Operationalizing Racial Equity & Inclusion: Shifting Systems of Power

Operationalizing Racial Equity & Inclusion: Shifting Systems of Power

This series highlights the twelve themes we uncovered in our scan of practices being used by organizations to operationalize racial equity.

We recently released a report titled “What Does it Take to Embed a Racial Equity & Inclusion Lens?” that captures themes from internal interviews, a field scan, and learnings from our grantmaking and investments in cities across the country. In the third piece in this four-part series, we share the next three themes that emerged from our research. To read the previous post, click here

8. Addressing systemic racism requires talking about white supremacy and white institutional culture.

White supremacy is not just about Nazis marching with tiki torches. It is a force that is engrained in our culture and operating modes. Culture is powerful precisely because it is so present and at the same time so very difficult to name or identify. Paying attention to how white supremacy manifests in our lives helps us to push against it. The characteristics of white supremacist culture listed in this document are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. They are damaging to both people of color and to white people. Organizations that are people of color led or a majority people of color can also demonstrate damaging characteristics of white supremacy culture.

Our Recommendations:

Engage in an honest, facilitated, conversation about how white supremacy culture currently manifests at Living Cities and potential antidotes. Develop/refine/continuously revisit and lift up our working norms with a racial equity and inclusion lens. Ensure that senior leadership receive coaching such that they can consider how to counter white supremacy culture in their work.

Tools and Resources:

9. To talk about race, we have to talk about inherent power dynamics.

In America, we often talk about racism in a hate vs. love frame, but if we are truly to address racial inequity, we must understand it in terms of power. This is necessary because racism is, at its core, a tool to establish and maintain power structures that are centered around whiteness. When we don’t talk about power and power dynamics at all levels (interpersonal, institutional, and systemic), we perpetuate inequity.

Our Recommendations:

Take truthful stock of power dynamics within our own institution: Start paying attention to who speaks at meetings, in conversations, etc. What are the racial and in some cases gender dynamics? How is the idea of “appropriateness” used; and when and by whom? How do people disengage from conversations about race? Who is disengaging? How does that disengagement relate to power?

Consider power dynamics in our work: Do community members and people of color have decision-making control in efforts we support? What are the narratives we use to explain why or why not? How are these narratives related to power? Use a power analysis in our communications about racial equity and in our programmatic work.

Tools and Resources:

10. We cannot advance racial equity until we focus on anti-black racism and intersectionality.

“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” –Ta-Nehisi Coates

It is important for those working on economic inequality and other social issues to focus on anti-Black racism because it is the root cause for the inequity we see today. Indeed, it is clear that we will not achieve economic equity for all people without addressing it. In other words, in America, Anti-Black racism is the foundational architecture for the strategies, tactics, tools, and cultural worldviews that created and maintain racial oppression, repression, and exclusion. It is also true that these same strategies, tactics, tools, and cultural worldviews are being used against other communities, including Latinx communities, Asian and Pacific Islander communities, LGBTQ communities, and women. So, it is important to start with an understanding of anti-Blackness, and to then apply an intersectional analysis and lens to ensure that the unique experiences of other communities, and of individuals all of us whom necessarily sit at the intersection of ,multiple identities, are not being erased.

Our Recommendations:

Include in its racial equity and inclusion learning curriculum, readings, speakers, and media about why considering anti-Black racism is fundamental to achieving racial equity and inclusion, and about intersectionality. Engage in conversation with our sites, such as New Orleans, San Francisco and Baltimore, that are centering anti-Black racism in their work to understand what that looks like in local efforts. Invest in Black-led social change efforts and partner with Black-led organizations.

Tools and Resources:

All artwork from this series comes from CultureStrike’s “Until We Are All Free” project.

If you have any questions or want to share your story on your racial equity journey, please email racialequity@livingcities.org


Latest Articles

How 2020’s “Year of Reckoning” Shaped What Comes Next for Closing the Gaps

In 2020, Living Cities launched the  “Closing the Gaps” Network, paired with a cohort of cities participating in a “Year of Reckoning” initiative. This foundational year brought together leadership in six cities–Austin, Albuquerque, Memphis, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Rochester–to interrogate how racism has shaped their cities, to organize together to implement policies and practices that would build wealth for BIPOC …

Wealth Beyond Survival

People of color are reported to be on track to become the country’s new majority by 2045. Knowing this, government leaders, private investors and philanthropic funders need to have a more comprehensive understanding of the challenge ahead: For people of color, starting a business, though a risky endeavor–especially compared to the experience of white entrepreneurs–is only the beginning of the …

Supporting and Growing Overlooked Entrepreneurs with Urban Innovation Fund

In 2012, Julie Lein and Clara Brenner started Tumml, an urban ventures accelerator with a mission to empower entrepreneurs to solve urban problems. Through their experience with Tumml, Julie and Clara saw how investors can overlook certain types of entrepreneurs, mostly women and people of color. Building on their experience, Lein and Brenner founded Urban Innovation Fund (UIF) as first-time …

1863 Ventures Seeks to Close the ‘Friends and Family’ Financing Gap for New Majority Entrepreneurs

Melissa Bradley understands how barriers to capital for entrepreneurs of color hurt our economy and our communities. “There is clearly a cost if we do not invest in diversity,” said Bradley, founder of 1863 Ventures. “We miss out on great returns when we are not inclusive in our investment theses. There are opportunity costs for all of us.” She cites …

Get Updates

We want to stay in touch with you! Sign up for our email list to receive updates on the progress we’re making with our network of partners, as well as helpful resources and blog posts.