MDC believes in a South where all people thrive. That vision for our region requires racial equity.
What Racial Equity Means
Creating equity means counteracting the cultural and institutional practices that have accorded disadvantage to some groups and advantage to others. In an equitable society, race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, gender identity, sexuality, socioeconomic status, ability, and other characteristics would no longer determine the opportunities for success available to different people. In concrete terms, equity work levels the playing field by allocating material resources to the communities that have been most deprived of them in the past. At MDC, we recognize that race has a particular role in our work as a Southern organization addressing poverty and mobility. We also know that equity in one arena cannot be fully realized without achieving equity across the many intersecting systems that impact Southerners’ identities. Addressing equity across systems is critical to honoring the dignity and rights of the individuals and communities that contribute to the rich fabric of Southern identity and culture.
A History of Inequity
At MDC, our work in any community begins with “reading reality truthfully”—using history and data as a starting point for charting a bold course forward. Accordingly, we believe the first step in building a racially equitable South is taking an honest look back at how we got where we are. Beginning with slavery and the colonization of indigenous nations, and continuing through the violent backlash to Emancipation, sharecropping, black codes and convict leasing, and Jim Crow, the South has played an undeniable role in creating and maintaining the myth of white supremacy.
The South is not alone: nationwide, discriminatory housing policy including redlining and Urban Renewal, mass incarceration, and school re-segregation have continued to bar people of color from the best opportunities our nation has to offer. Still, throughout our nation’s and region’s troubled history, MDC finds a source of hope: Southerners have organized and agitated in each generation to demand more from our region and country, and leaders in communities too numerous to count have together across lines of race to foster structural change. For over 50 years, we have witnessed and supported deep and important change work on the part of our Southern colleagues and partners.
Benefits of Racial Equity
Racial equity is critical to a successful, prosperous society. In addition to the moral imperative to address structural racism and its persistent consequences, the societal benefits of racial equity are clear and compelling. According to Policy Link, US GDP could rise by 14% ($2 trillion near term and $8 trillion by 2050) if racial wage disparities were eliminated. Tax revenues would also significantly increase ($450 billion federally, $100 billion at the local and state levels), providing additional funds for improvements to infrastructure, education, and safety net programs. Given that people of color will make up the majority of US residents by 2040, it is not difficult to see the additional societal benefits of eliminating other racial disparities, including improved birth outcomes, educational attainment, and economic mobility and reduced rates of toxic stress, chronic disease, and incarceration. In addition to the economic benefits, equitable societies experience fewer social problems and their citizens—across all income levels—experience more happiness. MDC believes that these myriad economic and social benefits make a clear case for equity. We also believe, even in the absence of these benefits, all people have a right to a life unencumbered the barriers to opportunity created by inequity.
MDC believes that focusing on improving economic mobility alone will not address the racial disparities listed above. The South and the country are facing complex challenges, and if we hope to grow the leaders and communities capable of addressing these challenges and contributing to a thriving South, a fundamental part of this work involves eliminating structural racism and removing barriers to opportunity for people of color.
As an advisor and thought partner to funders, institutions, and communities working to build an infrastructure of opportunity in the South, MDC raises the importance of racial equity and supports the integration of approaches that directly address it. MDC continues to develop frameworks for research and data analysis that both identify and explore racial disparities and equip communities to present, discuss, and address those disparities in ways that do not perpetuate stereotypes or racial homogeneity. We also continue to explore ways to hold ourselves and our partners accountable to shifting representation, power dynamics, and decision making so that the insights and leadership of people of color are centered in the work of MDC and our partners. We are also dedicated to focusing on racial equity in our internal operations, including but not limited to hiring, training, vendor selection, and board composition.
Finally, MDC will continually further our own learning as it relates to racial equity and make changes to the way we work. We will lift up what we’re learning and we look forward to working together to create and equitable infrastructure of opportunity in the South.