How to build a just Long Island?

By Coralie Saint-Louis, nextLI outreach and engagement manager

Over the course of 10 days, Long Islanders from various backgrounds, ages, races and creeds showed up in hundreds to attend ERASE Racism’s cross-island conversation on how to build a just Long Island. The five forums kicked off on the campus of Stony Brook University with stops in Riverhead, Hempstead, Melville and Hauppauge. The speaker series featured a panel of academics, who talked about the scientifics of racism, Long Island’s history of segregation, racism in culture and the media, implicit bias and how all of this translates into some of the inequalities that exist in the region today. The forums were an opportunity to have an open conversation about a stigma that perpetuates on Long Island.

Did you attend one of the forums? What was your experience there? Head over to our Facebook page and comment.

Scientific racism

Hofstra associate professor Jonathan Lightfoot started by defining scientific racism as “the pseudoscientific belief that empirical evidence exists to support or justify racism, racial inferiority, or racial superiority.” David Micklos, the excecutive director of the Dolan DNA Learning Center, talked about eugenics, “the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.” In 1910, Charles Benedict Davenport and Harry H. Laughlin founded the eugenics records office in Cold Spring Harbor right here on Long Island. The research institute gathered biological and social information about the American population from 1910 to 1939. While some scientists attempted to use science to separate people by race, human biology shows us that we are not that different from one another. We may not all share the same skin color, our hair texture may be different, the color of our eyes may vary, but at the end of the day, we’re all built the same.

History of racism on Long Island

The science of eugenics later led to a history of inequalities that impacted our immigration policies and help shape the face of our nation. The Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson–Reed Act) imposed racial quotas to limit southern and eastern European migration to the United States, while completing excluding immigrants from Asia. The people behind these quotas wanted to block entry by “undesirable” immigrants and justified these restrictions through scientific racism. Here on Long Island, the fight for racial equity has gone on for decades. A 2017 ERASE Racism study found that more black and Hispanic students attend segregated schools now than did 12 years ago, and there are more than twice as many intensely segregated school districts.

Culture and the media

Implicit bias

What are people saying

Not in my backyard is a sayinf that is all too familiar to Long Islanders. A movement that opposes any sign of change in the region. It is the epitome of what drives locals to band together and join forces against what they don’t want on Long Island. NIMBY has often come to define who we are and where the region is going.

But what if more people on Long Island were saying yes in my backyard, yes to multi-family homes, yes to more diverse schools, yes to new development and yes to revitalizing a vibrant downtown. We saw a glimpse of that at ERASE Racism five cross-island forums on how to build a just Long Island. The forums in themselves wanted to address racism at its very core. People showed up in the hundreds to take part in a conversation that we often are too uncomfortable to have.

One man said he wanted to be less stupid about race. He was there to educate himself and take the first step towards making Long Island a just place for all its residents. That’s what this forum did, educate Long Islanders about race and racism. Maybe it’s time we find the nearest mirror, take a good look at ourselves and ask: Why not in my backyard? The world is changing, Long Island is changing. We can either use our energy into hating each other or we can use that energy to work together to build a better and just Long Island for future generations.

We asked Long Islanders to tell us what a more inclusive Long Island would look like and how the region would benefit. Frank Pomata, a long-time resident tells us about racism on Long Island through his lens in this riveting essay.