Power and Race in CCIs

In one-on-one interviews and group discussions, participants in community-building initiatives – including initiative managers, local project directors, researchers, technical assistance providers, other community resource professionals, resident volunteers, and funders – are talking about the power and race issues most salient to community building, and exploring how those issues affect them, their jobs, and the communities in which they live or work.

Interviews and focus groups conducted for a report to be published by the Chapin Hall Center for Children in late 1998 have led to some very rich discussions of issues, large and small, raised by CCIs. For example, these discussions have addressed the power of a single individual to derail a collaborative process, and whether CCIs are intended to redress racial and economic inequities.

The report will examine what is typically referred to as the “insider-outsider tension” in CCIs, involving largely unarticulated power conflicts over whose interests are being served by these initiatives. Funders have typically come under the most consistent criticism for over-exercising their financial power and being unwilling to have that power challenged, but everyone recognizes that power plays occur at each level of a community initiative – among residents, within collaboratives, and between neighborhoods and government entities. CCIs may be particularly vulnerable to multifaceted power dynamics because they deliberately bring diverse players to the collaborative table with different levels of authority.

The legacy of racism in the U.S. is inextricably linked to these power dynamics and complicates the personal, institutional, and community relationships so critical to CCIs. But no one experience with power or race in CCIs can be called typical. The west coast experience of diversity, for example, makes some Californians impatient with the northeastern preoccupation with what’s often called “the Black/White paradigm.” At the same time, there seems to be a widespread acceptance that treatment of African Americans sets the standard for race relations across the country.

While all those interviewed have agreed that neither race nor power is typically dealt with in a forthright or constructive manner, few have felt prepared to raise these issues themselves. Because poorly handled discussions of race, in particular, can cause more harm than good, and because so few individuals feel competent to ensure the topic is handled well, these issues consistently remain at the periphery in discussions of community building. While central, power and race continue to be worked around rather than worked through in CCIs and most community initiatives.

– Rebecca Stone , senior research associate of the Chapin Hall Center for Children, 773-753-5900.
This research, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, will be published by the Chapin Hall in late 1998 as the second of two volumes, “Core Issues in Comprehensive Community-Building Initiatives.” The first volume is available for $10. For ordering information, contact Publications, Chapin Hall Center for Children, 1313 E. 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637.

Shelterforce is the only independent, non-academic publication covering the worlds of community development, affordable housing, and neighborhood stabilization.


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