Thursday, November 3, 2016
A PRESIDENTIAL AGENDA REQUIRES A RACIAL EQUITY LENS*
(* A shorter version of this blog post is at rooflines.org)
Are you as deeply disgusted with the course of this presidential election as I am? I mean, in many ways it’s like looking at a slow moving multi-car crash, yet YOU JUST CAN’T LOOK AWAY.
I have stuck it out through every debate and every after-debate “analysis” (and yes, the quotation marks are deliberate…). I drink in a variety of articles from all quarters (because you know what the people who are like-minded will say, but what about the folk whose worldviews are completely opposite yours? We need to know what they think, too…).
In other words, I am a junkie — I admit it!
And I am still an undecided voter.
Now, it’s not that I am looking at Trump (COME ON!! Even NOT KNOWING me, YOU SHOULD KNOW ME better than that. . .).
It is just that I have questions. . .issues. . .
And it is that Hillary has not yet earned my vote — although she has taken it for granted; maybe even felt entitled to it (“issue” alert!!).
HOWEVER, in reading the political tea leaves… I mean, the red flags waving in the political breeze (Hi, Donald!)… I am preparing myself for cast membership in the upcoming four-year reality show called "Hillary at the Helm."
In expectation that she might be our next president, I am taking this opportunity to reach out to Hillary with this letter of things that I would — if she appointed me (or even if she doesn’t) her "Secretary of Domestic Repair (for marginalized groups)” — recommend.
While we have not met, I am a person from two groups — the independent, undecided voter as well as an African Descendant, a voting bloc that provided a major percentage of your votes and will play a significant role in your (potential) ascension into the highest office in the land.
I wish you the best, Hillary, 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 — to save us both grief and disappointment — let me transparently 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 institutional and structural racism still 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 excellent 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, Hillary, that so many in America do not support policies, remedies, or even collection of data for populations that remind them of America’s historical and continuing racializations and inequities. We know that many in this country have a high tolerance for these types of inequities when neither they nor those they love are 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” (you know, the new phrase for white supremacist) 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. And speaking of:
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 uttering them, it appears as if you’ve come a long way from “super-predator.” However, Hillary, 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; is not calculated; is not 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: 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, Hillary, do we overfill policy task forces with those who STUDY the issues as opposed to those who LIVE and WORK those issues? As long as you are trail-blazing — 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 cannot 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 talking point. There is talent out here, Hillary, talent 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. Now, 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 are giving you their votes on faith and a promise. . .your promise.
Adding these five steps to your administration playbook won’t solve everything for everyone.
But it’s a start.
If “men in black” show up at my door after November 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, November 9th tells a different story after all the votes are counted (Hi Donald!!), I’ll assume the “men in black” are at my door for a different reason. . .
But at that point, we all might have bigger problems.