What Is Racial Equity?

November 5, 2018

Group of Tweens Outdoors

Racial equity was a central theme at the 2018 National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference. But what is racial equity exactly?

“When we talk about equity, we talk about what people need to enjoy full sustainable lives. As opposed to equality, which promotes the notion that if everyone has the same amount, then we’re really being fair and just,” Dwayne S. Marsh from Race Forward explained during an NICRC panel discussion.

Racial equity means closing the gaps so that race doesn’t predict anyone’s life outcomes, simultaneously improving outcomes for all people.

Marsh used graduation rates as an example.

“There’s a school district where white students graduate at a 75 percent rate while Latinx and African American students have a 55 percent graduation rate. The solution is not to move everyone to graduate at a 65 percent rate because we achieve equality. That’s compromise.”

Marsh encourages policymakers, community investors, community development practitioners, and the public to look at policies, structures, and systems, and how they’re implemented.

“Literally from life to death—from infant mortality to life expectancy—race predicts how well you do in this country. We can name almost any issue and find a disproportionate impact,” he says. “We need to recognize that people don’t start from the same position and there are a number of systemic forces that are at play that affect people’s life outcomes.”

Marsh recommends closing gaps by focusing on those who are most marginalized for historical and structural reasons. “Systems do what systems do until we make them do differently.”

In the school example, he noted, “racial equity demands that we have everyone graduating at 95 percent, 100 percent. To achieve that, we have to understand why some consistently graduate at 55 percent and solve for that.”

Watch the panel discussion.

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Views expressed are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.