When Silence is Not An Option (Part II)

Our Reflections: How We Leaned into Discomfort and Interrupted for Justice
Gloria Kobow
Executive Assistant (Programs)
Mai P. Tran
Manager, Marketing and Communications

While philanthropy, as a field, sets out to do good work in the world, the very same set of good intentions are often full of ironies interwoven — whether intentionally or not — with

white supremacist values

, impacting its work in many ways. For instance, organizations led by Black, Indigenous, Latinx leaders receive only an

estimated 4%

of philanthropic capital, and

more than three-quarters

of foundation teams identify as white.

Last summer, in the midst of a racial reckoning in the US and across the world, our team at Imaginable Futures committed to dismantling structural racism at every level of our work. We took several steps—including self work to face uncomfortable truths. Realizing that change must start first inwards, we asked ourselves: How are we responsible for upholding the very systems of racism that we intend to dismantle?

For nine months, our team took a journey with Camelback Capital Collaborative (Camelback) to critically examine our role in perpetuating social inequities through philanthropy, and to develop strategies to make our investment process more equitable. We also learned tools to work better as a team, so that we’re able to show up each day for justice for each other and for our partners. We know the learning journey goes beyond these nine past months, and that the work is far from over. We’re grateful for this opportunity to share our own reflections and how the journey with the Camelback program has impacted us.

This is Part 2 two posts from Imaginable Futures team members. Read Part 1 (“How the Model Minority Myth Silences Challenges of the AAPI Community, and Why I Spoke”) by Mai Tran here.

Gloria Kobow: Leaning Into Discomfort

How does one start the conversation about anti-racism work at work? What is anti-racism? I’m not racist... am I? These were some of the questions that came up for me as I reflected on the events that unfolded during one of the most trying, transformative and challenging years of my life… of everyone’s life.

In 2020 we saw the devastating physical impact of COVID-19, and we also saw how it exacerbated inequities and less-visible challenges for many as well. In particular, we saw the racism that is embedded in institutions like education, finance and law enforcement rise to the surface.

Little me with my grandma, Domitila

I struggled with how to digest, respond and talk about the racial reckoning. As a self-identifying mixed-race individual (Latina/white), I initially believed that the best way to show support was to remain silent, in order to let others speak their truth. My reasoning, as unearthed through Camelback coaching sessions, stemmed from a multitude of factors, including the patriarchal views I was indoctrinated with as a child; my fairly religious upbringing which valued subservience from women; and my own blindness to unearned advantages because of the color of my skin and fear of open conflict and controversy.

While making space for the voices of others is important, to truly dismantle systemic racism, everyone must use whatever power and privilege they hold to take a stand and speak out against the violently racist horrors we are witnessing and demand change. But how?

I consider myself extremely lucky to be a part of an organization that provided resources to help me answer those initial questions. Through the Camelback experience I learned about the definitions of white supremacist culture, colonialism and its effects in other parts of the world, and most importantly what it truly means to be an ally.

Discomfort is often a door opening to growth. I’m ready to use my voice to fight for racial justice.

I participated in deep peer-focused discussions with my colleagues and challenged our assumptions around racial inequity in our personal and professional lives. We listened to powerful, thought-provoking and inspiring stories from guest speakers. Dr. William Jackson, founder of Village of Wisdom, shared his two-generational approach to engaging both students and parents in culturally-affirming ways within communities. This really resonated with me. As a half-Latina, one of the things I hold dear is my ability to relate to others through my Mexican heritage and I give thanks to my mother who kept her four children close to a Spanish-speaking community throughout our childhood. This notion of being in community with others, to identify ways to proactively treat all human beings as equally valuable, is just a part of the anti-racist work.

And it is an on-going process.

For me, this means constantly keeping my mind open to learning more and acknowledging that I’ll mess up, or say the wrong thing every once in a while. But the key is in moving forward, in learning from my mistakes and being comfortable with the uncomfortable. As I continue my journey I promise to embrace this discomfort, because as said throughout history and time: Discomfort is often a door opening to growth. It’s not going to be easy for those involved, but after years and years of racial inequality in the United States, it's long past overdue. And I’m ready to use my voice to fight for racial justice.