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Excerpted From: Silvia M. Radulescu, Segregation, Racial Health Disparities, and Inadequate Food Access in Brooklyn, 29 Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy 251 (Winter, 2022) (193 Footnotes) (Full Document)


SilviaRadulescuIn Brooklyn, New York, Brooklyn Heights's pristinely preserved, multi-million-dollar brownstones cloaked with greenery present a striking contrast to Brownsville's vacant lots, boarded-up properties, and discarded cardboard and plastic remnants lining the streets. These marked differences amount to more than imbalances in aesthetics or residents' comfort. They reflect structural inequalities in a web of interrelated social and economic conditions touching every aspect of residents' lives--from the likelihood of surviving infancy to educational and economic opportunities to life expectancy. Throughout Brooklyn, these cradle-to-grave structural inequalities are directly tied to race; consequently, poor health, poverty, and lower life expectancy are concentrated in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

This Note focuses on just one of the many structural inequalities: inadequate access to healthy foods in predominantly Black and Hispanic Brooklyn neighborhoods. As this Note shows, there are racial disparities in food access in Brooklyn; white residents have better access to healthy food than Black and Hispanic residents. This Note argues that the food access discrepancies and related racial health disparities result from twentieth-century segregation policies and practices--such as redlining, blockbusting, and predatory lending. Segregation contributed to the problem and facilitated differential investment and treatment by private and public actors in the food industry between poor Black and Hispanic neighborhoods and affluent, whiter spaces.

Part I presents a historical overview of the laws and policies that created segregation in Brooklyn. Part II distills Brooklyn's present-day racial health disparities and food access inequalities. Part III argues that inadequate access to healthy food in poor Black and Hispanic Brooklyn neighborhoods results from twentieth-century, government-sanctioned segregation policies and practices. Finally, Part IV analyzes proposed policies and argues that any policies aimed at improving racial health disparities should be paired with initiatives that also address other segregation-rooted racial inequalities--such as generational wealth, income, and educational opportunities--to increase the likelihood of success.

[. . .]

The current racial health discrepancies in Brooklyn, New York, can be traced back to twentieth-century segregation policies and practices, such as redlining, blockbusting, and predatory lending. Regardless of the depth of their racist beliefs and proclivities, white Americans would not have been able to create such stark racial segregation had the government not implemented scores of racially discriminatory policies and subsidized white suburban flight. “Private discrimination also played a role, but it would have been considerably less effective had it not been embraced and reinforced by government.” At federal, state, and local levels, the government has a pressing obligation to intervene and bring this vicious and unforgiving cycle of disinvestment and predation on Black and Hispanic Brooklynites to an end. Thousands of lives are at stake yearly. Because of how intertwined the effects of segregation are, policies aimed at improving racial health disparities should be paired with initiatives that also address other segregation-rooted racial discrepancies, to increase the likelihood of success.

Silvia M. Radulescu, J.D. Candidate, Georgetown University Law Center, 2022; B.A. Government, Hamilton College, 2017.

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