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Young studies equality issues related to racial discrimination and bias

Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, hosted an interim study Wednesday, Oct. 20, that took an in depth look at equality issues related to racial discrimination and bias in state agencies, communities, organizations, and businesses across Oklahoma. The study was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“In this day and age, you’d think we’d be past talking about these issues, but the fight for racial equality in our state, country and world is still on,” Young said. “This study gave us a good grasp of the disparities that exist within races, and I’m hopeful the data and stories we heard during the study will lead to real change and issues we can address through legislation in the upcoming session.”

According to Damion Shade, Oklahoma Policy Institute policy analyst, about 20 percent of Oklahoma children live in poverty. In comparison to white children, African American children are nearly six times as likely to live in concentrated poverty; Latino children are more than four times as likely to live in poverty; and American Indian children are twice as likely to live in poverty. He explained other racial disparities are easily seen when looking at the wealth gap, where the median net worth of a white family is 10 times the net worth of a Black family and eight times that of Latinx households. Shade also said there are vast racial disparities within Oklahoma’s prison systems, and COVID-19 has been systemically worse for people of color, with Black men dying from the virus at twice the rate of white men.

“The wealth gap between white families and children and people of color is truly astounding,” Young said. “As a state, it’s our duty to utilize all resources necessary to level the playing field and invest in these communities so all Oklahomans have the same opportunities to succeed.”

Dr. Angela Hawkins, SSM Health Medical Group OBGYN and Dr. Christina Kirk, Star Spencer High School educator, also shared with the Appropriations Committee the racial and gender disparities seen both in health care and education. Hawkins said fewer Oklahoma women have health insurance compared to the national average, and the mortality rate for Black and brown women is twice that of white women. She explained the social determinants of health is a direct correlation to racial bias, and that negative health care experiences for people of color continue to be reported. Kirk said two schools within the Oklahoma City Public Schools system provide drastically different course offerings, with predominately Hispanic U.S. Grant High School offering 42 Advanced Placement (AP) courses, while predominately Black Star Spencer High School only offers two.

“My hope is for the Legislature to come together, analyze the differences in outcomes we are seeing in criminal justice, health care and education based on race, and create a plan to address these disparities,” Young said. “It’s time Oklahoma becomes a leader on these issues and gets this done for the betterment of our state.

The Second Session of the 58th Legislature will convene on Monday, Feb. 7.