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SAPP Blog Forum: Q&A with Rowzat Shipchandler of Facing Race

April 29, 2010

We are pleased to be speaking with Rowzat Shipchandler, Racial Equity Manager at Facing Race – a joint initiative of the Minnesota Community Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation.  As a South Asian American leader in philanthropy, Rowzat happily agreed to answer a few of our questions in this SAPP Blog Forum.

Please tell us about the Facing Race initiative.  And, how did the two foundations come to be the catalyst for this effort?

Facing Race We’re All in this Together® provides tools for people and organizations to discuss, reflect and take action to end racism. Our vision is to create a more equitable, just and open Minnesota in which everyone feels safe, valued and respected.

Minnesota has stark racial disparities when it comes to health, housing, education and wealth. The community, though a series of listening sessions that took place more than 12 years ago, told The Saint Paul Foundation that we first need to tackle racism in order to address the core challenges of our community.

In 1999, the Foundation set a goal of using grant money to create an anti-racist community. In 2004, we released a comprehensive research report on the state of race and racism in Saint Paul and surrounding communities.  That research formed the basis of the initiative, Facing Race. In 2006, we launched our first dialogue tool called New Conversations About Race and Racism®. The initiative began in Saint Paul and surrounding communities. As we led discussions, we kept hearing requests from other parts of the state for our tool  We have been working with our sister Foundation, the Minnesota Community Foundation, to gradually expand our services to areas outside of the East metro.

Philanthropy, and foundation work in particular, is often criticized for being focused on majority interests, efforts and causes.  Is Facing Race an answer to this criticism or is it a different kind of philanthropy entirely?

As a community foundation, we run programmatic initiatives in partnership with nonprofits, make grants to nonprofits and provide philanthropic financial services for donors. In all these spheres that we operate, we have worked to address the common criticism of the foundation sector that you raise and also establish a new way for foundations to engage with communities. For example, we have closely analyzed who applies for our grants and who receives them, and we have made changes to our processes to support equal access   As a result, our grantmaking to organizations of color increased from 1999 to 2009. Additionally, we created the SpectrumTrust Endowments to engage communities of color as donors and grantmakers.  Finally, the Facing Race initiative is a part of an overall effort to promote racial equity. Facing Race works directly with individuals and organizations to create conversation about race and racism. We have come a long way, but we know we have a long way to go and are continuously striving to go further.

In what ways has the initiative been successful and what challenges do you face?

More than 5,000 people have participated in our dialogues.  The vast majority report they had a meaningful conversation and race and racism. New Conversations dialogues have happened in all sorts of settings from work to book clubs to community forums. After a session in one city, I was told by a participant that our dialogue was the first time they had seen racial issues brought up in a community setting without people booing.

I have worked on a variety of social issues during my career.  Addressing racism has been the most difficult.  Before coming to The Saint Paul Foundation, I worked at the Greater Twin Cities United Way.  While I was working with their housing initiative, I did a fair amount of speaking with donors and other audiences.  When I talked about homelessness, they understood that it was an existing societal problem. When I talk about racism, I often encounter resistance and denial, with responses like, “Aren’t we past that?” or “Why would I want to talk about something so negative?” or “Í don’t think that racism exists.”

What has the response been from other foundations in Minnesota as well as nationally?

We are grateful to have received financial support from both local and national foundations. However, we also know that for our nonprofit colleagues, obtaining funding for this type of work can be immensely difficult. We have been able to sustain this program over time because we are able to use some of our unrestricted funds, funds which donors have left us to address pressing community needs. Nonprofits don’t typically have access to this type of funding.  Foundation support is critical to community-based work.

Do you have counterparts at other foundations or foundation initiatives?  If not, where do you find a community that shares the same focus and goals?

There are many Foundations that fund racial equity work or work to address racial disparities or diversity.  Some local examples are the Otto Bremer Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation and Headwaters Foundation. Two national examples are the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

To date, Facing Race has primarily been a programmatic initiative focused on creating dialogue. I think it is unique to have this type of program housed at a foundation. For me personally, I have found a similar professional community other sectors.  I spend time with nonprofit, corporate and government colleagues who are working on diversity or racial equity issues.

What role do you think South Asians in particular play in conversations about race and philanthropy?  Both within the foundation context and beyond?

My parents are first generation immigrants from India. Although race played a huge part in colonialism, race is not a primary identity in India.  Yet, when we come here, we find ourselves part of the system that has historically been structured by race. As a South Asian community, we are not always so aware of how this system has impacted ourselves and others. For example, I have heard some Indians say things like, “If we can succeed in this country, why can’t other minorities?”  They don’t seem to know the history of our immigration laws and how these laws intersected with race and class. At one time, Asians were excluded from coming to the United State legally. When the restrictions eased after World War II, the laws favored immigrants with high educational attainment, which put our communities in a place to succeed. At the same time, we are not aware of how oppressive structures of racism have been to other communities, particularly African-Americans and Indigenous Americans.  Because of this blindness, we can absorb the racism of United States society and ourselves perpetuate racist attitudes and stereotypes. The first step is for all of us in the South Asian community to be more aware.

Rowzat, thank you so much for your time.  We at SAPP look forward to speaking with you again soon.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 14, 2015 7:58 pm

    I wonder if she can comment on “shadeism” among South Asians in the U.S. and Canada. Is it as demeaning as racism?

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