Why Racial Equity?
(Photos by Lisa Helfert)
The Meyer Foundation believes that we must address systemic racism to become a community in which all residents can thrive.
Our strategic plan is driven by the acknowledgement that the Greater Washington region continues to confront a social and economic crisis in which economically disadvantaged residents face complex, interrelated challenges. In our region, these challenges disproportionately impact people of color, and this reality is no accident; it is a result of systemic racism. One doesn’t have to look too hard or too far to see just how uneven opportunities are for residents of color. At Meyer, much of our work is rooted in promoting racial equity through pursuing and investing in solutions.
Below, we’ve included several resources that may aid your understanding of racial equity as they have for the board and staff at Meyer. Check back for frequent updates.
A Look at Our Region’s History
Just as we see in our nation’s history, the Greater Washington region has a past of discriminatory policies and practices—dating back to colonial times and the formation of Maryland and Virginia as slaveholding colonies, and then states—that have exacerbated and reinforced racial disparities.
A small sampling of these policies includes real estate steering, redlining, and housing covenants that excluded or prevented racial, ethnic, and religious groups from using, leasing, and/or owning property in restricted areas. A series of local and national court cases legitimized the reinforcement of such practices. This interactive map by Prologue DC documents historic segregation of housing in Washington, DC neighborhoods.
Housing covenants and racial exclusionary practices also flourished in the suburbs around the District. For example, public housing developments, like those established in Greenbelt, Maryland in 1937, were segregated for whites only. Racial segregation in Arlington County worked to create a north-south divide in the area.
Racially-motivated policies, legislation, and practices in the areas of education, mortgage lending, access to employment, and more —some remaining in effect as recently as the 1950s and 1960s—collectively contribute to exacerbate and reinforce structural racism, leading to multiple racialized disparities we see in our region today.
Racialized Outcomes in the Greater Washington Region
While many of the legally-based forms of racial discrimination have been outlawed, the connection between our history and our current context is not incidental, but structural and causal. The discrepancies between white people and communities of color that we see in our region today—the wealth gap, the education gap, higher incarceration rates, higher unemployment rates, and disparities in health outcomes—are evidence of structural racism.
Begining in 2016, we partnered with the Consumer Health Foundation to commission data from the Urban Institute on the state of equity in our region, with a first look at Washington, DC. Through the profiles below, you’ll also find a snapshot of the state of equity throughout Greater Washington, and some of the challenges we seek to address through our goals and strategies:
- Racial Inequities in the Washington, DC Region
- Racial Inequities in Fairfax County
- Racial Inequities in Montgomery County
- Racial Inequities in Prince George's County
(Right: A visual from the digital feature, A Vision for an Equitable DC, by https://greaterdc.urban.org/)
What Does It All Mean?
As an organization, we aspire to cultivate greater awareness and dialogue around the many dynamics at play that create racialized outcomes in our region, particularly in the areas of housing, education, employment, and asset building.
As we continue to learn and build our fluency, we understand that many of you are also at different points on your own paths. Using history as a guide to understand our present and developing shared language around race and racism can help us all in our efforts to create a better future for the Greater Washington region’s diverse population.
Click the image on the right to learn more about how we use some of the words behind equity:
The following resources are also helpful to begin understanding commonly-used terms among those working toward a more just society:
- Glossary for Understanding the Dismantling Structural Racism/Promoting Racial Equity Analysis (The Aspen Institute)
- The Case for Funding Black-Led Social Change (The Black Social Change Funders Network)
- Racial Equity Tools Glossary (Racial Equity Tools)
- Race Forward
Want to gain a deeper understanding of equity and why we approach our work in the ways that we do? The resources below may be as helpful to you as they have been to us at the Meyer Foundation: