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Fourth Conversation on Money, Race, & Class

By John Bloom

Conversation is powerful technology. It can be used to build community, engender trust, transform people, and renew what it means to be human. Such communication can invite a sense of the sacred by the very willingness of participants to delve into deep and complicated topics out of interest in each other, and an openness to be in the tender condition of vulnerability. If successful, one leaves the gathering as a different person, a keeper of others’ stories. When the stories focus on the entwined realities of money, race, and class, and are shared in a group that is cross-class and race, the conversation brings forth extraordinary challenges. The genius is in both acknowledging those challenges and making the safe space to work through them.

On December 9, 2010, RSF hosted the fourth Conversation on Money, Race, and Class. This full-day gathering, brought together a diverse group of fifteen community leaders from the Bay Area. Each responded to the invitation out of an interest in the topics, and opportunity to explore them in an unhurried collaborative environment. Further, each participant agreed to recording the conversation, so that it could have lasting value. Click here to download the full transcript. Each of the participants has reviewed the transcript and has released it to be published. We have tried to create a collectively held copyright in that each participant maintains the right of use, while RSF holds a general copyright for any inquiries.

It is fair to ask why RSF Social Finance, with my leadership, would invite such a gathering. The answer is quite simple. We need to get past not talking if we want to bring about change. Money and the effects of the financial system touch everyone. If we are striving to transform how we work money and how it works on us, then we are called to learn how to have conversations that may be uncomfortable, challenging, sometimes confrontational, inspirational, and include often unheard voices at the table. The stories can be painful, sometimes celebratory—to tell and hear. Imagine someone saying how painful it is to talk about race, but it is a good change from the pain of not talking about it. Imagine, from a position of privilege, absorbing someone speaking of the legacy of shame due to poverty. Or, to be able to own and share a prejudice against people with wealth even as some of those present are wealthy. These are transformative moments, certainly moments of deep learning for me, borne of a willingness to listen deeply, and to being present with each other. Understanding the complexity of human issues working in our economic life is useless without understanding how those issues feel to and directly affect each participant day-to-day.

Patricia St. Onge, our facilitator, helped us set the tone of inquiry and the basic ground rules for the day. She led the first experience, Conocimiento, for which each of us was given a large sheet of paper and a choice of drawing and coloring media. The “task” was to create a picture based on the following: my name and (if there is one) the story behind it; I am from… ; my people are… ; a childhood memory of understanding money and/or family dynamics about money… ; an early experience of economic injustice… ; tracking the changes in my attitudes about money; and, today, money holds meaning for me in these ways….. Following the completion of these works, we did a gallery tour in which each person told the story of their drawing and was then acknowledged by the whole group. What a beautiful beginning way to get to know each other’s story. The thoughts and feelings spoken during this session continued to reverberate through the day.

The Conocimiento was followed by launching into the first conversation question: What is the connection between who we are and what our experience is of wealth, economic need and prosperity—for ourselves and in our community? This question and the issues that emerged through asking it engaged us for the better part of the day. For the latter portion of the meeting, we drew questions from the group, and spoke to them until it was time to close for the day. We closed with a brief sharing of insights from the day, a wish for the group, and a wish for the world.

Following the gathering, we asked for reflections. In response to the question: How were you affected by the conversation? One participant wrote:

“It is so rare to have the opportunity to sit and think and talk about the important issues of our contemporary lives. To have the luxury of time. To have the luxury of a safe space. To have the luxury of both familiar and unfamiliar faces, all of whom are compassionate warriors in the struggle for making the world a better, saner, safer, more loving place to live and grow. The day fed my mind, soul, heart, and body. What a blessing. I’d like everyone on the entire planet to have a day like this. I, who live a privileged (though not wealthy!) life, find this experience so healing. How many millions of people on this planet (whatever their socio-economic status may be) may not even know that being this way is possible? Maybe that’s the transformative moment—to have the lived experience, that this being this way, in conversation, open and thoughtful and compassionate, is possible.”

It is with humility and an awareness of others’ realties that RSF convened this conversation on money, race, and class in collaboration. It is our hope that the wisdom and insights shared in these collected conversations serve anyone wishing to transform themselves and their communities. We are currently editing the fifth conversation held in January of 2012, and are looking forward to planning the next.

Click here to download the 2010 Money, Race, and Class Transcript

To learn more about this event and review past transcripts visit http://rsfsocialfinance.org/impact/reimagining-money/

John Bloom is Senior Director, Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

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