What is Racial Equity?
Understanding Key Concepts Related to Race

"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

Learn about racial equity, other race-related terms and concepts, and how they relate and differ to one another with the following definitions, comparisons, and examples provided in this primer. For a deeper understanding and to learn how to apply this knowledge, attend one of our trainings.

Key Terms and Concepts:

What is the difference between Racial Equity and Racial Justice?

Racial Justice is a vision and transformation of society to eliminate racial hierarchies and advance collective liberation, where Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, in particular, have the dignity, resources, power, and self-determination to fully thrive.

Racial equity is a process of eliminating racial disparities and improving outcomes for everyone. It is the intentional and continual practice of changing policies, practices, systems, and structures by prioritizing measurable change in the lives of people of color.

Distinction between Racial Equity and Racial Justice: Racial equity is the process for moving towards the vision of racial justice. Racial equity seeks measurable milestones and outcomes that can be achieved on the road to racial justice. Racial equity is necessary, but not sufficient, for racial justice.

The chart below provides definitions and distinctions between other key terms and concepts related to Race.

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity

A variety of racial identities or characteristics (e.g. African Americans, Native Americans, Latinx). Diversity is a quantitative measure of representation.

Inclusion

The measure of the quality of representation, such as full access, authentic representation, empowered participation, true belonging and power-sharing. Inclusion is a qualitative measure of representation and participation.

Distinction between Diversity and Inclusion

You can have diversity without inclusion (e.g. tokenism, assimilation). You can’t have inclusion without diversity. Focusing on inclusion gets you further than just focusing on diversity.

Equity and Equality

Equity

Ensures that outcomes in the conditions of well-being are improved for marginalized groups, lifting outcomes for all. Equity is a measure of justice.

Equality

Is sameness; everyone gets the same thing. Equality focuses on everyone getting the same opportunity, but often ignores the realities of historical exclusion and power differentials among whites and other racialized groups.

Distinction Between Equity and Equality

Equality uses the same strategies for everyone, but because people are situated differently, they are not likely to get to the same outcomes. Equity uses differentiated and targeted strategies to address different needs and to get to fair outcomes. Equality-focused strategies don’t work for, or benefit, everyone – e.g. teaching everyone the same way does not work for different kinds of learners—each must be taught the appropriate way for them. Using targeted or differentiated strategies to achieve universal goals is referred to as “targeted universalism.”

Note: You can have diversity (variety), but not equity (fairness). For example, you may have a diverse classroom or school, but if mostly white students are in the advanced classes, while kids of color are mostly placed into remedial classes and face disproportionate suspensions, you don’t have equity. Focusing on diversity, without addressing equity, can be superficial and problematic. Centering equity can benefit everyone.

Racial Bias

Explicit Racial Bias / Conscious Bias

Conscious attitudes and beliefs about a person or group; also known as overt and intentional racial bias.

Implicit Racial Bias / Unconscious Bias

Attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, decisions and actions in an unconscious manner.

Individual Racial Bias

Bias by individuals. But if the individual is acting in an institutional capacity (e.g. a teacher or a police officer) their individual bias is also a manifestation of institutional bias.

Institutional Racial Bias

Bias by institutions—such as patterns, practices, policies, or cultural norms that advantage or disadvantage people of color.

Debiasing Strategies

Interventions to eliminate, mitigate or prevent bias are often focused on the individual level, rather than at the institutional level, where interventions are most needed. Debiasing strategies focused on individual change (e.g. “just be aware of your bias),” have dubious impacts and success. Debiasing strategies focused at the institutional levels can help prevent and remove opportunities for bias by instituting practices, policies, and protocols that require institutional actors to address institutional racism.

What are the Different Levels of Racism?

The “Different Levels of Racism” Framework is an analytical tool for unpacking different types of racism that are often interacting and operating simultaneously. It is helpful to distinguish between individual and systemic racism in order to focus needed and distinct attention, analysis, and strategies on institutional and structural racism.  It points toward needed systemic change-focused strategies which address root causes and can result in more transformative and lasting change. We need to invest more in institutional and structural change strategies to get to racial justice. Strategies to address individual racism are not sufficient for dismantling structural racism.

  • Individual racism includes internalized and interpersonal racism. 

    • Blue outline of person with smaller version inside.

      Internalized racism lies within individuals. These are private beliefs and biases about race that reside inside our own minds and bodies. For White people, this can be internalized privilege, entitlement, and superiority; for people of color, this can be internalized oppression. Examples: prejudice, xenophobia, conscious and unconscious bias about race, influenced by the white supremacy.

       

    • Yellow outlines of two people.

      Interpersonal Racism occurs between individuals. Bias, bigotry, and discrimination based on race. Once we bring our private beliefs about race into our interactions with others, we are now in the interpersonal realm.  Examples: public expressions of prejudice and hate, microaggressions, bias and bigotry between individuals.

       

  • Systemic Racism includes institutional and structural racism.

    • Tall, orange building with many windows.

      Institutional racism occurs within institutions. It involves unjust policies, practices, procedures, and outcomes that work better for White people than people of color, whether intentional or not. Example: A school district that concentrates students of color in the most overcrowded, under-funded schools with the least experienced teachers.

       

    • Three buildings in a row: a tall building with many windows, a medium-sized building with a police badge at the top, a prison.

      Structural racism is racial inequities across institutions, policies, social structures, history, and culture. Structural racism highlights how racism operates as a system of power with multiple interconnected, reinforcing, and self-perpetuating components which result in racial inequities across all indicators for success. Structural racism is the racial inequity that is deeply rooted and embedded in our history and culture and our economic, political, and legal systems. Examples: The “racial wealth gap,” where Whites have many times the wealth of people of color, resulting from the history and current reality of institutional racism in multiple systems.

       

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 another family of four, 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 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 did not 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.

A series of interconnected gears with depictions of housing, environment, criminalization, education, healthcare, immigration policy, media, and finance.

 

Elements of Racially Equitable Organizational Change

The movement of an organization from one state to another involves many facets such as shifting power, changing policies and practices, and transforming values and culture. Race Forward and its core program, the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), uses a model of organizational change that includes four key components:

  • Illustration of plant sprouting from seed.

    Visioning involves building shared values that move us towards a vision for racial justice.

     

  • Illustration of two people talking with shared speech bubble.

    Normalizing involves building shared understanding through ongoing conversations about the history of race, using common definitions and key concepts, such as racial equity and inequity; racial justice; structural, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized racism; and implicit and explicit bias, that help to center racial equity and people of color through an intersectional and inclusive framework.

     

  • Illustration of two gears with arrows from one gear to the other in a cycle.

    Operationalizing involves building shared relationships within and across the breadth (all functions) and depth (up and down hierarchy) of organizations and sectors to shift power to advance transformative and equitable systems’ change. Together, this changes the norms, practices, culture, and habits of thoughts within an organization and the outcomes produced by the organization.

     

  • Illustration of four people with dashed lines connecting them in a circle and crossing the circle.

    Organizing to achieve racial equity, including across the breadth (all functions) and depth (up and down hierarchy) of an organization. Together this changes the norms, practices, culture, and habits of thoughts within an organization and the outcomes produced by the organization. Organizing involves building shared relationships within and across organizations and sectors to shift power to advance transformative and equitable systems’ change.