Policy and System Change


Policy, as used here, refers to the laws and regulations that govern major systems, including health, education, criminal justice, education and so on. Individuals are deeply and directly affected by policies and systems, including the laws and regulations themselves. They are also deeply and directly affected by unequal application by race/ethnicity of common policies and laws, and by unequal consequences by race/ethnicity when they are applied. This spiral of difference – in application, enforcement and consequences – is one way of understanding structural racism and internalized advantage and disadvantage within a general system of inequity. 

This spiral affects outcomes on almost every issue individuals, groups, communities and nations care about. For example, differences in the wealth among racial/ethnic groups today are built in large part on policies of the 1940's and 1950's that determined which racial or ethnic groups could get low-cost mortgages, and where they could buy houses. The strongest predictor, in a statistical sense, of differences in educational achievement among racial/ethnic groups today is still the economic status and education level of one's parents. Policies of the 1940's and 1950's that allowed most whites but few people of color who served in World War II to go to college at little or no cost still influence those differences. In some cases, the policies were explicitly created with the intent to discriminate by race (for example, red-lining, a well-known example. In other cases, and continuing today even though negative race specific policies are largely illegal, some policies have that impact, even if that is not the intent. This section provides content about strategies aimed at changing policies and systems, including litigation.

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