From our Fellows: Site Visit No. 1

Posted on Mar 17, 2017 in From Our Fellows

The following is an installment in our blog series, “From our Fellows.” Each post is written by a different Fund 17 fellow and serves as a brief inside glimpse into the impact of our business development relationships between fellows and local entrepreneurs. Journey, a local artist and gallery owner is working with Fund 17 fellow Narissa to publicize her gallery and empower the local community through art.

I was thrilled to join Fund 17’s fellowship cohort because it has and continues to give me the opportunity to be a part of the New Orleans community in a truly meaningful way. When asked what I do as a fellow at Fund 17, I usually say that I’ve been paired with a local micro-entrepreneur, and together, we work to strengthen their business capabilities by utilizing financial and educational tools for self-empowerment. What is not always mentioned in this glossed over elevator pitch is the amount of training that goes on behind the scenes of the fellowship. Fund 17 is dedicated to helping the bottom of our city’s socio-economic pyramid, and with this comes a responsibility to understand and acknowledge the differences between our identities and those of the people we are working with. In order to help us adequately empathize and interact with the wide variety of people we work with, we did a lecture installment called Race + Class in Opportunity Inequality led by Kendra Davis.

Before meeting for this lecture installment, all attendees were asked to take a Harvard Implicate Bias test for both skin color and race. The tests were basically meant to unlock your unconscious biases by tracking how your brain rapidly connects certain pictures with certain words. Though there are exceptions, the group data generally found that people have implicit biases. People may genuinely believe that they have no preference over certain skin colors or races, but the tests reveal that people do slightly or dramatically prefer people of their own skin colors or race. These findings led into our discussion about race and racism. First, Kendra had us go over common misconceptions that people make, leading them to believe that they aren’t actually racist. For example, by saying, “I’m not racist, I volunteer at a predominantly African American school every week!,” You are asking that we give you a pat on the back for your service. In reality, it is a privilege to be able to volunteer rather than to spend your time working for money, and you may not be acknowledging this privilege your identity holds. Kendra ended the discussion on race by saying that rather than saying we are not racist, we should call ourselves anti-racists, because this term accounts for the inherent biases present in most members of our society.

After talking about race, we completed a workshop on intersectionality. Intersectionality shows the interconnected nature of our social categorizations, and how various identities may experience oppression and discrimination differently. Some identities that we looked at included: age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, history of family abuse, sexual identification, income, etc. Each identity makes up a piece of the pie that is our self, and it is important to understand how each piece effects your interactions and the societal barriers you face.

The purpose of this site visit and lecture serious was to allow us recognize the implicit biases that are innately ingrained in our society. It is only by acknowledging these biases that we may appropriately interact with those who are different than us. In terms of intersectionality, it is also important to note that various identities hold positions of power over others. Being aware that people may experience discrimination differently than you do is the only way for you to combat opportunity inequality.

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— Narissa Abhasakun, Fund 17 Fellow and Tulane Economics and International Development Student