A Presidential Agenda Requires a Racial Equity Lens

Posted by A. Adar Ayira on October 28, 2016

This post is part of a Shelterforce series called Letters to the Next President.

Dear Hillary:

I am a person from two groups—the independent, undecided voter, as well as an African American, a voting bloc that provided a major percentage of your votes and will play a significant role in your (potential) ascension to the highest office in the land.

I wish you the best, and hope that in the coming years any “buyer's remorse” that I may feel if I vote for you will easily fit into a small clutch as opposed to a wheeled suitcase. To help you with that, let me share my hopes and recommendations for your time at the helm:

1. Develop, Review, and Evaluate Policy Using a Racial Equity Lens.  Hillary, our country’s racialized disproportionalities are long-standing, and broadening. We cling to the concept that universalist policies are created to benefit all, but those policies operate within a country where historical institutional and structural racism exists. Policies such as the G.I. Bill or The War on Drugs—otherwise known as “The War on Black People”—created an industry of private prisons and have “enslaved” more Black people than during the period in which enslavement of Black people was legal (read Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. If you've read it already, please read it again).

2. Invest in Knowing the Numbers. Developing equity lens policies is one thing; monitoring and keeping track of the metrics by which to evaluate their implementation is another. We both know that many in America do not support policies, remedies, or even the collection of data for populations that remind them of America’s historical and continuing racializations and inequities. We know that many in our country have a high tolerance for these types of inequities when they themselves are not burdened by them. (Witness all those who were willing to overlook the Republican presidential nominee’s comments and actions regarding African Americans, Mexicans, and the disabled, among others, but who were front and center in their objections to his comments and actions regarding white women. It showed, more than anyone affirming equity can say, where those of us who are not white stand. And when a presidential nominee running on what looks like an “alt-white” platform can garner such national support, it is clear that we need a president who will champion the collection of data on, and implementation of, policies and remedies that counteract, if not eliminate, the institutional and structural race-based barriers we face.

3. Remember How Institutional and Structural Racism Works—And Work Against It. I am proud of your using those phrases, and hope you really know what they mean. In using them, it appears as if you’ve come a long way from “super-predator.” However, so many in our communities need to know that your commitment to understanding the realities of being Black and Brown and First Peoples and Asian-American is not situational or transactional. We need to know that you are not going to dump us once you are at the helm. We need to know that you will not slowly move right of center when you’ve climbed up our backs to claim your prize. These terms—“institutional racism” and “structural racism”—should be the watchwords that guide your administration’s decisions. Not because people want “free stuff” or “more stuff” or “different stuff,” but because if you believe in fairness and justice—and have a working sense of history—you will understand that you will not be able to effectively govern without the base(s) that got you there. Nor will you be able to say that you have a moral center or care about the economic health of the country if you are willing to leave us behind by ignoring the damage that institutional and structural racism does when embedded in policy decisions.

4. Think Outside of the Silos. Policies have to connect. We must recognize societal interconnections—and that we cannot have housing policy without thinking about housing discrimination without thinking about affordable housing without thinking about workforce training without thinking about affordable childcare without thinking about families who are fatherless because of minor drug offenses without thinking about over-policing in communities of color without thinking about how white people use drugs in comparable percentages as Black people without thinking about how the incarcerated are mostly Black and Brown without thinking about disinvestment in urban communities without thinking about investments in downtown communities that surround those urban communities without thinking about earned sick leave and who gets it and who doesn’t without thinking about how women make less than men and how Black and Brown women make less than white women without thinking about how glass ceilings truncate access and opportunities for our families without thinking about … you get my drift, right Hillary? Policies must be developed as if there are interconnections and must be evaluated in terms of how marginalized boats are lifted. Or not.

5. Trust Those Who Are on the Front Lines. Why do we overfill policy task forces with those who study the issues as opposed to those who live and work with those issues? As long as you are trailblazing—you know, first woman president and all—why not trail-blaze by developing an administration that seeks the counsel of those who have gained knowledge of issues confronting the country in a way that the elites have not: by “living” those issues or by working with and for those who are. Hillary, I can’t stress the revolutionary impact this could have on policy decisions. This means more than herding in groups of individuals at strategic moments to comment on policy that has already been decided; more than cherry-picking people you know will not rock the policy boats or ask uncomfortable questions; more than one-off focus groups or “summits” or any of the other forms of semi-engagement that allows policymakers a photo-opportunity or a talking point. There is talent out here, who may or may not have academic degrees and who may or may not have a policy focus, but who are experts in the ways that policy impacts their lives and the lives of their children. I know you can’t talk to everybody, but your administration can set a tone that shifts the way America has historically seen marginalized populations (as deficits) to a new way of seeing and engaging them: as the assets they are.

Hillary, so many people are giving you their votes on faith and a promise … your promise.

Adding these five steps to your administration playbook won’t solve everything.

But it’s a start.

If “men in black” show up at my door after Nov. 8th, I’ll assume you want to talk more about it. I’d love to—and would bring some of the most dedicated change-agents you’ll ever meet.

If, however, Nov. 9th tells a different story, I’ll assume the “men in black” are at my door for an altogether different reason … But at that point, we all might have bigger problems.

(Photo: George Makris via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

About the author more »

A. Adar Ayira is Director of Programs at Associated Black Charities, the region’s only African American philanthropic organization providing coordinated leadership on issues impacting Maryland’s communities of color. Adar is also a founding member and Advisory Board Member of Baltimore Racial Justice Action (BRJA), a nonprofit organization committed to social and economic transformation and equity. She is on Twitter as @AdarAyiraViews. The opinions and views shared here are her own, and do not represent those of Associated Black Charities or Baltimore Racial Justice Action.

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