Structural Racism

The Policy Forum was a key player of a major initiative funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies: “The Racial Equity and Youth Leadership Development Project.” This project grew out of the Institute’s long term “Project on Structural Racism and Community Building.”  Its purpose is to develop training workshops for civic leaders that provide a comprehensive picture and explanation of the nature of race and racism , and to examine the causes of racial disparities in contemporary America with particular attention to their implications for children and families in poor communities.

This picture is painted over a four and one-half day workshop under the leadership of the Policy Forum staff.  The seminars are designed to expose workshop participants to the problem of structural racism as it relates to their fields of work and to provide them with the tools to promote racial equity in their areas of influence. Over the past three years , ninety-four leaders from across the United States have participated in our workshops.  They have represented government , major youth-serving organizations, mainstream media outlets, departments of education and child services, universities, and corporations.

The Policy Forum’s goal in this context is to provide the workshop participants with tools and narratives through which to understand the central dimensions of the structural racism framework.  Our participants leave with an understanding of the historical use of race as a defining boundary distinguishing citizens from non-citizens; a sense of the mid-20th century policies, such as the massive government-sponsored housing policy that created and sustained the largely-white suburbs and the red-lined urban deadzones; a concise history of how the transformative policy shifts prompted by the Civil Rights Movement rose and fell in the national arena , and an economic and transgenerational mapping of the various ways these dynamics automatically shape opportunity in today’s society.  We accomplish this objective through a curriculum of carefully selected readings that we vet in the workshop setting through facilitated learning sessions , multimedia presentations, and individual and group exercises designed to promote critical thinking about their local contexts.

Our work has enabled us to help a broad range of actors not only to develop, but also to test public education materials. In the process, the Policy Forum has come to understand that the “retreat” format is a very effective setting for key civic leaders and decision-makers to adequately absorb the full implications of the seminar. We found that primers, website resources, and audio-visual materials such as our affirmative action power point presentations and our well-received Mythbusters Radio Series have been remarkably useful tools in dispelling the myths and misunderstandings often associated with racial equity goals and policies.

Building on the success of the Policy Forum workbook and the Mythbuster Radio Series, we are now developing a booklet called “Structural Racism APPLIED!” The booklet responds to the demands of advocates who are thirsty for materials that help them to understand and apply new frames and cutting edge information to better assist them in advancing their racial equity work.  This booklet will offer concise answers to questions such as: “What does implicit bias really mean?” “How do I demonstrate that most of the obstacles faced by people of color are not a result of individual choices or lack of personal effort?” “Isn’t racial equity achieved by class-based remedies?”  The booklet is especially welcomed by advocates in this new moment in which many have expressed concerns that racial justice may be framed as yesterday’s news.  The booklet provides short explanations of how inequality is structured into our various institutions, albeit unintentionally, and why efforts to dismantle these obstacles remain particularly important work to do now if we are to take full advantage of the new spirit of possibility in America.

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