Fellows and Staff Learn about Transforming White Privilege as a Leadership Skill

Today’s post was written by Elizabeth Krause, Senior Program Officer & Director of the Health Leadership Fellows Program.

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/.


10 Responses to Fellows and Staff Learn about Transforming White Privilege as a Leadership Skill

  1. Jenn Whinnem says:

    I was only able to attend part of the training, as the ACA Supreme Court ruling was handed down and I was swept into a sea of communications activities. Nevertheless. I was able to participate in the second day and I can give you The Things I Learned From This Training.

    –Maggie, Sally, and Shakti handled a very difficult topic with great sensitivity – without pulling punches. Well done.

    –When white people are confronted with their white privilege, and they actually see it – it would seem that usually white people cry. What saddened and surprised me was that the crying typically diverted attention from the person of color who was sharing the story of pain that illustrated the white privilege. In other words, other people in the room would comfort the white person! I’d like to say that when I had my breaking moment (over ten years ago), no one comforted me, so this came as a surprise.

    –I liked Shakti’s story about her granddaughter who was ready to dump her best friend because she had been greedy. Shakti responded in her serene way, “, have you ever been greedy?” and her granddaughter hung her head. It was helpful to think about how those that decry others’ unpleasant behavior are often guilty of that very same behavior!

    Thanks for including me in the training.


  2. The videos shown during the two days were particularly moving to me. The youth in schools, describing how they are treated differently, indeed less than, by teachers, guidance counselors and others in the school system, was powerful. But what continues to haunt me most is understanding the history behind African American moms who appear to not be acknowledging or praising their children’s accomplishments. That film segment of the two moms talking about their sons continues to sadden me as I reflect on what families of color have needed to do to just survive. It was a powerful training; thanks to the CHF for providing this opportunity.

  3. Oops! I’m confusing my racial equity workshops. The video of high school youth of color describing their negative experiences was done at another racial equity workshop designed for educators — another insightful experience.

  4. Carol Pollack says:

    As a white person attending this session I was a little anxious about the title because on the surface it felt like it implied a conscious abuse of a group’s advantages. I now realize that, while this can happen, it is more likely to be a subconscious application of assumptions, norms and customs defined by the majority population to define and explain events and people who come at life through a different lens. My most important take-away was to remember to always ask myself “is there another way to look at this”.

  5. Elizabeth Krause says:

    Thanks for sharing your key takeaways Jenn, Gloria, and Carol. The three of you contributed so much to the group learning experience.

  6. Christi Holmes says:

    While the sessions focused on white privilege and power both from an historical context as well as a current one, I find for me, the real leadership impact occurred after the sessions. My colleagues of fellow leaders provided thoughtful questions and insight about their experiences with either having white privilege or being oppressed by those who do. This type of conversation is not easy to have nor are there many opportunities present to do so. I am honored to be part of a network of professionals who do not shy away from a challenge. I am also humbled by the strength and determination to create a just and equal society through intentionally understanding the unequal privilege that those of us with white skin have. Thank you to all who were present, who will be present in the future and who continue to fight because it is the right thing to do, not because we have to.

  7. Elizabeth Krause says:

    Christi, thank you for your comment. While we all recognize the need to support leaders of color, we also need allies like you who can build bridges thanks to your ability to traverse circles.

  8. Heang Tan says:

    Thank you for providing this recap, Elizabeth. The training really provided a safe space for reflection. I thought about my childhood; and how I felt about needing to always learn about “white culture” and never once as a child did I ask others to learn or embrace mine. It was a powerful moment and I was grateful to be part of this learning process with friends and colleagues.

  9. It is great to know that an organization/foundation such as CT Health is continuing to create opportunities for learning about the invisibility of race. It is a pervasive, yet exhaustible issue that influences all that we do. Race Matters at work; at home; and shapes the way we play together.
    Go CT Health!

  10. Elizabeth Krause says:

    Thanks for the acknowledgement and encouragement Amos.

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