Neighborhood House is a multicultural agency working to disrupt the forces of poverty, racism, and injustice. This monthly column is intended to promote awareness of equity issues in our region and in our work. These articles were orginally published in our staff newsletter.
Defund the Police?
By Janice Deguchi, Executive Director
A significant portion of this article is an excerpt from a letter signed by over 275 Asian Pacific Islander American community organizations, businesses, and leaders to the Mayor of Seattle and Seattle City Council dated June 22, 2020. Main authors are: Chrissy Shimizu, SuYoung Yun, and Gabrielle Nomura Gainor.
When advocates call to defund the police, they don’t mean defund public safety. We all care about living in a world that values our life and property. And while there’s been attempts to reform the police, these attempts have been undercut by the City and the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild. Neighborhood House joins Black community leaders in asking that our policy makers reimagine public safety in partnership with the Black community and invest in solutions that make EVERYONE safe.
White supremacy is embedded throughout the fabric of our nation. This is acutely visible in our policing and criminal punishment systems that disproportionately and violently impact the Black community. The police have always been an oppressive force targeting Black people in America. The first police in America were created as slave patrols to capture Black people attempting to escape the inhumane treatment of their white captors. Centuries later, American society continues to treat Black people as less-than-human, as exceptions to human rights protections, and as criminals, even when they commit no crime. As a Black person in America today, each day is fraught with danger:
- Black Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites.
- Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men.
- In 2019, Black people were 24% of those killed by police despite being only 13% of the population.
This is the result of over-policing in Black communities and racial bias in the legal system. In our own city, even while the Consent Decree is in place, racial disparities in policing continue to exist:
- People of color generally are more likely to be searched by Seattle police officers and yet less likely to have weapons in those searches than white people according to SPD’s disparity review in April 2019.
- Thirty-two percent of uses of force in 2018 were against Black men, despite African-Americans comprising just 6% of the city’s population.
- Furthermore, the city did not address the Court’s May 15, 2019 finding that it had fallen out of compliance with the Consent Decree in the areas of discipline and accountability.
- On June 1, 2020, The Seattle Office of Police Accountability reported receiving 12,000 complaints about the Seattle Police Department’s handling of the weekend demonstrations.
- And on June 11, 2020, King County and Public Health Seattle-King County (PH-SKC) declared racism a public health crisis - to truly respond to a public health crisis the demands of the Black community must be met.
- The Seattle Police Department receives more than three times the funding of the Department of Human Services, which provides health and housing support to the public. This is unacceptable. We join with the Black community to demand the City defund the police and invest in a new system that shifts away from punishment and toward genuine public health and social support.
- Instead of officers with guns, we envision mental health specialists be appropriately dispatched to answer calls to assist people in crisis. Indeed, direct mental health professionals already do this work every day, with clipboards instead of guns.
- Instead of investing in predictive policing technology and weaponry that militarizes our police, we envision money invested into public schools, early learning, and youth development programs, so that children are better equipped with the tools they need early on to be successful in their lives.
- Instead of investing in additional patrols, we envision the City increase the number of caseworkers to ensure the houseless access stability through shelter, a scientifically supported crucial first step in breaking a cycle of poverty and making a better life.
We want to live in a community that is not governed by racist systems. Safety must be evenly distributed. A just system is one where all people’s basic needs are met and where we have real economic opportunity. A system that prioritizes policing over all other public services does not avail justice.
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By Jomar Figueroa, Professional Development & Program Systems Manager
In English, we often use pronouns to refer to someone in the third person. These pronouns have an implied gender – such as "he" to refer to a man or "she" to refer to a woman – and these associations aren’t always accurate or helpful. We often make assumptions about the gender of person based on our perceptions of their gender expression (like their appearance, name, behavior, clothing, voice, etc.), and these assumptions aren’t always correct.
Using a person’s chosen gender pronouns is a way to respect them and create an open, inclusive environment. It can be offensive or triggering to someone to be mis-gendered (i.e. being referred to by the wrong pronoun). We use the language of "chosen gender pronoun" to emphasize that the pronouns are personal and refer to a unique, individual person.
When a person shares their pronouns, they are explicitly naming what pronouns they want to be referred to by in the singular third person. This can sound something like:
"Hi, my name is Alex Smith and I use they/them pronouns."
Usually, "they/them" pronouns are acceptable to use when you don’t yet know if a person goes by another set of pronouns. It’s also important to remember that just because a person goes by a certain set of pronouns, it doesn’t not always align with their gender identity.
Gender identity refers to a person’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither -- how an individual perceives themselves and what they call themselves. This can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth. When someone’s gender identity is aligned with their sex assigned at birth, they are considered "cisgender" (i.e. assigned male at birth, identifies as male). Regardless if someone is transgender or cisgender, their chosen pronouns are personal to them, and we should do our best to respect them.
In the English language, there are two categories of pronouns: gendered and gender neutral. Gendered pronouns include he/him/his and she/her/hers, while gender neutral includes they/them/theirs. Additionally, someone may choose to use ze/hir pronouns (which emerged from the genderqueer community) or use no pronouns at all. Some people wish to just be referred to by their name only. A person may also choose to use more than one set of pronouns (e.g. he/him/his and they/them). This can also be used in titles like Mr. / Ms. / Mrs. / Mx. (pronounced like "mix").
If you’re unsure where to start, consider the following three points: ask someone what pronouns they use, normalize the use of pronouns in daily activities, and practice using the right pronouns. Easy ways to start this work include adding pronouns into your introductions in meetings and including them in your email signature. And if you make a mistake, that’s okay. Fix the mistake and carry on. These small steps can help create a more gracious and safe space for someone.
Together, we can make Neighborhood House a more inclusive place.
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Racism and COVID-19
By Janice Deguchi, Executive Director
COVID-19 has had an impact on almost all of us. We’ve had to change how we work, socialize, practice our faith, and recreate. But for communities of color, these impacts can be devastating.
According to data released last week by Johns Hopkins University, African Americans are much more likely to get sick and die of COVID-19. In New York City, African Americans are dying of COVID at twice the rate of total population. Seventy percent of the people dying of COVID-19 in Chicago, Louisiana, Milwaukee, and St. Louis were African Americans. In Washington, Latinx people represented 29% of confirmed cases, even though they are only 13% of the population. Black people made up 7% of confirmed cases, but make up only 4% of the population. Non-Hispanic Whites represented 50% of the confirmed cases, yet they make up 68% of the total population in Washington.
And while COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, these data paint a clear picture that the effects of COVID-19 are revealing long standing historical racism that has impacted African American communities more than others. Underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and asthma can mean the difference between recovery and death.
African Americans, people of color and immigrants are more likely to…
- Work essential jobs;
- Hold jobs where working from home is not an option;
- Live in neighborhoods that lack access to healthy food, clean air and water, and safe recreation opportunities; and
- Lack access to quality, affordable health care, free of racial bias.
All of these factors increase the likelihood of getting sick and dying. Add to the health impacts, the economic impacts. The pandemic triggered this economic crash, but years of a widening wealth gap, and systemic racism primed America for this crisis. While the CARES Act has provided some relief by extending sick leave benefits to certain employees, increasing unemployment benefits, and providing one-time stimulus checks, we are far away from addressing the glaring racial and economic disparities COVID-19 has made impossible to ignore.
Workers and families of color, gig and contract workers, workers with disabilities, immigrant and refugee communities, undocumented workers and families, and others who disproportionately have been left behind in wage growth, sick leave protections, and other critical labor policies, are bearing the brunt of this economic crisis. Solutions must be deliberately inclusive. Some members of Congress are proposing hopeful legislation that begins to address some disparities.
Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act: This bill will ensure that all families regardless of immigration status can access resources related to COVID-19 relief.
Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act: Would move immigrants out of detention and halt immigration enforcement against individuals not deemed a significant public safety risk during the coronavirus crisis and future public health emergencies.
Paycheck Guarantee Act: Would end mass layoffs, keep workers employed with health insurance and other benefits, and helps prevent large numbers of employers from being forced to close permanently.
Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act: A national paid leave program would allow people to receive a portion of their pay when they need time away from their jobs for family or medical reasons – resulting in significant benefits for their families, businesses and our economy.
This crisis exposed the health and economic injustice we, as a society, have ignored for too long. Now more than ever, we need leadership and courage to create healthy, diverse and welcoming communities, where all people thrive.
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Racism and COVID-19
"Chinese virus" or "kung flu" are racist terms that put Asian and Asian Americans at risk of hate crimes. After the international news broke about the coronavirus and Washington's first case confirmed on January 21, immigrant and refugee community leaders and organizations noticed an alarming increase in bias and harassment against Asian American communities. The Trump administration’s continued use of these terms unfairly blame Asian/Asian American people and people that look Asian.
Right away, business was down in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District restaurants because of bias and incorrect information. Covid-19 does not respect borders, it does not discriminate based on race or ethnicity. We are all learning now that the spread of Covid-19 can only be prevented through social distancing, hand washing and staying home if you’re ill.
We can all do our part to disrupt racism when we see it. Start by getting accurate information from trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control, Washington Department of Health and Public Health Seattle-King County. For a Covid-19 anti-bias toolkit, click here.
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2020 Fakequity Pledge
The following is an excerpt from 2020 Fakequity Pledge, published January 2, 2020, on Fakequity, a blog written by Erin Okuno. To see the full list and subscribe to the blog, go to fakequity.com.
2020 is here, the start of a new decade. In the 2020 Fakequity pledge list, I’ve organized the list by how we live our lives: work, live, and play. My hope is you’ll take this start of the year and pledge to think and do things a little differently, after all, racial justice work is about a journey – we’re never done.
- Diversify your program, board, program material (e.g. books, videos, music, etc.) to incorporate more POC (people of color) voices. Remember diversity isn’t equity, but it helps.
- Do a time or calendar audit of where and with whom you spend your work time. Who’s voices influence your work? Do they match the demographics of who’s farthest from justice?
- Identify places within your work where you can diversify and share decision making with communities of color.
- Evaluate where you spend your money. Does it match your racial equity values? Check out the POC Business map 2.0from our friends at Equity Matters and shift some of your purchasing power to these businesses. Instead of buying flowers at the big chain grocery store, stop by a florist of color, such as Flowers Just 4 U – the only Black-owned florist in the Pacific Northwest.
- Put important religious holidays and cultural dates on your calendar. Be sure to avoid scheduling meetings on these days. As an example, don’t schedule events that revolve around food during Ramadan.
- Voting is how we define our values in public policy. Vote. Research the candidates, ask them hard questions about how they support Black and Indigenous people especially. Question their voting records. Donate time and money to candidates of color, even if the candidates don’t win their running changes the race.
- Visit a POC museum, cultural center, festival, etc. Many have free days, such as first Thursdays in Seattle, Smithsonian Free Museum Day, or some library systems have loaner museum passes with advance sign up.
- Pick a POC owned restaurant or caféand visit it. If you’re unsure what to order, ask the staff what they recommend to sample more authentic cuisine. If eating out is beyond your budget, location, or time research POC foods, perhaps shift one grocery shopping trip to an ethnic grocery store (investing in POC businesses) to find the ingredients to make a new dish or drink.
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Black History Month - What it means to me?
By Karinda Harris, NH Board Member
Black History Month (BHM) started as “Negro History Week” in 1926 under the leadership of Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The second week of February focused on coordinated efforts to teach Black history in our nation’s public schools. Then in 1970, black students and educators at Kent State University celebrated the first BHM, and in 1976, President Gerald Ford recognized it during the nation’s Bicentennial Celebration, dedicating each February to black history.
For me, the month is time to remember and celebrate our progress and our success. I think of folks like Martin, Coretta, Malcolm, Medgar, Oprah, Aretha, Maya, Beyonce, Serena, Ava, Barack, Michelle, and so many more who exude our genius and have shared it with the world. I reflect on black women mayors like Keisha Lance Bottoms, Lori Lightfoot, LaToya Cantrell, Aja Brown, and London Breed, who serve their cities with brilliance, excellence and Black Girl Magic. I am indebted to fighters like John Lewis, those four little girls who perished in a Birmingham church bombing, Shirley Chisholm, Ruby Bridges, Elijah Cummings, Thurgood Marshall, Bryan Stevenson, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Stacey Abrams, and many more. I am grateful for those in my own backyard - Norm & Constance Rice, Larry Gossett, Charles Johnson, Carmen Best, Harold Scoggins, and Debra Entenman - all reminders that black greatness lives in Seattle and King County. I honor their accomplishments, while remembering each success came at a cost, yet they prevailed under the realities of racism, and every negative force created to stop them.
Despite the ugliness of slavery, segregation, and continued racial discrimination and bias, Black folks demonstrate a certain resiliency, love, hope, and faith that allows us to see and exercise goodness and excel in a country that has sanctioned violence and inequity against us. The month is reflective and purposeful in honoring American heroes, who make up the fabric of this country, while also recognizing the road to justice and freedom is long. In an election year, I reflect upon the fight for voting rights, the lives lost, those bloodied and bruised to secure the Voting Rights Act of 1965, while recognizing that voter suppression continues to deny voting rights today.
I reflect on my own life, now a 34 year old black woman, who’s done well by traditional standards, yet knows that freedom has not been won for me, my family, my friends, nor the rest of my people. Coretta Scott King once said, “Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.” I believe that true racial justice and freedom is economic justice. To truly celebrate black history, we have to look at the full picture. Seattle’s median income is $93,500, with white households at $105,100 and black households at $42,500. When will we solve this long standing racial earnings gap, one of the most lingering consequences of this nation’s racist history?
So this BHM, I am reminded of our faith and resiliency, and that we continue to live in what Dr. King called the fierce urgency of now. “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there "is" such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” And until all black folks are free, free to be without fear, free to thrive without forces of oppression, none of us are truly free.
Karinda Harris is a proud Seattle native, growing up in the Beacon Hill and Madrona neighborhoods. She's recently held community roles for New Seasons Market and for the City of Seattle, Office of the Mayor, and is committed to the betterment of her community. She has served on the Neighborhood House board of Directors since 2018.
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By Janice Deguchi, Executive Director
I support Beyonce Black St. James, the performer that was invited by All Home to speak and perform at the recent All Home Homelessness System Conference. Several Neighborhood House staff attended this conference and found the information at the conference extremely valuable, and her performance empowering.
LGBTQ People of Color are underrepresented in the research, service delivery staff, and leadership of organizations and institutions addressing homelessness, yet overrepresented in the number of people actually experiencing homelessness. I commend conference organizers for featuring a LGBTQ Person of Color as part of the official program. The conference organizers recognized that it is not possible to address the root causes of homelessness without talking about racism, homophobia and transphobia.
However, because her performance was sexually suggestive, some people felt uncomfortable. Staff attending the conference come from different backgrounds with different beliefs and values that should be respected. It is the responsibility of conference planners, not the performer, to explain the context and relevance of the performance and ensure attendees are able to make a choice to participate. According to the Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network press release, “prior to her drag performance, Ms. St. James volunteered her time with a cultural presentation as a featured speaker; additionally, she took the precaution of getting her performance approved by conference organizers and providing numerous announcements about her performance to conference attendees.”
After national news outlets picked up the story from the Seattle Times, a video of the performance went viral. Critics have used this performance as an opportunity to harass, threaten and invade the privacy of Beyonce Black St. James and attack the institutions trying to end homelessness. This is the type of hate that causes homelessness. Homophobia and transphobia drive a wedge between parents and children, cause LGBTQ people to feel unsafe at home, at school and at church. Homophobia and transphobia drives young people to deny their identity and consider suicide. The hate being expressed against Beyonce Black St. James online is making her feel unsafe and for good reason. According to the FBI, reports of anti-trans violence increased 34 percent between 2017 and 2018. And while overall crime is declining, hate crime against all groups is at historically high levels and increasing.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, transgender people face additional challenges like lack of protection from discrimination, harassment, stigma, and poverty. Lack of protection from discrimination translates to higher unemployment for transgender people. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) found that 15 percent of respondents were living in severe poverty (making less than $10,000/year). For transgender people of color, those rates were even higher, with 34 percent of Black and 28 percent of Latina/o respondents reporting a household income of less than $10,000 a year.
I condemn the harassment and threats Beyonce Black St. James has endured as a result of the sensational media coverage of her performance and her LGBTQ identity. Neighborhood House joins with The Protecting Black Transfemmes Task Force, Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network, UTOPIA, Lavender Rights Project, Ingersoll Gender Center, QLaw, and many others to #standwithbeyonceblackstjames.
Neighborhood House’s organizational values include Social Justice and Valuing Staff. This month’s Equity IRL puts those values to the test. If you would like to have a conversation about the issues addressed in month’s article, please reach out to me or your supervisor.
How can you help? Help Beyonce Black St. James turn this negative experience into a positive by subscribing to her Facebook and Instagram and use the #istandwithbeyonceblackstjames hash tag on your social media.
In order to be able to live at all in America I must be unafraid to live anywhere in it, and I must be able to live in the fashion and with whom I choose. – Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple
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Way Beyond the Numbers
By Rochelle Hazard, Housing Stability Manager
When I set out to write this article, I began by looking at data. I looked up the homeless rate of POC (People of Color), specifically the impact on the Black community compared to the White community. I read about the infant mortality rates of Black mothers here in Washington state compared to White mothers. I wanted to throw all of these numbers out to prove a point. To show with numbers the disproportionality of POC vs Whites experiencing homelessness, generational poverty and lack of access to lifesaving services such as health care. I wanted to drive it home with percentages and shock you with the reality that even though Seattle gives the appearance of a diverse and progressive city, it actually struggles deeply with race equity. That in fact, as progressive as we like to pretend that we are here in Seattle, we still have far to go to become truly equitable for all.
During this bit of research that I was conducting, I realized that I don’t really need to regurgitate numbers and figures. Doing this would reduce my POC brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness, living in poverty and grieving their babies to a number. By reducing them to numbers, I would strip away the humanness. All you really have to do is step outside and look. Look at any corner in any neighborhood where homeless people hang out and see how many are Black and Brown faces. When you are downtown sipping your coffee and walking, notice who’s wearing suits and who’s sitting in the doorways and occupying the alleys. Walk into any shelter, DSHS office, or foodbank and see with your own eyes that, yes, White people struggle too, but there are far more POC struggling just stay alive.
I recently read a series of essays published in the New York Times as part of The Project 1619, which set out to explore, uncover, expose and speak the truth of our history here in United States. To show and explain why “progressive” cities such as Seattle struggle so deeply with white supremacy and why it is not recognized as such. The Project walks us through a painful past and paints a painful picture of all that Black folks have endured here in, and for, this country.
While reading these essays, I came to a more intimate understanding of why I am able to make my living as a social service worker. That my job is a reflection and direct result of the White Supremacist policies that the Unites States was built on. Not that there wouldn’t be a need for social services, but there wouldn’t be a need for them on such a large scale. That if this country had not started with an economic system based in the brutality of chattel slavery, giving birth to our modern capitalist system, POCs may have had a better shot at acquiring wealth. If our founding fathers had not upheld the dehumanization of black people, then we might have a system where essential needs such as health care, mental health care, food and education would be attainable for all.
I’ve heard it said that the greatest travesty ever perpetrated upon Black people here in the U.S. was not slavery itself, but the de-humanization of Black people. I believe this to be true. If it were not, Black people, who only make up 6% of the entire population in King County, would not account for 24% of our homeless. If it were not true, then Black infant mortality rates would not be twice as high as they are for White mothers. If it were not true, then the Black unemployment in the U.S. would not be higher than it is for whites.
As a woman, a black woman, a black gay woman, I know the importance of being able to see past these numbers to the humanity of each person. As a social service worker, I center and ground myself in the fight for equality and racial equity. It is this grounding that allows me to not work with numbers but to work with the men and women who come through the doors here at Neighborhood House.
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Indigenous People’s Day
By James Lovell, Director of Development and Advancement
Indigenous People’s Day is a day to honor and celebrate the original people and cultures of our land. Indigenous history and culture have often been excluded or misrepresented, which contributes to ongoing oppression. Indigenous People’s Day ensures that important and challenging histories are not erased. My family’s story helps me remember why this is important.
My grandparents were born on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in the 1920s. Their religion was outlawed, they couldn’t be citizens, and children were taken away to attend brutal religious residential schools. They ate government rations, worked with no pay, and weren’t allowed to speak our language. They persevered and started a family together in the 1940s. They were the generation that fought for our survival.
My mom was born in Montana because of American Indian Urban Relocation. This termination policy pulled people off their reservations and moved them to far-away cities. The government hoped that Indigenous people in the cities would marry non-Indigenous people, and have children with less Indigenous blood every generation. To this day, we are required to show how much Indigenous blood we have in order to have citizenship in our tribe.
Thousands of Indigenous families in new cities had limited resources and no support networks. Discrimination, violence, low-quality health care, and depression contributed to substance abuse, mental health issues, and unemployment. Local tribes were not federally recognized and had limited resources to offer. Incarceration, homelessness, abuse, and death contributed to high numbers of children entering the foster care system. In the 1970s, my mom and other Indigenous people protested, marched, and fought for our culture, our freedom of religion, our children, and for self-determination. People from many tribes were attacked by authorities and private citizens. My mom was part of the generation that fought for our civil rights.
I was born in Seattle to an Indigenous mother and a white father. As my mother marched and had children, she took in other children. Almost fifty years later, she is still running a therapeutic Indigenous foster home. I was humbled to grow up seeing how resilient and incredible young people are in the face of abuse by people and systems. They’ve had varying life outcomes based primarily on skin color, but also by other adverse childhood experiences. Some have become community leaders, artists, and lawyers. Others didn’t make it past 15 years old. For Indigenous people, this has been happening for every generation since our land was invaded in 1492.
Today, my generation is working to prevent our history and people from being erased. We are learning languages and helping allies adopt our traditional practice of acknowledging whose land they are on. We are working for recognition that people were here long before 1492. Since 2014, the City of Seattle has recognized Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day. Recognizing and celebrating Indigenous People’s Day is one way that our generation fights for our future.
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This month, we’re providing an overview of a measure that Washington voters will decide on in the upcoming 2019 elections.
What is Referendum 88?
You may have been hearing the terms Referendum 88 and Initiative 1000.
Referendum 88 will be on ballots on November 5 for all voters in our state. The results will determine whether or not a new affirmative action law called I-1000 will go into effect.
In 1998, Washington voters chose to ban affirmative action under a law called I-200. This means the state is prohibited from using characteristics such as race and sex as a factor in selecting qualified applicants for public employment, education, and contracting. As a result, Washington has not been able to take steps to address historic disparities in opportunities for underrepresented groups.
Initiative 1000, or I-1000, was introduced to overturn I-200 and to allow affirmative action again. I-1000 defines affirmative action as using certain characteristics as contributing factors when considering a qualified person for public education, public contracting or public employment opportunities when “under-representation of disadvantaged groups is documented in a valid disparity study or proven in a court of law.” These characteristics include race, sex, color, ethnicity, and national origin. Sexual orientation, age, disability, and veteran status are characteristics that were added by I-1000.
Under I-1000, preferential treatment is still prohibited. Preferential treatment is defined as using certain characteristics as the only factor for selecting a lesser-qualified candidate over another.
What does this all mean?
Washington is one of only a few states in the U.S. that have laws banning affirmative action.
Voting yes on Referendum 88 approves I-1000 and brings affirmative action back to Washington.
Voting no on Referendum 88 blocks I-1000, restricting the state from implementing affirmative action.
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