Geographic and Racial Equity
Some Rural Realities
- History shaped the policies, practices and investment patterns that conferred benefits on some people while imposing burdens on others. Established systems reinforce entrenched poverty and racial inequalities that generation after generation worsen health outcomes and increase community vulnerability. These are particularly evident in the Delta and Appalachia, or in most of the sovereign tribal nations across the country.
- Poverty is a feature of both rural and urban places, although rural places have suffered generations of relatively higher poverty and lower income rates, especially in more remote areas. These have been compounded by environmental injustice associated with the location of land uses and functions not wanted in urban areas. Rural areas are becoming increasingly racially diverse, although this is often accompanied by social stresses and fiscal challenges in meeting new community needs.
- Economic restructuring and loss of opportunity have resulted in population decline and shrinking of tax bases in many rural counties. In turn, these have led to decisions to close rural hospitals, schools and other essential services and to centralize them in distant urban centers. These impose cost and transportation challenges for all rural families and particularly for the elderly and infirm. Local governments with declining revenues lack the capacity to provide adequate levels of public services and to respond to external shocks such as major weather events or pandemics.
- There is well-documented evidence that some rural communities, blessed with strong and imaginative local leadership, can create positive futures for themselves despite these challenges. This is particularly so in rural areas closer to urban centers and those in high-amenity regions. However, for other communities with fewer assets, inertia and hopelessness get in the way of action. For many rural areas, large private corporations own or control farm and forest production, mining and energy extraction, while the federal government controls and manages vast tracts of public lands, particularly in the West. This often leaves little room for local economic opportunity and wealth creation and undermines community resilience.
- There is the paradox of political power and voice. Rural constituencies have disproportionate sway in the U.S. Senate and in many state legislatures because of Constitutional arrangements that safeguard certain rural interests. This sets up conflicts with the large urban centers which have the economic power but constrained political influence. The current national political climate stokes the sense of rural versus urban interests and politicizes issues in ways that inhibit the search for common ground. That said, there is no coherent, unified voice for rural America beyond the special interests that control agriculture, forestry, ranching, mining and water rights.
What does Geographic and Racial Equity Look Like?
- Your race or where you live no longer determines your social and economic outcomes - neither geography nor race is destiny.
- People of color and rural people are owners, planners, and decision-makers in the systems that govern their lives.
- We all acknowledge and account for past and current inequities as public policies have extracted and diminished rural assets and abandoned rural communities.
- We provide the systems and infrastructure necessary for all people to thrive.
Adapted from Race Forward's definition of racial equity outcomes.