Facing Race Reflection: What Ties Us Together

With the 2016 Presidential election now over, I’ve entered a process of much needed reflection. For me, I’ve blocked the media and rhetoric of political pundits out of my thoughts and now look to the future – one that I will impact positively. The campaign season is usually a time where people divide and organize themselves in an us vs. them fashion. We become so focused on why MY candidate is better than yours and what MY candidate will do for the people that we estrange ourselves from those who may not share our views. I am not criticizing these practices, as it is natural to the political process and how people ultimately make voting decisions. My thought is simply that campaign politics, for me has become more of a system of disunion than one where we unite.

 I recently had the privilege to attend the 2016 National Facing Race conference in Atlanta, GA organized by Race Forward. The conference could not have come at more needed time than a day after the election, when all media coverage focused on the dismemberment in the country as a result of voting. The conference, which was attended by over 2,000 people was one of the most diverse experiences I’ve ever had. The plenary rooms were filled with such diversity and more importantly celebrating this diversity, making the experience a surreal one for me. At the opening plenary, Race Forward Executive Director Rinku Sen encouraged the audience to “look up from division and despair”. This statement struck me as something that every person needed to hear at the moment. Sen further emphasized that a cohesive multiracial movement is our best and only hope. I could not agree more with that statement.

As the political propaganda from World War II encouraged us, “United we are strong, united we will win”.  We live in a time where what unites us should be what is stronger than what separates us. At the conference, we were all talking about race and for me this felt rare and I was disappointed in myself, as I realized that I often avoid having candid conversations about race, especially with those whose racial identity differs from mine.

As a young black woman, who is often the only or one of the only blacks in the room, I often feel like race is something I shouldn’t acknowledge in fear of being viewed as militant or intolerant. However, while attending Facing Race, I was able to reflect on my opinions and realized that refraining from speaking about race, or any other aspect of one’s identity is only perpetuating the division. Why should I fear saying the word “black” or even fear acknowledging the fact that diversity, equity and inclusion are issues that need to be addressed in the philanthropic space even more than they are at present.

I was fortunate enough after being rejuvenated from the conference to come home to Michigan and continue the conversation about equity. Last week, EPIP Michigan, which I co-chair, hosted a day-long, interactive event addressing the many aspects of applying an equity lens in philanthropy. The event provided the space for emerging philanthropic practitioners to discuss equity in a way that they typically cannot in their daily work. A common theme that I’ve noticed is that sometimes we simply need the space to discuss and work through our differences. In philanthropy, we can make strides in addressing issues of social justice and make a lasting impact. However, in order to do that, we must candidly address these issues head on, even if we inherit a volatile presidential administration.

Time has not frozen still and life must go on. The remnants of this long, bitter presidential campaign that exposed a lot of the hatred and segregation in our country still surrounds us. As Americans, we have a right to exercise our vote or align ourselves with whom we so choose. However, while we have this freedom, let’s not allow it to segregate us and make us hate each other. Operating in behaviors exhibiting hate or the unwillingness to work together brings harm to everyone. The history books will look back on this time no doubt as a time where fear and uncertainty was a prevailing feeling for many in our country and even our world. We don’t have to let the next phase of this history become a time of war or divisiveness. Let’s come together, let’s think together and let’s work together, despite the differences in our color, religion, sexual orientation, age or gender. For It is what ties us together as a whole that allows us to see the future. 

Arielle Milton

Kresge Foundation

EPIP-Michigan Chapter Leader & Co-Chair

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