Internal Race-Based Caucusing: Why do it?

Racial equity is work. Individuals can’t do it without building community inside and outside of their organization. Race-based caucuses or affinity groups, in the context of a larger racial equity framework, constitute a vital way of fostering those connections. Caucusing provides a circle of accountability and an enclosed space that encourages risks and authenticity.

Ideally, every racial identity represented in an organization would have its own affinity group to fully explore internalized racial oppression, internalized racial superiority, anti-blackness, the effects of colonization, the experience of folks who are multi-racial, and more. For many organizations, however, there may not be enough people to populate all of those groups and have a meaningful discussion. For this reason, we often see only people of color (POC) and white affinity groups at organizations.

Along with conversations about internalized racial oppression, caucusing for people of color builds collective voice and power, to see that personal frustrations are most likely shared experiences, and to strategize beyond survival.

For white people, examination of their own internalized racial superiority as well as the system of white supremacy that they benefit from is essential for devising ways to dismantle that supremacy. In a caucus setting, white folks can call each other in to the process of seeing the invisible, seeing their unconscious complicity in a system that is harmful to others, without causing additional harm to people of color.

When running a set of affinity groups, there are a number of best practices to take into account. For instance, all caucuses function best with an outside facilitator. When a member of an organization is asked to facilitate an affinity group, that person can no longer fully participate in the group and therefore is unable to benefit from it. In addition, they may not have the expertise or emotional distance required to deal with what can be upsetting situations. Power dynamics also come into play when an internal facilitator is used, and fear of retaliation is a very real silencing force in such a scenario.

In addition, caucus facilitators must meet separately to determine the direction of each affinity group meeting each time. As the dominant racial group, the white caucus is often asked by the POC caucus to discuss an aspect of white supremacy that is manifesting within an organization. This direction from people of color is essential to the success of the white caucus and keeps it from being a place where white folks intellectualize racism without seeing its results in concrete terms.

Finally, white affinity groups should not convene if there is no corresponding POC affinity group. The reasons for this are manifold, but the two most important are: First, white affinity groups must take their cues from people of color, and such direction can often only surface when people of color are given the space to discuss their own experience. Second, resources should not be expended on only one section of the organization’s members when that section belongs to the dominant social group.

Race-based caucusing can be a vital part of your organization’s racial equity framework. It fosters community within racial groups while also being accountable to the whole, and it provides a consistent space for learning and growth for all participants. An outside facilitator mitigates issues of power imbalance and other potential problems while allowing the conversation to be difficult, uncomfortable, and productive.