Defining Racialization – Connie’s definition:
Similar to marginalization, racialization is a process through which different racial groups are given or denied access to society’s concern and resources. The mechanisms and costs associated with how one’s group is racialized change with the times.
Growing up in San Francisco, I had seen and experienced racism, but I had no idea what my parents were up against and I certainly didn’t have words to explain it. Why did my parents struggle so much to make ends meet? Why couldn’t my father hold down a job if he was a lawyer? Why was my mother paid so poorly even though she directed an institution and went to one of the best colleges in the country? Why wouldn’t my grandmother help us buy a house? Why did people talk so loud when they spoke to my father? Growing up, I never thought to ask directly. Most explanations I encountered attributed racism to “bad” individuals, human nature, etc. It really wasn’t presented as something we could do much about.
My mother, who is white and grew up in Texas, and my father, who is from the Philippines, met while my mother was serving in the Peace Corps. My father, having just completed his law degree, was running for city counsel in the town where my mother was teaching English. A few years after they married, they decided to migrate to the United States. I realized later that they arrived one year before Asian immigration was reopened and three years before interracial marriage would become legal in all states, including Texas; there were external forces shaping my parent’s access to opportunity. While they were both the beneficiaries of policies that inequitably distribute wealth within their respective countries of origin, when they decided to marry across race, and move to the United States, they found themselves caught in a structure designed to marginalize people of color and women.
It wasn’t until my husband Jonathan and I came into unexpected money from his family in 2000 and started getting involved in philanthropy that I began to understand how race has been used to allocate who has access to wealth and societies resources more generally. In our early attempts to understand race analysis, we joined a group of progressive funders where we met Professor john a. powell, now the Executive Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California at Berkeley. john began to explain racial inequity in structural terms; such as the redlining policies implemented in the 1930’s and the ways in which policies have divided individuals and cities.
Like so many people, I had no words to explain the inequity I experienced and observed, and these conversations shed a bright light on why policy matters so much. As an interracial couple in the 1960’s my parents were not welcome in most neighborhoods in San Francisco. Due to many of these redlining policies I’d never considered before, my parents were unable to rent, much less buy, a home in the “nicer” neighborhoods. And though my father had been a respected attorney in the Philippines, he was only able to find work in the U.S. at an insurance company where he would hear his coworkers referring to him in the hallways as “the Filipino monkey”. Understanding the structural causes of my parent’s struggles enabled me to stop blaming them, stop blaming myself, and focus on challenging the structures that create inequity and the anger and frustration that it creates. No wonder there was tension in my parent’s marriage!
My husband and I decided that the best thing we could leave our children would be a world without so much inequity and unnecessary suffering. So we set out to learn how to use our money to make social change. john and others gave me readings, and invested time to help me learn about race, to organize, and find the courage to speak up about race in philanthropic networks.
The blinders we are taught to have about race are really strong, many of us don’t want to see it and actively resist seeing that we can actually do something about it.
In order to help stimulate these urgent conversations, Jonathan and I founded the Linked Fate Fund for Justice first at Tides Foundation and now at Common Counsel Foundation. Through my work with Linked Fate, we support organizing by and for the most impacted and under resourced communities, grassroots leadership in year round, civic engagement – educating elected officials, holding them accountable and voter turn out are critical! We also support work that increases understanding of the multiple and evolving processes of racialization: structural inequity and ways to address it, work that connects academic inquiry to organizing and movement building, and research on implicit bias and strategies to undermine effectiveness of dog whistle racism. Over the past 10 years, we’ve really seen a lot of positive changes.
In 2012, I worked with john powell on a series of workshops for The California Endowment and their grantees. Based on the curriculum that we developed, I went on to build a website, Project Linked Fate, to make those materials readily available and graphically compelling. The curriculum focuses on how we think about race, how we talk about race and how we can act to disrupt structural racism and implicit bias to create structural opportunity and belonging. What is unique about the curriculum is that in addition to introducing concepts and terminology, it provides case studies and worksheets, so that anyone can begin to apply the concepts to their own work—whether you are trying to analyze a problem, talk effectively about race, or design an intervention.
Building on the work with john and with the Women Donors Network, I continue to collaborate with leading experts from the field and at the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard Law Schools to develop workshops and seminars for philanthropists to explore and design strategies for addressing the effects of structural marginalization and societal implicit racial bias in their specific areas of work.
Some of the other organizations I’m involved with are: Groundswell Fund for Reproductive Rights, an intermediary foundation that supports grassroots organizing and policy change efforts led by low-income women, women of color and transgender people, Demos, a public policy organization working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy, and Women Donors Network, a progressive philanthropic membership organization focused on building a fair and just world.
Beyond philanthropy I create Fiber Collages which helps me stay grounded as well as process this intellectual and emotional work in a different kind of way. As I was learning about race it was frankly pretty depressing until I started to think about collaging as a way to put humanity back into being together. I try to focus on what is beautiful about our differences, the resourcefulness of people and communities, and how we can successfully cross perceived boundaries.
I love thinking and talking about these tough issues. The best parts: seeing money moving, blindfolds coming off and seeing new connections between issue areas. Once people learn to recognize the evidence of the structural barriers we have created, you can literally see the light turn on, followed by a significant shift in how they work, who they work with, where they give their money, and how they talk about difference. I’ve seen it in myself and I see it in others. I am always curious to learn more about the other connections I don’t see yet!
Today I’m hopeful. I believe that we are living in a time where there is real ballooning of interest in understanding race, understanding how we create the “other”. And people are coming together, activists are coming together, grant makers are taking on the tough questions. . . people all over the world are looking for positive alternatives. Together we can figure this out and even if we don’t get it perfect, we can leave the world a better place.