How To Keep Discussing Racial Equity

Family advocates, when talking about children’s issues, we have to keep discussing racial equity in the same conversations. The tendency to ‘jargon-drop’ can only be widely understood in context if we explain the terminology while continuing to set the frame at the systems level.

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Unlike the media, who talk little about racism and racial equity when covering children’s issues, the field discusses these issues significantly in their materials. In 38% of recently sampled materials, issues of race were mentioned explicitly. They included discussions of systemic racism, the importance of racial equity and demonstrated support for Black Lives Matter and related civil and human rights movements. The statements below provide such evidence.

  “The racial and ethnic disparities that persist across economic, education, healthcare, criminal justice, and other sectors of society make clear that systemic racism continues to undermine the foundations of well-being for communities of color by denying access to opportunity and making it more difficult to secure jobs, housing, healthcare, education, nutrition and equal treatment under law.”

“We acknowledge that systemic racism extends beyond the realm of criminal justice and law enforcement. From healthcare and education to child welfare and economic security, our systems and institutions often fail to deliver equal rights and opportunity for people of color from the earliest ages.”

Organizations talk about systemic racism and equity, but the discussions are often couched in terms that are not widely understood and are almost never explained. Terms like ‘racial equity’, ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ and ‘systemic racism‘ are now commonplace, but members of the general public often don’t know what they mean, or what they mean in their lives. Least of all, these statements of terms don’t outline how they relate to the deeper messages we intend to send.

[Organization] celebrates diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. We embrace these pillars of excellence as crucial to a healthy organization and supportive of the communities we serve.
However, we recognize that inequitable systems, institutional racism, discriminatory practices, and implicit bias continue to limit access and widen the opportunity gap for students who lack power and privilege.

[Organization] will provide these communities with technical assistance and targeted interventions, such as access to its prenatal and NICU initiatives and professional education, such as implicit bias training.

Field materials sometimes introduced facts and figures to illustrate racial disparities, but they often left these data unframed, providing little commentary or interpretation of them. In other words, in those cases where disparities were discussed, they were often asserted but not explained, expecting the facts to speak for themselves. Below is an example of what I’ve read[presenting facts without explaining or framing them].

“In 2018, black children represented 14% of the total child population but 23% of all kids in foster care.
By comparison: White kids represent 50% of the nation’s child population and only 44% of its foster care population. Latino and Hispanic children represent 25% of kids nationwide yet just 21% of all kids in foster care. And Asian and Native Hawaiian kids make up 5% of the U.S. child population but only 1% of its foster care population. In other words, these three groups are under-represented in foster care when compared to their presence in the
total child population.”

The statistics don’t tell us why these disparities exist.

HOW THIS AFFECTS PUBLIC THINKING

Because we are talking about racial equity is promising. However, to combat the already existing racial tropes that trigger or reinforce stereotypes, advocates must change the ways it is framed.

Although the public has increased awareness about systemic racism, they still are unfamiliar with these terms. The same set of terms are used liberally, yet without context or explanation. This leaves the public confused and uncertain about what is meant. A recent focus group found that both black and white participants were largely unfamiliar with terms like ‘equity’. When talking about equity,, most people talked about home equity or business equity and assumed the link to racism must be different levels of home or business ownership.

This makes use of such terminology, jargon-dropping, confusing and alienating to the general public, if not explained or contextualized. There is great power in spreading the terminologies surrounding racial justice around. It is a way of introducing new concepts and ideas to others, but the field must find clear ways to explain this jargon, in order to invite new people into the conversation.

Across racial groups and ideology, Americans tend to think about racism in interpersonal rather than systemic terms. People see racism as a function of individual bias and discrimination rather than something built into society’s institutions, systems and structures. Therefore, we must continue to talk about racial inequities in systemic terms. Moreover, we must continue to explain how systems produce racial inequities and how systemic solutions create greater racial equity among children and families.

WHAT CAN HELP

— Continue talking about racial equity. This is a much-needed corrective to the media’s practice of largely ignoring the subject.
— Explain and contextualize terms. Explain what terms such as “systemic racism,” “equity,” and others mean in accessible language, using concrete examples to show what they look like, how they work, and what effects they have.
— Always contextualize facts and figures about racial equity. Facts and figures rarely speak for themselves—especially when it comes to issues of race and racial equity where there are deep cultural models that people use to process such information. Leaving facts and  figures about racial inequities unframed invites the public to insert their own—often unproductive—understandings, immaculate perceptions, about the issue.
— Explain systemic sources of racial inequity and how systemic solutions would help. While further research is needed to know how best to talk about systemic racism and children, there’s no doubt the field must not only adopt a systemic frame but also explain how racism works in and through systems and how it can be fought and won by changing systems.

The main takeaway from this conversation continues to point to the need to fully explain and contextualize those terms that we include in written material, general discussions and public presentations.  This we must address in clear terms, with no room for uncertainty.

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