A most unusual conversation took place at the Ethical Culture Society on the evening of December 11, 2015 – a discussion on the awareness of being White. This was attended by 27 thoughtful participants and included two facilitators, Janet Glass and Sarah Glisky. The topic of the evening was planned around the following bold contention:
If we are well-intended and do not consciously dislike people of color, we feel we cannot be racist. This is why it is so common for white people to cite their friends and family members as evidence of their lack of racism. However, when you understand racism as a system of structured relations into which we are all socialized, you understand that intentions may be irrelevant. And when you understand how socialization works, you understand that much of racial bias is unconscious. Negative messages about people of color circulate all around us. While having friends of color is better than not having them, it doesn’t change the overall system or prevent racism from surfacing in our relationships. The societal default is white superiority and we are fed a steady diet of it 24/7. To not actively seek to interrupt racism is to internalize and accept it. – Dr. Robin D’Angelo
FILM, DISCUSSION, AND A POWER LINE
In order to better understand ourselves and our relationships within the Ethical Society, we need to raise awareness of our white privilege and how we are blinded to the dominance we have. We first saw video clips from the film, Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity. After discussing the messages portrayed in the clips, we moved into a physical engagement game. We formed a “power line” in response to many statements read, such as, “If your ancestors were forced to come to the USA not by choice, take one step back…. If your primary ethnic identity is American, take one step forward.” At the end of this exercise, we looked around the room and saw that there were vast distances among the people there. More meaningful discussion ensued in a conversation circle.
The evening ended with participants writing anonymous statements in response to what new feeling they may have had during the evening and to propose possible next steps. The responses indicated a wish to, as one thoughtful member wrote, continue to “awaken one’s sense of embedded privilege and to strengthen the commitment to make changes.” Seeing this as a mandate, further workshops and platforms are currently under discussion.
I hadn’t thought we could have such a very honest, respectful, non-defensive conversation. It inspires me. We should all be more aware of our white privilege here at the Ethical Culture Society and feel comfortable pointing out instances that might make people of color uncomfortable.
We must continue the dialogue and stay focused on the self-awareness and how to spread the awareness (especially in the Society to start).
This event was excellent. I look forward to more workshops for us to work on ourselves and on the Society. I’m going to think about guilt vs. accountability. I think that when the Society becomes less of a “white” place and incorporates culture and values to identify from other races, ethnicities and experiences, it will better reflect our diverse world and be better positioned to create a more ethical world.