Category: Philanthropic Voices on Racial Equity

Blackface, White Privilege

By Katy Moore
Managing Director of Corporate Strategy
Director, Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility

Over the last few days, as the story of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook photo featuring a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes has played out, I’ve had numerous conversations with white friends and family about whether he should step down. I’m glad my white circles trust me enough to talk about race-related topics with me. But, I’m not a racism or racial equity expert. I am simply a daughter of the South who has embarked on a learning journey that has required a painful examination of my own deeply-ingrained belief systems, biases, privileges, and an acknowledgement of my own role in perpetuating racism and racial inequities.

The typical conversation about Governor Northam in my white circles has gone something like this: “Why should a ‘good man’s’ career be ruined over something that happened 30 years ago? After all, he’s apologized and asked for forgiveness. And, what’s so bad about blackface anyway?”

Why isn’t an apology enough?

The Governor’s initial apology seemed sincere and many, myself included, were inclined to forgive him – especially if he utilized this moment to spark conversations around race and racism. However, when Governor Northam changed his tune, it smacked of damage control, marred his chance to begin rebuilding trust, and squandered his opportunity for learning and community-building.

Even with what felt like disingenuous political maneuvering, many of my white friends and family are eager to forgive the Governor’s past actions. They are (ironically) loathe to condemn a (white) man for youthful indiscretions. This begs the question, should Governor Northam’s repentance matter more than the feelings of the thousands of Virginians who feel betrayed by this racist act and what it represents?

In many ways, as a white woman, I want to forgive Governor Northam. This could, after all, have easily been one of the many men who have helped shape my life. But, at some point, we (white folks) have to face the consequences of our actions and own the fact that we have all – intentionally or unintentionally – contributed to our society’s racial disparities. How can racism and its pervasive effects possibly be dismantled until a tidal wave of white people understand it and take responsibility and action for our role in this unfair system?

So, no, Governor Northam’s (recanted) apology isn’t enough.

Should past actions ruin careers?

At the time he was in medical school, Governor Northam was old enough to know right from wrong. Judging by the Governor’s swift apology after its discovery, I am going to assume that he is either in this photo or that another similar photo exists. Either way, he clearly didn’t think dressing in blackface or donning a KKK hood was a problem.

Governor Northam attended an institution of higher learning that accepted this type of bigoted behavior, so much so, that Eastern Virginia Medical School documented it in the yearbook. The likelihood that this environment reinforced a belief system of white superiority and black inferiority is quite high. The likelihood that this belief system – conscious or not – was then perpetuated by Governor Northam and other graduates who would go on to impact the lives of people of color as decision-makers, doctors, and public officials is also very high. In their medical practices, for instance, it is conceivable that these doctors contributed to long-running racial health disparities or undertreated their Black patients’ pain based on racial biases normalized through the type of behavior captured in this photo. This is about much more than a yearbook photo or long-ago moment in time.

In his race for governor, Governor Northam, a Democrat, ran against an opponent tied to a president who has been accused of racism. Many Virginians, including 87 percent of Black voters, supported candidate Northam. I cast my vote for him partly because of his career of service and, partly, as a rejection of his opponent’s party’s seemingly racist views and beliefs. With the emergence of this glimpse into Governor Northam’s past, I no longer believe that he can effectively represent all of Virginia’s residents – particularly the 20 percent of its citizens who are Black. A politician’s license to serve is based on the trust and confidence that citizens bestow upon them. That trust is broken.

Why is blackface so bad?

Google it.

Next steps?

Many are calling for Governor Northam to step down. Unfortunately, even if he resigns and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is sworn in as the Commonwealth’s second-ever Black governor, Virginia will not magically become a post-racial utopia.

Racism has deep roots here. This incident is just one example of how overt racism shows up in our society. Similar to the countless cell phone videos documenting racist acts, police brutality, and racial discrimination, this yearbook photo should serve as another piece of evidence to spur white Americans to deepen conversations about race, our racist past, and our role in perpetuating current racial inequities.

It is outrageous that in 2019 life outcomes can still be predicted by race. Calling for Governor Northam’s resignation cannot distract us from the real work that needs to be done to dismantle the deep-seated racism that underlies our societal systems. We should care about racist imagery and hold our public officials to the highest of standards. But, we should care even more about the deep inequities that still exist in our society based on nothing more than the level of melanin in our skin and a false narrative about white superiority.


If you’d like to learn more about racism, white privilege, unconscious bias, etc., I encourage you to embark on your own exploration. Here are a few resources that I have found helpful:

Podcasts: Scene on Radio – Seeing White
Books: Waking Up White, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence

Re-examining a history I thought I knew

By Rebekah Seder
Senior Program Manager, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Last month, I had the privilege of participating in WRAG and Leadership Greater Washington’s Civil Rights Learning Journey, visiting sites in Memphis, the Mississippi Delta, and Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham, Alabama. For me, the trip was an opportunity to get a better understanding of the history of the Movement and of a part of the country that I had never visited. What I wasn’t expecting was the feeling of experiencing a historical narrative that is still being contested and shaped, and of a story that is very much not over.

Bryant’s Grocery is barely discernable behind the vegetation.

Traveling through the Delta, we heard from individuals who are committed to preserving this history from those who seem equally committed to erasing it. If you didn’t know it was there, you would miss Bryant’s Grocery in Money, MS, where Emmett Till crossed paths with Carolyn Bryant. Owned by the family of one of the jurors who acquitted Till’s murderers, the building is crumbling. They want $4 million for what remains of the structure, effectively preventing it from being preserved as a site of remembrance. In the small interpretive center across the street from the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, where the IMG_5687all-white jury let his killers go free, a sign that had marked the place where Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River is riddled with bullet holes. Prominently positioned outside the courthouse, just yards from that destroyed sign, stands a memorial to Confederate soldiers – erected nearly 50 years after the Civil War.

James Chaney’s headstone is supported by a steel frame.

In Neshoba County, MS, nothing marks the spot off a narrow road where civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered, with the complicity of local police. There’s a small marker on the side of the main road, but the land where they were killed is still owned by the family of one of their murderers. In a cemetery in Meridian, MS, James Chaney’s headstone is supported by a steel frame to protect it from vandalism.

This wasn’t just a history lesson, or a display of the troubling particularities of the South. Throughout the trip, I kept feeling like this wasn’t even history. Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were working to register African-Americans to vote. Today, those seeking to marginalize Black voters advance voting policies designed to disenfranchise African-Americans and other people of color. The KKK may not be coordinating with police (though you can still find Klansmen meeting in a local diner), but the ideology of anti-blackness is at work every time a police officer goes free after killing an unarmed Black person. In Memphis in 1968, Black sanitation workers marched for better labor conditions bearing signs stating “I Am A Man.” Today, the simple notion that Black lives matter gets twisted into a radical threat to justify political agendas that devalue Black lives. We passed Parchman Prison, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, infamous for its brutal convict leasing practices, and where John Lewis and many other Freedom Riders were imprisoned. Today, a state government website proudly notes the thousands of hours of “free offender labor” that Parchman prisoners provide. It’s not unique.

American historical narratives are often flattened, reduced, and burnished. We celebrate a few specific individuals, forget the rest, and think that we live in a time period unlike any other. Throughout this trip, we heard from individuals and stood in the places where they put their bodies on the line to fight for freedom in the face of imminent physical danger. Many people are still here sharing their stories about that fight. That means many of those who threatened and beat them are still here too. What this trip made painfully clear to me was that, in the fight for racial justice, we cannot fall into the trap of thinking that history is past.

Traveling from Memphis to Birmingham to take off our historical blinders

By Rebekah Seder
Senior Program Manager, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

In September, WRAG and Leadership Greater Washington are taking a group of funders and other civic leaders on a journey to learn firsthand about the Civil Rights Movement. We are traveling from Memphis to Birmingham, visiting sites of key activities, meeting with movement leaders and contemporary activists, and attending a number of museums and other institutions. I am incredibly excited about this trip. But, I suspect that some may be asking, “Why would 35 people whose careers are dedicated to improving the Greater Washington region travel to Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama? Why, when the need to act on today’s problems is so urgent, would we be focusing on events of 50 years ago?”

Throughout WRAG’s two-and-a-half year examination of structural racism, “I just never learned about this” has been a constant refrain. I suspect that for many of my colleagues, especially those who, like me, attended predominantly white schools, our history education was similar. Certainly we learned key facts – the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Emancipation, Jim Crow. Then, we learned that the Civil Rights Movement happened, because a tired Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a group of people marched from Selma to Montgomery, and Martin Luther King had a dream. Then, voila, America achieved racial equality.

This trip will open participants’ eyes to a much fuller story.

More than that, I think that this trip will begin to address a wrong that is perhaps more subtle than the many forms of racism that preoccupy our attention. The segregation of history – the idea that black history is somehow different and apart from American history, that the history of black Americans is not intrinsically intertwined with that of white Americans, and that it can be summed up in a chapter or two in a history textbook. A racism that flattens a rich and complex history, renders courageous and groundbreaking leaders as bit players, and writes a historical narrative that raises up white men as agents of change and black and brown people as those that history happens to. This way of imagining the past is like wearing blinders that make it impossible to see and understand the present.

I encourage WRAG members to consider what rewriting their understanding of history could mean for them personally, as well as professionally for their grantmaking and their engagement in the community. We know that it is a commitment of time and money. But, for those funders who are committed to advancing racial equity in our region and within their own institutions, I hope you will join me on this journey. I believe that this trip will be an investment that will pay dividends.

WRAG & LGW Members: Contact Rebekah Seder to learn more about this trip.

Why I signed up for (and sponsored) LGW and WRAG’s Expanding the Table for Racial Equity series

By Mark Bergel
Founder and Executive Director, A Wider Circle

“When was the first time you had a teacher of a different race?”

That was one of the questions posed by the facilitator during the first session of Expanding the Table for Racial Equity, the Thought Leadership Series being put on by Leadership Greater Washington and the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers.

Well, I was in school from age 5 to 35, so I must have had several teachers of different races, I thought.

Elementary school… nope. Not one. How about a staff person of a different race? Nope. Not one African-American teacher, Hispanic teacher, or teacher of any race other than White to help shape my early understanding of life.

As I moved onto memories of junior high school, high school, college and graduate school, again no other races were represented in the teaching staff.

Today, I imagine every one of those institutions has teachers of different races. I hope it would be difficult for anyone now to have 30 years of formal schooling without being taught by someone of a different race.

The first of this six-session series was filled with other questions and conversations that highlighted the different worlds we occupy in this same space.

We heard from individuals of many races who shared the impact that racism has on their lives – not had, has.

For me, as the leader of A Wider Circle, the decision to serve as one of the sponsors of this series was an easy one. Racism has had as much to do with the growth and allowance of poverty as any other factor. In fact, racism and classism combine to propel poverty.

How else can we explain how we allow people to live in such dangerous conditions day after day, night after night? When a child is shot in Bethesda, the whole town almost stops – for days – until we understand and solve what must have led to it. When a child is shot in Anacostia, we do not even take notice. We almost live each day with the expectation that it will happen, and that is deeply connected to racism.

On a personal level, I signed up for this series to understand my own racist thoughts and tendencies, whatever they may be, aimed at whatever race or races for which I feel them. I have lived my entire adult life trying to look beyond color, beyond religion, and focus in on our sameness. But I know I fail, and I know I judge – and pre-judge.

Still, I cling to the knowledge that we are deeply interconnected, much more alike than different. We all know that there is variation among individual human beings, from size and shape to religion and skin color. But the DNA of all human beings living today is 99.9% alike. We are deeply interconnected, yet we seem to live in that .1% difference.

I believe this series will cast a light on why and how we can change that – and why we must do it now.

Building trust and creating community on the journey toward racial equity

By Grace Katabaruki
Director, Investment Practice Group, Venture Philanthropy Partners

Excited as I was to attend Expanding the Table for Racial Equity – a learning series hosted by the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers and Leadership Greater Washington – I was somewhat dubious about the title of the first session: “Building a Community.” My interest was in exploring new content to reflect upon and share. Was it really necessary to build community first? More important, would it be possible to have an authentic experience with just six two-hour sessions undergirding the effort? It turns out that it is possible, with the guidance of a skilled facilitator and a roomful of people who are personally-motivated to engage.

Our facilitator, Inca Mohammed, led us through a series of increasingly personal partner-sharing exercises. We told strangers the origins of our first names, what kind of work our grandparents did and, finally, how we first became aware of race and racism. We were invited to share a few reflections with the whole group.

I shared my story of how, as a six year old in the early 1980s, my white best friend in Waldorf, Maryland told me one day that we couldn’t have the playdate we had been angling for because her father said black people weren’t allowed in their home. A few minutes later, a white colleague stood up to share the alternate side of the same coin—how family members had discouraged this individual’s childhood relationship with a black best friend. That moment illustrated that the means and magnitude of how racism affects us is varied, but it’s damaging to us all. At the break, this colleague and I embraced. We agreed to have the playdate we were never allowed as children.

Putting Racism on the Table will focus on structural racism, which was defined in our handouts as “the structure or system created through the interaction of history, culture, ideology, public policies, institutional practices, and personal behaviors and beliefs to maintain a racialized hierarchy.” This focus on structural racism is essential; it’s too easy to default to a focus on the interpersonal racism that our society, at least on the surface, readily scorns. But while the racism is structural, the work to dismantle it is deeply personal. If we are to achieve a racially equitable region, we are going to have to work together. We need each other. In that spirit, I see more clearly how the shared values and trust that we began to establish in the first session will be critical to what lies ahead. I eagerly await the journey.

Racial Equity Impact Assessment: A Tool for Funders

By Yanique Redwood
President and CEO, Consumer Health Foundation

Consumer Health Foundation (CHF) is no stranger to racial equity. The foundation was born from Group Health Association, a healthcare cooperative founded in the 1930s to provide pre-paid healthcare to its members in racially integrated settings. Our institutional predecessor was acting on racial equity at a time when Jim Crow was still alive and well. This legacy compels us to continue pushing the envelope to ensure that our investments are truly impacting communities of color.

For the first time in our history, CHF now requires that potential grantee partners use a racial equity impact assessment (REIA) tool when applying for a grant. According to Race Forward, REIA is a systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision. REIAs are used to minimize unanticipated adverse consequences in a variety of contexts, including the analysis of proposed policies, institutional practices, programs, plans and budgetary decisions. The REIA can be a vital tool for preventing racism and for identifying new options to remedy long-standing inequities.

In partnership with Western States Center and borrowing from existing tools, CHF has developed an REIA tool that can be found here. We trained our nonprofit partners to use the tool and then embedded the tool in our request for proposals. For the top three policy changes at the center of our partners’ advocacy efforts, we asked that they use the tool to aid in their racial equity analysis and discuss how their work might shift as a result of their intentional focus on racism.

We have gotten feedback from nonprofit organizations that have used the tool. Here is a sampling of what we have learned:

Using the tool required greater staff participation. Completing the proposal required the participation and interaction of program staff, executive directors and board members. Development staff could not complete the proposal alone. One organization hopes to engage its constituents in using the REIA tool moving forward.

The tool affirmed values. The tool helped organizations to put in writing what was in their heads and hearts. For one organization, the REIA tool helped their leadership to lift up, make visible and be explicit about its commitment to racial equity.

The tool was useful. The REIA tool provided an opportunity to examine the bigger picture and helped organizations to further develop their policy recommendations and define data needs. Some organizations reported slowing down, stepping back and looking at their work in new ways.

Using the tool was challenging. Many of the organizations said that it was challenging to use the tool. It was time consuming and, at times, daunting. Some were not sure how deep or how broad the responses should be.

The tool helped shift the focus to affected communities and root causes. Some questions provoked staff to think more about the communities that could be adversely affected by their policy recommendations. They also considered how they could assist communities in better understanding systems of power. The tool also pushed organizations to reflect deeply on root causes.

In addition, some organizations not only used the REIA tool in developing their proposals, they also shared it with their affiliates, partner organizations, board members and coalition members.

From this feedback, we gather that tools like these are pivotal in helping organizations to make the shift toward operationalizing racial equity. We will continue to refine the tool and make it less cumbersome and thus easier to use. We will also provide more opportunities for nonprofit organizations to practice using the tool. For funders interested in adapting the tool in their own grantmaking, CHF is available to help.

A California story: My racial journey

By Mardell Moffett
Associate Executive Director
The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation

I was honored and grateful to have the opportunity to attend the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Summit in December with my WRAG colleagues. When asked if I would be willing to write a few words about the experience, I hesitated. And then I said yes. Then I wished I had said no. But then I said yes. I hoped to return from the Summit with language to talk about race. Although more than six weeks have passed, I am still processing the experience. I continue to reflect on it daily and I do not expect that to change.

I am still processing. Reflections are triggered by place, time, various meetings, a news story, or an overheard conversation. After spending even a few days immersed in the racial healing work at the Summit, I like to think that I hear things differently and that I am more aware, even if it’s just slightly. I continue to search for, and stumble over, my words with fears of sounding politically incorrect, privileged, or racist. Again, I am left searching for the words to use, and I tread cautiously. Will my words offend? Will this make me sound naive and clueless? I tread cautiously and wonder if that is part of the problem.

At the Summit, I was asked to tell my personal race story — to tell about the first time I encountered racism. I did not have a lot to share and felt relief that my partner told her story first so there would be less time for mine. Sadly, she had too many stories to choose from, beginning from a very young age. These new confidants shared amazing, moving and unnerving stories, describing very different experiences from mine. I heard the recounting of injustices, and I heard stories of fear and anger and frustration. There were many emotions and tears shared. What could I possibly add to this profound moment?

I reluctantly told my story of growing up in a community lacking diversity of almost any kind. The differences between neighbors and classmates in my small Midwestern town were based on which northern European country one’s ancestors hailed from, if a last name was spelled with an “e” or and “o”, lefse or latke, or which branch of Christianity one belonged to. A person of color would have been immediately identified as a visitor, and seemingly embraced by everyone out of curiosity. Were visitors invited into homes? I assumed so, but looking back now, I do not know. I really did not see outside, and likely not inside, my comfortable bubble. That would have been uneasy.

I went on to explain that race became more apparent for me when I moved to DC. I recalled taking a cab to visit a dance program at a school in Southeast DC in the mid-1990’s. It was one of my first site visits and the cab driver seemed perplexed about where I asked him to take me. During the visit, a group of young girls asked me if they could touch my hair. It was a moment I embraced. And then I could not get a taxi to pick me up. Two hours later, a member of the staff took pity on me and returned me to my comfortable Northwest quadrant.

What is my race story? My race story starts with being naive and sheltered. Race was not discussed where I grew up — at least not where I could hear it. Perhaps I wasn’t listening because I was idealistic, privileged, and comfortable? My story includes not really seeing and then struggling with being uncomfortable. It is about stumbling and asking for help and guidance to find the language and ways to engage in conversations about race, and likely (hopefully?) making others uncomfortable.

WRAG’s first Racial Equity Working Group Meeting is on February 16th. WRAG members are encouraged to attend: register now.  You can learn more about WRAG’s ongoing work around racism and racial equity at

How the Latin American Youth Center is putting racism on the table

By Lori Kaplan
President & CEO
Latin American Youth Center

Editor’s Note: Since WRAG began releasing the Putting Racism on the Table Learning Series videos in spring 2016, we have learned that a number of philanthropic and nonprofit organizations in the region and across the country are using the materials to spark new conversations and inform their own work around racism and racial equity. Today, Lori Kaplan writes about how the Latin American Youth Center has engaged with the Putting Racism on the Table resources.

For some time now, the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) has recognized that we cannot take our diversity for granted and that we have to take a deeper dive on issues related to ending racism and bigotry. We need to bring the difficult conversations into our own space. The 2016 election has ignited this urgency as the national conversation has left our youth and staff feeling angry, frustrated, and scared. The new administration brings to the forefront questions about what life will look like over the next four or more years, for ourselves and our youth and families, our children and the nation as a whole. The LAYC has both the opportunity and the responsibility to be a leader in this work through our action and our voice as we strive for a more just community and country.

The Latin American Youth Center formed our Community Organizing for Racial Equity (CORE) committee of youth and staff after several staff attended an “Undoing Racism” training over a year ago. Today, the committee represents a multi-ethnic, multi-racial team of LAYC staff and youth that host brown bag discussions on anti-racism. Our CORE leaders and team are using WRAG’s Putting Racism on the Table materials during our brown bag lunches to spur conversation and inform our critical thinking as the series’ topics speak to the relevant issues we are exploring.

LAYC’s CORE committee also sponsors social cultural events, our “Social Justice in Social Services” training, and has offered a space to process the traumatic events over the past year. Our CORE committee has decided to keep the LAYC open on inauguration day with a youth-coordinated day of conversation and activity so that youth and families have a safe space to come and process the day’s inaugural events.

WRAG’s thoughtful and very qualified speaker series has added so much value to our conversations. And, the videos, viewing guides, and discussion guides are free for our use, which we appreciate! Like WRAG, we began these conversations prior to the recent presidential campaign and election. These past months and years have raised the stakes well beyond what anyone could have imagined. No longer does racism and bigotry percolate and hide right under the surface. Today it is out front and center. Perhaps this is our moment and perhaps this is the opportunity we have needed. In the following days and years to come, LAYC’s voice must be at the table. LAYC’s activism of the past has been rekindled and ignited as we fight against hatred, racism, and bigotry. If our young people’s voices are not at the table they will continue to be on the menu! We will continue our conversations within the context of uncertainty, with urgency and unending love.

How is your organization putting racism on the table? Has WRAG’s work prompted a new conversation or contributed to your ongoing efforts? Let us know!

Communicating about Racism as a White Ally

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

Engaging in self-analysis and open critique to advance conversations on race

By Nina Weissberg
The Weissberg Foundation

In early December, I participated in another terrific Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers training from the Putting Racism on the Table series; this one focused on white-identifying people having conversations amongst themselves about race. We started by pairing with someone we did not know to share one of our biggest “aha” moments from the previous trainings. The person across from me was from the south, and her learning moment was discovering that ‘black’ and ‘white’ are social constructs. Growing up in DC, then studying anthropology, to me it is self-evident that black, white, and race as concepts are derived from culture like the sky is blue; it’s something we all think we see the same way, but upon examination we will unearth a multitude of perspectives. The sky is not blue or grey, just reflected light we perceive and collectively agree to label blue. Her statement framed the three-hour training by reminding me that if we reframe the narrative, we have the power to change the collective perception.

Expertly facilitated by Nancy Brown-Jamison and Mark Chesler, they introduced additional frames beginning with the “I” in the conversation (white woman, Jewish, mid-fifties), as well as context and impact; what is occurring, where, options for response, and desired outcomes. Mark Chesler emphasized speaking out may not always be the optimum choice. He offered alternatives such as, “that made me uncomfortable, so maybe we can talk about it sometime.” Another strategy is to identify a “wedge” person who speaks to a specific situation and can be more easily heard.

Dividing into groups of three and four, we candidly discussed racially charged situations involving family, bosses, and co-workers, classifying ourselves as being either the receiver, actor, or bystander. Sharing about being the person acting in a racist way and listening to others explore their own biases was powerful, and it emphasized how participation in these constructs perpetuates them, even without intent to do so.

Nancy Brown-Jamison and Mark Chesler stressed engaging with inquiry and clarification, listening carefully to the response, and being willing to step into the awkwardness of sharing an emotional reaction with statements such as, “you are entitled to your view, but that upset me…” They also reminded us we cannot always be a wall against racism, so sometimes you share relevant learnings and sometimes you just change the topic.

Unpacking a social construct as complicated as race takes work, patience, and time. We are exploring diversity and inclusion at the Weissberg Foundation with the objective of making continued learning of equity, diversity, and inclusion a central theme in all of our future work. My objective through these trainings is to be self-analyzing and open to critique with the goal of developing a skill set to engage others in dialogue with less fear or anger and with more empathy.

Visit to learn more about WRAG’s ongoing work about racism and racial equity.