Fellows and Staff Learn about Transforming White Privilege as a Leadership Skill
The sign at the Hartford Club read “Transforming White Privilege – Ballroom.” On June 28th and 29th, a group of 20 CT Health staff and leadership fellows gathered in a facility oozing with historical white privilege (but that worked with us with the utmost hospitality) to learn about identifying and transforming privilege to advance equity. It felt subtly, thrillingly subversive.
The conversation around white privilege is a sensitive one. First of all, what is white privilege? Prior to the training, we were asked to read an Interview with John A. Powell in order to have a common starting point. Read this interview! It does an excellent job connecting the dots about how white privilege operates and why we should be concerned about it in 2012. My favorite quote is “You don’t have to be aware of [white privilege] to receive the benefit. And the thing that’s really slick about whiteness, if you will, is that most of the benefits can be obtained without ever doing anything personally.” In other words, being white does not mean one is a privilege monger or holds people of other races in ill regard, but because of how US history has become institutionalized, the way resources are distributed in society still benefits the majority population. White privilege is one of the contributing factors to health inequities and this is why it matters to the Connecticut Health Foundation.
So when several months prior, I received a call seemingly out of the blue from Sally Leiderman from the Center for Assessment and Policy Development, I was intrigued. We have developed modules for leadership programs about transforming White privilege as a 21st century leadership capacity. Hoping to possibly work with your fellows. I patiently waited for her to say and we’d like to talk to CT Health about some additional funding or the training will only cost you $X. But that pitch never came. Instead, she said, and we have funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to pilot the modules at three sites across the US and hope that the Connecticut Health Foundation’s Health Leadership Fellows Program might be one of them.
Initially, while eager to learn, I was skeptical that a privilege lens would be of much use. Participating in the training taught me that if our end goal is equity, it serves us to have frameworks that accommodate the multiple, overlapping factors that perpetuate inequity. And let’s face it, working in philanthropy inherently means dealing with privilege. While each participant, most of whom do not work in philanthropy, left with their own set of takeaways and lingering questions, I personally left feeling empowered. While I may not be White, I have influence in a foundation that can acknowledge its privilege and harness it for health justice.
I am grateful to trainers Sally Leiderman, Maggie Potapchuk, and Shakti Butler. This was a wonderful way for fellows and staff to continue their learning and skill building journeys, as well as an opportunity for our leadership program to contribute to the field. Kudos to the fellows and staff who continue to challenge themselves with the hard questions. Please comment to share your individual take aways. And thanks to the Diversity, Inclusion, Cultural Humility, and Equity Committee of the foundation for co-hosting.
Image courtesy of http://www.hartfordclub.com/.