Living Cities has learned that to do racial equity work with authenticity, we have to embrace a new way of working. It has to start with us, at the level of individual staff and project teams. As we set about creating a new network to advance anti-racist practices in local government, we are seeking to intentionally defy the norms set by white supremacy culture through our process. Through this post and a series of resources that will follow, we will share the ways we are practicing antidotes to white supremacy culture so that we can continue to learn as we support our readers’ capacity to also design their work in defiance of white supremacy culture. The first piece in this series can be found here: We’re All in this Together: Ending White Supremacy Culture Starts With Us. The third piece can be found here: Ending White Supremacy Culture: A Resource for Cultivating Abundance Mindset.
The inequitable systems that we live under were designed by people, so it must be through the day-to-day choices and behaviors of people within the systems to change them. For us at Living Cities, this means practicing our anti-racist values. Two of these values are reckoning with history and honoring the labor that got us here. In the first co-design session we hosted with partners who are contributing to the design of the Closing the Gaps Network, we went through a collective process of reckoning with our individual and organizational histories in the context of how racial wealth gaps came to be, and how people have been fighting for justice since day one. We hope this resource will allow readers to adapt our tools and agenda to reckon with your own histories in the journey toward racial equity.
And, we are grateful to the Global Action Project, who led us through a training on movement history timelines, which sparked a lot of the ideas we had in engaging people in history and supporting people to see themselves in history.
Prior to our session, we printed both of these timelines as 9’ posters. For a virtual meeting, you can simply send the links above to everybody in your group.
Start with a check-in that grounds people in art, culture, and creativity. We used the art and question below, but our check-in resource has more options for you to consider. (You can also come up with your own!)
[5 min] Look at Julie Mehretu’s artwork, Stadia II, and Conjured Parts (eye) Read through how Julie describes her work: “In her highly worked canvases, Mehretu creates new narratives using abstracted images of cities, histories, wars and geographies with a frenetic mark making that for the artist becomes a way of signifying social agency as well suggesting an unravelling of a personal biography. Mehretu’s points of departure are architecture and the city, particularly the accelerated, compressed and densely populated urban environments of the 21st Century. Her canvases overlay different architectural features such as columns, façades and porticoes with geographical schema such as charts, building plans and city maps and architectural renderings, seen from multiple perspectives, at once aerial, cross-section and isometric. Her paintings present a tornado of visual incident where gridded cities become fluid and flattened, like many layers of urban graffiti. Mehretu has described her rich canvases as ‘story maps of no location,’ seeing them as pictures into an imagined, rather than actual reality. Through its cacophony of marks, her work seems to represent the speed of the modern city depicted, conversely, with the time-aged materials of pencil and paint.”
[5 min] Thinking about her term “story maps of no location,” draw your own story map.
[10 min] Participants share their story maps with each other
Then transition participants to looking at the timelines. Ideally you are in person so people can stand, move, and engage.
[20 min] Explore the historical timelines. Using post-its, add to the timelines with:
- Historical events that you think were important to the creation of the racial wealth gap and/or efforts to organize for racial justice
- Your personal and ancestral histories (e.g. when/ how did your ancestors come to the US, what were the policies and events that caused them to gain or lose wealth, etc)
- Your organizational histories (e.g. when/ why was your organization founded, what has it done to contribute to the widening or closing of racial gaps, etc)
[10 min] Participants share reflections on this experience.
After you go through this activity together, be sure to give people space to grieve and process. The history of race in this country is heavy. Many participants will need a break after this. Also consider taking a few collective breaths, stretching together, or encouraging people to step outside for a breath of fresh air.
This resource is a template that you can adapt to your organizational needs. We hope that it helps you build your practice of defying white supremacy culture. If it does, or if you want to learn more about anything we’re sharing, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.