Home News Center Seeking Diversity vs. Anti-Racism - What's the difference?

Seeking Diversity vs. Anti-Racism - What's the difference?

April 26, 2019
Courtney McSwain

2017 NJJN committed to becoming an anti-racist organization. In doing so, our member organizations have also agreed to become anti-racist in their approach to youth justice reform.  

What does anti-racist mean?  

Taking an anti-racist approach requires organizations to scrutinize the systemic racial bias that is endemic within our society. Further, it calls upon organizations to look within their own workplace culture, policies and practices to identify and uproot racial biases inherent in their operations.  

Workplace diversity, on the other hand, refers to demographic variation within an organization’s staff and leadership. Diversity efforts are a noble goal. Proactively hiring diverse staff and leadership across many attributes – race, gender, sexual orientation, personality type – results in increased levels of creativity, innovation and effective problem solving. Nonprofit organizations, in particular, benefit from diversity when their staff and leadership reflect the demographic makeup of the community they seek to serve 

While acknowledging the historical discrimination that has barred access to certain types of work for people of color and other marginalized groups, workplace diversity practice does not necessarily analyze or commit to disrupting racial oppression from a structural perspective. Only by understanding racial oppression as a structural occurrence, rather than the result of individual acts of prejudice, can advocacy organizations truly confront the root causes of racial disparities. Moreover, by doing so internally, we are better equipped to call out racism's grip on the American justice system. 

In sum, an anti-racist approach to youth justice reform requires advocacy organizations to look inward to acknowledge racial bias that shows up within our own policies and culture before we can effectively look outward and scrutinize racial bias within the youth justice system.  

So how does an organization become anti-racist?  


NJJN understands the challenge facing our colleagues wishing to make this shift, yet not necessarily knowing where to start, as we are making this critical transition ourselves. We've discovered the best first step is arming ourselves with an understanding of how racial oppression: 

  • Was socially constructed, 

  • Has been used to subjugate various groups of people, 

  • Shows up today in the many ways we structure our democracy; and  

  • Intersects with other discriminatory structures like misogyny, homophobia, ableism and others. 

For NJJN members, and others, getting started on their journey towards becoming anti-racist advocates within the youth justice reform movement, we’ve collected starter resources to guide your internal conversations and help you frame further thinking.  

Resources to Start Your Anti-Racist Discussions:  


  1. Race the Power of an Illusion  - This groundbreaking documentary provides a comprehensive look at the creation of race as a social construct while debunking the myth of race as a biological actuality. The film is available for rent on Vimeo, and a new companion website offers discussion resources.  

  1. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack via racialequitytools.org - This classic essay from scholar Peggy McIntosh introduces the concept of "privilege" and provides a common language for understanding it as a structural reality rather than a result of individual malintent.   

  1. Systems Thinking and Race - The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity provides a “Systems Primer,” which defines “systems thinking” and why we need to apply this approach to our understanding of race. The primer gives a comprehensive overview of how to understand systems at work outside individual acts of bias or benevolence.  

  1. What is Systemic Racism?  - Race Forward created a series of videos that explore how systemic racism impacts the lives of people in the United States, including the racial wealth gap, employment, housing discrimination, government surveillance, and incarceration.  

  1. We Need to Talk About Injustice - Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, presents this TED Talk on the racial imbalance within the American justice system.   

  1. So You Don’t Think Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Are Relevant to Your Mission? - Nonprofit executive and author of the blog “Nonprofit: Absolutely Fabulous” details why considering racial disparities is relevant to every nonprofit mission, and why some nonprofits may need to reexamine their work through a racial justice lens.   

  1. Beyond Diversity and Multiculturalism: Towards the Development of Anti-Racist Institutions and Leaders via (racialequitytools.org) - Mary Pender Greene details the process of becoming an anti-racist organization as experienced during her time as the assistant executive director for the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. This is a great case study to understand the ongoing process of shifting to an anti-racist advocacy approach.  

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