Not sure how to discuss racism/classism/privilege? Start here - Generocity Philly


Aug. 9, 2018 12:45 pm

Not sure how to discuss racism/classism/privilege? Start here

Columnist Lansie Sylvia on learning, then talking, about tough topics.

How to Give” is a monthly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, tweet @FancyLansie.


Like so many others, after the last presidential election I became much more interested in my local community organizing efforts, but I feel like I don’t know anything! I want to volunteer and support nonprofits that need it, but I feel woefully unprepared to talk about any issues of racism, classism, privilege or other complex topics. Help!

Hey! You’re doing okay! The first step in learning something new is acknowledging that you don’t know something. You’d be surprised at how hard that is for some people, so kudos to you!

I have three main suggestions this week and will be reaching out to my network for a possible Part 2 in the coming months.

1. Follow educators on social media.

Did you know that there are social justice influencers on social media? There are, and they’re amazing! Many of the ones I follow are body positive bloggers and POC that focus on intersectionality and power dynamics, but there are also communities dedicated to food insecurity, eradicating homelessness, community organizing and more.

By following 10 to 15 reputable accounts you can start to work this type of informal learning into the flow of your everyday life. Just be careful when reading the comments. Not everyone who is part of the conversation knows what they’re talking about!

And if you find yourself gaining a lot of knowledge and value from a particular blogger or influencer, check to see if they have a Patreon or Paypal account so that you can financially support them for providing free and authentic resources and education to your life.

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2. Start or join a book club focus on topics of wealth distribution, class, race and privilege.

We’re very lucky to be in this particular moment where there are many excellent books that are widely available and written by a diversity of voices, including individuals that may be within communities that are “living on the margins” and have less access to the resources many of us enjoy.

Starting a book club with a specific subject or authorship focus (i.e. only reading books about systemic inequality, only reading books written by indigenous people) with other people who are interested in learning more about these topics — and discussing them with openness, candor and empathy — is a very DIY approach that relies on your own motivation and doesn’t ask anyone else to “do the work for you.”

Always remember that teaching someone, or telling someone your story, is a true gift that one human can give to another.

Take this recommendation with a grain of salt because for it to work, everyone needs to actually have read the book — which I know can be the death of any book club, but it’s particularly of note here. When we engage with the experiences of others, it is essential that we bear witness to the entire experience, not just the parts that we’re comfortable with. So, you need to read the entire book!

For this reason, I recommend every-other-month clubs because some of the best books on complex topics are themselves complex, and take some time to read and digest! I’m still moving through “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” (who wants to talk about it with me? Wink wink!).

Bonus points if you can encourage individuals to either borrow the book from the library or purchase it from an independent business owned and operated by a person from the community that you’re seeking to understand. Extra bonus points if you can purchase it from the author directly!

Once your group gets into the groove, you can also invite the author to present, or invite guest speakers, professors, moderators or other trained facilitators to discuss the book with your group and contextualize the information. If it were me, I would also make sure there is lots of wine, cheese and fancy seltzers on hand because those things make every group meeting better.

[Editor’s note: Maybe start with one of these books?]

3. Write an article and do some research.

I’ve been writing this column for a few years now, and it shows, because I’m about to tell you A Very Big Secret: I don’t have all the answers!

But this column affords me the incredible gift of “an excuse” to reach out to someone new to me and ask for an interview. Plus, it gives me a deadline, so I have a defined time to gather my resources and form an opinion, which enables me to learn more and more things, despite my own procrastinating nature!

#ContentIsKing lately, so there are many community news resources that you can contribute to. Maybe it’s for your own blog, or maybe you can write an op-ed for a local newspaper. If you decide to go this route, educate yourself on the foundations of solutions-based, ethical journalism. Always remember that teaching someone, or telling someone your story, is a true gift that one human can give to another, so obviously this needs to be approached with sensitivity and respect.

Dear readers, what are some of your favorite ways to learn about new topics? Leave suggestions in the comments or email me!


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