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White Privilege Role-Play Activity

This role-play scenario can be a tool to help foundation leaders begin to explore issues of white
privilege, internalized bias, and racial equity as part of a broader conversation on making
collective impact authentic, inclusive, and equity-focused. It can be used with other tools and
resources to build a deeper level of understanding of how those issues often play out in collective
impact initiatives.


Context of the scenario:

Partners for Community Change or PCC is a collective impact initiative that involves 20
private sector, government, and nonprofit partners in a diverse medium-sized city and
county with a focus on workforce/skills and job development and placement.
A key partner in the initiative is the Making Good Progress Foundation (the
Foundation), a predominantly white-led and managed private foundation that is
committed to supporting key projects of the initiative.
The ten-member Steering Council of PCC consists mostly of the same folks who have
operated and funded job-skills development and training programs in the city over the
past twenty yearsthe VP for Community Relations at the Foundation, a Special Aide to
the Mayor, the head of the countys Labor Department, a representative from the local
community and technical college, and representatives of five of the medium-sized and
large businesses and corporations in the state, most of which are not based in the city.
The backbone organization for the initiativeCommunity Development Coalition
serves on and Chairs the Steering Council.



The Characters

Person 1: _____________________________________. African American. I am the Director of
Career Development and J ob Placement at the Community-Technical College. Im new to the
city but very connected to the community since most of the students are residents in the city and
are people of color and/or recent arrivals. I am suspicious of the initiative because it is led mostly
by whites and the vision and agenda of the group is being framed by the same power brokers.

Person 2: _________________________________________. Latino/Hispanic. I am perceived
by some as a White Hispanic and I dont speak much Spanish. Im the Coordinator of PCC and
am the Executive Director of the Community Development Coalition (CDC), an influential
community action agency that has credibility and strong ties with the Foundation and the other
power brokers in the PCC Council. The CDC has received numerous grants from the Foundation.
But several informal community leaders in the African American, Latino, and immigrant and
refugee communities have been at odds with me on a number of key issues. Some call me a
povertycrat who dances to the tune of those with money.

Person 3: ________________________________________. White. Im the VP for Community
Relations at the Foundation. I have power and influence within the Foundation in areas of
strategic planning as well as grant-making and am regarded as an expert on the community. I
used to work for CDC many years earlier and have strong connections with power brokers in the
city and county. I claim to know the community well because of my many years at CDC.
However, I live in a suburban gated community outside the city limits. I perceive Person 2 as a
White Hispanic and as someone who is well-educated and knows her/his stuff.

Person 4: ________________________________________. White. I am a VP for Community
Affairs at one of the large corporations in the state that does most of its business in an adjacent,
predominantly white county. I see this collective impact effort as an opportunity for the company
to establish a base of operations in the county and to elicit tax and other benefits as a way to
leverage corporate expansion goals.

Person 5: __________________________________________. White. I am the Director of the
County Department of Labor. Im not very familiar with the city and have connections mostly
with the corporate sector in the county. I have strong job development experience but lack
experience working with communities of color and/or recent immigrants. I have access to data
that the initiative needs but have noticed that there is little data on living conditions, educational
level, job experience, employment trends, and skill levels of people of color in the city,
especially new arrivals.

The scene: Five members of the Steering Council are tasked with framing a common vision for a
job skills, development, and placement collective impact effort. Only half of the members of the
Council are present. Only two of the four people of color in the Council are in attendance.


Script

Person 2: OK, lets talk about the vision statement for this collective impact initiative. I
think we should basically draw from the report Angie put together on the
stakeholders meetings held last week around town. What do folks think?

Person 1: I would like to start by voicing my concern on the fact that most of the people at
the meeting I attended were the usual folks you invite to your so-called
stakeholders meetings. Many folks I know in that community, including many
of the students I counsel at the college, were neither consulted nor invited to
attend.

Person 2: [IN A DEFENSIVE AND LOUDER TONE OF VOICE] - Your concern is noted,
but I have worked in that community much longer than you have, and if a few
people were not invited that does not mean that there was no community voice.

Person 1: [IN A LOUDER TONE OF VOICE] It is not just about being invited it is also
about being consulted!

Person 3: Folks, lets keep our calm! What exactly are you trying to say? How does that
relate to our vision statement?

Person 1: What Im saying is that some of the key challenges that community faces like
transportation, housing, and support services were not mentioned once at the
meeting. Also, nobody mentioned issues of language, culture and immigrant
status. Most of those who attended were English-language proficient; but they
dont reflect the makeup of that community.

Person 3: I understand what youre saying, but that meeting was about ensuring that we
could get folks in the community to apply for the programs. We were there to tell
them about this initiative and how they can benefit from it.

Person 2: That is correct, and we heard from some folks at the meeting and they would have
shared the concerns you mentioned if those were really that important to them.
Why didnt you raise the issues?

Person 1: Look, I just think that not addressing those issues will determine whether those
folks can take full advantage of these programs. We cant assume that they have a
car, and some may have to take 3 buses to get to the trainings let alone their new
jobs after placement. They cant afford to move out of the neighborhood if these
[HAND SIGNALING ] opportunities are an hours drive away, outside the
city.


Person 3: I understand what youre saying, but right now we are tasked with framing a
broad vision for our collective impact effort. We can always include that later
after we do some more data gathering and talk to other folks.

Person 1: Listen, many of the students I have talked to about this initiative tell me that CDC
has done a poor job in the neighborhood and that it needs to address those issues.
Otherwise we will have dismal participation and completion rates and more
distrust in the community.

Person 2: I dont want to hear about that. That is your opinion; and, obviously, you have
convinced others to agree with you on that. As for the ESL classes, that is the
responsibility of the Adult Education Office. And I cant use the CDC vans to
transport those people because it would cost me a lot of money.

Person 4: OK, this is all good conversation, but let me say that this is precisely why many of
us in the business community hesitate to be part of these kinds of efforts. I dont
get why those community folks want everything handed down to them on a silver
platter. They dont seem to want to move up in the world and take the bull by the
horns, if you know what I mean.

Person 1: All Im saying is that we need to be more intentional about reaching out to
everyone in that community who will be impacted by the initiative. We need to
make sure that their opinions are heardthe many new residents in that
neighborhood who CDC has not reached out to in years!

Person 2: Hey, Ive tried and they dont attend my meetings; what else can I do? Maybe you
should have gone there last week and rounded them up so that they would attend
the meeting. If they cared so much about ESL classes, transportation, and
babysitting, why were they not there?

Person 1: Because you did not think that they would attend and never reached out to them!
Because they cant afford babysitting, dont have cars, and could not attend the
meeting at the time YOU decided it would be most convenient for them.

Person 4: OK, if you both cant decide how to handle that situation, I dont have time for
this. Lets agree that this initiative will benefit those who really want to be a part
of it. Besides, we need more information, more data before we can invest in
transportation and other expenses that we may not actually need to spend money
on.



Person 1: Listen, the people who can benefit from this initiative the most are precisely the
folks who were not consulted and invited to the meeting. It is not that they dont
care.

Person 3: Very well, we really have to get to work on the vision statement. So Ill ask my
boss at the Foundation to allocate $20,000 for a survey to elicit ideas and
concerns from those folks, and maybe you can help in that effort. Maybe the
County Labor Department office can take on that research. What do you think?

Person 5: We actually have very little information on that neighborhood since many of the
residents are fairly new arrivals and dont fill out CPS and Census surveys. There
is a lot of moving going on, and we have no way of knowing who actually lives
there. Im going to need more than $20,000. Maybe CDC should handle the
survey and research; after all theyre based in that community.

Person 1: Look, this is not that complicated: all you need to do is to hold community
dialogues at the churches, schools, library, the college, anywhere, and get the
pastors, principals and informal leaders to reach out to the people there. Provide
some food, transportation, babysitting, and translators. If we are going to write
this vision statement, we need to emphasize and show with our deeds that
community voice and engagement are for real and not just talk. Actions speak
louder than words.

Person 2: I dont have a problem with that, but dont come here blaming me and CDC
because you are new to the city and dont know the history behind that
neighborhood. Sure, I can handle the research if you get me the grant money to do
it. But that research is going to show what I already know; remember that needs
assessment we did with the Foundation five years ago? Oh, yes, I forgotyou
were not a resident here back then!

Person 3: I agree, lets not question everyones good intentions here, and lets focus on real
solutions. Ill get on it right away to get the money we need for the survey and
research. Lets adjourn and schedule another meeting to draft the vision statement
before the next meeting of the Steering Council.

Person 2: That sounds like a plan! Do I hear a vote to adjourn? All in favor say Aye.OK,
this meeting is adjourned.
[PERSON 1 LEAVES THE ROOM SHAKING HER HEAD.]

Person 3: I guess we know who the trouble-maker in this Council is going to be!
[THE OTHERS NOD THEIR HEADS IN THE AFFIRMATIVE.]



Manifestations of White Privilege

Dominating conversations is an unconscious behavior often resulting from socialization that
teaches white people that their opinions and voice are more valuable than those of people of
color.

Reframing or invalidating the experience and perceptions of people of color i.e. That
wasnt racism, Mr. Wilson is like that with everyone, or, When I go shopping Im followed
too, or, I know Mr. Wilson pretty well and I just dont think thats what he meant.

Believing that logic, reasoning and linear thinking do not involve an emotional connection to
the issue. For some people the anger, coupled with stereotypes of black men being
dangerous, prevents them from seeing the logic. Implicit bias plays out in this fashion.

Valuing the product over the process. This happens most often when a conversation
challenges those with privilege to look deep within themselves for their biases and privilege
and their response is Why cant we just move on, or, We keep talking about it but I need
strategies, or, how does that relate to our task or agenda By asking to move on to
strategies, those with privilege avoid the difficult personal work involved in acknowledging,
coming to terms with, and consciously counteracting their own biases and ignorance of some
community issues. Avoidance is a white privilege mechanism.

Agenda-setting without the voices of people of color. If the agenda was not set by a person of
color, her/his voice is not made part of the discussion.

Claiming to know and emphasizing the individual and personal attitudes of people of color
and ignoring how systemic factors and power and privilege colors how relationships
develop and evolve.

Ignoring or glossing over the particular historical and cultural circumstances of different
groups of color in a community and focusing too much on the economic and the expedient.

Always knowing who the expert is. White privilege perpetuates itself by giving credence
only to white-dominated institutions, scholars, and think-tanks.