social movements + innovation lab


Touching the Third Rail of Race

This may sound surprising but I’ve been taken aback by how and how much race, power and privilege have come up in every Practice Circle so far. Here’s our elephant finally being talked about publicly. To state the obvious, power and race are issues in our movement. And, as we know, social justice movements are essentially about wrestling power from those who have most of it to deliver some to those with little or none.

​​Yet, these are my first times in mixed raced rooms hearing race and power referenced from a genuine sense of struggle and confusion, and not blame, shame and shut down. I’ve been in a lot of one-on-one conversations about the damaging dynamics of race in our field, and I’ve been in relatively homogenous small groups where we’ve rehashed the racialized harms being done to others and ourselves. None of them have been particularly productive conversations, bringing us to new ground or offering up insights.

In the Practice Circles, however, people bring it up, not with an ax to grind, a grudge to reinforce or guilt to atone for, but because they find themselves unable to move forward into other conversations without starting there first. Perhaps they are just as surprised to find that in these spaces of breakthrough conversations, they can no longer talk around race and power, but have to actually talk about and work through it.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that calcified struggles over race and power are the bottlenecks to innovation and collective action in our field.

Every time race comes up in our events (which means, every time we hold an event), we at CoreAlign have internal conversations about how to respond. How should we engage it? Can we facilitate a meaningful conversation about race that helps healing and doesn’t further open old wounds? Are folks as eager for this conversation as they appear or is bringing it up an unconscious avoidance of other uncomfortable conversations? Do we have the capacity and skills to facilitate such a charged topic given how new we are to all this?

Entering into discussions about race and power are like stepping into a minefield, with the potential for unexpected and deadly explosions present with each move. Playing it safe, we’ve tried to step mindfully. When Tracy and I launched this endeavor, she had white folks asking her if there was any space for them in CoreAlign since a woman of color was leading it. Meanwhile, I had others come to me seeking reassurance that CoreAlign included reproductive justice and women of color, because they assumed it was only about abortion.

In working hard to appear racially inclusive and unbiased, we’ve been publicly accused of being exclusive and unwelcoming to both white women and women of color. Given the state of the field, this may be our clearest signal we’re in the danger zone.

While it is becoming more clear every day that we should no longer play it safe, and that we need to follow our own directions and lean into the risk and discomfort of these conversations, we’ve been stumped with where to begin.

Do you have suggestions or recommendations? Have you been in conversations about race that have led to more understanding of power and privilege, that have led to more trust and better working relationships? What would you do if you were us?

My stomach hurts when I think about participating in, designing and facilitating these conversations. But maybe this is exactly what it feels like to lean into discomfort and risk. Maybe we just need to stop hoping we can wave this away, and just do it.