Earlier this year I attended Doing Our Own Work: An Anti-racism seminar for White People, facilitated by Allies for Change and held at Peoples Church. I intentionally chose to explore racism and anti-racism with other white people. I wanted to confront my own denial, confusion, pain and anger about racism. If I/we felt resistance or had questions along the way, I expected to work through those issues, without people of color having to witness, educate us or defend their experience of racist oppression. I also wanted to practice interrupting racism in a space where I could “not get it right,” until I could “do it better.”
Melanie Morrison, Executive Director at Allies for Change, articulates the organization’s intent in offering this seminar in her online article: Why an Anti-Racism Seminar for White People? I encourage you to look it up.
We learned through much reading, writing, small group and larger group discussion, videos, role-playing (practicing, observing and discussing.) It was a soul-changing experience. Here are two of the many messages I gained.
Don’t freeze each other in time. One of our group agreements was not to “freeze each other in time.” If someone said or did something oppressive, we offered them the trust that they would learn from their mistakes and incorporate what they learned into their future selves. Still, it was important to recognize the impact of someone’s words or behavior over their intent. We still spoke to our experience of the other’s behavior as these situations arose, and we all learned. In my anti-racist journey, I aim to give myself and all others grace, trusting that as I ‘know better, I will do better.’
“We need you to stay engaged with him!” We watched a video where several men of color and two white men discussed racism in the U.S. One white man—I’ll call him Bob—talked the most. Bob insisted life would be better for these men of color if they would try harder and take advantage of all the opportunities available in the U.S. He denied the existence of racist oppression and violence; he ignored the spoken experiences of the men of color in the room. Sometimes the camera panned on the other white man in the group. I could see frustration on his face. I imagined he might not agree with Bob, yet he did not say much. Eventually, the men of color in the circle addressed this quiet white man. They said they couldn’t get through to Bob. It was too exhausting to keep trying, while he continued to deny their lived experience. They expressed their need for him to stay engaged with Bob in this discussion, frustrating as it might be, because he might have some influence as another white person. It illustrated the importance of white people holding each other accountable, when we witness racist attitudes/behavior/systems.