Thinking about race, gender and equity


“I am a recovering chauvinist,” Metric Giles told the group gathered to talk about race and equity. “God blessed me with six daughters. And that brought me to realize that I have privilege as a man. I realize it – but I still have it, because the system still gives it to me. My decision is how to use it and what to do with it.”

Giles went on to talk about race. “Europeans have two choices in this system that we have,” he said. “You can either be a racist, or you can be a recovering racist.”

That lays it out clearly: racism and sexism are not just about feelings or beliefs. They are institutionalized in society. As Peggy McIntosh wrote back in 1988, “A man’s sex provides advantage for him whether or not he approves of the way in which dominance has been conferred on his group. A ‘white’ skin in the United States opens many doors for whites whether or not we approve of the way dominance has been conferred on us.” 

The examples McIntosh cited then are still relevant today. Among them:

I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

The list goes on, and there’s a similar list for male privilege.

Back to the September 23 forum where Metric Giles spoke. The group, gathered by the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability at the Jewish Community Action offices in St. Paul, discussed the need for Equity Impact Statements, similar to Environmental Impact Statements. Rather than asking about impact on air or water, said one organizer, the Equity Impact Statement would ask questions such as:

“What’s the effect on the people who live in this neighborhood? Particularly people who have lived here a long time, people of color, people with low incomes – what will the impact be? Who’s going to get the jobs? Are any people losing housing? Which people?”

An Equity Impact Statement would look at proposed major developments — such as the Central Corridor rail line or major housing or business developments. The goal, said one participant, is to have the city require all developers over a certain size to submit this statement. The statement would be “definitely for developers receiving public subsidy, but not for remodeling your garage.”

According to the Alliance website page on Racial Equity Impact Statements, “The Alliance and our partner organizations are working with the city of St. Paul to pilot a racial equity impact policy, which will help the city’s urban planners use their research, analytical and planning capacities to ensure that subsidized economic development increases equity rather than exacerbating disparities.” They suggest asking the following questions of cities and developers:

  • Fiscal equity: Will the use of public funds reduce racial disparities rather than increasing them or neglecting to consider them?
  • Transportation equity: Will transit access (or lack thereof) differentially impact people of different racial and economic statuses?
  • Housing equity: Will the use of public funds for housing development differentially impact people of various racial and economic backgrounds?
  • Employment equity: Are jobs created and retained as part of a strategy to reduce poverty across different racial and ethnic lines?
  • Environmental equity: Are environmental hazards distributed unevenly across residents based on race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status?
  • Zoning and planning equity: Are zoning and planning policies adversely impacting people differently based on socioeconomic, ethnic or racial status?

If you are interested in learning more about Equity Impact Statements, contact the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, the lead organization in a partnership that includes the Aurora/Saint Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, Community Stabilization Project, Jewish Community Action, JUST Equity, Organizing Apprenticeship Project, Research Allies, Crossroads Resource Center, HECUA, University of Minnesota Institute for Global Studies