Meet Sally Leiderman (Center for Policy and Assessment) and Maggie Potapchuk (MP Associates, a REACH grantee) who are half of the team behind racialequitytools.org (Shakti Butler of World Trust and Stephanie Halbert Jones of CAPD, are the other half.) Maggie and Sally share their reflections and learnings on redesigning RET.com, and how they hope the RET site can help meet the evolving needs of the racial equity field and the racial justice movement.
Context: How and when did RET.ORG first emerge?
Maggie: Sally and I met in 2000 while we were each providing support to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s place-based Making Connections Initiative. Sally already knew Shakti Butler from both of their participation in Dr. Patricia Harbour’s Healing the Heart of Diversity Institute. I met Shakti in 2001 when we were both flying to Durban, South Africa. We were both part of Project Change’s delegation on our way to the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Over the years since, Sally, Shakti and I have stayed in deep relationship with each other, both personally, and in various joint projects including RET and development of the Transforming White Privilege (TWP) curriculum.
Sally: What’s most interesting to me is that we each came with different perspectives, capacities and experiences. Shakti is a highly respected filmmaker, activist, and facilitator focused on social justice, movement building, and healing. Maggie works with organizations to operationalize racial justice and works with white folks to address white privilege and white dominant culture through facilitating caucuses and coaching. My organization (CAPD) primarily does evaluations. Because of mentoring from Shirley Strong and Gina Warren of Project Change, Dr. Patricia Harbour, Shakti and our Board, by the early 2000’s CAPD was among the evaluators to think seriously about racism and equity issues in evaluation processes as well as in the work being evaluated. Things like: how do you measure early and mid-term progress towards racial equity? Particularly given inevitable resistance and retrenchment (as the Aspen Institute and others were calling out loudly at the time). So as the Racial Equity Tools partners got together and reflected on the sites we each developed (evaluationtoolsforracialequity.org and racialequitylearning.org) we each brought something different to the table to merge the three sites, but here’s what we agreed on: all of the resources had to be downloadable and free to users (that is still generally true, though we ended up Transforming White Privilege and some other curricula behind a paywall). We also prioritized resources that had explicit language and lens about racial equity, which came to mean understanding systemic issues, understanding white supremacy and many other issues and opportunities for transformational change.
Obviously, a lot has happened since your first site (evaluationtoolsforacialequity) in 2005. Can you briefly describe the forces that have spurred this redesign? What do you see as different now from when RET started?
Sally: Just for context, it is true that many things have changed, and, a lot of fundamental aspects of oppression and racism look different but reproduce the same systems, outcomes, and fundamental aspects of racism. It feels really important to the field to continue to call that out. I think the Kerner Commission report is 50 years old. I’ve been encouraging people to reread it. Many of the recommendations that people will make today were in that. We haven’t implemented those recommendations. So, this issue of resistance and retrenchment and the cycles of it may be new to people, particularly those relatively new to racial equity work or experience, and that’s good. There’s an enormous amount of energy in that, but the underlying issues of white supremacy, colonialism, oppression, and systemic ways in which that oppression has been maintained over and over and disparate results for people of color, they are not new.
And so that’s something to really reckon with. It means we have to fix it and we have to do it in a way that it would be unthinkable to go back because that’s what would be transformative. And that’s something we have not—we have no idea what it’s going to take to do that because we’ve never been able to do it. So on that sobering note…
Maggie: [laughs] No, Sally. I appreciate your framing of it because you are right; the underlying system hasn’t changed, yet we know there has been significant progress. As we move to this next cycle, it might be helpful to reflect on the progress to analyze and critique what was transactional, what was reversed with the political shifts, and what items needed more groundwork to develop narrative and culture changes. So we can continue to learn and do better. And I need to keep believing in and working toward transformational change.
Regarding your question, our hand was forced to refresh the RET site. This redesign was technically required. We were notified that the current platform was not going to be upgraded to meet our needs and that technical problems would continue to escalate. We needed to figure out how to upgrade sooner rather than later. But we also saw this as a great opportunity to figure out what were the gaps on the site, how could the site better support building the knowledge and sharing information, and hopefully continue to meet the RET community needs.
What is your greatest hope for the website in relation to the public and racial equity work?
Maggie: A part of it is how we’re doing our community of practice. Whether it’s the Borealis cohort or other practitioner groups that are getting together,we have a lot of “nice” case studies about racial equity, and I say that word specifically. We don’t have a lot of case studies that discuss when you hit the wall, when there is tension and how it was addressed. When the staff walks out during a workshop or folks started leaving the organization, or a leader stops the change process or makes racist comments at a staff meeting. We don’t typically share those stories. How can we be vulnerable as a community to be able to share those case studies? In some ways, folks are going into this organizational change work or community change work with case studies that romanticize all of the progress and are not always prepared for the messiness of it. Maybe, what we need to offer is a case study outline with some of those types of questions about risks, tensions, and ‘hitting the wall’ moments. I think these types of case studies will be the robust addition of taking the people who use Racial Equity Tools deeper in their racial justice work. We need to have that level of sharing with each other and be more vulnerable. And there are some that are doing this, and we need to highlight those more.
How can we capture these types of casemaking, ones that are about truth-telling and telling those harder stories?
Maggie: To be honest, foundations need to step up — how foundations are speaking the truth—because there’s a lot of positioning and branding of being one of the racial equity foundations instead of creating accountability practices within the philanthropic ecosystem and working collectively to lessen the harm and deepen the racial equity work. The narrative being shared is how good they’re doing, and yet the veil hasn’t lifted. Is the story being shared from all perspectives within the organization, are grantees and partners sharing the impact of practices, or is it a deliverable from a communications department? And to my earlier point, a possible concern from grantees, will there be consequences if we reveal, especially when foundations are not being vulnerable and taking risks? I will say there’s a few interesting stories that came out this last year, many of which we posted on the site. But it would be lovely to share more. Some organizations were called out this last year or so regarding internal conflicts, misdeeds, and how manifestations of white supremacy played out. How are foundations supporting and celebrating these stories? Because at this point, very few are sharing the unvarnished truth of any change process focused on racial equity.
Sally: A part of me thinks evaluation has a lot to answer for in terms of inequity and collusion, particularly with philanthropy. And that’s one of the areas in which a lot of evaluators and funders and users of evaluation are working. There are various groups, but you know the revolution will not be funded. And that’s something only a 70-year-old can say, because I don’t have a long career ahead of me. I have a nice career behind me. So, the thing that we need to wrestle with in truth-telling is not to be ahistorical. It would be great if we could track system change, if we could draw from examples like the New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander) that talks about how we got to the prison industrial complex and what it will take to unravel it in a particular place for a particular group of people. It would be great if we could stop holding people accountable for things they cannot do, and especially what’s not in their control. Everybody over-promises in any grant what they can do, or many people do, because there’s a downside if you don’t, and as Maggie explained, there’s a downside if you do.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Maggie: Racial Equity Tools is as good as folks who are engaged with it. We would love to know what we got right and didn’t get right. Please share feedback (firstname.lastname@example.org) if something’s not working. Please also share your resources because again, this clearinghouse is built on the folks that are out there in the community who are sharing their work, ideas, analyses, and lessons. We are grateful to the organizations and authors of the many resources on RET site for generously sharing your brilliance. I want to shout out two people. Eric Blackerby, Better Everyday, for his wonderful work in moving to the new platform and re-design of the 98 webpages of resources as well as the Transforming White Privilege curriculum pages. Josephine Dru was incredible organizing the clearinghouse of 2800 resources to ensure they would be accessible and more searchable, and setting up systems so we can be more responsive to our users. The RET site is community-based, and we love to hear from everybody to continue to strengthen it. Sally and I also want to thank you for the opportunity to share the RET story.
More info about their work can be found at:
What We Read, Listened to, and Watched This Month.
The 1968 Kerner Commission Report Still Echoes Across America, New York Times. The 1968 Kerner Commission Report, referenced by Sally, lifts up solutions that would be useful today. The question, as always, is not what do we do, but whether the majority (those in power) has the will to do it. Content warning: violent video clips. [3M read; 6M accompanying video]
Kerner Commission Report (PDF). Pent-up frustrations boiled over in many poor African-American neighborhoods during the mid- to late-1960s, setting off riots that rampaged out of control from block to block. Many Americans blamed the riots on outside agitators or young black men, who represented the largest and most visible group of rioters. But, in March 1968, the Kerner Commission turned those assumptions upside-down, declaring white racism—not black anger—turned the key that unlocked urban American turmoil. [2HR read]