find what you can do to leverage privilege. Dr. Bettina Love who is at the University of George, she talks about what is called a co-conspirator. And so she dismisses this idea of an ally and says that an ally is kind of someone who reads all the books but doesn't really put skin in the game. And so she phrases it as, what have you risked? What have you possibly given up to make sure that folks who have been pushed aside and marginalized are protected, are having their voices heard? So I think it's really important to find opportunities to locate risk and to create space for folks to have their voices heard as much as possible.

Dr. Jeanne Dyches: And then I would say vote, be educated about who you're putting into office. These are very important times, lots of decisions are being made in terms of what is going to happen to our community's schools, our community's environmental, farming, etcetera. And so not being aware can be really dangerous and really damaging.


Joy Briscoe: First off we have to name it, we have to call it. I think a good thing about this current period if there is anything that has come out of it is that people are now more willing to talk about, some people, we have some people fighting just as hard not to, but there are people coming together to say, you know what, this isn't who we know ourselves to be, we're Iowans. I'm proud to be an Iowan. I tell people all the time, I've been a bunch of places and they're like, you're black from Iowa, yep, there's a bunch of us, you'd be surprised. And so, I think we have to name it. That would be my first thing. We have to name it, say what the problem is. So if we're focused on black and brown home ownership, if it's black and brown education, we have to call it that, we have to not be scared to be bold enough to say what the issue is.

Joy Briscoe: Also when it comes to solutions, center the people you're trying to help. So we are supporting LGBTQA, center LGBTQA. If we are supporting black and brown students, center them. They need to be the drivers of what those solutions look like and those are three things, calling it and being intentional on what you're trying to do, providing resources and then centering people at the solutions, if we do those things we'll see some change.





Funding for this program was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation, as well as generations of families and friends who feel passionate about the programs they watch on Iowa PBS.