Dialogues about racism


Rowzat Shipchandler combines philanthropy and anti-racism work

I have always had a strong motivation to create stronger communities. This motivation led me to choose a career in philanthropy. Philanthropy is often viewed as charitable giving or grant making, but it is also about coming together to directly address problems that tear communities apart.

I am currently project manager of the Facing Race We’re All in This Together initiative of The Saint Paul Foundation. This initiative was created because racism is still a huge problem in our community. A large part of my job is encouraging individuals and organizations to simply talk about racism. I believe that conversations matter and that they are the first action people can take. Racism is one of the most challenging issues for Americans to talk about constructively. Because of that, the outreach and facilitation work I do is an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes it is encouraging and uplifting and other times disheartening.

The first step for me is to talk to groups about whether they would like their employees or members to have conversations about racism. Some have a drive to end racism and are relatively easy to engage. Others simply don’t want to believe that racism still exists or might not see their role in ending it.

The second step is to actually work with groups to host conversations about race and racism. While facilitating or observing these dialogues, I have seen individuals wrestle with this tough issue. I remember one individual who physically shook as he discussed the issue of racism. This man attended the dialogue voluntarily, yet talking about race was so uncomfortable that his body showed it.

I have seen people gain great insights into their own behavior. I remember one teacher who realized that she was creating a disrespectful learning environment for her African-American students because she was approaching them like they were helpless. During another dialogue, a social worker realized she always questioned why her white clients would need services because they were white and “had all these advantages.”

And I have seen dialogues in which racism is blatant and abrasive. One group used its dialogue as an excuse to vocalize every racial slur and epithet possible. As an Asian-American, these types of conversations make me feel personally vulnerable. They also show me that there is so much to be done and strengthen my resolve to continue. My work in philanthropy allows me to do just that because it is a powerful way of shaping communities and creating an environment for positive change.

For more information about the initiative, visit www.FacingRace.org.