Make racial justice training your New Year’s resolution

Written by: Caitlin Duffy

Date: December 28, 2016

Given the discriminatory rhetoric that has set the stage for our incoming presidential administration, our sector needs to articulate the need for justice and increase our support of social movement leaders.

This year I wrote two blog posts (“Dear white folks in philanthropy: My ‘Miley, what’s good?’ moment” and “Philanthropy: Let’s Talk About Race, Baby”) on how philanthropy needs to address racial bias and inequity more explicitly. To do this well, sector leaders can prepare by engaging in trainings that provide safe spaces for vulnerable conversations about structural racism. Read on for two exemplars and the impact they’ve had on my evolving understanding of race and racism as a white person.

Many of you have heard about the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WRAG) learning series Putting Racism on the Table, which convened foundation trustees and CEOs from the Washington, D.C., area. I attended four of the six three-hour sessions earlier this year, among 40-50 other attendees. WRAG’s program is an excellent model for sector groups and funders who want to effectively leverage their bully pulpit.

Content-wise, the series’ discussion topics included structural racism, white privilege, implicit bias, mass incarceration and racial demographics. All of the speakers addressed how philanthropy can address racial inequity in the U.S. context, and an expert facilitator made space for small and large group discussions before and after the presentations.

I honed my understanding of race and racism and how to talk about it in philanthropy, especially by hearing reactions and questions from the audience and the presenters’ responses.

As follow-up to the featured speaker sessions, WRAG organized a series of three-hour trainings to support implementation. Each was limited to 25 participants, but was open to all foundation staff.

The second WRAG training I participated in took place this month and explored how to communicate about race with white family, friends and colleagues – timely with this year’s post-election holidays.

Led by two white facilitators, Nancy Brown-Jamison of White Men as Full Diversity Partners and Dr. Mark Chesler, a professor at the University of Michigan, we created not only a “safe” space, but a “brave” space to ask and share things we normally wouldn’t.

We discussed conditions that hinder and help learning about racism; worked in small groups to share experiences as bystanders, targets/victims, perpetrators/agents and interrupters/interveners in instances of racism; and talked about what often works and doesn’t work when engaging other white people on the topic.

Another option that is available across the country is the Undoing Racism workshop with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB). I attended the two-day training this summer alongside 40 staff members from direct service, research and advocacy nonprofits in DC.

The facilitators were incredibly skilled and sensitive, and there were many opportunities to share stories and get to know others in the room. We discussed all the systems touched by racism in the U.S. context, including: philanthropy; how racism keeps “white on top” and acts as “feet of oppression” on communities of color; shared childhood messages or lessons that internalized racial inferiority and superiority in our lives; reviewed the history of “affirmative action for whites” throughout U.S. history; and learned about how community organizing is the key to undoing racism.

A review of key definitions also helped guide our conversations. In fact, the part of the workshop where we defined “race” completely changed my understanding of racism and what we’re up against when we talk about “undoing” it or “putting it on the table.”

With both the WRAG and PISAB gatherings, group guidelines were important in setting the stage for shared language, confidentiality and leaning into discomfort. The intentionality and expertise brought to these trainings made them milestones in my professional and personal development.

I encourage you, particularly white foundation staff and board members, to participate in such opportunities or take the initiative to organize them yourselves. No matter where you are in the country or in your learning journey, an intention for 2017 to sign up for a training that delves into race and racism will empower your organization, and our sector, to lead well during the challenges that lie ahead.

Caitlin Duffy is senior associate for learning and engagement at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) and a member of the Board of Instigators of the Diverse City Fund in Washington, D.C. Follow @NCRP and @DuffyInDC on Twitter.

Image by Elvert Barnes, used under Creative Commons license.