"Racial equity is about applying justice and a little bit of common sense to a system that's been out of balance. When a system is out of balance, people of color feel the impacts most acutely, but, to be clear, an imbalanced system makes all of us pay."
~ Glenn Harris, President, Race Forward and Publisher, Colorlines
At Race Forward, we define racial equity as both an outcome and a process. As an outcome, we achieve racial equity when race no longer determines one's socioeconomic outcomes; when everyone has what they need to thrive, no matter where they live. As a process, we apply racial equity when those most impacted by structural racial inequity are meaningfully involved in the creation and implementation of the institutional policies and practices that impact their lives.
Imagine two neighborhoods.
In one neighborhood is a family of four, the Smiths. The Smiths’ neighborhood is stagnating, with abandoned homes, poor schools, and over-policing. Most of their neighbors, including themselves, are people of color.
In the adjoining neighborhood is a family of three, the Jones. The Jones’ neighborhood has plenty of fresh food markets, a robust bus system, parks, health centers and good schools. Families flock there because all of these services translate to economic opportunity and good health. Most of the families who live in this neighborhood, including the Jones, are White.
The racial composition of their neighborhoods didn’t just happen on their own. Who lives in which neighborhood and whether that neighborhood has decent housing, good schools, and well-paying jobs is determined by multiple, institutional policies and practices. Whether intentionally or not, these policies and practices have often discriminated by race, which is why we see so much difference in life outcomes based on race.
For example, in King County, Washington, there is a 10-year life expectancy difference between zip codes where residents are predominantly White and zip codes where residents are predominantly people of color.
We call this reality structural racial inequity.
The flip-side of this reality is racial equity.
When we achieve racial equity:
- People, including people of color, are owners, planners, and decision-makers in the systems that govern their lives.
- We acknowledge and account for past and current inequities, and provide all people, particularly those most impacted by racial inequities, the infrastructure needed to thrive.
- Everyone benefits from a more just, equitable system.
So, how do we get there? Read about our Four Strategies
At Race Forward, we employ four interlocking strategies to advance racial equity. The interaction of these four strategies forms the heart of our theory of change.
We apply these strategies in different regions across the country, so that all people, particularly people of color, can achieve their greatest potential and fully participate in the creation and sustenance of thriving, inclusive, interconnected, and economically self-determined communities.
STRATEGY ONE: Institutional Change
Developing and implementing institutional change strategies to operationalize structural racial equity.
Currently across the country, regardless of region, racial inequities exist across every indicator for success—including health, criminal justice, education, jobs, housing, and beyond. Our goal goes beyond closing the gaps; we must improve overall outcomes, focusing efforts on those who are faring worst. Deeply racialized systems are costly for us collectively and depress outcomes and life chances for communities of color. To advance racial equity, government and other institutions must focus not only on individual programs, but also on policy and institutional strategies that create and maintain inequities.
Race Forward catalyzes institutional change processes with advocacy organizations, philanthropic institutions, and local government. Our Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) program is a national network of local and regional government working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all citizens in the jurisdiction.
GARE uses a six-part strategic approach, geared to address all levels of institutional change. We have found that this approach is widely applicable to other institutions.
- Use a racial equity framework: Jurisdictions must use a racial equity framework that clearly articulates our vision for racial equity and the differences between individual, institutional, and structural racism—as well as implicit and explicit bias.
- Operate with urgency and accountability: While it is often believed that change is hard and takes time, we have seen repeatedly that when we prioritize change and act with urgency, change is embraced and can occur quickly. The most effective path to accountability comes by creating clear action plans with built-in institutional accountability mechanisms. Collectively, we must create greater urgency and public will to in order to achieve racial equity.
- Build organizational capacity: Jurisdictions need to be committed to the breadth and depth of institutional transformation so that impacts are sustainable. While the leadership of elected and top officials is critical, change takes place on the ground, and it is necessary to build infrastructure that creates racial equity experts and teams throughout local and regional government.
- Partner with other institutions and communities: The work of government on racial equity is necessary, but not sufficient. To achieve racial equity, government must work in partnership with communities and other institutions to achieve meaningful results.
- Implement racial equity tools: Racial inequities are not random; they have been created and sustained over time. Inequities will not disappear on their own; tools must be used to change the policies, programs, and practices that perpetuate inequities. Using GARE’s Racial Equity Tool facilitates the integration of racial equity into routine decision-making.
- Be data-driven: Measurement must take place at two levels—first, to measure the success of specific programmatic and policy changes, and second, to develop baselines, set goals, and measure progress towards goals. Use of data in this manner is necessary for accountability.
STRATEGY TWO: Policy & Research
Working with community groups, government, and national organizations to develop policies that advance racial equity.
Race Forward’s approach to policy development relies on constant dialogue between our research and the latest developments in local communities. It is an iterative process, built on data collection, analysis and consultation with experts as well as engagement with leaders of community organizations. We see communities of color as assets, innovators, and producers—not just consumers. We develop policy using the following steps, not always in a linear fashion.
- Define the Problem and Identify Structural Entry Points
- Research and Identify Existing Models and Solutions
- Apply Structural Race to Existing Policy and Potential Models
- Identify and Assess the Impacts we wish to see in our Policy Solutions
- Community Engagement
- Draft Policy Proposal
- Vetting and Amending
STRATEGY THREE: Talking About Race
Developing and sharing tools to talk about race and shift the dominant narrative.
Since 2011, we have worked with social scientists to figure out the best strategies to talk about race in order to move a broad base of people to support racially equitable policy solutions. We train grassroots leaders, community-based organizations, advocacy and philanthropic organizations, and government to talk about race effectively in order to move a policy agenda that can create shared prosperity in our neighborhoods, states, and nation. Our aim is to unite community organizing and advocacy with cutting-edge social science research to create effective communications strategies for those working to make racial equity a reality.
STRATEGY FOUR: Capacity Building
Building leadership capacity through multi-racial coalition building, convenings, leadership development, workshops and trainings.
To get to racial equity at scale, leaders across sectors must have the tools, skills, and capacity to operationalize a structural race analysis to their work. While Race Forward works to build capacity across sectors, we particularly value the people who inspire and mobilize others to make positive change in their communities—from rural and urban Black women organizing healthy food hubs, to Indigenous leaders working for renewable energy independence, to the next generation of community leaders demanding police accountability. We believe that the on-the-ground knowledge and expertise of community leaders are vital to crafting effective strategies that can move communities, and the nation, towards racial equity. To that end, we develop the capacity of leaders to create strategy, conduct research, craft policy asks, share analysis, advocate for their communities, talk effectively about race, and build powerful and sustainable campaigns and communities that are rooted in racial equity.