Tackling Racial Inequality

Five steps to help build a strategy for your community
April 3, 2017 AT 11:00 AM
David Kidd
By Lisa Wong  |  Senior Fellow, Governing Institute
Lisa Wong is a senior fellow with the Governing Institute and former mayor of Fitchburg, Mass.

A majority of Americans say more changes are needed to achieve racial equity, according to a 2016 Pew Research survey. Last year, Harvard University received $2 million from a donor to study race, inequality and poverty in Boston. This will add to a number of studies that have already been done in the Boston area regarding racial and economic disparities.

The issue is an important one, but how do cities and towns go about understanding racial inequality and ensuring their policies and actions reflect goals to achieve equity? Here are five actions to consider when developing a strategy for your community.

1. Root out bias.

The problem is systemic. There are no quick fixes in government these days, and especially not in the area of racial inequality. Inequities exist in housing, the workplace, schools and even at the grocery store. Understand that there could be pre-existing, deep-rooted biases and habits that are not easy to change. Holyoke, Mass., gained national attention when the city council voted for an indefinite ban on public art in the weeks following a major Puerto Rican art installation. The vote alienated many residents who already felt marginalized.

2. Understand that good data matters.

The problem and the perception of the problem can vary. Even though 61 percent of Americans believe more change is needed for racial equality, when the numbers are broken down by race, a big gap exists. Eighty-eight percent of blacks and 70 percent of Hispanics believe more changes are needed, while only 53 percent of whites feel the same. Good data will help bring these issues to light, and also provide insight into any challenges that might exist in formulating goals and policies.

3. Find partners.

Partners are often critical in providing resources. They can help fund initiatives, forge strong liaisons with community members, carry the message and find solutions. Due to valuable partnerships, Boston is able to create programs directly related to research findings, such as building more affordable housing to keep long-time residents in the city and help minorities build wealth.

4. Start early.

The black community in Washington, D.C., is the only racial or ethnic group that saw an increase in poverty rate in the past decade. This racial disparity is directly correlated with the disparity in educational attainment. There is data showing that early learning programs create positive results, from boosting earnings for pre-K graduates to reducing costs for the criminal justice system. Therefore, advocates in DC are calling for the expansion of early childhood education subsidies.

5. Make voices matter.

The election turnout for low-income and minority communities is already dismal. Addressing racial disparities at the ballot box is a huge start to ensuing voices are heard and issues are addressed. Increasing the number of diverse candidates can help change conversations and policies. Communities should also promote leadership and dialogue in areas that are not exclusively about race. For example, the Brown Boi Project in Oakland, Calif., works on gender justice issues in communities of color.