Stepping up to the plate: Making social equity a priority in public administration’s troubled times

The United States is built on and reinforced by exploitation and oppression, especially the genocide “of Native Americans, and the theft of their lands, and the extensive enslavement of Africans” (Feagin, 2006, p. 2). The highest objective of public service is to improve people’s lives, and yet, the U.S. has created policies and programs benefiting white people and disadvantaging Black people and other people of color. Such policies, practices, and laws are structurally racist in that they systematically create and reinforce inequalities at individual and institutional levels, regardless of people’s attitudes or intentions. More specifically, structural racism and anti-Black racism have become embedded practices impacting outcomes in the economy, housing, education, healthcare, environment, criminal and juvenile justice, politics, transportation, and more (Bullard, 2004). These injustices lead to “cumulative effects of social inequity across organizations that compound and reinforce one another”, making racial inequities enduring, systemic, and endemic characteristics of the U.S. (Gooden, 2014, p. 12).

To highlight how racism is embedded in the nation’s institutions and in response to the double pandemics of COVID-19 and killing of black persons by police, we discuss the legacy and linkages of racism related to segregation, healthcare, and policing. In response to these inequities, we present the recent statement from the American Society for Public Administration’s (ASPA) Section on Democracy and Social Justice (DSJ). Next, we discuss the value of social equity as a pillar of public administration (PA) and advance a social equity curriculum for public affairs education to address fairness and justice as essential skills for all public service professionals.