From the inception of our country, government at the local, regional, state and federal level has played a role in creating and maintaining racial inequity. A wide range of laws and policies were passed, including everything from who could vote, who could be a citizen, who could own property, where one could live and more. With the Civil Rights Movement, laws and policies were passed that helped to create positive changes, including dealing with explicit acts of discrimination. However, despite progress in addressing explicit discrimination, racial inequities continue to be deep, pervasive and persistent across the country. Racial inequities exist across all indicators for success, including in education, criminal justice, jobs, housing, public infrastructure and health, regardless of region.
Many current inequities are sustained by historical legacies and structures and systems that repeat patterns of exclusion. Consider how schools are funded and the relationship of racial and economic segregation in housing. Systems and structures create and perpetuate resource and opportunity gaps that show up as achievement gaps. Clearly, we have not achieved a “post-racial” society, and although there is a strong relationship between race and class, simply talking about class is not enough. Taking a “color-blind” approach simply allows racial inequities to continue. Explicitly addressing racial inequities while maintaining a class-conscious approach will maximize impacts on both racial and income inequities.
Local and regional government has the ability to implement policy change at multiple levels and across multiple sectors to drive larger systemic change. For example, many local jurisdictions have worked to reduce recidivism and racial inequity by implementing “ban the box” legislation for use of criminal background checks in employment decisions. This has led to adoption of this policy by the state of Minnesota, and as a result, a major corporation, Target, changed their policy not only at the state level, but nationally.
It is important to note that to achieve long-term impact, changes must be sustainable. Working for racial equity at the local and regional level can allow for meaningful education with community and other institutions that will ensure sustainability.