Do Black peoples lives matter in Sonoma County?

Posted on March 13, 2022 by Sonoma Valley Sun

The recently released 2021 Portrait of Sonoma Report paints a bleak picture of disparate life expectancy gaps.  Black people’s life spans are reduced by living here. To understand the context of this report, it must be noted that no data on the Black/African American community was collected for the previous 2014 report. The reason previously given by county officials was that Black/African Americans in Sonoma County are “statistically insignificant.” While Black people may make up a lower demographic of the total population than some of our Bay Area neighboring counties at 2.1% (US Census Bureau), there are over 10,000 folks spread throughout the county. Much work went into ensuring that data was collected on this community for this report.  This is a call for swift action for a community in dire need of support.

The systems that specifically deny advancement in the areas of health, economics, education, employment, housing, generational wealth and life expectancy must be addressed.  We know that anti-Blackness and discrimination have been enshrined in our country’s policies by design since its founding. We know that discriminatory vehicles such as redlining, racialized real estate steering and denial of loans, mortgages and affordable housing were built into the function of our federal, state and local governments with the passing of the New Deal at the end of the Great Depression. We know that Black homeownership is lower now than before the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. We know that Sonoma County, with its founding history of pro-Confederacy and an exploitative, agricultural plantation system, has displayed this same story of bias and racism against Black people. The result of this is that these interlocking systems of racism are reducing lives, well below the state and federal human development index. In short, racism is a public health crisis in Sonoma County, and should be declared as such.

Sonoma County’s Black residents have a lifespan 10 years shorter than any other racial and ethnic group in the county and have lower educational attainment rates than the county average. The Sonoma County HDI score for Blacks has decreased from 4.68 to 3.99, well below the California HDI score of 5.85 and the US HDI score of 5.33.  Black residents of Sonoma County live over three years fewer, on average, than Black Californians. Nearly 15 separate the life expectancies of Black (71.0 years) and Latino (85.5 years) residents.  Black renters face the highest housing burden in the county at 68%.  Two in three Asian and white households in Sonoma County own their own homes, double the rate of Black households (34%). Black and Native American people are overrepresented among Sonoma County residents who are unhoused.  Black residents are about 2% of Sonoma’s population while Native Americans make up under 1%, yet these groups constitute 6% and 9% of Sonoma’s homeless population, respectively.  Black children and young adults are enrolled in school at a rate 6 percentage points lower than the Black statewide average. Black residents have the lowest rate of school enrollment at 69.3%. Among Black residents, drug overdose deaths were five times higher in 2020 than the average in 2017–2019.

Many have struggled for justice and fought for visibility on these issues, but it took Black officials who no longer work for the county to bring some of this data forward for the first time in its history. Black lives have mattered so little to Sonoma County that no one bothered to look.  Former Health Department Services Director Barbie Robinson had already identified through the 2020 California Policy Lab Report that Black people are three times as likely to be high utilizers of multiple systems, and that we are disproportionately represented within the unsheltered population.  Former Economic Development Board Director Sheba Person-Whitley, also the author of the County’s Racial Equity Pillar in the Strategic Plan, identified that Black people occupy just 0.8% of home owner occupied housing units compared to 88% white. Despite all of the data, the Board recently chose to allocate the least amount of funding to the Racial Equity and Justice Pillar in its five year Strategic Plan. Who will take accountability for these conditions and allocate funding and programs to address the fact that Black people’s lives are in danger here?

Sonoma County is upholding conditions which reduce the life expectancy for Black people. Other counties in the state are paying attention to the dire need for racial equity and justice and implementing programs that strive to heal the generational divides, investing in Black futures. San Francisco’s Dream Keeper Initiative and San Diego’s Black Home Buyers Grant Program are tangible examples of commitments to equity.  Despite over a year of lobbying and engagement from Black leadership and partnership with the Bay Area Black Health and Housing Task Force, Sonoma County has yet to take action on the dismal results of the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma. Black people are dying faster than anyone else in Sonoma County. That isn’t equity. It’s an injustice. We are being failed by this county.  We call on the county and cities to allocate the necessary funding to address these disparities and work with existing organizations like the NAACP and Sonoma County Black Forum to bring equity based programs to the community.

NAACP Santa Rosa-Sonoma County Branch
Sonoma County Black Forum
Blacks United
North Bay Black Chamber
Petaluma Blacks for Community Development

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA