Beyond Inclusion: Critical Race Theory and Participatory Budgeting

Celina Su
2017 New Political Science  
Critical Race Theory (CRT) researchers maintain that mainstream liberal discourses of neutrality and colorblindness inherently reify existing patterns of inequality, and that privileging the voices of people of color and the marginalized is essential to addressing issues of equity and equality. Participatory budgeting (PB) aims, too, to include the voices of the marginalized in substantive policy-making. Through a CRT lens, I examine the ways in which the New York City PB process has thus far
more » ... rked to simultaneously disrupt and maintain racial hierarchies. I pay particular attention to how social constructions of the "good project" shape the discourses around community priorities and winning projects-especially in the areas of security/policing and education. While the New York PB process has successfully reached out to and effectively enfranchised traditionally marginalized constituents, including communities of color, its current focus on districts and the voting phase, alongside limited work on critical praxis, limits the extent to which these newly enfranchised constituents can problematize larger funding formulas and criteria in public budgets. BEYOND INCLUSION In this article, I draw from critical race theory (CRT) to analyze how participatory budgeting (PB)-a process in which community members, rather than government officials, allocate public funds-simultaneously resists and perpetuates racial inequalities deeply embedded in American society. In this case study of participatory budgeting in New York City (PBNYC), PB has successfully broadened notions of stakeholdership and citizenship for many constituents (especially youth and undocumented citizens). Specifically, it has increased their civic engagement by explicitly challenging notions of colorblindness through targeted outreach to marginalized communities, creation of safe spaces for deliberation, and facilitation of discussions to allow for intersectionalities across race, gender, language, and age. Nevertheless, the process has not necessarily prompted a re-prioritization of budget allocations or changes in power dynamics and racial hierarchies, at least not yet. The facially neutral criteria by which project proposals move forward reward communities with more social or cultural capital; along the way, expedient and feasible projects are selected over ones that marginalized constituents need and prioritize. A closer look at contested constructions of "good projects" and the popularity of surveillance cameras, in particular, suggests that without an explicit power analysis embedded in the process, PB processes can reify status quo inequalities. In the remainder of this article, I briefly review the relevant literature on CRT and public policy, and issues of equity in participatory budgeting. I present key findings from PBNYC thus far,
doi:10.1080/07393148.2017.1278858 fatcat:rjbpj5kiqrg27huuyd2h5aswqy