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The UNRISD Anti-Racism Reading List: Research to Challenge Racial Injustice

17 Jun 2020

The UNRISD Anti-Racism Reading List: Research to Challenge Racial Injustice
“All privilege or disadvantage related to race is socially constructed from a past and present built on slavery, colonization, neo-colonialism, cultural imperialism and/or racism (both individual and institutional).”

— Vernellia R. Randall in Race, Health Care and the Law: Regulating Racial Discrimination in Health Care

Protests sparked by recurring incidents of racially motivated police brutality in the US, and the larger racist structures such incidents are both embedded in and actively reproduce, have spread across the world. Individuals, particularly those who do not experience systemic racism and structural forms of racial injustice and discrimination, are being called upon to educate themselves about the injustices behind current inequities, and to work to challenge these. UNRISD proposes the following resources in support of this global effort.

As an institution, we commit to continue the work of fighting injustice and promoting transformative change through research and policy analysis. We commit to intensifying our focus on the role that structures of racism play not only in creating inequality, but also in the legitimation of certain kinds of knowledge over others. We will strive with renewed vigour to ensure a diversity of voices in all of our research, and will work to challenge hierarchies of knowledge that silence minority voices.


The Historical Construction of Race and Citizenship in the United States, by George Fredrickson
    • “True citizenship means more than pro forma legal equality. It also entails equality of respect and the willingness of an ethno-racial majority to acknowledge in word and deed that members of a minority belong to the nation.”
    • “What is special about the case of the United States is the coexistence of a universalistic human rights tradition together with a strong historical tendency toward exclusion on racial grounds.”
    • “To contend that race has been socially constructed is also to maintain that it is not natural or inevitable. What has been constructed can also be torn down or deconstructed.”

📑 Poverty and Prosperity: Prospects for Reducing Racial/Ethnic Economic Disparities in the United States, by Sheldon Danziger, Deborah Reed, Tony N. Brown
    • “African-Americans consistently report that the playing field is far from level, and that they expect discrimination when they search for jobs or buy a home. Many African-Americans view the United States as a colour-coded society, with whites holding most of the decision-making power and using it to confer benefits on other whites with regard to good jobs and good homes. This racial distrust affects political and economic decisions, such as those related to the placement of bus routes and subway stops, funding for public schools, the placement of power plants and other related issues.”
    • “What is lacking is not a series of promising policy options, but the political will to take bold actions to confront the multiple economic and social problems relating to racial/ethnic disparities.”

📑 Policing and Human Rights: Eliminating Discrimination, Xenophobia, Intolerance and the Abuse of Power from Police Work, by Benjamin Bowling, Coretta Phillips, Alexandra Campbell, Maria Docking
    • “The attraction of the ‘bad apple’ approach is that it implies the relatively straightforward solution of removing racist officers from the service and preventing the emergence of others either through recruitment and selection processes or through training. … Individual behaviour, stereotypes and prejudiced attitudes are all important factors in understanding the phenomenon of discrimination in criminal justice. However, the individual approach oversimplifies a complex problem and ignores the wider social, cultural and structural context within which policing is carried out.”

📑 Environment and Morality: Confronting Environmental Racism in the United States, by Robert Bullard
    • “Racism is a potent factor in sorting people into their physical environments. Racism influences land use, housing patterns and infrastructure development ... and remains an important factor in explaining social inequality, political exploitation, social isolation and problems with the health and well-being of blacks and other people of colour in the United States.”
    • “Environmental decision making often mirrors the power arrangements of the dominant society and its institutions. It disadvantages people of colour while providing advantages or privileges for corporations and individuals in the upper echelons of society. The question of who pays and who benefits from environmental and industrial policies is central to this analysis of environmental racism.”

📑 Racial Justice: The Superficial Morality of Colour-Blindness in the United States, by Glenn C. Loury
    • “The unfair treatment of persons based on race in formal economic transactions is no longer the most significant barrier to the full participation of blacks in American life. More important is the fact that too many African-Americans cannot gain access on anything approaching equal terms to social resources that are essential for human flourishing, but that are made available to individuals primarily through informal, culturally mediated, race-influenced social intercourse. It follows that achieving racial justice at this point in American history requires more than reforming procedures so as to ensure fair treatment for blacks in the economic and bureaucratic undertakings of private and state actors.”

📑 Race, Health Care and the Law: Regulating Racial Discrimination in Health Care, by Vernellia R. Randall
    • “Equal access to quality health care is a crucial issue facing ‘racially disadvantaged’ groups. The need to focus specific attention on the racism inherent in the institutions and structures of health care is overwhelming. ‘Racially disadvantaged’ groups are sicker and dying at significantly higher rates than the majority populations of their countries.”
    • “Denial of health care does not occur only as overt racism, but also as a result of institutional racism. This institutional racism is the result of the disparate impact of practices and policies, inadequate laws and regulations and ineffective enforcement of existing laws and regulations, cultural incompetence of health care providers and institutions, and socioeconomic inequities that are disproportionately distributed along racial lines.”

These papers were produced as part of the UNRISD research project Racism and Public Policy, which may have been completed in 2001 but, as is evident from the quotes above, has lost none of its tragic relevance.

Around 30 papers were presented at the UNRISD conference, held in September 2001 in Durban, South Africa, in parallel with the third World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Selected papers were published in an edited volume.

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