Holding multiple truths in our minds at once

April 25, 2019

Dear Changemakers,

The curious can hold multiple truths in our minds simultaneously. Here at Urban, we can take pride in and celebrate our powerful institution’s history, excellence, and contributions, even as we acknowledge its limitations and how it was shaped by, and even contributed to, an unequal society. We can celebrate President Lyndon B. Johnson’s founding vision and insight while we also recognize his capability for racist expression and deeds. In fact, we must acknowledge both parts of our legacy if we hope to advance and help shape a more inclusive society.

As Urban celebrates our first 50 years and prepares to launch our next chapter, I recommend to you a thoughtful and challenging post by my colleagues Cameron Okeke and Nancy La Vigne: “Reckoning with Structural Racism in Research: LBJ’s Legacy and Urban’s Next50.” They explore LBJ’s complex legacy and how America’s history of racism and discrimination influenced the way Urban has approached, interpreted, and shared our research over the years. They call out how, even today, too few of “the people tasked to address the racialized problems facing low-income people of color live in those neighborhoods.”

They also propose tougher scrutiny of long-accepted research and policy norms and practices, helpfully laying out more inclusive research methods, more careful use of language and baselines, and new audiences and dissemination strategies. Many of these approaches are being explored here at Urban, but Cameron and Nancy push us to do more.

They shine the light on truths that we must understand. But accepting them does not diminish our pride in the truth of Urban’s historic contributions. For example, Urban researchers invented a rigorous empirical method for measuring the extent of housing discrimination and kept the public's eye on this inconvenient truth for four decades. We supported enforcement and other efforts to root out discrimination and undoubtedly expanded housing opportunity for millions as a result. Today, we try to bring new voices and more diverse teams to the process while we celebrate with enthusiasm the contributions of the original researchers who designed and led this and so many other life-changing bodies of work.

Ours is not the only institution wrestling with complex legacies. I respect the different ways that members of the Urban community are celebrating, learning from, and wrestling with the past as we look to Urban’s Next50. And I hope you will share your reflections and ideas with us on this journey.

Warmly,
Sarah