Shifting Power and Reimagining Partnerships

Central among our ongoing reckoning with racial justice is the question of how power is shifted and shared through partnerships. Historically marginalized communities across the U.S. do not typically have access to resources and traditional means of power, so many of the decisions on policies, plans and investments are decided by people who are not directly impacted by a racially inequitable system.

Shifting power in a racial equity context entails lifting up organizations and leaders of color, and in some cases replacing white leadership with leaders of color who can design solutions to issues that they have identified. When white individuals and organizations share power with people of color it can foster equity and trust, and leads to better, more equitable decisions. Authors in this section reflect on their relationships to power, approaches to partnership, and the potential for more racially equitable outcomes.

Discussion Questions

Read through the following questions and answer them based off what you learned from the readings:

1. What are some reasons for organizations to focus on sharing or shifting power?

2. In their essay, Lea and Bekah mention “equity washing” as an obstacle to change. What is this, have you witnessed it and why does it matter for making racially equitable decisions and investments?

3. Pulling from the contributions in this section, through what actions and approaches can white people and organizations build trust with communities of color?

Discussion Questions

  • Think of a social justice issue that you care about or work on in some way. Research to find out who is working on that issue in your area. Make a list of 5-7 organizations or groups.  If you interviewed all of the groups on your list, do you think it would give you a good cross-section of the views of the community? Whose views might be missing?

  • Find 2-3 organizations in your community that are social justice oriented, and assess their leadership structure. How diverse are their leaders and board members?

  • Attend a public meeting of any kind in your community. How much public participation is there? How useful is it? How effective is it? Do you think that the participants are truly representative of the community? Are those who will be most immediately impacted present and vocal? Do the members of the planning commission seem to understand that?

Additional Resources

White Supremacy Culture in Organizations
Centre for Community Organizations" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Racial Equity and Philanthropy
Cherl Dorsey, Jeff Bradach, and Peter Kim (May 2020)

The Diversity Gap in the Nonprofit Sector

Susan Medina (June 14, 2017)

White Women Doing White Supremacy in Nonprofit Culture

Heather Laine Talley, Tzedek Social Justice Fund (August 12, 2019)

How White People Conquered the Nonprofit Industry
Anastasia Reesa Tomkin, Nonprofit Quarterly (May 26, 2020)

College faculty have become more racially and ethnically diverse, but remain far less so than students
Leslie Davis and Richard Fry (July 31, 2019)

Nonprofit Leaders of Color Speak Out About Struggles and Triumphs
Nicole Wallace (July 9, 2019)

Featured Work

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