How to Use Racial Equity Toolkits

By Erin

Before we launch into this week’s post we have to take a moment to say congratulations to all of the candidates of color who ran for office. Running for public office takes a lot of work and energy so no matter if you won, lost, or are waiting for your race to be called – congratulations for taking a bold step to bring change. A special shout out to the women of color who are leading the way. From local elections to Congress, women of color won in huge numbers. Their service is important, and they will need continued support from all of us. Thank you. We also pause to note the latest mass murder by gun violence in Thousand Oaks, California. We need to be incensed and appalled by violence, when we numb ourselves and say it is normal we cheat our kids and ourselves of a better future.

panda meeting

Panda meeting

Many of us want to do better at advancing racial equity, I’d like to think that is why you are reading this blog post. There are many ways to do so and sometimes we go towards using tools created by others to help us with our work. The tools are there to help guide processes, but they still require people to have a strong analysis and to use them properly.

In the past, we’ve promoted Racial Equity Toolkits as a way to help guide thinking. There are many of them available, an online search will yield different toolkits. One of the pieces I think missing from the conversation though is HOW to use them. The how they are used will help to dictate the results.

What is a Racial Equity Toolkit?

Many racial equity toolkits are a series of questions and suggestions to help guide thinking about race and the impact of race in a decision making process. The questions range from:

  • What are the demographics of the people involved in your project?
  • What are the data inputs you can learn from?
  • What communities have been engaged?
  • Who will benefit and who will face burdens from the proposal?

All of these are important questions to ask and have answered. Racial equity toolkits can help to unearth important information that needs to be considered before decisions are made. I’m not going to go into greater detail about racial equity toolkits because they are already out there and there is little sense in recreating what others have already done. What I want to delve deeper into is HOW to use them and WHEN to use them.

HOW to Use a Racial Equity Toolkit

Once you’ve decided which racial equity toolkit to use the real work begins. Most of the toolkits don’t specify who should be involved in the analysis. I recommend using a team approach. Assemble a team of people to help answer the questions in the toolkit. A team approach will help you discover new ways of thinking and hopefully deepen the analysis and outcome. We all have biases and blind spots in our thinking and a team approach allows us to overcompensate for this. I know what I don’t know, but I don’t know what I don’t know, so having a team around me when I’m making decisions means I’m more likely to learn what I don’t already know.

As you put together your team to go through the racial equity toolkit, take particular care to ensure your team is diverse in many different measures – racially, experience, age, disability, immigration status, etc. Remember this isn’t a community engagement step, which you will also need to do, but more of an internal check to make sure you’re uncovering questions and making connections for other parts of your work.

My colleague Patty told me when you use a racial equity toolkit well the answers you come up with should lead to many more questions. Patty is a lawyer by training, so she knows how to ask good questions. Having a team asking and answering questions will yield more questions then if you try to do it alone.

As your team works through the toolkit you need to acknowledge whose voices are missing and prioritize those for the outreach phase. You’re more likely to come up with a comprehensive outreach list with a team of people then trying to do this by yourself. The actual outreach will also be easier to do with more people involved.

WHEN to use the toolkit

When to use the toolkit is just as important as figuring out who should be involved. I recently was on the receiving end of a presentation when a toolkit was used too late in the decision making process – it was a horrible presentation to sit through. The person presenting walked the group through the organization’s presentation and their results. When we asked why the list they showed was so skewed away from equitable results the presenter said “We’re doing the racial equity analysis next week. The list will look different after that.” Many of us were lit after hearing that comment. As another attendee said to me privately afterward “Of course I can justify any decision and make it fit the toolkit afterward. That isn’t how a toolkit is supposed to be used.” The person was right, a toolkit used after a decision is made isn’t how they are intended to be used. Many of the toolkits say and are designed to be used as early in a decision making process as possible. Equity work needs to be infused during an entire process, not just added as a frosting or cherry on top. Said another way and borrowing from Dr. Manuel Pastor: equity needs to be baked in, not sprinkled on top as an afterthought.

In a perfect world, the racial equity toolkit process would be a continuous loop. Completing one process would open and allow for the exploration of an unanswered question and community-driven problem to solve next.

I hope you will use these suggestions and racial equity toolkits to deepen your work and build your racial equity analysis. The more questions you ask, the more you listen, and the more you learn the deeper and better you’ll get at an understanding race and its impact on our society. None of us were born with a deep racial equity analysis, these skills are honed, refined, and deepened over time.

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