V. Elaine Gross founded the advocacy group Erase Racism in 2001, to expose racial discrimination and to help eliminate racial disparities in housing, community development, public education and health.
Gross, 64, says Long Island is the 10th most segregated region in the nation. She recently won a $165,000 settlement against a landlord who discouraged minorities from renting his apartments by quoting higher rents and telling them he had no vacancies. This fall the group's advocacy helped to change the human rights law in Suffolk County to ban landlords from discriminating against alternative sources of income, such as child support and public assistance.
Her plan for 2015 is to go after real estate licensing to stop the redlining of minorities into segregated pockets, which, she says, deprives them of resources like education and transportation. Erase Racism, funded in part by the Ford Foundation, also gives workshops to businesses and board members to "unravel racism."
Gross was driven to help make systemic changes to "practices that ensnare whole groups of people" when she founded Erase Racism. She has a master's degree in policy planning and nonprofit management from Boston University.
What's a good question for corporations to ask themselves to assess whether their environment is racially equitable?
Do they have real racial diversity within the corporation at various levels, including their board? And if they don't, they should think about how the recruitment and hiring decisions are being made. What about the internal ladders and what's formal and what's informal? If some people are never asked to join the group for lunch, [that's] where people get to know people and discuss openings.
What are some common code words that indicate racism?
Certainly a big one is when people start lumping people together into "those people."
Some people say they are afraid to hire minorities because if a minority individual underperforms and is fired, they may have a discrimination lawsuit on their hands. What would you tell them?
They really don't understand the basis upon which someone could have brought a discrimination lawsuit. They're ignorant of the law. I mean if they are doing what they should do in terms of appropriate supervision and documentation and all of that . . . I would call it an excuse.
What should landlords know?
We contracted with the Stony Brook Survey Research Center to do some telephone surveying in majority African-American communities. One question asked was if it was true that blacks only want to live with other blacks. Seventy-nine percent said they would like a 50/50 [diverse] community.
With the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, in which police officers fatally shot unarmed black men, what do you think would make a positive change?
In one study, there's a video game that simulates what police officers experience. . . . Subjects were instructed to shoot when an armed individual appeared on the screen and to refrain from shooting when the person on the screen was holding an innocuous object like a camera. When they refrained from shooting, those characters in the simulation tended to be white rather than African-American. It's another way of understanding how everything is so embedded.
NAME: V. Elaine Gross, president, Erase Racism in Syosset
WHAT IT DOES: Policy analysis, advocacy and legal action to eliminate barriers to racial equity with a focus on inequities in housing, economic development, public school education, and public health
EMPLOYEES: 4 full time; 1 part time
REVENUE: $650,000 to $700,000