The following is a joint statement from Alabama Arise, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and Greater Birmingham Ministries:
Our elected officials and appointed leaders should respect the full dignity, worth and humanity of all people they represent. We urge all political parties and public officials to acknowledge the harm that white supremacy continues to inflict upon Alabama. And we call upon them to dismantle white supremacist structures through intentional policy changes.
The cause of white supremacy permeates our state’s fundamental governing document. When the president of the 1901 constitutional convention, John Knox, was asked why Alabama needed a new constitution, his answer was clear: “to establish white supremacy in this state.”
Any celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest of the Ku Klux Klan – a white supremacist terrorist organization – is contrary to the values that Alabamians expect from our leaders, elected officials and neighbors. In celebrating Forrest, Rep. Will Dismukes revealed he is unable or unwilling to represent the best interests of his constituents and his state. We condemn his actions in the strongest possible terms. We also understand this is not the first time Dismukes has celebrated the Confederacy or Forrest in such a manner. Therefore, we join with many other individuals and organizations across Alabama in calling for Dismukes to resign immediately.
Racial equity requires action, not just words
Alabama’s need for racial justice and healing reaches far beyond any one individual. All elected officials must take a hard look at both their actions and the impacts of their policy decisions. Most lawmakers claim to support racial equality, but the results of their policy choices often do not match this claim.
Examples of this mismatch are unfortunately common in our state. The 2017 Memorial Preservation Act prevents localities from removing statues that “honor” the Confederacy without paying a steep fine or getting approval from a panel of legislators that to our knowledge has not approved a removal since the law was enacted. Lawmakers’ failure to expand Medicaid leaves a disproportionate share of African Americans without health insurance during a pandemic. And the absence of racial impact data prevents communities and legislators from evaluating the full effects of state policy choices.
The harsh reality of racial disparities in Alabama
While Dismukes dismisses the need for racial reconciliation in today’s society, we cannot remain ignorant of the truth. We all must reckon with these disparities created and maintained by structural policy barriers:
- Black children are nearly three times as likely as white children in Alabama to grow up in poverty. That is true even though the labor force participation rate among Black workers is equal to that among white workers. This disparity is the result not of individual failures but of systemic and structural failures.
- Black Alabamians have a median household income of $32,188. The median income for white households in Alabama ($55,690) is 73% higher.
- Historically inequitable tax structures privilege large landholders and prevent schools serving Black students in rural Alabama from raising adequate revenues. These tax structures created a pattern of “unequal and inadequate public school funding,” according to a 2011 U.S. District Court ruling in Lynch v. Alabama.
- Black Americans have been three times more likely to contract COVID-19 than white residents and nearly twice as likely to die from the disease, new federal data reveals. Meanwhile, Black Alabamians make up a disproportionate share of our state’s uninsured or underinsured population.
- Black people are twice as likely as white people to be locked up in Alabama jails. And they are nearly three times as likely to end up in Alabama prisons. Abundant research shows discriminatory policing and sentencing, criminalization of poverty and unequal access to counsel are key drivers of these incarceration disparities.
It’s time for more than talk. Denouncing and rejecting white supremacy is only the beginning. Lawmakers also must enact meaningful policy changes to break down institutional barriers to opportunity and justice for all Alabamians.