Racism is an insidious system of oppression that has been entrenched in the United States for centuries. It manifests itself in disparate economic, educational, and health outcomes between racialized communities, showing its pervasive effects. At the Pro-Equity Anti-Racism Institute, we are committed to a world without Racism and other Systems of Oppression. We recognize that there is no biological basis to race, but the U.S. Racial Narratives still have a profound impact on our lives.
Racial disparities created by racism are an issue that has deep roots in the United States and other countries around the world. In order to gain a better understanding of these disparities, organizations must ask questions about how individuals are read and treated based on their racial identity. This type of data collection is necessary in order to create meaningful solutions to address systemic racism within our society.
The current approach for collecting race data is to ask people their personal, racial identity. While this does provide insight into the experiences of those identifying with a given race, it fails to capture the whole picture when it comes to understanding the effect of racism.
To highlight this issue, here are two examples of the difference between racial self-identification and racial-assignment, where you are read and treated by the system of racism. A facilitator once artfully laid out how a dark-skinned Guatemalan, an African American – a descendant of enslaved African people in the United States and a Nigerian would all get pulled over while “driving Black” in the US. They would all be read, raced, and treated as Black regardless of their own personal racial or ethnic identification. Considered the personal narratives of two white-presenting African-American individuals, meaning they were read and treated as white by others, even though they both had at least one Black parent. When asked on surveys - what is your race?, they both would answer that they were black. This is confounding because while they identified as black, they had the privilege of being read and treated in society as if they were white. This prompts us to consider how the external perceptions of one's race can affect how they are read and treated within the system of racism in the United States.
In order to truly understand racial disparities created by the system of racism, we need to mature from simply asking about people's personal racial identity and focus on how they are read and treated based on five distinct racial narratives present in the United States–the White Narrative; The Native American Narrative; The Asian-American Narrative; The Latinx Narrative; and, The Black Narrative. From here, we can begin to uncover which racial narrative sentiments are most often experienced by different communities throughout various locations in different ways and, thus, how they experience the benefits and burdens in the systems of racism.
Collecting race data can be used as a tool for creating meaningful solutions toward eradicating systemic racism found in our society today. By recognizing the complexity behind each individual's experience of racism, organizations can begin to design more targeted policy initiatives that will lead toward dismantling oppressive systems.
Data is a powerful tool that can be used to understand, quantify, and inform racial justice. As we strive to create racial equity within our organization, it is important to ask the right questions in order to accurately capture both current conditions as well as progress toward our goals. If data exists that can help us understand disparities based on race, then it’s important to analyze that data and discern meaningful insights. However, if such data does not exist yet, then collecting it becomes crucial for illuminating how people are treated differently based on their race and the resulting disparities. We recognize the power of data and its ability to fuel meaningful change—that’s why we are asking for a PEARadigm shift, a commitment not only to collecting this data but also using it proactively in order to create a more racially equitable environment.