Watch: Silicon Valley leaders say struggle for racial equity is long but next steps are clear
Five panelists encouraged supporting specific progressive measures in the November election.

Achieving racial equity in Silicon Valley and the nation will take more than protests and some changes in legislative bodies. It’s going to take deep, systemic and hard-fought change.

That’s according to a diverse panel of five experts who discussed race and equity in a virtual forum hosted by San José Spotlight and moderated by Rick Callender, vice president of the California/Hawaii NAACP and a board member of this news organization.

The event was the latest in a series of live conversations hosted by San José Spotlight on critical issues affecting the South Bay — events that were held in person last year until the COVID-19 pandemic moved everything online. The hourlong forum drew nearly 200 viewers.

Panelists included Dr. William Armaline, director of San Jose State’s Human Rights Institute; LaToya Fernandez, founder of YouthHype, an organization that empowers youth from marginalized communities; Chava Bustamante, executive director of Latinos Unidos for a New America; Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area; and Susan Hayase, co-founder of San Jose Nikkei Resisters.

Callender asked the panelists what equity looks like right now and what work needs to happen to reach racial equity.

“Equity is going to require a lot of work,” Billoo said. “What I’m perplexed by on a daily basis is how entrenched the inequity is.”

Police shootings and brutality against Black people — from George Floyd in Minneapolis in May to Jacob Blake in Wisconsin — have sparked protests across the country. Communities of color are also facing disproportionate numbers of cases and death rates from COVID-19.

“We have incredible impacts from COVID-19,” said Hayase. “Another thing that’s very obvious to a lot of Asian Americans right now is there’s a lot of scapegoating of Asian Americans.”

Hayase said Asian Americans are not unfamiliar with scapegoating but that it’s “particularly unpleasant in terms of trying to keep people’s families safe and dealing with all the other aspects of COVID-19.”

Bustamante said poverty and overcrowding of homes is to blame for the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Silicon Valley’s Latino residents. Families living below the poverty line cannot afford to miss work to quarantine if they test positive, he added.

The panelists said that because of the systemic nature of racial inequality, dismantling the system is going to be a drawn-out, step-by-step process — especially when it comes to reforming law enforcement.

Some of the steps require working within the system to develop and promote policy proposals, so the change is institutionalized and long-lasting. “Getting people to understand that in this country it’s really possible to change things by participating in democracy is key,” Bustamante said.

Armaline cited the California Law Enforcement Accountability Act, which his organization is working with state and federal lawmakers to draft. The bill would ban law enforcement officers from joining or having any affiliations with white supremacy or far-right extremist organizations.

“It is not a conspiracy theory to say that there is considerable cooperation between far-right extremist organizations and our law enforcement,” Armaline said.

Some protesters — and panelists — proposed making changes by defunding the police.

“Let’s be honest, it’s a slave-catching system and slavery still exists,” Fernandez said. “It’s just the chains look different.”

Fernandez has also worked to reform the discipline system in schools, which she said is racially biased and promoted removing armed security guards from campuses.

One of the struggles, the panelists said, is getting supporters to understand why the fight for racial justice is tied to the fights in other communities.

For Hayase, that means helping Japanese Americans see how their history is intertwined with the history of Black Americans.

“There’s a pressure on Japanese Americans to look at ourselves as uniquely oppressed,” Hayase said. “We are organizing to take our place alongside everyone else because we are fighting against white supremacy.”

Although the fight ahead is long, the panelists said the next steps to take are on the ballot. They encouraged support for Proposition 16, which would reinstate affirmative action programs in California, and for Proposition 17, which would restore voting rights to convicted felons on parole.

“There’s a lot of boots on the ground right now,” Fernandez said. “We need to be throwing our support behind things that are already in motion in terms of policy.”

Watch the full forum below:

Contact Stella Lorence at [email protected] or follow on Twitter @slorence3.

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