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Step Forward, Step Back Racial Equity Activity

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This activity shows some of the advantages and disadvantages related to skin color and organizational power and privilege. The activity is used to show how long-term accumulation of advantages based on skin color and/or organizational privilege can produce gaps among groups and create inequities in the communities we hope to serve. We will see visually how disadvantages and privileges have played out for us as individuals and we will see how our positions within the organizations we work have privileged us, some perhaps more than others. The central question at the end is, what does our positioning reveal and how may we use this understanding to close these gaps?

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Step Forward, Step Back Racial Equity Activity

  1. 1. Step Forward, Step Back1 Activity (40-50 minutes) Introduction: This activity shows some of the advantages and disadvantages related to skin color and organizational power and privilege. The activity is used to show how long-term accumulation of advantages based on skin color and/or organizational privilege can produce gaps among groups and create inequities in the communities we hope to serve. We will see visually how disadvantages and privileges have played out for us as individuals and we will see how our positions within the organizations we work have privileged us, some perhaps more than others. The central question at the end is, what does our positioning reveal and how may we use this understanding to close these gaps? Instructions: • This activity should be conducted in a large open area where participants can move around easily. • Ask participants to stand and form a line in the middle of the room. They should be touching shoulders with the people on both sides. (Use your judgment about asking people to stand so close together. If you think it would be awkward for the group, another way to do this is to ask everyone to hold a piece of string with the person next to them. As the activity progresses, they will hold the string for as long as possible, dropping it when they are too far apart to hold onto it). If participants are not able to take a step (e.g., if they are in a wheelchair), invite them to “move forward or back.” • Read each statement to the group. Participants will respond accordingly to what is true for them – personally and in the position they hold within their organization – that is, they will step forward, or step back. If the statement doesn’t apply, participants will stand still. • Give people time to think before they move. • Ask people to observe how others move as you read the statements. • Advise people that, if their parent’s experiences were different, they should do this activity with one parent in mind. • Let participants know that this activity may bring up strong emotions, and that’s OK. Let them know they will have a chance to talk about how they feel at the end of the activity. 1 This activity is adapted from Everyday Democracy’s Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation, discussion guide, pp.16-21. http://everyday-democracy.org/resources/facing-racism-diverse-nation
  2. 2. To begin, form a line in the middle of the room. The facilitator will read a series of statements. Think about how the statements apply to you. Then take one step forward, stand still, or take one step back. Part A: Personal Identity: 1. If you were ever in a situation where you were the only one according to your racial or ethnic identify, take one step back. 2. If you were ever called names because of your racial or ethnic identity, take one step back. 3. If your relatives (ancestors) were forced to come to the U.S., take one step back. 4. If you expect an inheritance from a family member (property, cash, bonds, etc.) take one step forward. 5. If you purchased your first home with help from your parents, take one step forward. 6. If most of your teachers were from the same racial or ethnic background as you, take one forward. 7. If your parents spoke English as a first language, take one step forward. 8. If you have at least one parent who earned a Master’s or Ph.D. degree, take one step forward. 9. If U.S. laws prevented members of your same racial or ethnic identify from voting, take one step back. 10. If you come from a racial or ethnic group that have ever been considered by scientists as “inferior,” take one step back. 11. If you, or a relative have been detained since the September 11th attacks in the U.S., take one step back. 12. If your ancestors’ land was made part of the U.S., take one step back. 13. If you believe you have been harassed by the police because of your skin color, take one step back. 14. If you see people from your same racial or ethnic background as CEOs in most Fortune 500 companies, take one step forward. 15. If you can have a candid conversation about racism at your family dinner table without being shut down, take one step forward. Facilitator: Freeze the group and ask people to look around the room to see where everyone is standing. Ask the following questions: At what point did you stop touching shoulders? Why did people end up where they are? Facilitator: Listen to a few answers from the group. After people have expressed their feelings
  3. 3. about where they are, then move the group onto the next set of questions. Part B: Organizational/positional Identity: 1. If your organization’s grant making portfolio is between $5-$15 million annually, take one step forward. 2. If your organization’s grant making portfolio is more than $50 million, take one step forward. 3. If you have discretionary grant making authority for funds between $100,000 and $200,000, take one step forward. 4. If you have discretionary grant making authority over $200,000, take one step forward. 5. If your organization has equity elements written into employee competencies, take one step forward. 6. If your organization’s grant making authority is national and/or international, take one step forward. 7. If past strategic planning in your organization has been done by a small group of “experts” selected by top management and with little to no input from your grantees, take one step back. 8. If your position in the organization reflects upper management, take one step forward. 9. If equity impact statements are not required of potential grantees, take one step back. 10. If the staff of your organization reflects less than 50% the diversity of the people in the communities where grants are awarded, take one step back. 11. If the board of your organization reflects less than 50% the diversity of the people in the communities where grants are awarded, take one step back. 12. If your organization publishes its materials only in English, take one step back. 13. If your organization does an annual internal equity assessment with all staff, take one step forward. 14. If your organization regularly includes items on staff and board meetings agendas to continually build a common understanding and vocabulary on equity, take one step forward. 15. If your organization regularly entertains feedback from grantees on issues of equity and has procedures in place to integrate that feedback, take one step forward.
  4. 4. Facilitator: • What patterns, if any, did you notice about where everyone ended up in the room from both activities? • When you think about where everyone ended up, what does this say about our country? What does it say about our work? What might it mean for the communities we serve? • How does it feel to have gone through these two activities?

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