Abstract: Critical Race Theory and Legislative Processes: Unpacking the Impact of Racism on Policy-Making (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Critical Race Theory and Legislative Processes: Unpacking the Impact of Racism on Policy-Making

Friday, January 18, 2019: 9:30 AM
Union Square 15 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Ashley-Marie Hanna Daftary, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV
Mary Hylton, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV
Debora Ortega, PhD, Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Background and purpose

Systematic oppression has pervaded American policy making both historically and currently. Public policies related to voting, school funding, policing, corrections and health care reflect both overt and subtle forms of prejudice. Rather than addressing the US legacy of racism, these policies propagate inequity. The outcomes of this oppression are evident in racial and ethnic disparities in health, education, and well-being outcomes.

While much has been written about the the outcomes of racist policies, very little has been written about the policy making processes that result in these inequitable policies.  Democratic principles ensure that public policy making processes include input from diverse constituent groups.  However, the actual development, framing and deliberation in relation to public policies are fraught with the same racist undertones prevalent in the larger US culture.  Critical Race Theory (CRT), developed by legal scholars, provides a strong theoretical framework by which to analyze the influence of racism on policy making.  The aim of this research study was to use theoretical constructs derived from CRT to uncover both overt and covert racialized interactions that influence policy making processes.

Research Question

The specific research questions guiding this study are: 1) How is the policy making process racialized? and 2) how do racialized interactions during policy making processes affect the outcomes, structure and content of policy?


This qualitative research study utilized the tenets of CRT as an analytical tool for evaluating policy making processes. Specific analysis interactions during the 2017 legislative session for one western state were completed to assess the effects of oppression and privilege on policy making. The data analysis included the transcripts of all of the hearings on five bills that specifically addressed topics relevant to race and ethnicity. The transcripts from these hearings were uploaded to Atlas.ti.  Transcripts were coded by all three of the authors and then recoded in a process designed to ensure inter-rater reliability.


Preliminary results highlight the way the policy making process is racialized. White legislators shaped the discourse surrounding policy proposals in ways that minimized or denied the existence of racism. Legislators of color were thrust into the position of arguing for the relevance of race and culture to policy through either interest convergence or providing a counter narrative. Alternatively, legislators of color capitulated to their colleagues’ denial of racism in order to be successful in their overall legislative agendas. These racialized discussions heavily impacted policy proposals, resulting in policies that were frequently stripped of their anti-racist intents and instead continued the status quo.

Conclusions and implications

The results of this study illustrate the continuing influence of racism on policy making and suggest that CRT can be a useful framework for highlighting the racialized dynamics in the policy making process. This study serves as a model to be used for future analysis of policy making that considers issues of power, privilege and oppression. In order to achieve more equitable and just public policy, we must also work to achieve a more equitable legislative process.