Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Q&A on Cities and Race Equity

We recently had a chance to ask some questions of Julie Nelson, one of the facilitators for the League's 2017 Leadership Conference for Experienced Officials. Happening Jan. 27-28 in Bloomington, the conference will focus on how city leaders can promote race equity in their communities.

Julie is senior vice president at the Center for Social Inclusion.

What is the Center for Social Inclusion and the Government Alliance on Race and Equity?
The Center for Social Inclusion (CSI) is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to catalyze communities, government, and other institutions to dismantle structural racial inequity and create equitable outcomes for all. The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) is a joint project of CSI and the Haas Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society. GARE is a national network of government working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all. Currently, there are 21 member jurisdictions, five cohorts of jurisdictions, and over 100 jurisdictions where we have done work.

Explain the concept of racial equity. What is the goal? 
We define racial equity as both an outcome and a process. As an outcome, we achieve racial equity when 1) race no longer is a determinant of socioeconomic life outcomes, and 2) in addressing racial inequity directly, we improve outcomes for everyone—including white people. As a process, racial equity means that people who are most impacted by structural racial inequity are determining the policy and practice changes that will impact their lives.

Many people may think issues of racial inequity are mostly about economics and education. Your focus is on the role of cities, counties, and other local governments. How have these governments contributed to racial inequity in the past, and what can they do to now promote more equity in their communities today?
Government policy—both past and present, from local to national—has created structural racial inequity. For example, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) explicitly refused to back loans to black people or even other people who lived near black people. FHA manuals also explicitly advised homeowners and brokers alike to avoid letting people of color into the neighborhood. Policies like the Federal Highway Act in the 1950's created highways that cut right through neighborhoods of color. Fast forward to present day: our transportation investments consistently leave low-income communities and communities of color underserviced. Even decisions around wages, healthcare, and education are made at the expense of communities of color.

Julie Nelson
What is a very specific example of a city service that might have inequitable impacts on communities of color—and how it can be changed?
Let’s consider transportation investments. More often than not, roads and highways are prioritized over public transit. We know that people of color are more likely to use public transit and have public transit jobs. We also know that we all benefit from more public transit—cleaner air, less traffic, and so on. Yet, across the country, we see public transit budgets shrinking.

Why isn't just "treating everyone the same" sufficient?
Treating everyone the same assumes that everyone is starting from the same place socially, politically, and economically. We know from both history and the present-day reality of racially discriminatory policies and practices—whether intentional or not—that we are just not starting from the same place. If we focus investments on those most impacted by discrimination, there’s a net improvement for all people.

What role can local elected officials play in advancing racial equity?
Local elected officials can be champions for racial equity by ensuring that all departments 1) integrate racial equity strategies into their daily work and planning, and 2) meaningfully engage with the communities most impacted by structural racial inequity through the policy and practice changes that will impact their lives.

What are some of the key takeaways those who attend your LMC workshop in January will learn?
There are a number of things people will learn from our work: understanding how structural racial inequity has shaped our country, communicating about race in ways that help us undo this structural racial inequity. understanding how to implement a multi-pronged strategy to begin to undo structural racial inequity—and so much more.

Both Julie and the LMC staff hope to see you in January! Learn more about this conference and register here.

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