Founded in 2002 as a project of the Tides Center, the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI) contends that “structural racism” thoroughly pervades American society and its institutions. To support this assertion, CSI cites the fact that “people of color,” as compared to whites, are much likelier to be unemployed, to attend schools that are underfunded, to drop out of school without graduating, to lack health insurance, and to be poor. By CSI’s reckoning, “policy is the root” of each of these problems, and it is “also the place to find a solution.”
In pursuit of such a solution, CSI administers four major programs designed to “develop policy ideas to transform” the existing “structures and systems that perpetuate the exclusion of communities of color.” Each program emphasizes the importance of public funding, which would facilitate a redistribution of wealth from the larger pool of American taxpayers to selected nonwhite minority communities:
Noting that “communities of color … face extra barriers in ownership, financing, and access to technology” because they tend to have less capital than their white counterparts, CSI calls on federal, state, and local governments to create, with taxpayer dollars, so-called “Energy Improvement Districts.” These districts would consist of tracts of land and designated buildings zoned specifically for energy-production purposes in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
* Transportation Equity: This CSI program advocates increased public funding for mass-transit service in black and Hispanic neighborhoods, along with the creation of “more transportation-related jobs for disadvantaged people.”
* Broadband Equity: Lamenting that “too many” nonwhite minorities lack “access to high-quality, high-speed Internet” as a result of “digital redlining,” CSI asserts: “People of color, thanks to a history of housing discrimination and poverty, tend to live in older buildings and communities. Telecoms avoid investing in these communities because of the cost of upgrading the infrastructure and the impact on their profit margin.” Because “we can’t rely on the big telecommunication companies” in the private sector to make Internet service available to nonwhite communities, says CSI, public financing is required.
* Food Equity: Working “with food justice leaders and grassroots groups to generate policy strategies and solutions that will create a more equitable food system, from seed to community,” CSI promotes “the local production and distribution of healthy food as well as policies that improve available data to make it easier to identify underserved communities.” Such efforts to “reduc[e] the [food] availability differences to the lowest feasible level,” says CSI, should be funded jointly by public-sector sources and private-sector philanthropists.
Viewing “community organizers and other grassroots advocates” as those who are best equipped to bring about the foregoing policy initiatives, CSI invests considerable resources in the training of such activists. Further, the Center strives to connect these local leaders “to opportunities for state and national policy development and reform.”
CSI traces the roots of American racism directly to conservatism, which it depicts as a philosophy that is insensitive to the needs of the poor: “For more than a quarter century, right-wing rhetoric has dominated debates of racial justice – undermining efforts to create a more equal society, and tearing apart the social safety net in the process.”
The founder and president of CSI is Maya Wiley, a civil-rights attorney and policy advocate who earned a J.D. from the Columbia University School of Law in 1989. She is the daughter of the late George Wiley, who established the National Welfare Rights Organization in 1967. Prior to founding CSI, Maya Wiley was a senior advisor on race and poverty with George Soros‘s Open Society Institute. She also has worked for the National Legal Department of the American Civil Liberties Union; the Poverty and Justice Program of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Moreover, Wiley has served on the boards of Human Rights Watch, the Institute on Race and Poverty (at the University of Minnesota School of Law), and the Council on Foreign Relations. She currently chairs the Tides Network Board.
CSI’s board of directors consists of officials from numerous left-wing organizations, including the American Values Institute, the Grassroots Policy Project, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, the New World Foundation, the Pineros y Campesinos Unidos de Noreste, and the Tides Network.