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“The most important journey you will ever take is from your head to your heart.” —Anonymous
When our group of 13 women came together in 2019 to imagine a future where affluent individuals “returned” a portion of their wealth to someone impacted by structural and systemic racism, it was difficult to predict where we would be today.
In this third article of our four-part series, we explore the transformative nature of the reparations-based relationship we have come to call the Sisterhood.
Previously, we shared specifics around “the return,” the commitment that seven white-bodied sisters made to six Black-bodied sisters, that each will receive $10,000 a year for five consecutive years. Broadly speaking, this relational approach to reparations begins to disrupt the paralyzed condition of waiting for the government to enact reparations on behalf of white Americans. Governmental recognition, reconciliation, and repair is crucial to national healing, but there is also a personal healing awaiting each one of us.
While seven white-bodied sisters cannot possibly compensate for the full extent of generational harm, cash is the currency of day-to-day survival, and therefore, the return of wealth addresses a practical component of reparations. The fact that there are no strings attached to the transfer symbolically acknowledges truths in our shared history and disrupts the way the legacy of racialization perpetuates the structural inequities of our shared present.
Yet to describe the Sisterhood in mere financial terms would overlook the extent of its transformational power. There were fundamental, and perhaps unexpected, relational shifts that arose in the process of being in community with one another.
Some of our white-bodied sisters describe the transformative collective experience this way:
- Antiracism moved from a personal project of learning to a place of purpose and action in my life, and accordingly, I went from talking about race primarily with my sisters in the cohort to talking about it all the time with everyone. When the Sisterhood formed, everything I had learned came to life.
- I have shifted from being an antiracist white person who is fueling what she does in antiracism out of shame into one who is dedicating her humanity to the work.
- For me, it’s been about shedding decades, probably generations, of disconnectedness — of mostly being in my head, of compartmentalizing emotions, of judging myself so harshly and judging others according to often unspoken messages that have banged around my head and those of the generations before me.
- What I'm noticing is that the relational way of being with each other has provided a source of resilience that counters the collapsing and regression that can happen for me in cross-racial settings.
Our Black-bodied sisters describe the transformative collective experience this way:
- I never really felt like I had a posse, but now I do. Black-bodied women and white-bodied women are all part of this big posse. It’s been amazing, being creative, and I'm part of co-creating this.
- I expect more from white women in general after being in this group, but I’m reminded what a unique situation we have when I’m with white women who don’t have the context or the framework for being in relationships with Black women.
- A belief in goodness. A feeling like you can actually ask white folks for something, whereas before I would think I can't ask for that, that I have to be able to do everything myself. I would never ask for help.
- Money can carry the energy of guilt with it, for both the giver and the receiver, but because we are doing all of this in a ritual/relational space, the white-bodied sisters are releasing that energy, and if we’re grounded in our values, the Black-bodied sisters can receive the money free of that energy as well.
- In spaces where I've always been who I am, and spoke the truth, after I spoke it, I sometimes felt like, “oh, should I have said that?” And now I don't feel the need to rethink as much.
- I didn't think we’d stay connected after a year, so it is interesting that we’ve formed real connections that have kept us engaged with each other.
To further our commitments to each other, we recently began a series of dream councils. We listen to one sister share her vision for what she wants to step into next in her career or creative life, whatever she might be reaching for next. Those of us listening offer reflections, questions, encouragements, or strategic suggestions, if requested.
From the white-bodied women’s experience, this kind of authentic sharing, deep listening, and witnessing is atypical within most white circles, let alone in cross-racial community. It’s also activating us to reach into our networks to broaden and deepen the support that we offer to each other. From the Black-bodied women’s perspective, it offers space where we can share our hopes and dreams without judgment or ridicule, where we know we have a network of friends willing and able to leverage their wealth on our behalf, and most importantly it encourages us to dream and believe that our dreams are inspired and worthy of fulfillment.
Our sister Beth best summarizes the depth and breadth of transformational Sisterhood when she writes, “A ‘return’ isn’t simply transactional; it binds me, as the one returning, to the sisters to whom the return is owed. ‘Reciprocal’ is a synonym of return, and I think it better describes the Sisterhood — reciprocal relationships grounded in love and the humanity of each one of us.”
Please join us next month for our fourth and final article, in which we share how the Sisterhood has shifted our relationships with wealth and philanthropy.
Original contribution by June Wilson, Paola Maranan, Andrea Caupain, C'Ardiss Gardner Glesar, Victoria Santos, Debra Robinson Baker, Christine Larsen, Candace Tkachuck, Jen Belle, Jane Harvey, Beth McCaw, Amy Schottenstein, LeAnne Moss.