By Katy Moore
Managing Director of Corporate Strategy
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers
A few years ago, Ebony magazine started arriving in WRAG’s mailbox. The mailing address was correct, but the recipient was unknown to us. The first time it came, I tossed it. The second month it came, I asked Tamara (the only African-American on staff at the time and WRAG’s president) if she was interested in reading it; otherwise, it was going into recycling. In that approachable yet authoritative way that only Tamara can pull off, she said, “Why don’t you read it?” I must’ve looked a bit confused as I explored the magazine’s cover, seeing a beautiful dark-skinned model and a teaser headline about hair relaxers, because Tamara said, “There is real news in there too, you know? You might find a different perspective interesting.” And, in my overly-sensitive way, I immediately thought, “Great. My boss, mentor, and friend thinks I’m a racist. Awesome.”
And, then Trayvon Martin was killed…and then Freddie Gray. And, so many lives were lost in between. And I found myself – like so many of my white friends and colleagues – asking “what can I do?” The best advice I received was from the indomitable Amanda Andere, a friend, confidant, and CEO of Funders Together to End Homelessness. Like Tamara months before, Amanda suggested that I expand my sphere of influence, that I intentionally seek alternative viewpoints, that I fill my social media feeds with the likes of Charles M. Blow, The Root, TWiB! (This Week in Blackness), Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others. And, I did. And, I watched WRAG’s Putting Racism on the Table videos. And, my understanding grew…as did my frustration at my inability to make change.
Once I became aware, once I was “woke,” I could not un-see, and there was an ever-persistent and overwhelming moral pressure to tackle the issue of racial injustice in every situation in full force.
Last week, WRAG hosted a training for its white members called Communicating about Race with White Family, Friends, and Colleagues. At that training, I had an “aha” moment – one that was desperately needed after some of the inflamed rhetoric during and following the election. My aha was that “converting” someone with racist viewpoints into an active white ally isn’t the only outcome as you seek to address racism (unconscious, overt, or otherwise) and it is often an unrealistic place to start. I also learned (in a very obvious moment), that blame, humiliation, calling someone a racist, trying to illustrate how smart you are, being argumentative, and trying to change other people (rather than addressing their behavior) are also all ineffective (duh, right?).
Instead, in our attempts to tackle racial injustice, we must understand:
1. What is occurring (are you seeing, reading, hearing, experiencing something racially charged?)
2. The impacts of our action/inaction on the situation (on you, on others, and beyond this moment)
3. The perception of who we are in the situation and how others will react to us (ex. I’m white, cis female, millennial, straight, educated, southern, etc.)
4. The context of the situation (is it happening in person, online, in public, in private, are there recent events that could exacerbate the situation, etc.)
5. The outcome that you want (remember: conversion is not the only outcome!)
6. The options available to you
7. Potential gains or costs for addressing or not addressing the situation (including personal safety, the strain or loss of a relationship, etc.)
Only after considering each of these factors (which usually happens unconsciously and in a split second) should we act.
Addressing racism and racial inequality as a white ally is difficult and uncomfortable work. It means exploring your own biases, acknowledging your own privilege, and calling yourself out on both. It means recognizing the ways we consciously and unconsciously support white privilege, acknowledging how we benefit from it, and actively working to address this unjust power dynamic. It means recognizing that we cannot and will not dismantle a system it took hundreds of years to build overnight. But, we also have to start somewhere. So, let it start with me.
Communicating about Race with White Family, Friends, and Colleagues was held as part of Putting Racism on the Table: The Training Series for the local philanthropic community. You can learn more about WRAG’s ongoing work around racism and racial equity at www.puttingracismonthetable.org.