Advocates respond to statements by House Speaker Mattiello on white privilege and urge lawmakers to do their work, own their privilege and work to address inequities.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – June 3, 2020
(South Kingstown, RI) – Statement by The Womxn Project:
As the saying goes, “…if you think white privilege doesn’t exist, then congratulations, you are benefiting from it…” This is certainly true of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello who was quoted saying he doesn’t know what white privilege is, doesn’t think it is real and then even went on to question how much racism exists in modern-day Rhode Island. This is beyond belief. If Black people weren’t living in fear of their lives, his statement would be laughable.
Clearly, he has not seen story after story not just recently, but for years, showing Black people being harmed and even murdered by representatives of the state without justice under the law. But we are also curious how he can question that racism is rampant everywhere, is entrenched in every system from schools to hospitals to the police and prisons. We would suggest that the Speaker – and really every person elected to office in this state who is charged with advancing justice and addressing the challenges facing Rhode Islanders – become more educated. We could provide a reading list.
- Rhode Island has the lowest non-white home ownership rate in the United States.
- Rhode Island is one of 11 states lacking improvement in its concentrated poverty rate over the past decade. Concentrated poverty is defined as a neighborhood where 30% or more of the population is living in poverty and in Rhode Island, racial disparities demonstrated concentrated poverty are prevalent and persistent.
- In Rhode Island Hispanic, Black, and Native American children are more likely than White and Asian children to live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold.
- Unemployment for Black people in Rhode Island – even before the pandemic –was approximately double that of the white population and often this demographic was underemployed.
- The median wage for Black people in Rhode Island is just 71% of the median wage for whites.
- The poverty rate among Black Rhode Islanders has been nearly 3 times the poverty rate for white people for more than ten years, while the poverty rate for Black children has been more than 3 times higher.
- Black Rhode Islanders comprise 6.5% of the population, but almost 25% of the homeless population.
- Rhode Island’s higher education attainment rate is the lowest in New England for Black people.
- There is a substantial gap between the shares of Black and White Rhode Islanders with health insurance.
- Black Rhode Islanders are a disproportionately represented share of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections population – 30% of the prison population, versus 5.3 percent of the overall population of the state.
But this isn’t just about numbers. Speaker Mattiello is a white man with tremendous power who uniquely has the opportunity to listen and learn and he has the ability to ensure that real and concrete actions can occur to help address the huge disparities in health, wellbeing and opportunities for Black people in our state. Instead, he chooses not to acknowledge a very obvious problem that has plagued this entire nation since the institution of slavery darkened our shores. Racism is killing people and he won’t even admit that it is a problem. That is truly shocking.
The Womxn Project has been working to help white people in our state learn what white privilege looks like, how it hurts people of color, and to unlearn our own assumptions and habits, and challenge the stereotypes that we may not even want to admit we hold.
We all have prejudices because we have all been exposed to racist images and ideas. We strive to challenge and check ourselves and unlearn these dangerous assumptions. It is critical that every elected official do the same in order to avoid perpetuating the systems of oppression that are taking the lives of Black and Brown people.
We urge the Speaker to apologize for his statements and to commit to ensuring that real steps be taken not only to end violence, but to address the many alarming statistics that make it abundantly clear racism is a very significant issue in our state. We need his words to show he is willing to learn and unlearn and we demand his actions as an individual and a leader in our General Assembly.
Truly we need all lawmakers – and every person in our state – to be part of the work to end racism and dismantle white supremacy. People’s health, dignity and lives are depending on it.
Jocelyn Foye is available for an interview upon request.