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☆ Educators view discrimination as deeply rooted.
New Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot took office in May facing major worries, among them the city’s woefully underfunded pensions, a projected $800 million budget deficit, and one of America’s highest large-city crime rates. Yet one of her first moves as mayor was to appoint . . . a chief equity officer. In her view, all of Chicago’s woes are smaller than its bigger one: it is “two cities,” where racial outcomes differ dramatically. The equity job’s purpose, as a local paper described the cabinet position, was to lead local government in “uprooting . . . inequity in just about every sector, including jobs, housing, economic development and education.” Lightfoot was inspired to create the new post partly by the Chicago Public Schools, which the year before had appointed its own equity officer and debuted a “Curriculum Equity Initiative,” which called for course work to be “fair across race, religion, ethnicity and gender; and culturally relevant with the mindful integration of diverse communities, cultures, histories and contributions.”
Many Americans probably have never heard of a “chief equity officer,” but it may be the hottest new job in municipal government. The emergence of the position is part of a broader movement to get local governments to look beyond the fundamental American ideals of equal treatment and opportunity and instead demand equity, which generally means the achievement of similar outcomes for all groups. While certain programs pursued under the equity banner—minority contracting set-asides, say—have been around for years, others are newer and more radical.
The equity movement presumes that any unequal results in society reflect structural or institutional racism, even when officials can’t identify any actual discrimination. To redress these purported inequities, the movement demands that every city department’s mission, and every major decision in local government, be looked at from a racial-equity perspective. In practice, this has meant mandatory bias training for municipal and school employees, in order to root out “policies that work better for white people,” in the words of one advocacy group, and laws passed in a number of cities that limit what employers can ask job applicants (about any past criminal history, especially), as well as other measures.
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