Race and Democracy

Within the broad ecosystem of social change in the US, we often find a lack of alignment between racial justice and pro-democracy agendas. At best, there are siloed efforts of potential allies—and at worst, considerations of race are left out of democracy reform or civic revitalization work because it is seen as too “divisive” or ideological. At the Horizons Project, we seek to help break down these siloes, and we want to support our partners in placing racial equity and racial healing at the center of our pro-democracy organizing. We believe that addressing both historic and current racial injustice is an essential part of building healthy connective tissue among actors and strategies working to confront the latest manifestation of the authoritarian threat in the US and working towards a shared democratic future.

Stoking racial divides and fear is a tried-and-true element of the Authoritarian Playbook. The antidote to this tactic is to come together within broad-based movements across many lines of difference, including race, class, religion, geography, etc. Horizons is committed to supporting a pro-democracy united front that is working to block, bridge, and build at the same time. We must organize to block the most harmful effects of the authoritarian resurgence that continues to fall predominantly upon BIPOC communities; we must bridge amongst sectors to find common cause across all lines of identity and mobilize our collective action for change; and we must tirelessly work to build a multi-racial, pluralistic, inclusive democracy where all people can thrive.

There are many entry points to working on race and democracy, at times in tension with each other—prioritizing different time horizons, different target audiences, and deploying different theories of change. As systems-level organizers, the Horizons Project commits to highlighting this diversity of perspectives and naming the points of tension in service to our ability to collectively synergize and strategize our efforts. In this spirit, we’ve compiled a list of resources (that is surely not meant to be comprehensive) that we hope helps to shape the contours of organizations and tools to help navigate this essential topic:


What Does It Mean to Have a Strong Multi-Racial Democracy? Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

“Racism, rather than being the exception to the rule of American democracy, was fundamental to how many of the country’s founders understood themselves and conceptions of citizenship, argues Khalil Gibran Muhammad. Speaking with Archon Fung, Muhammad describes the often-tortuous path the United States has taken towards building a more inclusive, multiracial democracy. ‘So, when you ask the question about how racial conflict or solidarity advance or don’t advance the American project, first we have to recognize that conflict or solidarity are not these moments where we’ve either gone wrong or we’ve come together. But indeed, moments where we’ve responded to the fundamentals of our political nation.’”

Racial Authoritarianism in US Democracy, by Vesla Weaver and Gwen Prowse

“Recently, casual and savage violence of police against peaceful protesters and images of police in military gear sweeping up residents into unmarked vans has led journalists to question whether U.S. democracy is in peril. Many observers described these recent actions as authoritarian. But racial authoritarianism has been central to citizenship and governance of race-class subjugated communities throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. It describes state oppression such that groups of residents live under extremely divergent experiences of government and laws. Yet when police engage in excessive surveillance, incursions on civil liberties, and arbitrary force as a matter of routine patrol, many scholars of American politics are reluctant to consider it a violation of democracy and instead deem them aberrations in an otherwise functioning democracy. This mischaracterization is not limited only to intellectual discourse but also affects the public sphere. By obscuring evidence of racial authoritarianism, reforms will not land where needed.”

11 Terms You Should Know to Better Understand Structural Racism, The Aspen Institute

“Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead, it has been part of the social, economic, and political systems in which we all exist. It is part of America’s past and its present. This glossary describes terms related to structural racism and terms used to promote racial equity analysis. It was created by the Aspen Institute’s Roundtable on Community Change, a group that worked with leading innovators to produce strong and reliable frameworks for successful and sustainable community change and development.”

Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference? by Stephen Menendian

“To summarize: Equality means that the law and government treats everyone the same, irrespective of their status or identity. Equity means that, in some circumstances, people must be treated differently to provide meaningful equality of opportunity. Neither “equality” nor “equity” guarantee equality of outcomes. Equity is primarily in service of equality of opportunity, not outcomes. But achieving equality of opportunity requires both equality (formally equal treatment) and equity (situationally different treatment), depending on the circumstances.”

Racial Equity Tool Kit, Government Alliance on Race and Equity

“Racial equity tools are designed to integrate explicit consideration of racial equity in decisions, including policies, practices, programs, and budgets. It is both a product and a process. Use of a racial equity tool can help to develop strategies and actions that reduce racial inequities and improve success for all groups.”

Racial Equity Impact Assessment, Race Forward

“A Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA) is a systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision. REIAs are used to minimize unanticipated adverse consequences in various contexts, including the analysis of proposed policies, institutional practices, programs, plans and budgetary decisions. The REIA can be a vital tool for preventing institutional racism and for identifying new options to remedy long-standing inequities.”

Let’s Get to the Root of Racial Injustice, by Megan Ming Francis

This short video captures Megan Ming Francis challenging the idea that education alone can adequately address the lingering reality of racial injustice. In a beautifully cogent presentation, she argues that to combat continuing racial injustices today, we must expand our vision and responsibility to what civil rights means. By this she means that the battle against racist violence is inherent in protecting civil rights.

The Structural Racism Remedies Project, The Othering & Belonging Institute

This “open-source, searchable repository of policy-based recommendations for addressing structural and systemic racism or advancing racial equity drawn from a vast array of published material…This project finds significant challenges and barriers to a reform agenda aimed at addressing systemic and structural racism due to: 1) budgetary and fiscal limitations on spending and appropriations, 2) ideological and political opposition to the goals of racial equity or particular proposals, 3) legal and constitutional limitations on consideration of race in policy-making, and 4) systems resistance to policy implementation that undermines policy intentions. Any thoughtful and effective agenda must grapple with these challenges.”

Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Implementation Guidebook, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

“This Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Implementation Guidebook will help communities, organizations and individuals plan, implement and evaluate TRHT efforts. It includes specific guidance on implementing the different areas of the TRHT framework and ensuring inclusion of a decolonization agenda in the work. It has been updated based on learnings from the first five years of TRHT implementation.”

A Dream in Our Name, Liberation Ventures

“This report is intended to accelerate ongoing conversations about how all of us stand to benefit from Racial Repair. Through this framework, we apply a new lens on what comprehensive reparations can mean, who it is for, and what role we each can play. We clarify the component parts of “repair” to translate it from being an abstract term to an implementable action. Fundamentally, we’re broadening the vision for reparations to ensure that all people see themselves in the work of repair, and we’re calling forth our collective responsibility to do this necessary work.”

Race, Arts and Democracy, The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Arizona State University

“The Race, Arts and Democracy series underscores the vital connections between race, the arts and the work to sustain, imagine, understand and document democracy. Programs feature acclaimed and emerging artists in and beyond the United States whose work illuminates the complexities of race and the possibilities of democracy. This [program] series explores the power of creativity and how the arts enable us to see and learn more together about justice, access and equity, civil rights, economic inequality and the multifaceted work to achieve social justice in our world today.”

Talking About Race, Living Room Conversations

“The motto of Living Room Conversations is respect, relate, connect. We know that in the pursuit of racial equity, individual conversations are not the final stop in the journey. Conversations can help us better understand individual bias and racism, as well as consider how racism is part of our systems and institutions. Living Room Conversations has created this resource page in response to increased demand and design to have conversations about race.”

On Talking to Kids About Race, Multiracial Democracy and EmbraceRace, Outside Conversations Podcast

The Co-Founder and Co-Director of EmbraceRace, Andrew Grant-Thomas talks about the organization’s founding, “its work in the world, the future of a multiracial democracy, advocacy and how we can talk (and listen!) to our children about race.”

Global Democracy Supporters Must Confront Systemic Racism, by Ashley Quarcoo

In the article written in 2020 during the rise of racial justice movements world-wide, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published this piece directed to the global democracy promotion sector. “If Western democracies wish to maintain some credibility as lead advocates for human rights and democratic governance, they must seek to fully understand and address the role that racism plays in undermining the legitimacy of their institutions.”

More Resources:

From Scarcity to Solidarity Toolkit, Showing Up For Racial Justice

Martin Luther King’s Multiple Lanes to Multiracial Democracy by Maria Stephan

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History by Ned BlackHawk

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nicole Hannah-Jones

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis

Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Our History Has Always Been Contraband: In Defense of Black Studies edited by Colin Kaepernick, Robin D.G. Kelley, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Tyranny of the Minority: Why American Democracy Reached the Breaking Point by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

The Source of Self Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

The Darkened Light of Faith: Race, Democracy, and Freedom in African American Political Thought by Melvin L. Rogers

Where Do We Go From Here?: Chaos of Community by Martin Luther King Jr.

Asian American Histories of the United States by Catherine Ceniza Choy

Dancing in the Darkness: Spiritual Lessons for Thriving in Turbulent Times by Otis Moss III

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

From #Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamatta Taylor