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Rayna Andrews is senior director of community impact at Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin. She writes about the systemic inequities that cause disproportionate rates of food insecurity for people of color and how educational efforts help move toward a solution.
Anyone can experience hunger. What I’ve come to learn working in the space of food security as the Senior Director of Community Impact for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin is that some groups are more vulnerable than others. According to the USDA, 21.2% of African American households and 16.2% of Hispanic households are food insecure, both of which are higher than the national average of 11.1%. Food insecurity is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.
Why are minorities predominately the populations that are affected by hunger? The higher rates are direct results of systemic inequity through racial and gender discrimination. The average wealth of white families is thirteen times higher than that of black families. The wealth gap plays a huge role in creating food insecurity. Systemic racism reinforces the wealth gap between minorities and whites and is expressed through social and political institutions.
As a part of my community engagement efforts, I collaborate with other anti-poverty organizations to facilitate a Racial Wealth Gap Learning Simulation to help people understand the connections among racial equity, hunger, poverty and wealth. It is a good first step for people unaware of structural inequality, a support tool for those who want a deeper understanding of structural inequality and a source of information for experts who want to know the quantifiable economic impact of each policy that has widened today’s racial, hunger, income and wealth divides.
Conversations about race and inequity can be challenging and is often a barrier to engaging in dialgoue. Yet these conversations are essential. This simulation helps break down some of those barriers. It focuses on policies, helping to debunk the idea that racial inequality is only about individual attitudes. As participants become more aware of structural levels of inequality, it will be easier to see how they can support policies that undo or reduce disparities. In addition, the simulation calls for participants to randomly select cards that assign them a racial identity that may be different from their own. This can help people feel slightly removed from their own personal experiences and see the role of policy.
If this article piqued your curiosity and you’re interested in learning more about the effects of the racial wealth gap and proposed policies for corrective action, please join me on Wednesday, February 26, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Whitefish Bay Public Library, 5420 N. Marlborough Dr., Whitefish Bay. This event is hosted by Bay Bridge Wisconsin and is free and open to the public. Please reserve your seat here.
In order for us to “solve hunger,” as food bankers like to say, we must start acknowledging that our system is broken, and our problems are more complex. Ending hunger and poor nutrition in Wisconsin and the United States calls for comprehensive strategies that promote racial, gender and class equity and take into account the many differences in personal, family and community circumstances. Giving our problems a name is only the first step in addressing systemic change.