A friend of mine has been doing anti-racism work since before it was cool. Her training, work history, and lived experience combine to make her very good at helping white folks notice patterns they may have missed before. She was recently asked by a group of white progressives to come do some extended work with them. She said sure and they started working out the details.
The first sign of trouble was when they asked if maybe a white person would be a better trainer for them, since she or he would have a better understanding of the white experience of racism. She got through that (being a patient sort) by pointing out that being white–and therefore not racism’s target–they had some important blind spots she could maybe bring to their attention.
She then kept talking to them until they told (not asked) her to send her curriculum to them so they could tell her what changes to make.
Let that sink in for a minute.
The group of white people hiring the African American woman to help them see and unravel patterns of racism in their lives first told her they weren’t sure that a person of color could help them learn what they needed, and then told her that they wanted to make sure that she was going to teach them the right things. (I’ve been imagining telling my Spanish teacher that I wanted to learn nouns but not about their gendered nature, because that made me uneasy. Can’t see it getting very far.)
Since I am one of her “What the f is WRONG with you people?” white people, she called me to express her frustration. Then she sent them Robin DiAngelo’s very useful article describing white progressive groups’ defenses against deep anti-racism work. Now she is sorting out how to respond to the fact that they are promoting the workshop with her name without confirming with her that if it’s her workshop, it’s her rules.
She’s working on a letter which says:
· that she believes they want to really work on this stuff,
· that this behavior is a demonstration of how racism can work, and
· that she’d like to unpack this set of interactions as a learning tool in the workshop, but
· she’s not willing to do a “stay inside the lines” training that will let them check the box on this work without risking real insight or growth.
I don’t know what she’ll decide to do and it’s not my place to say, but I do wonder sometimes what the f is wrong with us.