Racial Equity in Public Policy
Step 1: Customize your Messages
The tool below walks you through each of the message components and provides tips to customize each one. We used messages for decision-makers who may be more ready for direct conversations about racial equity, but the same tips apply for decision-makers who may be less ready too.
Core Message: Policies—past and present—influence the physical, economic, cultural and social environments of communities. They often have different and unjust outcomes in [name communities of color and Indigenous communities, in both urban and rural areas*], including poorer health, lower income, higher medical costs, and limited opportunities for social, economic and financial advancement.
Name the populations in your area that have been disproportionately affected by policies and structural racism. Ideally, the community leaders in your campaign can help shape these points. If you are not of the community, develop relationships with formal and informal leaders and make sure your coalition is representative and shares leadership with those communities most impacted.
Define racial equity and/or structural racism. Depending on the decision-maker, it might be useful to define racial equity and/or structural racism, so you are all on the same page. See the glossary for definitions you can offer as starting points.
Use data. Be ready with at least one local proof point to show disproportionate impact. Census data can provide a good starting point. The message guide also includes proof points that you can pull from. Choose those that will be most relevant based on what you know of this decision-maker.
- You might use health outcomes, environmental conditions, like availability of parks and grocery stores, etc.
- You can also use the points shown here, or augment or replace them with related local data. Who has been most affected by COVID-19? Is there a local economic study that shows disparities in income/wealth? Are there specific disparities that stand out and that you can tie to policy or structural conditions?
If you don’t have data available, storytell.
- Anecdotal information with a focus on personal stories directly from members of the affected community.
- Examples of something similar working in your area or another area.
- News stories that show the degree of public attention and support for the issue.
- A visit, or a virtual visit via photos or video, to help decision-makers see the affected area and how it differs from other areas at different income and opportunity levels.
- Have community members share their own stories whenever possible.
Core Message: New policies cannot undo the damage of structural racism and ongoing discrimination, but they can advance health and prevent future harm.
Give an example. Be ready with an example policy that is advancing racial equity to demonstrate that this can be done. If you can, show how the community played an active role in shaping and supporting the policy. (Take care not to bring up a policy the person you’re talking with opposes, as this could derail the conversation.) If you are not a member of the community, bring a community leader into the conversation.
Core Message: When people make decisions about their health—or the health of their children—we should be sure that policies do not limit their options and opportunities. We need to recognize and address the ways in which policies impact communities differently, especially those most affected by structural racism.
Give an example. Tell a story or share data related to your policy about how options are currently limited. Start by saying: “Right now, our policies (or lack of policies) limit options. For example…”
Core Message: Together with the (insert specific) communities, we have an opportunity to take a step toward racial equity with this policy by prioritizing action in communities where structural racism limits options and leads to worse health outcomes and by working with the communities to specify how it should be implemented. The policy language needs to specify (customize the “ask”).
Showcase your community. Ideally, you will have worked with community members to develop the policy solutions and where and how the policies should be implemented. Have the community members deliver the “ask.” If you’re not there yet, ask for authentic community engagement to be part of the process moving ahead.
This sense of local action and the hard work communities put into developing solutions are motivating for decision-makers and offer some political cover and support.
Request specific language, including:
- Where policy should be focused first and why.
- How outcomes will be measured, assessed and reported.
- How implementation and compliance should happen, by whom, guided by community.
Need additional ideas? See Building Your Policy Campaign with a Race and Equity Centered Framework.
Core Message: We are committed to having direct conversations about racial equity—it’s as important to us as advancing the policies themselves. We have research-based messages that we're using with other decision-makers who are less ready for these conversations. How might we work together to make racial equity a prominent part of this policy conversation?
Keep the door open. Depending on how the conversation has gone, extend this offer and share the messages. Discuss how you might work together to consistently make the case for targeting policies. Exploring opportunities and barriers together can give you insight into the decision-maker’s position and also shape your strategy for engaging others.