Last night I attended my first session for the five-week workshop White People Challenging Racism Turning Talk Into Action.
My first impression was that I liked that there is a broad spectrum of ages represented. The youngest person is probably 25 and the oldest, one of the facilitators, is 81. We started by going around the room introducing ourselves and explaining why we were there. The people in the class are fascinating! It’s mostly women – 12 women, two men.
One woman talked about how she volunteered in Africa after college and became familiar with the white savior concept. Now she uses her love and talent of sports to bring children of all races together. Another young woman works in a school that is mostly “minorities” (I put that word in quotations because we learned that we actually shouldn’t use that term because “not only is it increasingly inaccurate, it permanently confines entire groups of people to a category of being “less than” based on their racial/ethnic identity”)
One of the men said he was raised by anti-racists and was the only white kid in an all black school. As he grew up he found himself living an all white life and said that he felt he’d abandoned his roots. There were a few members in the group who are on the Brookline council, and another person who married a black man in the 1970s and still feels she has implicit racial bias. There were others who wanted to learn what they could and apply it in their professional lives where their work places they felt were lacking understanding.
When they got to me I felt stumped. I said a less eloquent version of “I was raised in a liberal household in white, white Wakefield. A while back when the Black Lives Matter movement started, I blogged about my feelings of helplessness in that situations. I think the only good ting that has come from Trump being elected is that the systemic racism in our country became glaringly clear to those of us with white privilege who didn’t realize how bad it is here in our country. I write a blog and my dad’s response to one of my entries was something to the effect of ‘It sounds like you’re struggling (with your privilege). Just be kind to people’ I liked that sentiment. I cannot change that I was born into what I was born into. White middle classness. But also know that for me, there’s more I can do. So I’m here to learn what that is. I’m aware that I’m unaware”
Later we put together a list of things we all agree to do while talking to each other in the classroom and someone mentioned dad’s statement, “Be kind” when talking to others and maybe challenging their thoughts or opinions.
But then one of the two facilitator mentioned that she was struggling with the words “be kind”. I wish I could properly articulate how she said she has a problem with it but I simply can’t remember. I think it had something to do with how she connects being kind with white privilege in itself, but I could be remembering wrong.
It’s rather mind-bending for me. I like that I’m going to be challenged to think of my surroundings and my privilege differently. And then the bigger thing, is turning what I learn into action. Which is the ultimate goal of the course.
And how do you turn what you learn into action without feeling like that action is another version of applying the white savior concept?
One of the men in the group, at the end of the class, basically said “I’m aware that I am a man, and I hope I will be called-out if I pontificate. because I know I can tend to do that” I really thought that was interesting and appreciated it.