Race Peace: An Opportunity for Grantmakers (White People Encouraged To Attend)

By Janet Brown, from her blog Better Together:

Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) initiated discussions among a group of social justice funders a year ago in an effort to begin to understand structural racism and to analyze how institutionalized racism may affect arts philanthropy.

The chair of that group, Justin Laing of The Heinz Endowments, nicely documents this process in the summer 2013 GIA Reader. The group continues its work this fall, when we will move the discussion from “understanding racism” to “constructing equity,” while examining how we can open the conversation to the broader membership.

In March, the GIA board made a decision to adopt understanding structural racism as “core field work,” meaning we would find multiple ways to integrate this work into our other programs and promote those opportunities to our members. In July, the entire GIA board of directors attended a two-day understanding and undoing racism training led by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. It was a good experience for everyone, highlighted by conversations that were candid and productive.

As a white woman, a candid and productive conversation about racism is something that has always been a bit uncomfortable for me. Ironically, I’ve come to realize that talking about racism makes most liberal, well-intentioned whites uncomfortable. We have almost removed ourselves from this discussion out of fear of saying the wrong thing and being politically incorrect; we say nothing or we talk about diversity or multiculturalism. These can be good things, but they are not solutions to a core problem that is rarely addressed. (See previous blog) The work we’ve done with our social justice group has taught me that saying nothing, as a privileged white person, is not acceptable. It is because I’m white that I need to be more emphatic about understanding and speaking out against the institutions and systems that foster the combination of power and racial prejudice that sustains racism in America.

There are many great groups (.pdf) working to help people and organizations understand the effects of racism on our work. At GIA’s conference in October, participants have the opportunity to experience one of them. Race Peace is a project of Mondo Bizarro and M.U.G.A.B.E.E. (Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction) that blends multidisciplinary performance techniques with interactive dialogue to incite conversations about race and racism. M.U.G.A.B.E.E.’s Carlton Turner told me they developed this project when the two theatre companies (one white, one black) were working on a joint theatre project and determined they had difficulty talking about race.

In the past, I would have said, “well, that’s not really for me because it’s really for those individuals who are not white.” After spending a great deal of time with really smart people on this issue, I am convinced that it is white people who need to do more work to understand structural racism in our country, especially those who work in traditional institutions, in order to make the changes that need to be made. Even if you’re “one of the good white people” working in philanthropy thinking “I’m already there, I don't need this” I hope you will attend the preconference because you will learn new things about yourself, your work and your community. ALANA (Asian, Latino/a, African-American and Native American) folks also need to attend because it is the candid conversation among all of us that makes the difference in our work as grantmakers.

GIA’s conference is October 6–9 in Philadelphia. Participants must be GIA members (or eligible for GIA membership) and registered for the conference to attend this preconference on October 5–6.