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Reading List | 12 Resources to Help You Understand and Promote Racial Equity

Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

Woman looking down at a tablet.

You’ve probably been hearing more about racial equity in social-impact spaces lately. The concept isn’t new, but many organizations and foundations—which are still largely led by white people—are beginning to focus on racial equity in their missions and programs.

Sine this language may be new to you, refer to the below reading list to make sure you have a firm grasp on key concepts.

As a white woman, I’ve written this post for other white people. That’s an important distinction because for people of color, thinking about race isn’t new; it’s their lived experience. These are conversations they can never “opt out” of because of how race is treated in America. Asking people of color to explain racial equity to you as a white person puts an undue burden on them, while self-educating using trusted and vetted resources (like the ones on this list) can be a more considerate approach to learning about racial equity.

Understanding racial equity

Start with these readings to make sure you understand the concept of racial equity and how it differs from related concepts such as diversity and inclusion. It’s also helpful to understand why the social-impact sector is focusing on racial equity—which doesn’t necessarily mean that other forms of equity, such as gender equity, are unimportant.

  • What's the difference between diversity, inclusion, and equity?: This blog post from educational provider General Assembly reviews the differences between these three words. Though they often come up in the same conversation, they have distinct meanings—and should not be used interchangeably. It also includes simple exercises to apply the content to your situation.
  • Racial Equity Tools glossary: Racial Equity Tools is a comprehensive site to peruse on all the topics covered in this post and more. To start, skim the glossary to learn more about words you may have heard in discussions about racial equity so far. Pay special attention to the definitions for “institutional racism” and “structural racism” and how those concepts differ from “individual racism” and “interpersonal racism.” In my racial equity journey, one of the big changes at the beginning was understanding that racism is structural—meaning that it is baked into our systems, practices, and policies—and not solely about one person’s individual prejudices or discriminatory actions.
  • Why Lead with Race?: This short webpage from the Local and Regional Government Alliance on Race & Equity is meant to explain why the organization centers race. But the language is general enough that it ends up making the case for the entire social-impact sector. It also addresses how focusing on racial equity doesn’t mean ignoring other groups of people who are marginalized; in fact, the racial equity framework and the discussions it prompts can help organizations address other forms of inequity, too.

Racial equity in the social-impact sector

These readings focus on how racial equity relates to the social-impact sector, including government, nonprofit organizations, and philanthropy. They also dig into the racial inequities that exist in the sector. As you learned in the above readings, racism has been a defining, central feature of American society. It shows up in our social-impact institutions too, and affects the experiences of people of color who work in the sector.

  • Race to Lead reports: The Building Movement Project advises nonprofit organizations on making social change and using effective and inclusive leadership practices. It surveyed over 4,300 people about their experiences with race in the nonprofit sector. The resulting “Race to Lead” series offers key findings and recommendations for increasing the number of nonprofit leaders of color, reducing racial bias in nonprofit organizations, and improving the experiences of women of color in the nonprofit sector.
  • Social Innovation Alone Can’t Solve Racial Inequity: This brief article argues that the standard techniques of “social innovation”—observing a problem, generating solutions, and testing them on a small scale until something that works—doesn’t work when the problem is rooted in racial inequity. It’s a good reminder of why many social-impact organizations are beginning to pursue their missions with a racial equity lens: the societal problems they work on are often rooted, at least in part, in the history and legacy of racism. Therefore, any solutions that don’t acknowledge this history are only addressing the symptoms—not the cause.
  • Grantmaking with a Racial Justice Lens: The second edition of this guide explains the importance of incorporating racial equity into grantmaking, and advises funders on how to do so. This is a good read whether you work for a foundation, work for a nonprofit that receives grants, or want to understand how racial equity is informing funding strategies.

How structural racism shows up at work

As the Race to Lead reports in the previous section illustrate, structural racism has shaped many aspects of the social-impact sector, just as it has shaped many aspects of the broader society and other institutions. These readings provide a few examples of how structural racism may show up at work:

  • How microaggressions are like mosquito bites (video): This short video provides a humorous yet effective explanation of microaggressions and the cumulative effect they have on people who experience them. Microaggressions can happen everywhere, including at work.
  • Characteristics of white supremacy culture: In racial equity conversations, including in this article, “white supremacy” does not refer to the hateful actions that people with the title of “white supremacists” have committed. Rather, it refers to the system that has been constructed (and reconstructed) over time to elevate whiteness as the superior or preferred racial status. With an open mind, read this article and think about whether you’ve seen any of these cultural characteristics at work.
  • Our hiring practices are inequitable and need to change: Vu Le, executive director of Rainier Valley Corps, wrote this post on his blog. His blog provides a wealth of information on racial equity issues, but I’ve suggested this one because hiring is one aspect of the social-impact sector that exemplifies and perpetuates racial inequity.

How to create a more equitable workplace

Achieving racial equity is a long-term goal. But individual actions can help break down systemic racism and make progress toward that goal. The following articles provide tips and suggestions.

  • Did You Really Just Say That?: This short article from the American Psychological Association provides advice on how to deal with microaggressions that you experience, observe, or commit.
  • Awake to Work to Woke: The “Awake to Work to Woke” framework outlines steps an organization can take to embrace racial equity work. This resource is focused on leadership actions. But if you're not a manager (yet!), you can still learn from the resources—and potentially share them with your boss or other workplace decision makers.
  • Closing the Racial Leadership Gap, Part 2: This Idealist Careers post summarizes some of the recommendations in the Race to Lead report included in this reading list.

Want to keep reading and learning?

If achieving racial equity is a long-term goal, then so too is learning about it. You’re never “finished” learning, and you can always be better. But this reading list is just the beginning of your journey. To keep learning, try one of these next steps:

  • Follow the blogs and websites in this post so you can read their new content as it comes.
  • Pick a book (or several) from this list of 16 books about race.
  • Share this post with other people in your life. Talk with them about what you’ve learned and what behaviors you want to change.

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Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.

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