How we’re “Putting Racism on the Table”

February 1, 2016
Nicky Goren and Josh Bernstein

On January 22, WRAG launched its “Putting Racism on the Table” learning series with a presentation and discussion with Professor John A. Powell, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and professor of law and African American Studies & Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. In his overview, Professor Powell discussed structural racism, implicit bias, and how our brains are wired to react based on the overwhelming inputs we receive through media and popular culture. He also addressed the power of networks in perpetuating or altering the status quo. Perhaps most significantly, he raised an important threshold issue: the need to have open and honest conversations about racism.

The Meyer Foundation’s board and staff began our own conversation about racism as part of our strategic planning process last year. Two things quickly became clear as we took those important first steps: a variety of viewpoints were represented around our table, often deeply personal and strongly held, and we lacked a common vocabulary or framework for understanding and discussing inequity in our region. We are continuing this conversation by asking ourselves hard questions about our own implicit biases, and whether our institutional practices are set up to perpetuate exclusion. We are working to create a space for dialogue – both internally and externally – through which we can better understand the systems that perpetuate inequity and how we can dismantle them. For our regional philanthropic community, the WRAG learning series represents an opportunity to take those important first steps, too: to build our shared understanding of the impact of racism on our community, to develop a shared vocabulary that will allow us to have long overdue conversations, and to move toward solutions together.

Professor Powell’s presentation re-affirmed our conviction that we need to continue this conversation with WRAG and its members, as well as with our workplaces, our networks, and our region as a whole. Many of the barriers and challenges facing low-income communities are the product of generations of systemic inequity  that we can no longer ignore, and we have to move from treating the symptoms to identifying and tackling the causes.

No single institution or sector can even begin to address these issues working in isolation. Our hope is that by tackling this work in a more intentional, vulnerable, and thoughtful way, the philanthropic community can influence leaders in  other sectors to do the same. We have all – perhaps unwittingly – contributed to maintaining the status quo, and we must collectively begin to peel away the layers of the onion and work together to make the kind of change we know is possible. We hope you’ll join us in this journey.

“WRAG is glad that the president and CEO of The Eugene & Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, along with the Board Chair, were able to attend the first session of Putting Racism on the Table. That’s just the leadership we were hoping to have in the room!” – Tamara Lucas Copeland

*This blog posting was originally published in the Daily WRAG, February 1, 2016