Anti-racist approaches to policy making
Scottish Government is increasingly interested in developing policy approaches which are explicitly anti-racist. This is in recognition of the role of structural racism in maintaining racial inequalities. The stark ethnic disparities emerging during the Covid-19 pandemic have clarified understandings of how fundamentally important it is to address structural racism.
Professor Rowena Arshad, in an article entitled Lessons Learned about Race in Scotland, wrote that "A key to progressing race equality is to develop a systems understanding of race matters. This means moving away from viewing racism as purely individually instigated deviant and irrational acts, to an understanding that race is connected to wider issues of power."
Structural racism describes how racism is created and maintained throughout the structures of society, at personal, social and institutional levels. In nations such as Scotland, an unspoken 'racial contract' that sites power firmly within the hands of the white majority ethnic community pervades these structures. Anti-racism aims to disrupt this racial contract. It can be seen as the theoretical framework underpinning practical action to tackle structural racism.
Anti-racist approaches to policy making would reflect principles such as:
- Redressing power hierarchies inherent in current approaches to policy development, including the impact of lack of representation of minority ethnic people in positions of influence and decision making roles
- Correcting economic, political and social imbalances created by white privilege and entrenched racial inequalities through positive action and other forms of targeted action
- Implementing structural and systemic solutions to racial inequalities – changing policy and practice, as opposed to 'sticking plaster' approaches which treat the effects of structural racism rather than its origins
- Avoiding the deficit model which downplays structural racism in favour of explanations related to personal capacity, culturally specific attitudes and behaviours or individual choices (often replicating racist stereotypes and/or minimising the role of racism in creating and maintaining inequalities)
- Rights based approaches which recognise that inaction on racism and racial inequalities breaches the rights of minority ethnic people; other potential imperatives for action which may be more palatable and avoid disrupting the racial contract, such as 'the business case' for equality, are counterproductive
- Intersectional approaches particularly recognising the specific inequalities facing minority ethnic women
- Overcoming discomfort or reticence that policy makers may have around frank discussion of race and racism, and other manifestations of white fragility which could impact policy making
- Policy making based on robust evidence about the nature and prevalence of racial inequalities and racism, as well as 'what works' to create change
- Effective, meaningful involvement of minority ethnic people and organisations with tangible impacts on policy development
- Building capacity on race equality and anti-racism, with recognition that it is not the responsibility of minority ethnic people to 'educate' policy makers
- Creating interest convergence by providing strong imperatives for policy makers to come together with race equality stakeholders and identify solutions
- Prioritising effective, measurable action to secure race equality over and above the optics of ethos and rhetoric on race equality
The final point is particularly important. Although there is no universally agreed definition of anti-racism, the main point of common understanding is that it requires action against personal, social and institutional racism. As explored in the report on gender equality policy commissioned by the NACWG, inaction is, in itself, a policy making decision. Policy makers wield power not just through what they do, but through what they choose not to do.
These principles are not exhaustive, however they reflect some of the most relevant concepts for the Scottish policy making context.