I have been thinking a lot lately about specific ways that we can integrate an anti-racist lens into a capacity building program. We just launched on Friday a four-part series for capacity builders, and one goal is to learn how to embed an equity approach into every aspect of a learning program. It is not enough to say that you use an “equity lens” to deliver your programs. What does that mean? What exactly are you doing differently because you center equity?
The concept of knowledge is one specific place where we can address equity. A lot about training has to do with giving people the knowledge they need to do something differently. As trainers, we have the knowledge about, say, ways to run a board or how to raise money, and we are trying to share that knowledge with people in the room. That knowledge is important but too one dimensional. The people in the room have a lot of knowledge too, of all different kinds. Building our muscle around kinds of knowledge helps us to achieve our goal of bringing equity in the room.
There is a range of classifications of knowledge, some coming from philosophy. I have been using a trimmed down list of five to expand how we think about our programs:
- Posteriori knowledge: comes from practical experience
- Priori knowledge: comes from reasoning or logical thinking
- Field knowledge: related to information or skill specific to a subject, profession, or activity
- Situated knowledge: reflects a context or point of view
- Explicit knowledge: conveyed through books, documents, manuals, notes, and codes of practice
Most workshops are organized around exploring 3 and 5 from a dominant cultural viewpoint. Less often do they elevate practical, lived experiences of people from non-white cultures and backgrounds. When we have experts leading sessions, they don’t always have an appreciation for contextualized experiences.
I learned this the hard way many years ago when I taught a nonprofit basics class for Afro-Brazilian women from very poor backgrounds who came together to learn how to run their NGOs. We were fully in the swing of learning to how to raise money—from storytelling to grantwriting—when I introduced an activity in which we would practice calling a foundation grant officer to inquire about funding. The exercise stopped immediately when the women admitted that they would never call a grants officer. That person, they told me, would surely be middle to upper class, probably white, and not at all receptive to receiving a call from someone from Brazil’s notorious shantytowns. I knew of the divides having worked with these women for years, but I did not know these divides from a place of lived experience.
A different example involves a Native women conference presenter and the conference host organization wanting to have all of its paperwork completed in proper form. The organization, working off its professional knowledge, sent a speaker agreement to the presenter with hurried instructions to complete it and send it back. The presenter, carrying within her centuries of trauma related to contracts and broken agreements by white-dominant institutions, responded in a way that reflected her contextual knowledge that there were reasons to be concerned about what might be hidden in that printed page.
How do we use an understanding of multiple knowledges in our learning programs?
- Engage diverse people in helping you to think about lessons and how you can make them reflect multiple knowledges. The Racial Equity Checklist provides more specific ideas.
- Review lessons and practices for what kinds of knowledge they emphasize. This is particularly helpful when you have a subject matter expert delivering a session. How can you balance “expert” knowledge and create space for other knowledges?
- Build a culture that appreciates different kinds of knowledge without placing them into a hierarchy. There is a role for every kind of knowledge to build strong programs.