Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were once reclining in the upper story of Nitza’s house,
in Lod, when this question was asked of them: Is study greater or is action greater?
Rabbi Tarfon answered and said: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered and said: Study is greater.
The others answered and said: Study is greater, because it leads to action. — Kiddushin 40b
Early voting has started!
Last week we wrote about what’s at stake for economic justice for all the people who are struggling to find good jobs and make ends meet in our county. This week we’ll talk about racial justice and breaking down the systemic inequities that continue to persist. This is the third in a series of weekly emails on specific county issues, walking you through what the outcome of the June 26 primary could mean for our local community.
During early voting (now through June 21) and on primary day (June 26) you can choose leaders who will lift up our values and priorities — or not.
Jewish tradition teaches us that study leads to action. Early voting is happening now. We want you to go to the voting booth armed with knowledge. And we encourage you to forward and share this information — every vote will really matter.
Racial inequity: the short version
Many of us think of Montgomery County as a white, suburban bedroom community – home to mostly middle class professionals. But that’s not an accurate picture of who we are: 55% of county residents and 70% of public school students are people of color. Black and brown residents are less likely to earn enough to support their families or to be able to buy a home. Being progressive in general doesn’t protect us from subtle but poisonous racial bias, which makes it seem like people of color are less worthy and deserving than other people. It shows up when children of color go to worse schools and communities of color get worse services, housing, and transit. And it turns deadly when cops shoot Black people first and ask questions later – and face few consequences.
Racism, no matter how unconscious, stops us from seeing every person as our Jewish tradition teaches – infinitely valuable and uniquely in the Divine image. We must each work on personally unlearning this poison. And we should elect leaders who will work proactively to understand and end persistent racial inequities. We need our government officials to commit to resourcing communities of color and ending practices that harm them.
Visit our election resources page for more information about dates and candidates, and to find a shareable version of this email.
Go deeper: fight against racism at home
The Torah and Talmud teach that humans, in our infinite diversity, are each made in the Divine image, uniquely precious and deserving. But Montgomery County isn’t equal for everyone.
In December, the Urban Institute issued a report on racial inequities in Montgomery County from 2011 to 2015. They found that people of color and Black people in particular have less, earn less, live in worse housing, are less likely to own their homes, and go to worse schools:
- Of those working full time, [B]lack and Hispanic [sic] workers were more likely to earn less than $35,000. A little less than half of Hispanic residents and one-third of black residents age 16 and older in Montgomery County working full time earned less than $35,000, compared with only 10 percent of whites.
- At the county level, more than half of those working full time earned less than $75,000 living wage annually. More than 8 in 10 Hispanic residents, 7 in 10 black residents, and 5 in 10 Asian or Pacific Islander residents working full time did not earn this living wage, compared with 4 in 10 white residents
- The child poverty rate for Montgomery County was 8%, but the child poverty rate for [Black people] (16%) was double the county rate and eight times the white rate (2%). The child poverty rate for Hispanics (14%) was seven times the white rate, and the child poverty rate for Asians or Pacific Islander (6%) was under the county rate, but it was still three times the white rate.
Why? Black, Latinx, and Asian/Pacific Islander folks are just as smart, talented, and hard-working as white folks.
Despite our best intentions, most of us carry around subconsciously racist filters in our minds that push us towards thinking that people of color are less intelligent or less worthy than white people. Even as our society has worked to end overtly discriminatory practices, the white supremacy our country was founded on continues to impact people of color, and especially Black people, who have been systematically shut out of resources and opportunities for generations. The legacy of decades and centuries of racist exploitation means that we don’t start out life equally – and when the system isn’t set up to actually redress that inequality, it just keeps rolling.
What would it look like to end racial inequities in Montgomery County? First we would need to understand what they are – where residents of color are blocked from opportunity, getting fewer resources, facing seemingly colorblind policies that actually disadvantage them. And second, we would need to understand why these policies and practices persist. Finally, we’d need to change the system to remove barriers and stop practices of harm.
You already know what kinds of unequal treatment we’re talking about here. Black and brown students are pushed into ‘worse’ schools with more police and less extracurriculars – because white parents want their kids to go to ‘better’ schools that are majority white. There isn’t enough affordable housing, and the affordable housing that does exist is rarely big enough for families to live in. The lack of protection for renters makes it easier to evict people when they are perceived as “dangerous,” often code for describing people of color. Even well-intentioned policies like school safety measures become the pretext for more invasive, intensive policing of young people of color.
We actually have the resources to have good schools for every kid, whether they’re white, Black, or brown. We can prioritize housing and land use that would put every family in a decent home. And we can demand public safety systems that serve and protect everyone.
To get there, we’ll need elected officials who are committed to understanding, and ending, racial inequity. We have come together in the past both locally and as a nation to end racist practices, and the tools for making local change are right here! This spring, the County Council adopted a resolution co-sponsored by Councilmembers Marc Elrich and Nancy Navarro to create an “equity policy” for Montgomery County.
The equity policy requires the county to figure out how new legislation will impact existing “disparities based on race, ethnicity, national origin, English language proficiency, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, age, differing abilities, and income.” That is, just like we analyze what new programs and laws will cost – as part of a required fiscal analysis – now we will also analyze the ‘costs’ and benefits of new programs and laws for various groups of people, to make sure that we’re not exacerbating inequalities.
Policies that discriminate and perpetuate harm can and must be identified and eliminated. The equity analysis sheds light on the outcomes and impacts of our policy choices, and helps us make better ones.
We need the right partners in office to help.
Our leaders should represent the diversity of our county and be ready to stand up for the policies and resources that communities of color need. To make the equity policy work we must elect a Council and County Executive who will implement it correctly and consistently. Our elected leaders must also make sure our county government listens to and works for all MoCo residents, white, Black, and brown. Our home can and should be a place where Black and brown people can earn a good living, afford a decent home, attend a great school, feel safe and protected by police (and not need to be protected from them), ride great transit, and more – all equally to white folks.
Jayme Epstein and Fran Zamore
JUFJ Montgomery County Leadership Team
Commit to voting your values during early voting and on primary day, Tuesday, June 26.
Visit our election resources page for more information about the primary and candidates.
Share this message with your friends and family!