Civic

Commissioners Unveil Racial Equity Action Plan

Photograph by Clay Banks

Asheville – The Buncombe County Commissioners approved the Racial Equity Action Plan with rave reviews. A year-long project boasting tremendous community input, the report is 10 pages of categorized bullet points in large font plus about 10 more pages of color photos.

The document bears a strong resemblance to boilerplate for generic project management. For example, it starts with a call to “assess the current state of racial disparities,” which will include collecting and analyzing data and taking stock of existing services and programs.

Getting more specific, some parts of the plan calls for the county organization to police itself against inequitable treatment, not just of black people, but of all members of the BIPOC community. Among the objectives are directives to reach out more to communities of color.

If the plan is implemented, the county will recruit, hire, retain, promote and discipline employees of color at rates reflective of the county’s overall demographics. All staff would then receive equity training, including continuing education. The quotas-by-another-name and training requirements would also extend to contractors and subcontractors.

Moving into the private sector, the plan calls for “improving housing outcomes.” Recommended forms of “housing intervention” include increasing BIPOC homeownership rates; partnering with federal, state, and private partners to build more affordable housing for BIPOC families; providing greater subsidies for home repair; and targeting homeless BIPOC populations for services. The county would also expand transit services and broadband access in ways that better serve BIPOC.

To “enhance equitable economic drivers,” again with no greater specificity, the county would, “expand black business ownership in the community, support workforce development initiatives that address earnings and wealth gap, support developmental programs that increase graduation rates, expand enrollment opportunities and participation in early childhood education, [and] strengthen education partnerships to reduce college and career readiness gaps.”

By and large, the plan calls for expanding and growing capacity in cradle-to-grave social service programs. Objectives include working toward providing universal Pre-K instruction, broadening the reach of psychologists partnering with the county, and providing greater oversight for the care of those opting for home health over institutionalization – all in the name of “maintaining and strengthening family units.”

Commissioner Al Whitesides stares into the camera while giving a fatherly lecture about why reparations are needed. Screenshot.

To “improve justice outcomes for the most impacted communities,” the plan recommends, “partnering with,” “working with,” “developing” and “coordinating” programs. It calls for reducing arrest rates of low-level offenders and using trauma-informed emergency response. “Provide opportunities for culturally competent and diverse programming/service options for … both survivors and individuals using harm (offenders),” it reads.

The document wound up with a glossary, which is always handy in these days of ever-changing definitions. During public comment, Grant Millin took issue with the term. “white fragility.” The equity plan’s definition reads, “Coined in 2011 by Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to talk about Racism, white fragility is defined as ‘discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.’” Millin said if the plan’s authors really want to open dialogue and build bridges, this is not the way to do it.

To illustrate progress already being made, Assistant County Manager DK Wesley called attention to the commissioners naming equity as a value and foundational focus area. The board further passed one resolution declaring racism a public health and safety crisis and other supporting reparations for black people in the county.

Commissioner Al Whitesides commented on the plan. “Over the years, I’ve been a part of quite a few equity plans, but this is by far the best that I’ve seen. We can tell from reading it – I know I can – the work that you put into it to make it come to pass. As I read it last night again, I couldn’t help but think of a conversation I had back in 1962 when I was a pup. I was a freshman in college, and a group of us was talking to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Morehouse. He told us then that, “working for equity and inclusion for you boys will be a lifetime job.” 

He continued, “In Buncombe County, we’re only 5 percent or 6 percent of the population, or maybe 9 percent with all the different groups who are included, but what we forget, though – it is a small group – but let’s rethink back when we think about our history. It was a small group of our ancestors who built America – on the backs of their free labor. So, I think you do owe us something, and at least we’re beginning to get there. Because when we talk of reparations, there’s no way you can pay us. And when I say us, I’m talking about African-Americans, because I can go back to slavery.” 

After reminiscing about his great grandmother, he continued, “When you think of the contributions that we have made, the inventions that were taken away from us, and when you see that we don’t have the generational wealth that we should have, at least let’s start now making up for some of it and – I’ll be the first to say you can’t make up for it financially, but we can make up for it by doing the right thing and level the playing field going forward.”

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