Our Approach to Race Equity Work and Why We Focus on Black and Latinx People

Jun 14, 2017 · 9 min read

At Code2040 we often get questions about our organization’s relationship to race.

Rather than using terms like “underrepresented,” “urban,” “marginalized,” “minority,” “underprivileged,” or the broader “people of color” when describing our focus at Code2040, we explicitly center Black and Latinx individuals and communities in our work. This can lead to questions or assumptions about our priorities or approach, and we address the ones we hear the most here.

Why Black and Latinx People?

Often we are asked: “Why Black and Latinx people?” Two main beliefs underscore our choice to focus our work on Black and Latinx communities explicitly.

  1. We believe providing access and opportunities for Black and Latinx communities in the innovation economy requires a degree of cultural competency best achieved by the type of inquiry, study, and understanding that comes with combining personal experience with laser focus.
  2. We believe that accountability is critical for social, racial, and economic justice work. Too often the terms “diversity” and “inclusion” are abstracted to the point of meaninglessness. Who is most “marginalized” or “underprivileged” and thus deserving can be a debate that distracts from the real work at hand. By naming our communities of focus specifically, we hold ourselves accountable to creating change for them.

Why not ____?

In addition to the question: “Why Black and Latinx?” we are also sometimes asked “Why not ____?” or “What about ____?” Many communities are in pain and need resources to navigate the shift from an industrial economy to a high-skilled labor workforce. All communities feel consequences of systemic racism in our society. Our ultimate aim as an organization is to end structural racism by closing the racial wealth gap in the United States. Our choice to focus on Black and Latinx communities on our path to achieving that is a strategic choice. We believe that by holding ourselves accountable to creating pathways for and breaking down systemic barriers to success for two communities, we will create learnings and open up space for all communities, thus giving us the best chance of ensuring our vision comes to fruition.

The Five Major Pillars of Code2040’s Approach to Race Equity

The choice to center Black and Latinx communities is the beginning of the conversation about race at Code2040. The conversation continues with our approach to race equity work and how this influences our choices, behaviors, and interactions both on staff and with our broader community. At Code2040 our approach to race equity work includes five major pillars.

Action is required

Ending racism does not happen through a “wait and see” approach. It does not happen inevitably by communities “just working harder” to get ahead. The large and daunting task of taking on the systems that oppress itself often inhibits and deters any progress or forward movement. We believe that to tackle structural racism action is required. Action is required of a multi-racial, multi-generational coalition of people working to imagine a world that has not yet existed, and then to create it. We are but ONE piece of this puzzle.

How we operationalize this belief:

  • If you are open minded and values aligned, our community is open to you — being a member of our community is not a passive act.
  • Cultural competency and awareness takes work, no matter what culture you are a part of — “ally” is not an awarded or claimed title, it is an identity maintained through a consistent set of actions over time.
  • “Action” is also the understanding of when it is time for you to step back and actively create space for others to lead.
  • Though all of us are engaged in the system, each of us gets to choose the responsibility and timeframe in which we engage in the work.
  • It is not a sprint, it is not a marathon, it is a relay race; while consistent engagement is required for progress, it is necessary to know who your teammates are, and it is OK to identify when to hand off the baton
  • We’re not asking for a seat at the table, we’re not asking for permission, we’re not asking to be saved by another community, we’re doing this work no matter what.
  • We do not use the tools of the oppressor to fight oppression: We do not divide and conquer; we do not sow the seeds of discord; we do not threaten other communities with our own power and influence.

Together we can grow the pie

We believe that there is no finite number of people who can or should get access to good work or services. We believe the success of one group does not require the downfall of another. Both structural and interpersonal racism have been primary tools of oppressors used to pacify class resistance.

In contrast, we believe that by applying the gifts and talents of ALL people, intentionally deploying the ardent sponsorship of allies, and engaging in a consistent inspection of structural and personal beliefs, we will better be able to grow the pie to the benefit of all people.

How we operationalize this belief:

  • We reject the zero-sum view of power and resources that says “if you are getting something, this must mean I am not.”
  • We reject the notion that centering one or two communities in a conversation means we are excluding others.
  • Many peoples deserve resources and work; while we have chosen two communities we believe in the right of all communities to seek and create resources and we seek to support those who do this work for other communities as well as our own.
  • In the absence of specificity in our goals, our impact cannot be held to account. Focus creates accountability.
  • By fixing systems and structures to allow these particular communities access, we believe that will have an impact on all communities getting access; we believe that successfully dismantling systems of oppression for one or two communities can have ripple effects across all communities.
  • This is not a battle of us vs. them — we are not fighting white people, we are fighting white supremacy; we are not fighting any race, we are fighting racism.

This is not a battle of us vs. them — there are many organizations in this space serving distinct missions, we are not in competition with them, we are in competition with racism and white supremacy, and we cheer on our allies in this work.

Truth v truth

Statistical truths do not invalidate individual experiences and individual experiences do not invalidate statistical truths. It takes discipline and candor to not conflate the two in conversations. And when moving a conversation forward, understanding whether you are discussing statistical Truths versus an individual’s lived truth is critical. We believe this is a deeply important skill to navigate the complexity of these conversations.

How we operationalize this belief:

  • Anecdotes and opinions do not effectively counter data; rather they complement data.
  • Data does not invalidate a lived experience, it contextualizes it.
  • We all have different lived experiences; because mine is not familiar to you does not make it invalid or inaccurate.
  • We understand that we all have something to learn.
  • Both data and anecdotes can and should be used to help support the discovery of deeper truths than can be seen otherwise — not as a weapon against another person.
  • Race conversations are hard and require individual actors to understand and contend with their fight, flight, or freeze response and to be willing to learn and to share.

Structural racism is our enemy

Structural racism is alive and powerful and deeply embedded into many of our systems. Our country kick-started our economic engine and generated our original wealth through the forced labor and extermination of Africans and Indigenous people.

As our history has progressed, Black and Latinx communities have created wealth only to have it taken away or severely limited by American systems that created untenable conditions. These conditions did not end with the 20th century Civil Rights Movements and the formal end of Jim Crow segregation. The following is a small sampling of the impact of persistent inequitable systems: the prevention of participation in the GI Bill, the mass deportation of 600k legal American citizens of Mexican descent to Mexico, redlining, the dismantling/burning down of Black Wall Street, the plunder of the Puerto Rican economy, mass incarceration of Black and Latinx people into private prisons, and the 2008 housing crash.

As demonstrated above, Black and Latinx people have gained wealth over and over again to see systems or people take that wealth from them, meaning that today structural racism is still pernicious with lasting effects. This is in part because it is often invisible to the naked eye. Unlike with “interpersonal racism,” there are very few obvious “bad guys” — most people are functioning as best they can in a biased system.

An individual actor may not themselves know they have created an oppressive system, but that does not absolve them of the responsibility to root out the inequities in it.

How we operationalize this belief:

  • We inspect and investigate traditionally used systems and commonly accepted wisdom for latent bias.
  • We understand and accept that growing up in biased systems means that everyone carries bias — including people from underrepresented communities — and thus we inspect our own decisions and assumptions just as we inspect others’.
  • We are focused on inspecting the flaws in systems and structures because in fixing their brokenness we are better able to help people to be their best selves.
  • We do not believe nor reinforce that there is one “right” way to be Black or Latinx (or anything else) — that we are not allowed a full spectrum of humanity is a product of white supremacy. We are different geographies, classes, educations, sexualities, genders, abilities, sets of expertise, and we value each of those and they are a part of this movement to us. We contain multitudes.

We believe that all people, systems, and structures can change

In every good-faith conversation we have, we engage with the belief that each party can learn from one another new tools and techniques that will enable us to advance the fight for racial equity. It is not our expectation that all people approach the work in this way, but we believe that for Code2040 to have the impact it intends to have, we must have faith in the possibility of people, systems, and institutions to evolve.

That said, some individuals and institutions are ready to change and some are not. It is not the best use of our time, resources, and skills to try to convince others of the innate talent in our community. Instead, we welcome the work of helping those who are looking to walk down the path of growth. We are grateful for those who do the same for us.

How we operationalize this belief:

  • As our “Lead With Compassion” core value states: We focus on the hard but vital work that comes with applying deep listening, practicing candor, embracing vulnerability, and understanding our own power and fallibility.
  • We meet the imperfection that is guaranteed when people or institutions are transparent and self-aware with accountability, empathy, and innovation.
  • We build relationships in which our partners are not only willing but thirsty to hear our perspective on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion; while we may not always continue a partnership or relationship, we are open to finding each other at a new leg of the journey.
  • We believe in feedback as a tool for self-knowledge and for change.
  • We do not want to foster the conditions for punishment, but rather the conditions for reconciliation.
  • While we actively coach and educate our partners and community members, it is in service of their ability to change systems; we are not in the business of counseling people out of their own bias, that is a personal path each person must walk with curiosity, agency, and rigor.

These are the Operating Principles that define Code2040’s approach to race and to our work. Whether you came here in search of answers, clarity, or community, we hope this window into our set of organizational beliefs about race and how we go about operationalizing each of them is useful. We hope that by sharing the above, we invite you into a conversation with us that we believe to be critical to the central economic and cultural challenges of our time.

*These are a great complement to our values, so if you haven’t checked those out, we recommend you read them here.


2040 is the beginning of the decade when the United States will be majority Black and Latinx. In Building2040 we share our organization's observations, practices, and lessons learned in our work for racial equity.

Thanks to Karla L. Monterroso


Written by


Activating, connecting, and mobilizing the largest racial equity community in tech.


2040 is the beginning of the decade when the United States will be majority Black and Latinx. In Building2040 we share our organization's observations, practices, and lessons learned in our work for racial equity.

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