Deena Hayes-Greene

Deena Hayes-Greene

Deena Hayes-Greene, representing the Racial Equity Institute (REI), talked to an audience made up mostly of the local arts and culture community Oct. 15 at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra about how systemic racism impacts every facet of life in America, from education to health outcomes.

Hayes-Greene, who also serves on a school board in North Carolina, began with an analogy that REI likes to use.

If there are a couple dead fish floating in a lake, it’s fair to assume those fish were diseased or injured. But if there a lot of dead fish floating on the surface, the focus should shift from the individual fish to the lake.

What’s wrong with that lake?

“We’re educated and trained to see fish,” Hayes-Greene said, instead of systems and institutions. “If that’s all we do, we’ll do it forever.”

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) invited Hayes-Greene to speak because the organization wants to help bring these topics to the arts and culture community in Indianapolis.

“We don’t claim to be leaders,” said James Johnson, CEO of the ISO, “but if we can facilitate more conversations, if we can be at the forefront of leading more discussions, that would be a positive for the ISO.”

Many people in attendance had their notebooks out, jotting down some of the statistics Hayes-Greene rattled off throughout her presentation, which featured graphs, charts and academic studies.

Much of what Hayes-Greene said rested on the premise that although it’s irresponsible to try to separate race and class, race does often act as an insulator for white people.

This is true in infant mortality, for example. Hayes-Greene used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to show that it’s true for white and Black women that higher education levels for the mother increases the likelihood that their baby won’t die within the first year. However, Black women who have an advanced degree have about the same infant mortality rate as white women without a high school diploma.

Another example: The likelihood of being incarcerated later in life decreases for Black and white children as their family wealth increases, but wealthy Black children are more likely to go to prison than poor white children.

“You can’t income your way out of inequities,” she said.

Hayes-Greene was careful to point out that it’s not like white people are doing great when compared to other similar countries. She presented data that showed even when removing Blacks, whites are well behind in education, economics and even life expectancy.

“White people aren’t doing great,” Hayes-Greene said. “They’re just doing better than Black people.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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