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Topos Partnership on Communicating Race-Forward Policy Ideas to Broader Audiences


Central to our work at the Alliance is a focus on dismantling the racist structures that create outcome disparities for young children and their families and getting broader – and race dismissive – audiences on board was the focus of an important session with Topos Partnership. While the development of this session had been in the works for a few months, last week’s verdict in George Floyd’s murder trial illustrated there is much work to be done in tackling structural racism.


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The Topos team kicked off by using a short video to illustrate the power of engaging with different frames across broad audiences to create alignment – demonstrating that it’s possible to have different kinds of conversations, in spite of starting in very dismissive places, and move towards re-engagement.

Are race-centered conversations challenging? Yes AND there can be different goals with different solutions. They used work and research in Kansas that focused on promoting a race-forward policy agenda where they worked to center race rather than avoid it and make explicit why we need policies that improve outcomes.

The full analysis from that work, “Two Narrative Strategies: Engaging on Race,” illustrated that offering examples of obstacles proved to be eye-opening for race-dismissive audiences and helped them understand challenges they were otherwise unaware of and using concrete, easy-to-understand solutions are motivating, convincing and different from more typical “problem-only” focus.

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Their work has continued to build on the learnings from their Kansas research and culminated in their sharing some general principles for effective policy/advocacy conversation that center race:

    • Offer plausible solutions / effective, concrete paths forward
    • Emphasize common interests/needs we all have (“Black, White and brown”)
    • Frame people as active/positive participants (not passive/victims, etc.)
    • Emphasize “we”/ “us” – we (all) have power, the stakes concern (all of) us, etc.
    • Acknowledge that government must do better (since skepticism is universal, for various reasons)
    • Don’t focus on plights/outcomes/disparities as the main message, since they are likely to be misinterpreted
    • When referring to obstacles faced by BIPOC communities, clarify concretely in ways that make it impossible to “blame the victim”
    • For more race-dismissive audiences, embed conversation in idea that various population groups face their own serious challenges

Looking for additional resources to build off the great session with Topos? Take a look at this in-depth advice with numerous examples from Our Story.

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