A new study published in the Milbank Quarterly examines messaging strategies to promote policies that advance racial equity. The authors aimed to study how various messaging strategies can influence support and mobilization for racial equity policy domains across a wide variety of social systems. To do so, the authors conducted a scoping review of peer-reviewed studies from communication, psychology, political science, sociology, public health, and health policy journals.
The authors found that while most studies find evidence that support for racial equity-related policies is undermined by references to race or using racial cues, studies have generally not explored the effects of lived experiences or detailed historical accounts of how racism is embedded in public policy design and implementation.
Messaging strategies involving racial cues yielded robust evidence across a variety of policy domains that among White audiences, even brief reference to racial cues (usually mentions of Black versus White people or populations) tends to undermine average levels of support for policies likely to advance racial equity. Comparing rates of incarceration or health outcomes between Black and White people, in the absence of broader contextual information, can also undermine support for policies to address them.
The authors also offer recommendations for improving the body of research about effective messaging for racial equity policies. Highlighted was the need for longitudinal study designs with repeated exposures as well as the need for long-form messaging strategies. They posit that short-term communication strategies run the long-term risk of failing to build the historical context, collective recognition, and momentum to address the deeply embedded structures of racism that sustain racial inequity in the United States.