The thoughts expressed in this Guest Opinion are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of S&P Global.
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The challenges of tackling systemic racism are substantial, for at least two reasons. One is that its existence, even as properly defined to include the discriminatory effects of otherwise race-neutral laws, institutions, and practices, is not universally accepted. Many Americans believe that in the wake of the 1960s-era civil rights legislation, all formal discrimination has ended, and if anything may have tipped too far in the other direction (through affirmative action). This is the case even though studies (referenced in our companion Entrepreneurial Leadership essay) show continuing discrimination in housing and employment, while camera videos make explicit that racial discrimination still exists in policing. Second, implicit racial biases – or stereotypes – can only be changed if people are aware that these exist and want to change. These two challengeds are difficult to overcome, especially because awareness requires honest conversations between people – ideally face to face -- which are hard to pull off even in the best of circumstances.
Here, we highlight some innovative efforts that nonetheless are addressing systemic racism in unusual ways. Our first example consists not only of a city-wide effort in Tulsa, Oklahoma, led by its Republican Mayor, to combat racism, but to do so through both transparency and using evidence-based approaches to problem solving. Tulsa is just one of almost 170 city and state governments that are currently using some form of data-driven, evidence-based approaches to setting policy, according to Results for America, one of the leading national organizations that assesses and lists evaluations of social interventions at all levels of government.[i]
There are other ways of addressing systemic racism through the public sector, not only through the actions of government leaders, but through citizen input into governmental decision-making that can reduce disproportionate racial impacts. In our second profile in this section, we describe Shari Davis’ inspiring journey from impactful local public servant to the leadership of an influential worldwide organization, the Participatory Budget Project, which facilitates citizen participation, with special focus on bridging racial divides.
While these two profiles relate to public sector efforts to addressing systemic racism, other private sector efforts are underway. One innovative approach is to use a for-profit platform for non-profit, socially oriented objectives. Moj Mahadra’s beauty projects platform, the subject of our third profile here, offers a unique and surprising example, illustrating the powerful effects that can come from harnessing the power of social media – frequently mentioned as a culprit in contributing to social divisions – in a positive way, to help break down barriers between people, promoting long overdue honest conversations about race.