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Racial equality in civic engagement

Childhood lessons can make a difference

Isabell Rivera OW Contributor | 9/3/2020, midnight

So far 2020 has been quite the challenging year, and although there were more downs than ups it seems, 2020 also had a few positive moments, and moments of change, especially regarding racial equality and civic engagement.

According to a WalletHub survey, 71 percent of White American (non-Hispanics) adults have registered to vote in 2020, compared to 63 percent of African-Americans. It’s hard to determine why fewer Blacks are unregistered, or if minorities lack access to better opportunities to engage socially and politically. In regards to community volunteering, the survey shows that 26.4 percent of White Americans were volunteering, but only 19.3 percent of African-Americans.

To determine how every state is doing in regards to racial equality and civic engagement, the survey focused on five important metrics and compared them with 48 states and the District of Columbia.

The WalletHub data was focusing on the share of single-parent households of White and African-Americans and the difference between them, as well as their voter-turnout- and volunteer rate. New Mexico turned out to be the number one state with the highest score in regards to civic engagement racial equality (an equal number of Blacks and Whites are registered to vote), with a score of 92.30. Wisconsin fell to the bottom with a score of 16.93. California scored a 70.92. It’s not impossible for states to engage its population in civic engagement, especially minority groups. But for that to happen, they need new strategies.

“For over a century, various strategies have been used to suppress the votes of people of color, including African-Americans, Asian-Americans, American Indians, and Latinx. I think our electoral system needs a close look to purge remnants of the past. Such things as ending criminal disenfranchisement, enabling mail-in ballot options and lifetime registration would help,” professor of law and director of Clinical Legal Education at the UC Davis School of Law Gabriel Jack Chin told WalletHub.

“It would also help to end gerrymandering designed to make it possible for minorities of voters to control the majority of legislatures. There is a lot of talk about building trust between people of color and states and localities. It is hard to build trust when the government is in fact trying to disenfranchise you or to dilute the effect of your vote.”

However, according to Dr. Janeria Easley, an assistant professor of African American Studies at Emory College of Arts and Sciences, programs in the past, which have allowed the federal and local government to observe different treatments and outcomes across race, have been essential.

“Unfortunately, we have gone away from both funding these efforts and ensuring that programs can enforce needed changes,” Easley told WalletHub.

Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Shanette Harris from the Department of Psychology and Affiliate of Africana Studies, at the University of Rhode Island, said other measures on racial inequalities in the past proved to be successful. Such as improving the access to better education for minority groups.

If civic engagement and encouragement are taught in early childhood years, chances are the younger generation would have a better understanding of being engaged socially and politically to make a change, she said Civic knowledge and self-efficacy is a crucial aspect, especially for minority groups.

“According to Bandura (1997, 2006), the willingness of youth to participate in change strategies is influenced by their perceptions of the sociopolitical system or social environment as unchangeable because of low personal efficacy and/or low group or collective efficacy. On the other hand, a sense of high personal efficacy and group or collective efficacy motivates action and participation in change methods because of confidence based on the belief that the system or environment can be modified with effort,” Harris said. “The citizenship behavior of youth is determined by their knowledge of what a citizen should do (i.e. knowledge empowers one for action). However, they are unable to fulfill civic duties and responsibilities if they are ignorant of the behaviors associated with quality citizenship.

“For instance, citizens vote, demonstrate, petition, run for office, attend rallies, volunteer, write letters, read and interpret constitutional and other information, organize, and work with others,” Harris said. “Unfortunately, many American youth lack the knowledge to engage in these diverse activities.” Visit https://wallethub.com/edu/states-racial-equality-civic/76689/