Teaching about racial justice

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Teaching about racial justice

Question:  As a white person, how do you reconcile teaching about racial justice?

I was just at the White Privilege Symposium in Denver this weekend and I had those same wonders except mine were fears. I was asked to be the opening keynote of the full day conference. They’ve had an evening event the night before that was very powerful, but a lot of folk were just coming to the one day.

So, I was like, “What do I have to say? How come they asked me?” And then, I got grounded as I realized I had been attending the national White Privilege Conference for about 12-15 years where I do work with whites to help us recognize the daily racist dynamics that we perpetuate fueled by our racist attitudes that we still carry consciously and unconsciously ~ some call this  racist implicit bias or internalized dominance.

I realized that I didn’t need to create something brand new in my fear of doing it wrong or having to be perfect, all those white cultural ways. And I just trusted the folks that asked me to do the keynote and decided to talk about disrupting from the inside, dismantling racism and white supremacy in organizations and in us.

I believe as whites we have a critical role and an increasing role to work with other whites and show up meeting whites where they are, and helping them to recognize the common dynamics that are happening in the organization; how it’s hostile for people of color and our responsibility to notice the daily racist microaggressions, interrupt them, and then come together with other whites to do our work where our racist attitudes are fueling racist behaviors.

We can set-up white affinity groups. It can be cross-race groups, but I think most whites need maybe eight – twelve sessions with just other whites to do our own work before we are ready for cross-race work. We need to talk through all the denial, resistance, yeah but’s, but-they-do-it-too, the perfectly logical explanations, and other potholes we fall into.

Helping whites look at our socialization & examine how we got these racist messages, what happens when they come up in the room and then skills to intervene. But, I think we need to look at our own socialization because too many of us want to jump in and try to solve things before we’ve done our own work to dismantle the internalized racist attitudes we still carry.

We also need to work at the institutional level and identify how racist attitudes are embedded into policies, practices, and services. A quick activity to use as you are working with other whites is to identify five different policies, programs, practices, or norms in the organization and examine, by group membership, whose needs are getting met? Whose may not be? Are there any unintentional barriers or obstacles for members of certain groups? Are some group, in this case whites, getting unearned access or privilege? How are white cultural beliefs embedded as the only way or the right way?

It’s important to not do this work in isolation as whites. Can you negotiate a relationship with some people of color in the organization or the community to serve as advisers to give you feedback and direction? Not asking to be taught, but to work in collaboration an follow the leadership of people of color as we whites develop and implement activities and trainings to dismantle racist dynamics in our organizations.

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