Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Anti-Racism Workshop with Tim Wise Goes Well

[Disclosure:  I'm on the steering committee of Healing Racism in Anchorage, so I'm both reporting and promoting this.  But I wouldn't be involved if I didn't think it was very important and if we didn't have good programming.]

We had limited the workshop to 35 participants, but a few more showed up, and so we squeezed them in.  Squeezed around small tables gave us an intimacy, which, along with a good dinner, brought us closer together.  Here's Tim Wise responding to someone's comment.

Much of the workshop was discussion in our smaller groups.  We began with people saying what they hoped to get out of the workshop.  Then, while the group ate, Tim synthesized what we'd said into two basic areas:

1.  How do respond to individual incidents, and

2.  How to respond to structural racism.

We then worked in our groups to make lists of why people hesitate to speak out when faced with racial discrimination - whether jokes, disparaging comments about a group of people, or structural obstacles based on racial stereotypes.  It was a long and interesting list.  I don't think I got half of what was raised in my notes.  But here are some of the reasons. (Of course, the discussion was much richer than this.)

1.  People don't like confrontation, want to be polite.
2.  Fear - of retaliation, of being ostracized
3.  Exhaustion - it happens so often that people are just too tired to try to explain what is wrong
4.  Don't think it will make a difference
5.  There's unequal power - one has to complain to people in authority
6.  Feeling all alone in the situation
7.  Too emotional when it happens to be articulate and 'reasonable'

Related to this was the question of whose responsibility is it for white people to be aware of racism and its effects on people of color and on whites themselves.

There were also some suggestions for taking action.

1.  Sometimes one should wait until both sides are calmed down so the discussion can be more productive.
2.  Humor and the arts are often ways to defuse or make the point.
3.  Facts are useful, but (as I posted the other day) they won't necessarily change someone's opinion.  At that point counter narratives are necessary to get people to understand.  That is, telling one's own story and own pains to counter the other person's story of how things work.  Often people simply have no experience and hearing someone's story will expand their own narrative.
4.  Ask questions rather than give answers.  "Why do you think that?"  "I don't get it.  Can you explain to me why you think that is funny?"  "Do you have any data to support that?"
5.  Tim offered a two step option:
Step 1:  Personalize the lesson - give an example from your own life
Step 2:  Depersonalize the critique
  • talk about the situation and the behavior but not the person.  
  • acknowledge that you yourself have on occasion succumbed to such thinking. 
  • acknowledge that even the best intended people think or say racially biased things because our society has conditioned us to think that way. 
We had people from a wide set of backgrounds and the discussion was rich and helpful.  This is the sort of safe setting in which to talk about race that  Healing Racism in Anchorage creates for our six week classes.  A mix of guided large and small group discussions to share experiences and perspectives grounded with factual information and lots of participation.  The next such class will begin Wednesday, September 22.  There's more information at the Healing Racism in Anchorage website.

Tuesday morning you can listen to Tim Wise on KSKA (91.1 FM) Talk of Alaska in Anchorage (and APRN stations around Alaska as well as online) from 10 - 11am.

And there's a free talk at UAA's Wendy Williamson Auditorium at 7:30pm.  Parking around the auditorium after 7pm is free.

1 comment:

  1. Post script: I lived my life as an activist on LGBT matters. I understand the need to 'specialize' social change work. However, after years of doing just that, I really see the need for coming through specialization to a kind of common ground. The solution, it would seem, is in how to do both.


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