Scratching the Surface: Conversations on Race & Privilege in the Nonprofit Sector

“What we do not say, what we do not talk about, allows the status quo to continue.”
-Stephanie Wildman, Making Systems of Privilege Visible

YNPN-TC partnered with the Racial Justice Program at the YWCA Minneapolis a few weeks ago to host a discussion of race and privilege in the nonprofit sector. We had a tremendous response to the event: Tickets sold out in the first day and a subsequent wait list was some 70 people deep.

Conversation Goals

For those who couldn't be there, the evening was structured around facilitated conversation circles of 7-9 people. Our goals were three-fold:

  1. To bring the conversation of race and privilege to the surface.
  2. To dig deeper, sharing our experience of the negative impact race and privilege has in our personal lives and in the work of our organizations.
  3. To explore what responsibility we have as individuals and the new and emerging leaders of our sector in confronting and working to overcome these negative impacts. 

I was inspired by the level of openness and trust we shared. While our time together was limited, my circle was able to touch on some hugely important issues—like microaggression—that often fall under the radar. We came ready to talk, and talk we certainly did. Starting off, and for most of our time, we told stories. When my turn came I was a little surprised at the fervored and artless ramble coming out of my mouth. The whole thing reminded me of how central issues of race and privilege are to what I care about, why I've chosen to work in this sector, and how I strive to improve myself and my community. And that feels good.

What Next

I don't think we can just pat ourselves on the back and move on to the next topic. The message from our follow-up survey is pretty clear: It wasn't enough. We want more. We want to discuss, to get deeper, and to engage one another more fully.

Working in the nonprofit sector, many of us are bombarded by perfunctory nods to values of inclusiveness, diversity, etc. It's a part of our mission statements, our values, the way we phrase our sentences. When confronted, we all too often give our stance by rote, assure ourselves we're the good guys, and stand still.

So moving forward, unsatisfied with the status quo and compelled to act, what can we do? I won't venture to represent us all—and I'm working with a word limit here—but I'll tell you what I'm going to do and I'll encourage you to join me and/or share your own ideas in the comments below.

  • Follow up and check in with your fellow YNPNers at eventsHow has the month gone? What did you take away from the circle discussion?  What worked, what didn't, and is there anything you'd like to do to move the topic forward?
  • Sign up to become a Circle Facilitator with the YWCA's Racial Justice ProgramHelp provide the opportunity for courageous conversations on race and racism to take place in other groups.
  • Help plan the 2011 Overcoming Racism Conference May 13, 9-11am, St. Paul. Check out their website for more info, and ideas on a couple other upcoming events.
  • Attend the 12th Annual White Privilege Conference April 13-16, Bloomington. Coming up soon so strike while the iron is hot!

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