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Continued: Americans warm to diversity

  • Article by: DANE SMITH and JENNIFER GODINEZ
  • Last update: December 14, 2013 - 3:14 PM

The 2014 election campaigns will give candidates in all political parties an opportunity to both follow these heartening trends in public opinion regarding race, and to lead the way in framing a positive equity agenda.

We are certain that angry denial of the importance of addressing disparities, or overt lack of regard for those on the wrong side of the gaps, increasingly will turn voters off.

Here are a few suggestions for championing race equity in 2014:

• Put race equity near the center of political strategy: As campaigns and themes are developed this winter, deeper conversations will be needed about the persistence of racial disparities. If candidates don’t even try to understand the systemic, institutional reasons for those disparities, they won’t have a feeling for policies and practices that need to change.

• Set statewide policy goals: An overarching goal for 75 percent of our young people to complete some kind of higher education would, of necessity, require much improved outcomes for kids of color. Setting goals forces politicians and policymakers to understand why the dropout rate varies among communities of color, to personally engage with families from those communities so they can see the systemic barriers, and to study best practices around the country to boost education success rates. Business interests generally support this goal-setting.

• Follow the lead of business on immigration reform: Minnesota’s largest business association, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, recently published a remarkable 60-page report explaining the economic value of immigrants. The report urges the state to consider shifting funding from existing economic development programs to help immigrants integrate, to encourage immigrant entrepreneurship, and to pay for immigrant job training and placement. The report calls for a “21st century perspective” on immigration, and it acknowledges that immigrants are not just workers but also entrepreneurs, consumers and a bridge to the global economy.

• Follow the lead of nonprofit, religious and labor groups on pay-and-benefit policy: Racial inequality has been greatly exacerbated by overall economic inequality and by 30 years of stagnant or reduced pay and benefits for low- and middle-income households. An increase in the minimum wage much closer to the widely accepted “living wage” standard, protection and enhancements of economic safety nets, and universal and affordable health care are all necessary for race equity, as well as for overall middle-class viability.

• Get advice from community-based insiders, ethnic development corporations and councils of color: Just as the business chambers weigh in on economic proposals and education policy during key debates at the State Capitol, so should politicians pay attention to those who truly understand the dynamics within cultural and ethnic communities. These include groups such as the Latino Economic Development Center, the African Development Corporation, and the Urban League. They are an underutilized resource for policy development.

The Organizing Apprenticeship Project, in particular, has led the way with a comprehensive menu of policy options, and it makes available several race equity tools and training to assist candidates and policymakers in developing their own agendas. The Minnesota Minority Education Partnership has developed research and community networks that frame race equity and excellence as a transformational model for schools, including reforms of discipline policies.

• • •

We are under no illusion that further progress will be easy. We don’t wish to sugarcoat or ignore the resentment and divisiveness that have always plagued our diverse and pluralistic society. But we take heart in the often-quoted wisdom that although the arc of history is long, it bends toward justice.

The political will is there for closing racial opportunity gaps. Candidates who ride history’s arc with courage and plausible solutions are likely to succeed. At the very least, history will regard them kindly.

 

Dane Smith is the president of Growth & Justice, a public-policy organization that seeks to reduce economic and racial inequality in Minnesota. Jennifer Godinez is associate director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership.

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