Through work this past year with Grantmakers in the Arts on racial equity, I had the opportunity to take a couple of two-day anti-racism workshops with The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB), specifically their workshop “Understanding and Undoing Racism/Community Organizing”. This workshop breaks down the relationship between race, power and poverty and has me thinking about the Hill District differently and, hopefully, more clearly. PISAB’s training begins with the idea that “racism is the glue that holds class oppression together” and goes on to define “race” as a socially constructed concept designed to place “white people” at the top of the racial pyramid and racism as “race prejudice + power” and the process that keeps this racial pyramid standing so visibly. To be clear, I am not qualified to give a PISAB training, (one would need to go to them for that) but I wanted to share my sense of how they define these key terms before going on to talk about two other concepts: accountability and gatekeeping.
PISAB’s focus is on structural racism i.e. the way public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work together to build and maintain societal benefits for being white and penalties for not being white (this is not PISAB’s definition, but an amalgamation of a couple definitions). According to this analysis, critical to holding the structure of racism in place are the “gatekeepers” whose job it is to work for the institutions that get their resources at least in part because of the poverty of ALANA (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) communities. As I understand it, the issue is not simply that there are gatekeepers, this is part and parcel of the system, but that they are not accountable to the community members whose poverty makes the employment of the gatekeepers possible. Institutions regularly named include, schools, government, police, non profit industrial complex (social service, community development, funders, politicians, etc). PISAB asks gatekeepers to think hard about how they could make their work more accountable to these communities. It’s ideas around accountability in the Hill District that I will dedicate the next couple of entries.