A Focus on Racial Equity

Highlights from the Racial Equity Workshop

by Cassandra Leopold and Nancy Frank

APA-WI co-sponsored a workshop on Racial Equity hosted by the Local and Regional Government Alliance for Racial Equity (or GARE) and supported by the City of Madison and Dane County.  The workshop brought together leaders and professional staff from local government, academic institutions, and non-profits.  About eight APA-WI members attended.  

GARE Project Manager Gordan F. Goodwin moderating at Racial Equity Conference. Photo by: Cassandra Leopold

Gordan Goodwin, GARE’s Midwest Regional Project Manager, described the purpose of the workshop, saying he hoped that participants left with an understanding of the government’s role in the historic marginalization of communities of color.  Armed with that understanding and tools for making change in “business-as-usual” practices, governments can review all policies and programs to critically consider whether racial bias remains.  Planners are, of course, aware of the historic role of zoning in segregating people by race and income, as well as public planners’ approval of private development covenants excluding people of color from new housing.  According to Goodwin, however, while those race-based policies are no longer tolerated, institutional practices often reflect “implicit institutional racial biases that continue to perpetuate racial disparities.”

Break Out Session for Advancing Racial Equity Conference in Appleton Paper Valley Hotel. Photo: Cassandra Leopold

Early in the day, trainers explained why GARE focuses on race rather than diversity or the whole range of ways that people experience bias, exclusion, and disadvantage.  Jane Eastwood, a consultant in racial equity based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, explained racial inequities are deep and pervasive.  Second, racial anxiety is on the rise.  Third, the tools GARE teaches can be used to address other areas of marginalization as well.  Finally, "specificity matters.”  We use race to make judgments about who we trust and who we give the benefit of the doubt.  The specific character of these judgments are different in their specific character than the ways people make similar judgments about women, gay people, or people with disabilities.

Although GARE focuses on racial equity, all strategies and policies need to benefit everyone in the community.  Perhaps the benefit will not be equal, but everyone gains.  Laura Urteaga-Fuentes, who works on homelessness and racial equity in Michigan, described how the focus on racial equity produces benefits for all, not just for racial minorities.   

  • Madison, Wisconsin took their federally-required equal opportunity report and changed it into an equitable hiring tool kit. As a result, hiring is more fair and transparent for all applicants.
  • Ottawa County, Michigan does blind hiring (crossing out names, birthdays, etc.) from resumes and application materials before they are reviewed).  Again, other potential sources of bias are reduced, as well as racial bias.

An important focus of the workshop was to create meaningful involvement of the whole community, not just those who typically show up for public meetings.as to demonstrate tools that leaders within local government can use to raise people’s awareness of implicit bias and practices that reproduce racial inequity.  Annette Miller, CEO of the Madison-based EQT by Design LLC, focused on designing engagement and inclusion. 

Take away notes of goals from non-profit break out session, Katie Bennett

One aspect of the GARE workshop that Ms. Miller especially appreciated was the cross-sectional participation at the workshop.  Participants included both government staff and non-profit staff—groups that frequently work side-by-side in communities, but often do not take the time to have direct and focused conversations about race.  When government does not start the conversation about race, others go silent.  As a result, government staff (like planners) are unlikely to hear about the unintentional ways that a policy makes some people feel excluded and how these practices are interpreted as intentional, not inadvertant.  Breakout sessions asked non-profit leaders to work  together in one group and government leaders to work in another group.  Each group was asked to come up with strategies to address racial disparities.  This allowed the participants to see, right there on the flipcharts, how different perspectives resulted in different conclusions about how governments need to respond to racial equity issues.

Center for Social Inclusion. www.centerforsocialinclusion.org.

“GARE gathers leaders from across Wisconsin for Advancing Racial Equity: The Role of Government in Appleton, Wisconsin”. April 3, 2018. 

Center for Social Inclusion (CSI). ”Staff: Gordon Goodwin”. 2017. 

Miller, Annette. “EQT by Design- Homepage”. 2018.