On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he is doing what a number of lawmakers and officials have been doing in order to at least appear interested in addressing the whole systemic racism in America thing: He launched a commission. Racial justice commissions seem odd to people who are looking to see immediate anti-racism action by lawmakers and elected officials because they’re essentially policies that allow for discussions on potential policies to deal with racism and injustice in the future. It’s like meeting to schedule a meeting to discuss the scheduling of meetings—it’s weird.
Anyway, CNN reports that de Blasio announced that the commission will consist of an 11-member panel who will be tasked with making policy recommendations that the city hopes will aid in its fight against structural racism including racial disparities related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commission’s key responsibilities will include reviewing the city’s charter and recommending revisions or policy changes that will create a more equitable community. Reparations for Black residents may also be considered by the commission, de Blasio said, though he did not provide details.
“The racial justice commission has the power to put forth permanent, transformative ideas for our government and our city. This moment demands nothing less,” de Blasio said. “This undertaking is unprecedented, but I believe this extraordinary group of leaders, visionaries, and public servants have the ability to put forth a tangible vision to continue dismantling and obliterating centuries of racial oppression.”
The mayor’s announcement comes nearly one month after Democratic lawmakers revived a similar proposal for a racial justice commission in Congress that would examine the country’s history of systemic racism against Black people, address inequities and back efforts to provide reparations for slavery.
I’m really trying hard not to be overly cynical about this, but that seems like a long-ass process just for recommendations on what can be done in combating inequality.
Still, de Blasio appears to be confident that his city’s commission will be effective in serving as a “model for actually addressing structural racism,” which includes “identifying it, acknowledging it, formally apologizing for it, weeding it out, eradicating it, making the policy changes, changing the laws, doing the things that actually will have a lasting impact.” To his credit, he at least seems to understand that systemic racism is more than just police brutality and racial slurs and that it’s a thing that is embedded in nearly every aspect of American society.
“I’m asking the members of this commission to engage all elements in New York City society,” he said during a news conference, according to NBC New York. “To engage business communities, cultural organizations, the universities of this city, to look across the board at where we are still dealing with the painful legacy of racism, that still, in this very moment, is affecting the way that people are governed and treated.”
According to the New York Times, Jennifer Jones Austin, the commission’s chair and executive officer of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, an anti-poverty organization, said in an interview that the commission will “have conversations about reparations and what that could look like.”
And like de Blasio, Austin emphasized the need to view racism in a way that isn’t largely superficial.
“How can we begin to make systemic change?” she asked, the Times reports. “You can do one-offs. But you’ve got to look at the document that lays out how government works and how it needs to be revised to make sure that it is inclusive.”
So, I guess when it comes to these commissions in NYC and across the country, we’ll just have to wait and see. It certainly feels like the governmental approach to addressing the complexity of structural racism is a complex structure in itself—but at least it’s something...I guess.