Racism in the United States has shaped institutions, policies, and practices in a way that creates, maintains, and perpetuates racial inequities. Because of this backdrop, racial disparities across every indicator for success are more likely to be the norm rather than the exception. In DC, young women of color live in communities with fewer resources and opportunities, and are vulnerable to experiencing higher rates of poverty, violence, and involvement in foster care and the criminal justice system.
Our local government, in partnership with philanthropy, businesses, and nonprofits, has the ability and responsibility to change this.
Mayor Bowser and the DC City Council can focus on tackling the roots of these disparate outcomes by taking actions that disrupt the underlying systems perpetuating inequity. While this will require a significant adjustment in the way the District operates and allocates resources, the good news is the City is starting to take some important first steps to address ongoing racial injustices.
Last Thursday, the City Council held a hearing on the Racial Equity Achieve Results Amendment Act (REAR Act). The legislation, introduced by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, proposes to operationalize racial equity by requiring the Office of Budget and Planning to design and implement a racial equity tool, adding racial equity performance measures to agency performance plans, and providing racial equity training for all DC government employees, among other things.
Implementing a framework that integrates explicit considerations of racial equity in DC’s decision-making would bring awareness of the policies and practices whose effects may seem neutral but that disproportionately impact people of color.
This year, for example, the proposed budget cut to the New Heights Program for expectant and parenting students, disproportionally affects young women of color. Teen births for Latinas and Black young women in the District are nearly 25 times that of White young women. These births primarily occur among young women attending poorly resourced schools, living in neighborhoods with maternal care and food deserts, and limited transportation options.
Moving forward, City Council can enhance the REAR Act by expanding the scope of the racial equity toolkit to explore the unintended negative outcomes of policies and programs at the intersection of other identities, for example, race, gender, disability, and immigration status. The Council can also deepen DC government’s commitment to racial equity by engaging more deeply with communities of color to center their lived experiences, and ensure they participate in taking decisions that affect them.
We applaud the steps DC government is taking to dismantle systems and practices that create inequity and exclusion, and look forward to working with city leaders and our community partners to advance opportunities for all.
Claudia Williams is Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC.