Beware of the Racial Equity Bandwagon

February 9, 2017
By Yanique Redwood

Issues of race and racism dominated the media and political landscape over the past two years. During that time, I was heartened that racism was again on the table and that so many in the social sector were talking about it. I was proud to be among 11 funders contributing to the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers’ Putting Racism on the Table series. As we go deeper into our work, I want to send this note of caution to the sector: This work is not for the faint of heart. It requires going against the grain and a commitment to the long haul. We must expect that every victory will send racism scurrying for a new way to carry out its original intent—to privilege whites at the expense of people of color. Therefore, this work requires a special kind of clarity and vigilance both personally and professionally. If you are a foundation or nonprofit considering racial equity work, here are five key elements that we believe are necessary to do this work well. If there are others that you have found to be central, I would appreciate hearing from you.

We are grounding our work in history so that we better understand how social policies got us to where we are.

Policies actually work to do what they are intended to do! Therefore, we are starting with a comprehensive understanding of historical policies and practices in DC that limited people of color from full participation in society. Another example of such an examination by the Economic Policy Institute on the Making of Ferguson is instructive. A firm understanding of what has happened historically will help us to design equitable policies for the future.

We are disaggregating data by race and place to identify racial/ethnic groups and places throughout our region where an intervention is most likely to create the biggest impact.

Data on the DC region is strikingly positive. For example, according to the US Census Bureau, the DC region has the highest median household income in the nation. But, when you examine data by race and ward as was done in an analysis that we commissioned in partnership with the Meyer Foundation, you see a different story. In A Vision for a More Equitable DC, the Urban Institute reports that for full-time workers in DC, 70 percent of blacks and Hispanics earn less than the city’s living wage, compared with 44 percent of whites. East of the Anacostia River, four out of five black residents working full-time earned less than the living wage. This region is not prosperous for everyone.

We are using a racial equity impact assessment tool to help us consider solutions that will match the scale of challenges born out of decades of systemic racism.

For the first time in our history, the Consumer Health Foundation has released a request for proposals that requires grant seekers to conduct a racial equity impact assessment. Because it is so easy to shift to income- or gender-based analyses instead of racial-analyses, we are using this tool to focus on the impact of racism on communities of color. Yes, people of color live at the intersection of many identities. However, because race is our canker that refuses to heal as I discussed in my blog in November 2016, we are centering our analysis here. Any work on racial equity must do the same.

We are engaging community members so that people with lived experience lead the development of solutions.

We are providing support for community conversations in the wards where the data indicate that the greatest inequities exist. This past weekend, I attended a community conversation hosted in DC’s Ward 8. There is no substitute for hearing directly from people with lived experience. People who struggle to overcome despite decades of poor social policies have an analysis that is rarely considered. As well-meaning as privileged people might be, our solutions will be based on assumptions and realities that reflect our social station. Our solutions are likely to be incremental rather than transformational.

We are working with our elected officials and agency leaders to educate them about solutions that they can formulate into policies, programs and systems changes to advance racial equity.

Finally, the policies that govern our society must be the target of our efforts. These far-reaching policies that determine hourly wages, who gets insurance coverage, how schools are funded and whether someone is evicted or arrested will do more than any initiative or effort that depends on well-meaning people to keep it alive.

If there are other key elements of a racial equity approach that I have missed, please leave a reply below or email me directly at

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