Wednesday, March 5, 2014

recognize ---> intervene

Something like a month ago, I went to a workshop lead by Training for Change- called Whites Confronting Racism. It was a 2 and half day workshop held in Philadelphia. A nice bonus of the workshop was two dear friends of mine also attended- Bex and Eli. The three of us share some common experiences (and have a lot of divergent experiences, too)-- since we all worked and lived together doing anti-mtr work in Appalachia. 

I went in thinking I didn't have expectations- and I was totally ready and open for whatever they sent my way. That's somewhat true, I was open and ready for what they had for me, but I also had hopes and expectations. Per usual, those expectations were unrealistic and ungrounded (things like: 'I'll leave the workshop feeling clear about ways I can best utilize myself to fight racism.'). What I got wasn't so clean- but it has been useful and the longer I sit with it, the more I feel the impacts of that weekend seeping into me. 

We set the stage to understand that white supremacy is systematic and large--- it's not just about us. But we do exist within a world that runs its self on the combination of white supremacy and racism, and so we do have a role and a say in the process. And I can choose to act in a way that is in line with my values and works to build the world we want. 

We looked at ways that white folks express racism. There was a list that we spent time working through called "examples of white group-level behavior/privilege' that listed common behaviors people of color experience from whites. There were a lot that I really identified with-- which-- was both unsurprising and a little shocking at the same time. Two that really stood out for me in my life; a tendency to give 'perfectly logical explanations' for racism (rather than acknowledging the systematic patten that any given circumstance fits in) and not listening to feedback, and rather explaining my intentions. 

I also really appreciated an activity designed to help us see our true 'core' selves and find ways to allow who we are to guide our actions. (Which, felt well paired with a lot of the work I've been doing with my coach- Zo. who is great.) We looked at ways our actions,  ways we want folks to see us, and our fears hold us back from being able to... well... be who we are. 
{our actions and sometimes the way we want folks to see us, are just the tip of the iceberg. But there's a lotta stuff going on under the water--- and if we're not intentional, our actions and core self might not match up}

I also found myself really struggling with how the forms of supremacy and oppression we were talking about apply to other oppressed people, too. For me, being a woman felt really present. A lot of what we talked about hit home for me-- but not because of my skin color. In some ways, I'm glad to see the connections--- but I am also weary of 'using' the oppression i feel as a shield to avoid talking about ways i benefit from white supremacy. 

We spent a fair amount of time talking about ways to intervene-- to call out and disrupt the flow of racist bullshit that happens all around us. There was lots of useful things around that, but one that I'm excited to talk about was a role playing activity. That I liked. (I literally can't think of any other role plays that i enjoyed being a participant in- so it's sorta a big deal.) Basically, we talked about something we'd like to do (around racism) and had our partners push us and criticize us--- while the other partner reminded us about who we are at the core. 

I decided I'd ask my housemates if they were willing/interested in being part of a discussion group about whiteness and racism. My biggest self doubt is that I'm not a skilled facilitator in this area and won't be able to guide us to somewhere useful and that folks will feel like I'm wasting their time. Through the role playing activity, I got to realize I had that fear and therefore am able to prevent it from disabling me. 

Several of my housemates have said they'd be into a discussion group, and we're going to start with picking a reading and talking about it. We haven't started yet, and I still feel really concerned I'll do a shitty job, but... we will start. 

When considering my unstated expectations (feeling clear about how to best fight racism), this feels pretty small. and insignificant. and maybe even stupid. with some reality check on myself (and my self doubt) I can see that it is small- but it is worth doing. The next step can be bigger and better, but starting here is real. And without this workshop, I never would have suggested it, and my household probably wouldn't do some of this work together. 

ps: there is another training this may, and i certainly recommend it. I also have a few solid and great resources/reading lists that i'd be happy to share with folks, so let me know if you'd like that. 

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