King County is Leading with Racial Justice
King County is prioritizing racial justice as part of our government work overall and implementation of our Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) Strategic Plan. We are intentionally leading with racial justice to confront the historical and racial inequities that continue to exist in our community and our organization. These racial inequities affect all of us and our ability to live well and thrive.
Why is King County focusing on racial justice?
When we look at data across our communities, whether it is people’s health, access to housing and good paying jobs, graduation rates, incomes or incarcerations, disparities are greatest when we look by race. The most persistent and detrimental disparities are starkest when we look at race. By leading with racial justice we are committing to taking on the root causes of our most challenging problems and to focus where we can have the biggest impact and needs are greatest.
Our ESJ approach is comprehensive, working to address all forms of inequities, discrimination and bias. By leading with racial justice, we will learn the tools and strategies that apply to all inequities and will be able to apply them to eliminate all forms of discrimination and disparities and their intersection with race.
How is King County focusing on racial equity?
In King County we have serious disparities by race across our Determinants of Equity. In our Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan, we lay out a roadmap for advancing racial equity in eight policy areas. Similarly, we have goals for building our capacity to address racial equity in six areas.
Take for example our workforce. Although King County employees are relatively racially diverse taken as a whole, a limited number of employees of color are hired as well as promoted to management and leadership positions. A recent New York Times article noted, “Diversity improves the way people think. By disrupting conformity, racial and ethnic diversity prompts people to scrutinize facts, think more deeply and develop their own opinions.” These critical thinking skills and appreciation of differences are the exact competencies we are seeking in our leadership and managers. Research has shown that a diverse workforce can best provide culturally-responsive services to meet the needs of our ever-changing communities. Hiring and promoting racially diverse employees who share the racial, ethnic, cultural and language composition of the communities being served, including in leadership, are critical to becoming the Best Run Government. This is why the ESJ Strategic Plan calls for a focused effort to recruit and hire applicants of color to the management and leadership positions in the County.
Similarly, in our community work and services, the “school-to-prison pipeline” is a metaphor used to describe the national trend where youth are funneled out of schools and into the juvenile justice system. Youth of color are disproportionately represented in the school-to-prison pipeline. Despite an almost 70 percent drop in King County’s juvenile detention population since 1999, racial disproportionality remains at an unacceptable level. In partnership with community organizations, youth and school districts on the Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee, King County is focused on becoming the first urban region in the country to see the juvenile detention population and the racial disparities within it shrink at the same time.
What does our Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan say about racial justice and other forms of inequities and oppression?
On page 16 of our ESJ Strategic Plan, we make “Racially Just” one of our major values, saying we will “dismantle systems, policies and practices that perpetuate structural racism, inequities and different forms of discrimination based on power and privilege.” We also state: “Consistent with our ESJ Ordinance and the historical and persistent patterns of inequities, King County focuses on equity impacts on communities of color, low-income populations, and limited English-speaking residents. Our approach is comprehensive, and true opportunity requires every person have access to the benefits of our society regardless of race, gender and gender identity, class, geography, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability or other aspects of who we are, what we look like, where we come from, where we live and what we believe in.”
How do we define structural racism?
In our ESJ Strategic Plan, we define structural racism as “the interplay of policies, practices, programs and systems of multiple institutions which leads to adverse outcomes and conditions for communities of color compared to white communities, that occurs within the context of racialized historical and cultural conditions.”
Race and racial categories in the United States are social constructions created by the dominant group to delineate dominant and subordinate categories and their access to resources; these categories have an assigned meaning. They have changed over time, and thus the way communities experience race has changed over time.
How can I learn more about racial inequities in our county and strategies for racial justice?
The following tools and strategies are available to guide ESJ activities:
- The ESJ Strategic Plan includes specific actions for making changes in King County government. For example, it outlines how to advance a more racially diverse and just workforce and workplace.
- King County Equity Tools include an Equity Impact Review Tool, a Community Engagement Guide, and an Implicit Bias Toolkit.
- The Racial Equity Tools site is designed to support individuals, teams, and organizations that are working to achieve racial equity.