Risking Deeper Dives

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.

Author: Aron DiBacco

Aron thinks about conflict, communication, and how to help move the world in the direction of inclusive equity. She does these things through teaching, facilitating dialogue, social science research, and writing.

2 thoughts on “Risking Deeper Dives”

  1. Hmm it seems like this group is working with a number of non-useful assumptions and I think they need to do some work as a planning committee (with this facilitator of color) before to sort out their own crap before they try to bring others into the experience they wish to hold. Good for your colleague for being honest and clear. A willingness to want to “do the work” starts with being willing to do it with ourselves first and foremost I would say.

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  2. Hi Aron, Thanks for your Stone Soup post. I’m a bit behind on my email so have missed your previous 2-3 posts but will catch up because I enjoy your perspective.

    Below is the invitation to SURJ to be a part of our NHPA Annual Dinner on October 6. Hope you can make it!

    I’m slowly transitioning out of UNH as my soft money dries up. I will probably be job hunting by fall so will ask you to keep your eyes open for interesting gigs. I’m just now figuring out what I want to do in my next adventure. I haven’t have to actively look for a job since 1984 so it will be interesting! Hope you are doing well. Bill

    Dear Aron,

    We would like to invite SURJ to join us at NH Peace Action’s Fall Fundraiser on October 6, 5-8pm.

    We have a dynamic membership ready for engagement, and we hope your organization can benefit from the energy that comes from our event style. Rather than hosting information tables, our goal is engagement.

    Our Action Tables help event attendees to do something. The focus is on action, not just information. If your group has not had this experience before, here are some ideas you might consider: writing postcards to elected representatives; poster-making for upcoming demonstrations; arts/crafts projects; drafting bird-dog questions; writing a letter to the editor; demonstrating using social media to wage peace; signing a petition. If you need other ideas, feel free to contact us. Our intent is to empower our members and connect them with organizations doing important work in the region, and we think you should be included.

    We will provide: a table and chairs and internet. You bring your action project and info about your organization.

    The timing of the event will be: 4:30pm Action Area setup; 5pm doors open; 8:15pm break down.

    Each attending group will get one free ticket to the event. If you do want to join us to eat, a donation towards those costs at the event would be most welcome.

    Let us know if you have questions and if you can join us. Thanks!

    Bill Maddocks

    NHPA Events Committee Member

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