Dialog Report Back: Can you take the heat? Dialog on Talking about Race

  • How did you learn that white privilege exists? (Or have you?)
  • How do you convince your friends and family that white privilege exists?
  • In what circumstances do you still resist hearing about racism?
  • What type of statements about racism or whiteness make you  defensive?

Racial Justice Allies called a community dialog to explore these questions and learn some skills for improving listening and speaking on these difficult topics. The meeting also served to help folks find support for continuing the struggle for racial justice. Around 50 folks attended.

As an introductory activity, triads sat together and listened to each other answer the question “How did you come to see white privilege?” Among the responses later shared with the whole group (by no means all the responses) were the following:

  • Through documentary film such as 13th
  • Reading books such as The New Jim Crow
  • Observing the stark differences between neighborhoods and schools as kids
  • Considering the issue of bi-racial people-of-color identity (what happens to white in a mixed race person?)
  • Thinking about how within families members have different identities
  • Realizing that I had no idea what it is like to be viewed as a threat
  • Coming to consciousness due to being called out about male privilege

The next section focused on role plays/sample conversations where groups of 6 or 7, guided by an facilitator from Racial Justice Allies, explored reactions and responses to critiques of behavior or challenging perspectives on race, especially from people of color. Later they were given the opportunity to practice how one might respond to one’s own friends and family who are not in alignment with one’s views on whiteness and racism. Several of the role plays were drawn from recent blogs by women of color critiquing the women’s marches held after the inauguration.

White woman: Did you see that photo of the black woman’s sign about white women being responsible for electing Trump? How divisive can you get!
Woman of color: How do you figure it’s divisive to bring up the truth? Over half of white women DID vote for Trump!

White woman: We’re setting up a group to protect abortion rights and would love to have you part of the organizing committee.
Woman of color: I’m glad you’re suddenly waking up to the injustices around you but I’m not interested in sharing space with you at this point in history.

White person: I just can’t believe Trump got elected. White men in this country are getting scary.
Black woman: I have raised two brown children in an America that has always been Trump America to me and my Black family. I have to fight for my space in this world. I do not get to hide behind pointing fingers at white men. I do not get to scream “Sexism!” to cover the fact that I contribute to racism. Black women do not get the luxury of still having white privilege, but having people make space for them because they are women.

White facilitator of meeting: Let’s please try to keep calm and save our anger for those who are working against us. We’re trying to build solidarity here.
Person of color: You’d better understand that solidarity will not happen on your terms. Especially if it includes leaving out the anger.

Here are a couple sample conversations between white people:

Conversation I:
A says: I’m really looking forward to the RJA dialogue group this evening, about understanding white privilege and how to ally with people of color more.
B responds: I hate the term “white privilege”… I don’t see how I was “privileged”, growing up working class in Chicago. I think this term just separates us more from one another!

OR, B responds: What’s the point of a bunch of white people getting together to talk about racism – when the people who it’s about aren’t there to speak for themselves! I just don’t get why this issue is so important to you

Conversation II (taken from SURJ Resource page):
A says:White women are awful — no one understands inter-sectionality. I give up.
B responds: You’re right that white women have so often abandoned Black women and other people of color in movement work. What do you think it would take to get more white women talking about race? What’s it going to take to get more white women supporting the leadership of women of color?

After the role plays, the whole group processed what was learned or what stood out from the experience. The following was written up during the discussion:

  • the role plays really helped with post DC march conversations
  • I see the need to acknowledge your own ignorance
  • Speak from my own personal experience
  • Interactions are not going to be “clean”  Be willing to have “ugly conversations”  Realize we’re going to fuck-up
  • Be curious about what white privilege is–don’t get distracted by guilt or defensiveness–how does it show up in our lives?
  • White Fragility is a big issue
  • It feels threatening to be imperfect
  • Listen, inquire, ask questions, “tell me more”
  • Both/and Feel your feelings and inquire about them
  • Honor boundaries and leave openings for future connections
  • Anger can be useful. Good day when white people are angry too

To close the meeting, participants were urged to set up dates to meet for coffee with someone new, someone who can be helpful and supportive in learning more about white privilege and how to talk and listen in difficult conversations about race. White folks need to help each other through personal interactions, whether at a café or meetings like RJA or organized activities such as reading groups. Many dates were made right there and then. Announcements of upcoming actions and meetings offered ample opportunities to keep working for racial justice.

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