Last night we had our last session of our free Anti-Racism Training at BRC. When Brenda first presented the idea to me of creating an anti-racist training, we had a vision that this training would be attended by white people in the community who were at a place in which they wanted to learn more and start to move from just being non-racist, into allyship and anti-racism work. But what ended up happening was not at all what was planned.
Outside of Brenda and myself, no white people attended. Everyone who attended was a person of color. When that first session ended 8-weeks ago, I sat in the office feeling very uncomfortable. This didn't look good, a white person talking about racism to a group of people of color. To be honest, my fear of those optics and how they could be harmful to BRC absolutely made me doubt my abilities as a facilitator, after all, one person who was attending was a Chicanx Studies professor. What could I possibly share/discuss/demonstrate that could be of any value to these people, especially to him? When I discussed this concern with the group, one member jokingly said, “That’s your white guilt talking”, and he was right.
What ended up happening over these last few weeks has been transformative for everyone involved. The amazing people who attended this training did in fact learn things, and so did I. They learned about white privilege, which one attendee explained she didn't understand, and which it turned out two group members identified benefiting from because of their lighter skin color. They learned about Implicit Bias, the concept that social messaging causes us to have perceptions of people and groups, and how those biases paint not only how we see others, but how we see ourselves. In the implicit bias tests, every attendee demonstrated bias favoring white people over people with darker skin, and group members identified colorism in their own families that they hadn’t considered before. They learned the difference between being non-racist and anti-racist, and in that process we talked about family, colorism, white identity, fear of saying the wrong thing when engaging people, not wanting to be inconvenienced by allyship or taking action, prejudice against Black people in this community, white guilt, white saviourism, and the topics go on and on. We all learned through discussion that racism has impacted us in ways that had gone unnoticed.
We developed a sense of community. We grieved together after the shooting. We cried and we were angry together, and we talked about the historical justification of violence against people of color in this country. We talked about how that shooting was the ultimate manifestation of white privilege. That shooter wasn’t there to kill me with my white skin, he was there to kill them with their Brown skin. We talked about how that terrorist attack stems from the same ideology that powers police brutality, the historic justification of violence against people of color to “preserve the true America, the white America”, that old concept of “law and order”.
We talked about how anti-racism work changes your relationships with friends and family and colleagues. And, we talked about how to take action and be anti-racist, how to have conversations with people, and that it is not up to people of color to educate the world. The world needs to do their part. We talked about the stages white people go through when identifying and accepting their privilege and the responsibility that goes with that, and that denial, anger, overcompensation, are all part of that process, and again, that it is not people of color's responsibility to hold their hand.
What everyone who participated learned is that anti-racism = action, and the first action you have to take to truly engage in anti-racist work is to know your own story. To know your own story means that you have to face yourself head on. All of your biases, life experiences, intersectional identity, gaps in experience and knowledge, mistakes, regretful actions of the past, the long long history of racist and classist propaganda in this country and in the world, and how all of these things have shaped who you are. It means being painfully honest with yourself, and then seeking to learn and do better. It means understanding that the work is never done, regardless of whether you’re training others or engaging in any level of activism, the work is never done. You will uncover some long-suppressed bias or belief and be forced to face it. You will say or do the wrong thing often. You will make mistakes. You can’t do the work if you can’t be honest with yourself. If we can understand how all of these things, these social narratives that have been constructed over time labeling white as the norm and as the representation of goodness, power, and civilization, have shaped who we are and impact every single institution and person in one way or another, then we can break down barriers between us and we can deconstruct this system.
People who attended the training had already started to apply content from the training into their lives, including sharing some of the content with their white friends who are struggling to see their privilege. That is exactly what this training was designed to do, to spread, to give people tools to understand themselves better and to engage others. Maybe a person who attended the training didn’t need all of that content, maybe they knew it already, but someone in their life needed it.
I get that there are people who will take issue with the fact that a white person facilitated anti-racism training, but the truth is the people who attended were open and they learned, we learned together, and now that Chicanx Studies professor wants to partner to bring the training to campus. I am modifying this training into a 4-hour Continuing Education session geared toward social workers and helping professionals, and anyone in the community who feels pulled to attend, and yes I am getting paid for it. I do believe it is appropriate for professionals to pay for high quality valuable training to benefit them in their practice. Anti-racism work is for everyone. There are a lot of non-racist people out there, and I really hope they'll move into anti-racist action. I am looking forward to continuing the relationships and alliances that have blossomed out of this training.