Shasta County is a largely conservative, rural community where about 80 percent of the population is nonHispanic white. A closer look, however, reveals a truth that has largely been buried in history- racial atrocities in the late 1800s whitewashed what was once a much more ethnically diverse population. Many massacres of Native Americans almost wiped out the Wintu, Yana, and Pit River nations. The Anti-Chinese League drove 500 Chinese miners out of the Shasta area. African Americans were displaced from a Redding neighborhood to make room for a road that was never built. The white population crept up, while non-white populations dropped. The 1960 census reported that Shasta County was nearly 98 percent white.
In recent years, advocates have organized and changes have happened. Shasta County Citizens Against Racism started in the 1980s in response to racist crimes. A new wave of Asian immigrants was welcomed into the community during the 1980s. During the 1990s, the City of Redding and the County put up signs around the community that there was “No Room for Racism. While the community has become more inclusive and diverse again, racial inequities manifest themselves in Shasta County in very real ways. African American residents die sooner than white people, they’re significantly less likely to graduate from high school, and their annual household income is $10,000 below the county average. Hispanic children are twice as likely to live in poverty. Native Americans have a higher-than-average rate of cancer and diabetes. Fewer people of color have access to medical care, including prenatal care, than white people do. These are not the results one would expect in a fair and just society, and biased institutions can contribute to these disparities.
We have committed to build racial equity because it’s the right thing to do. We need this lens to look at our own implicit and explicit bias, so we can live up to our foundational belief that all people are created equal. Addressing racial inequities helps us serve the public better, and people should not be afraid to seek our services. Inequity is expensive, both in dollars and cents and in years of potential life lost. Improving equity carries additional social consequences, including helping to build trust in government. We need to think about the biases we have may affect people who are different than we are, and how the chronic stress of racism can affect the well-being of diverse populations. We need to be open to making changes in employee recruitment, including being aware of how the requirements may affect who can apply for jobs. Shasta County needs to be a safe place for people of color to come back home after college and work here.
It is critical to be honest with ourselves to objectively assess our systems and how we execute our duties, and to have uncomfortable conversations about why bias exists. We must also open an ongoing community conversation about our history and inequity, much like we have done with adverse childhood experiences- both of which create toxic stress. Fortunately, we bring a number of skills, talents and resources to the table. Shasta County is home to numerous multicultural organizations, tribes, churches and coalitions. We employ county staff who have deep relationships with these populations, which provides accessibility to facilitate necessary changes.
Our multi-department Shasta County cohort involves straight shooters who are willing to have difficult conversations, and the rest of our GARE cohort from other counties will add to this wisdom. Two of our cohort members work for departments led by elected officials – the district attorney and the school superintendent – and the county schools office is already working on racial equity as it relates to chronic school absenteeism. The Health and Human Services Agency has a health equity unit and a cultural competency committee, and the county CEO supports this work. And very importantly, we believe we can implement change. We look forward to doing this critically important work to create a racially equitable Shasta County.