Manuel Pastor: Uncommon Ground Centering Racial Equity for a Better America

Dr. Manuel Pastor, author of State of Resistance presented “Uncommon Common Ground: Centering Racial Equity for a Better America” during ICMA’s event, UNITE.

By Joe Supervielle | Sep 23, 2020 | ARTICLE
Dr. Manuel Pastor Uncommon Ground Centering Racial Equity for a Better America

Dr. Manuel Pastor, author of State of Resistance, is an expert on racial equity and sustainable development, as well as social, economic, and environmental justice in urban areas. He presented “Uncommon Common Ground: Centering Racial Equity for a Better America” Wednesday during ICMA’s digital event, UNITE.

Pastor opened his session by acknowledging race, racism, and racial equity are difficult subjects:

“The central message is that when we talk about race and racism, we have to be sure that we’re not just going to the lowest common denominator. That we actually have the hard conversations about why there’s such a persistent pattern of racial disparity in terms of policing, the economy, and homeownership, the very air we breathe. Uncommon common ground is the way to make real change.”


From mid-April to late-August 2020, COVID-19 cases for white people in California have gone down, while the share of cases in the Latino community have “grown dramatically.” Pastor explained Latinos are overrepresented as “essential workers” in agriculture, food stores, logistics, and healthcare.

There are similar numbers in age-adjusted COVID death rates. In Los Angeles County, African Americans have twice the death rate of whites and Latinos are three times higher than whites and this is related to lack of access to health insurance and over exposure related to structural racism.

Racial Reckoning

Racial reckoning is provoked in part by the police incidents we’ve seen, which is just the tip of the iceberg. There is also a recognition that unless we do something about it, we’ll be cementing racial disparities. Willingness to deal with these problems varies by race, geography, economics, and age.

On the topic, Pastor shared,

“Some see disorder and worry about a world slipping away. Others see the possibility things could change and a new opportunity of a new world being born.”

Changing Demographics

California has already seen the change of growing minority populations between 1980 and 2000 that America will go through between 2010 and 2050. Pastor refers to this insight as “California as America Fast Forward.”

California faced a backlash against people of color and immigrants in the 1990s, highlighted by Proposition 187, which banned social services to undocumented immigrants, cut affirmative action, and embraced over-incarceration. Pastor said, “As California changed, we saw the racial anxiety that is affecting the United States right now.” Further stating, “Much of that anxiety is remarkably ill-informed. Changing demographics is not driven by immigration, which has been flat between 2007 and 2018. Instead, it’s a change in the youth population. The vast majority of the increase, 90 percent, is U.S. born.”

Pastor said

“Diversity is coming to a theater near you.”

Including surprising places like Salt Lake City, which is expected to be see people of color become the majority by 2035. Suburbs are also increasingly becoming more diverse, as Pastor cited examples of Seattle, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.

Racial Generation Gap

The generation gap is part of what’s going on in national politics. Pastor further explained, "We’ve got the old looking at the young and seeing a new generation that’s very different and far more diverse. They are less willing to make the investments in generational connections. That’s key to you as county and regional leaders, and we see how it happens when we look at the racial generation gap. The percent of elders who are white compared to the percent of youth of color.”

He also cited Arizona as the most prevalent example of this gap, which had the largest cuts in K-12 education spending per student.

Income Inequality

Continually rising income distribution to the top has “created tremendous concern about inequality,” disproportionately affecting minorities and women. Pastor noted on this, 

“When you combine racial anxiety with income insecurity and inequality, you’ve got a recipe for tension.”

In addition to educational reform and addressing the racial generation gap, Pastor said we have to deal with the implicit, sometimes explicit bias when hiring or deciding who to promote and who to pay more.

Sustained Economic Growth

Local government leaders need to pay attention to these issues, not simply because it will benefit communities of color, but in fact it will be good for all of us. Pastor explained, "Those regions, the counties that so many of you care about, that are more equal and have less racial segregation can generate more sustained economic growth.” He cited the International Monetary Fund and Cleveland Federal Reserve research that found racial inclusion and income equality matter for growth.

Equity, Growth, and Community, written by Pastor and available as a free download, expanded on the IMF’s research. It studied 200 metropolitan regions between 1980 and 2010 and went deeper with 11 case studies to find out which regions were able to generate equity and growth at the same time, and analyze how they did it.

What Does It Mean?

Pastor told attendees there will be tremendous uncertainty and complexity about racial anxiety, demographic change, and economic inequality.

“We cannot be scared to have this conversation. To move forward we have to make sure equity is baked in, not just sprinkled on.”

Local government leaders should expect challenges, as this will not be an easy process, “Martin Luther King talked about the moral arc bending toward justice, but it requires civic leaders to bend it. To have the honest conversations, to lift issues of equity, to recognize the generational conflict. To be bold.”

He concluded, “If you feel somewhat uncomfortable after this conversation, it’s on purpose. Unless we’ve learned to feel uncomfortable and embrace the change that’s taking place, we’re not going to be able to do our role as leaders to help other people get through it.”

Want More?

Read ICMA's interview with Trailblazer speaker, Dr. Pastor.

Registration for UNITE: A Digital event is still open! All sessions will be available on-demand through December 31, 2020. Register today!


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