Center New Voices, Tell New Stories
Typically, conversations about race and equity tend to stem from the dominant theories and ideologies that permeate institutions, policies, and practices. In the United States, policy and practice discussions are often centered from, developed by, and paced through a lens that historically has been white-centric. McAfee challenged this status-quo by saying, “equity can no longer be held hostage by centering whiteness”. This means that working toward equity requires acting without waiting for permission from those with privilege to ‘get it’. According to McAfee, we will only begin to center the stories of the 100 million people living at 200 percent of the poverty level in the United States when we make space for leaders with radical vision and politics, who act without fear of upsetting someone in a position of power, to emerge. We have the resources, said McAfee, to provide support for those living in poverty…We are not a broke nation. We seem to only be broke when it comes to talking about black, brown, and poor white folks”
In addition to ‘decentering whiteness’ and supporting diverse and radical leaders, Perry and Cagle each emphasized the importance of telling new stories by using an equity-focused lens to interpret data. For example, in Los Angeles, Cagle said, infant mortality, child maltreatment, and pre-Kindergarten expulsions disproportionately affect black and brown communities. One might explain these numbers with social class. Yet looking more deeply, these outcomes cross class for black people. Thus, they are not the result of people’s poverty. Rather, the numbers reveal the implicit bias with which services are delivered. It is crucial, he said, not to stop at just putting out data, but to find the nuanced and complicated stories behind the data.
Similar to Los Angeles, Perry shared that North Carolina has the eleventh-highest infant mortality rate in the country, and that the infant mortality rate for black babies is twice as high as it is for white ones. Black communities are also disproportionately affected by third grade reading proficiency issues. Her office worked to reduce these disparities through diversifying its leadership and by providing implicit bias training for the entire staff. They also analyzed data about disciplinary action, retention, and promotion of staff, knowing that they couldn’t work for racial equity outside of their walls if inside they were working from status-quo models and mindsets. Undergirding this logic, Perry said, is the idea that “we have to be courageous to talk about our own selves and our own stories and acknowledge that experience is different in different forms of inequity. And all of those are real and true and we need to take them all on
Through courageous and radical leadership, as well as through digging more deeply into the uncomfortable truths behind inequity, the panelists agreed, we can move toward more hopeful and equitable outcomes.