Guides

Racial Equity in Public Policy

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Your Role

Racial equity requires commitment and action from us all

In the words of Opportunity Agenda, as social justice advocates, we should be accustomed to centering the voices of those who are most affected by any issue. This does not mean expecting only people of color and Indigenous peoples to speak out about racism. It also does not mean asking members of each group to relive their particular oppression by describing it or giving examples of it for the benefit of the larger movement. There is room for many voices and roles for different people with different audiences to do the work of changing the narrative about race in this country.[1]

For people experiencing racism and oppression every day, these conversations may carry trauma, frustration and exhaustion. For white people with the privilege to see or not see racism, the journey may be newer and expose vulnerabilities; direct conversations may elicit responses of passive and overt racism in unexpected and shocking ways. Often this work gets harder, not easier, the more we see and call out racism and demand change. 

Together with your coalition, determine who is the best messenger for your different priority audiences. Here are some questions to help think this through this: 

  • What is your privilege and what is your power—as both an individual and an organization? Thinking about this can help you determine how and where you fit into advancing a health equity stance and messaging. 
  • How do your individual identity, values, and experiences shape your understanding of the issue and the world? Are you the right person to talk about racial equity with a particular audience? Are you relatable and knowledgeable given your upbringing and experiences?
  • What is the balance of power between you and your audience?

“My white colleagues should be empowered when they are the messenger. They need to feel they have the information and can be comfortable in how they are sharing and advocating for people and experiences they have not lived. There are times when a white individual, if they can acknowledge their white privilege, can relate to and convince, in a different way, the legislators who are caucasian.” 

— Voices for Healthy Kids grantee, in one of the discussion circles that informed this guide 

This work requires a deep look within, a commitment to change, a willingness to fail, and the readiness to challenge your own (and be challenged by others’) biases and relationship to systems of oppression and structural racism. It will also require practice—out loud. If this is a new conversation for you with decision-makers, your own coalition members or within your organization, it is time to get comfortable being uncomfortable—including being prepared to call out implicit or explicit bias and racism when you hear it or see it. Or to be called out on your own. This is particularly true for our white colleagues. Where are you on the racial equity spectrum? Where is your organization on the racial equity spectrum? Where are you now and where do you want to be? 

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