Monday, September 6, 2010

Notes from my field

Update #2

Thanks for your patience as I delved headlong into my work this semester. Two issues to report.

First update: A fellow colleague and I conducted our first race and culture dialogue after our Convocation last month, the first time I've been part of a multiracial team on campus. We had 28 individuals attend, which was our largest group yet. It was clear that this new change is moving us in the right direction, and I'm happy to report that the gentleman who joined me as a facilitator is willing to continue doing this work with me!

I'm still working on getting out of my office more to initiate those one-on-one conversations. I know I need to make time. But, something else has been also been calling for my attention...and this is the next update.

Second update: My new classes have begun. Two sets of students: one just beginning a preliminary teacher credentialing program, the other a group of veteran teachers. Both courses attend to issues of equity, diversity, and how that can and should affect a teacher's pedagogical approach.

Specifically, I'd like to share with you what is inspiring me at present. My students. I just completed reading personal narratives from the veteran teachers. I was blown away and grateful that I am working with them.

They are a diverse bunch. At least half appear to be children of immigrants, and a good number of them are first generation college attendees. They are Latina (with heritage from Mexico, El Salvador, and/or Cuba), African American, Irish, Scottish, and more. They are from the mid-west and the west coast. They are Catholic, public, and private school teachers. They recognize ways that they either have or have not felt advantaged and/or disadvantaged by the multiple social positions they occupy. They are individuals, first and foremost.

But there are also some themes that are so striking that I want to share them with you. In the midst of their sense of self as individuals, they are also keenly aware of themselves as members of a society that often does not offer an equal playing field. They are, as a group, absolutely committed to responding to the injustice they see within our education system. Whether they learned to use their voice as young women, challenging unfair wage discrimination, or as children watching their parents make sacrifice after sacrifice to send their children to Catholic schools where they felt they'd receive a high quality education, these are a group of highly self-reflective and insightful teachers.

Whether they challenge stereotypes by refusing to let any negative message about a lack of potential due to their racial background settle into their psyche or chose the teaching profession to ensure that they are positive and uplifting role models for those who are may succumb to negative messages, these are a group of highly dedicated and inspiring teachers.

And then, much to my joy, those students who self-identify as fitting into the category of "white" or "light skinned" are open to naming how that has or has not offered privileges. The sense of responsibility to serve and act in order to open doors (and perspective) for those they teach struck me. They teach in a diversity of settings. Those who teach primarily black and brown students speak of ensuring that they learn the cultures of the communities served. Those who teach primarily affluent, white students speak of bringing consciousness to them regarding race, class, and culture so that the young ones will be better able to navigate the world in a way that respects difference. They have learned much about power, privilege, and opportunity from their years spent in the field of education so far, and they are responding by taking up a course of study that will help them become leaders on their campuses. And, I'm so glad.

I don't want to overstate anything here. These are primarily individuals I'm just getting to know, and I am responding to introductory papers 3-5 pages in length. That said, I just can't help appreciating the position I occupy....and the students with whom I feel privileged to spend this semester.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

California's Proposition 8 - Privilege and the Naming of Neutrality

My commentary here will be brief. I just want to alert you to a current issue/debate going on here in California that can be used to help us increase our ability to see how white privilege often shows up in our public debate.

Having said that, this issue is really not about race at all. It's about Proposition 8, an initiative passed by California voters that ended the ability of gay and lesbian people to legally marry in this state.

On August 13th , a pair of editorials were published in the LA Times. Links are posted below. They are both short and worth reading.

Lose the Ruling, Attack the Judge

A biased ruling on gay marriage in California

As you can see, neither say anything about white privilege. But, what I'd like to offer here is that there are links between the arguments presented here and the criticisms against the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

Basically, (and I'm probably abbreviating this too much) what I see is that when a group that has long held a position of power (and sees its way of life as the "norm") fears that there is another group becoming increasingly powerful and thereby potentially 1) receiving increased benefits from the system and 2) creating a cultural shift regarding what is considered "normal", there is a backlash. This backlash targets the less systemically powerful group as "biased", as though being part of a "minority" group automatically makes one incapable of rendering an objective and fact-based opinion.

Let's be clear, though, that the point I am raising is that the group that has long held power assumes that its representatives ARE absolutely neutral and are somehow more capable of generating a reasonable and fair perspective.

Pasted below is a perfectly crafted (in my opinion) satire of this issue as presented on Stephen Colbert's comedy show in regards to how it plays out in terms of race.

Stephen Colbert's THE WORD - Neutral Man's Burden

We should watch out for, and argue against, this problematic tendency whenever it arises. Because regardless of how you feel about this particular issue (gay marriage) is all tied up with power and privilege, and the people who are in a position to wield institutional power most often in this country are still both white and straight.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Notes from my field

Update #1:

This is a story about how my anti-racism practice shows up in my work world.

A couple of years ago, upon the publication of my book - Witnessing Whiteness - a fellow faculty member (turned administrator) mentioned feeling that convening a book club of faculty/staff at the College to read my book would be a good idea. Fabulous! I thought. I wanted to be able to share my work with my colleagues, but was really worried about being seen as some type of self-perceived know-it-all about race.

This colleagues put out an invitation to the College and two book groups emerged, one on each of our campuses. I attended each session on both campus, and other members facilitated the conversations. After a year, about 12 individuals remained invested in the discussion (some inspired by the book's contents), and discussion revolved around how to keep it going.
Throughout, I tried to hold my tongue and allow the process to develop organically (again, anxious about being too much in control).

What emerged was a plan for two types of dialogue spaces to occur the following academic year. One would be for open, unstructured conversation. The other would be in a more "workshop" format". All faculty/staff would be invited, and we'd develop the conversation and structure as people convened.

In order to support the process, I volunteered to show up to the first dialogue with a workshop structure and provide facilitation. It was mostly centered around community building and sharing interests, concerns, and goals. In no way was I invested in being the primary facilitator over the long run.

Much to my surprise, 23 individuals responded to that first invitation (including the College President) to spend two hours on a Friday evening discussion race and culture. I acted as facilitator. Things went well...very well. I was asked to continue to provide leadership and continue providing facilitative support.

Deep down I knew that there was an emerging problem. Invitations and facilitation for these dialogues were being done exclusively by three white women (myself, the originally inspired administrator, and one other invested, senior colleague). I knew the basic message conveyed was not a good one. And I also knew that my work life felt overwhelming.

I call the building in which I work a vortex. Once I enter each day I am completely swept up in the impressive array of logistics and conversations that I am responsible to guide and resolve. Over the course of the year I knew the value and import of reaching out to the people of color colleagues on campus in order to seek collaboration. I knew that multi-racial collaboration was the only to allow the dialogues to become safe spaces for the diversity of our staff/faculty to show up.

Because I didn't get out of the vortex, last year's dialogues were primarily attended by white faculty. Honestly, really honestly, this worked for me. I understand white caucusing. I think the work with white faculty is extremely important, and I was actually a bit happy to start there...realizing that pain awaited a person of color attending and listening to well-intentioned, but troubling, remarks about race/culture from some of my white colleagues.

But I also knew that something needed to change.

This change finally occurred this summer. During my break, I finally made it over to the office of a colleague of color who I admire and respect and who I've had conversations with in previous years about race. I knew he understands issues of power, privilege, and diversity really well. He's also a veteran staff person on campus.

I told him my story, unsure of what I was asking, if anything. But, I knew I needed to explain my efforts and why they looked like they did.

The feedback offered was a bit different than I'd imagined --- and that's precisely why it was important to take the step to ask for it.

It's resulted in a new collaboration. I don't know what levels of commitment we have to one another. But, he and I will be co-facilitating a first dialogue after our College's convocation in a couple of weeks. We've planned together, and it felt really good.

So, what's my point in telling this story?

I'm not perfect, and neither has been the enactment of my anti-racist practice on campus. I know that. But, I also know that taking one step at a time, continuing to reflect, and continuing to try and rectify and challenge areas where I'm not as good I want to be is a powerful thing...and essential for those of us who need to stay motivated to keep stretching ourselves.

I'm hopeful about this upcoming academic year...and I'm also nervous...for two reasons.

1) I'm choosing to invest more in my home community. That has already led to some challenging conversations. More are surely on their way.

2) This means I must set aside moments to escape the vortex of my job in order to have the one-on-one conversations necessary to build trust with other colleagues and repair any damage that might have been done during last year's white led approach.

Wish me well! I'll need all the positive thoughts coming my way that I can get.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Murder or mistake in Oakland, CA?

Oakland, CA. White cop. Unarmed Black man lying face down. Shot in back.

Murder or mistake?

As a middle-class, white woman with a retired police officer for a father (who I've always considered quite a good person), my life experiences lead me to give law enforcement officers the benefit of the doubt. Am I perfect? No. Do I face life and death situations regularly? No. Might I, in the face of some challenging experience, pull a gun when I thought I was going for my taser? I have no idea.

From what I read it seems that, at the trial of this white officer, the argument was made that this is what happened....that it was a mistake...that he meant to go for the taser. I write this is someone who is likely quite average when it comes to news. I am relatively aware. Not fully aware. Don't have time to read everything. Not completely unconscious. I try to keep up. Relatively aware. And reflecting on that middle-zone status is what has prompted this post.

My personal reaction to the verdict --- Manslaughter--- has been internally disruptive.

It comes down to this progression:
1) Manslaughter? Ok. Not absolved, but given the benefit of the doubt on the intent. Ok. Seems fair enough to me.
2) Protests? Hmm. A little reactionary? I mean, he was found guily of manslaughter, yeah? Not exactly let off the hook.
3) Posts and texts of outrage from my antiracist community? Oh, yeah. Right. Of course. Old story. Same outcome. (Great facebook note from Josh who did a Tim Wise style "flip the script" scenario -- Imagine if, and create the scene of a white man shot in the back by a black man and then the trial is transfered to a location with an all black jury...and then consider whether it's a fair trial. -- Thank you for that.)

And, I'm left wondering...

Here I am, someone who really thinks about white privilege and racism every day. I mean, every day. So, with as much attention as I put on trying to see and understand how racism, both subtle and not so subtle, both individual and institutional, is allowed to manifest, what is going on with me and my search for some type of "balanced" response? And, what might that say about the average white person who doesn't think about this stuff at all?

I admit, not proudly, that I spent about a week or so pondering how reactionary our country's political life seems. And, I lumped this in with it. It then occured to me that I needed to consider my vantage point. Why am I willing to read a few paragraphs in the paper, hear that a person is claiming it was a mistake, and simply believe it?

Two things. Yes, my experience with my father and unthreatening police officers in my life is one factor. But so is my ability to project myself onto this individual. Nothing in my life has caused me to believe really deep down that the average white person is intent on doing damage to people of color. It's not how I grew up, and it's not who I've met in the course of my life. I consider that a good thing, as far as it showing that many people really don't espouse overtly racist beliefs in the zones where I've lived.

These two factors led me to do an internal check. What if I were in this situation? I'm psychically putting myself in the place of the perpetrator and deciding that I can see that perhaps I would have made that error. Maybe. And maybe is enough to humanely go for manslaughter, right?

Now (thanks Josh) it's time to flip the script:

What if my entire set of life experiences taught me something radically different? What if my experiences with law enforcement consisted of scary events where people were injured at the hands of the police? What if my own family and friends had been victims and the police were not exactly appropriately protecting and serving? What if my life taught me that more often than not white people have gotten away with murder through getting the benefit of the doubt (at best) or outright racist policies (at worst --- see our history if you're skeptical)? What if my understanding of bias research ALSO tells me that people in our society are more likely to see black victims of police violence as more deserving of it than white victims (even when the situations are identical).

Put that all together, and then what?

I'm not pretending to say I know what the outcome of the trial should, or should not, have been. I wasn't there. I didn't hear the entire testimony. And, I'm only relatively aware (as I suspect is true for most.)

So, what can I say for sure?

White privilege struck again deep within me. It allowed me to think I was judging the situation on its "merits" in some type of objective way, as though I was being less emotionally "reactive" and more "balanced" than those who are responding angrily. When, in fact, it was my personal life experience that, without consciousness in the moment, shaped all of my initial thoughts and reactions.

So, the question becomes...for white people who are convinced that they are colorblind and that they aren't affected by race at all, what is the likelihood that they would do the type of internal check that I had to do in order to be aware of how privilege was shaping my "objective" response?

I'd wager that for most the likelihood is small to nil. Our culture doesn't support this level of deep thinking nearly enough. It's usually perceived as "guilt-induced" or "self-flagelating". Note that I don't believe I'm doing either of the two. I'm being honest. That's it. I'm noticing. I'm witnessing. I'm recognizing that varied experiences lead to varied perceptions which lead to varied conclusions.

So, what's the resistance about? Simple: The type of self-eval I did on myself messes up the (largely white-held) view that we're collectively beyond race and that we can be "objective" about these things.

It's not until I accept and attend to the fact that the effects of racism/privilege enter my psyche that I feel prompted to consciously work to get rid of it.

Believing we're "colorblind" in our responses shields too many of us from this recognition (sadly).

Do you agree? What's been your experience with this?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A great (if not new) resource about Liberals and white privilege

I know this isn't new. But, I think this blog post from Alter Net (see link below) could be a good resource for those of us who are trying to figure out how to talk to our progressive/liberal white friends/colleagues about race. The 10 misunderstandings described here are all too frequent, and the more we can get our minds (and speech) wrapped around why they are problematic the better.

White Liberals Have White Privilege Too! Ten misunderstandings white liberals have about race

Good luck as we keep trying to have these courageous conversations!

For the sake of transparency...A main prompt for this post arose from a really close friend of mine who is engaged in important work around prison justice. There are many, many good-hearted white people involved in these efforts and their dedication is both profound and appreciated. AND, it seems that there are many people of color who really need those of us (white people) engaged in this work to see the ways we bring our racial selves to the table...and this often means we have to learn that we do indeed have a racial self and that it often comes with socially learned habits of mind and action that (although subtle to us white folks) are really damaging to the people of color we are trying to work with.

Hopefully resources like this can help us prompt each other (and our friends/colleagues) to look more deeply at ourselves without defensiveness, so that we might learn how to better do our work with one another.

Best wishes as you continue on...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Homeboy Industries - Support Required

If you are even remotely interested in social justice and haven't heard of Homeboy Industries, and its slogan "Jobs not jails", well, I think perhaps there's a rock you've been under for quite some time. Father Greg Boyle has been one of the preeminent speakers and activists arguing for employment opportunities for former gang members for years. He's got a new book out Tattoos on the Heart (that I HIGHLY recommend) and his stories are both intensely inspiring and will simultaneously bring you to tears.

So, what's up? Insufficient funding WHILE the city takes advantage of its services (without paying for them). This is essentially a rallying cry.

Homeboy Industries' businesses (including Homegirl Cafe) are thriving. That's the great part. But, the comprehensive services the non-profit offers are still funded primarily through grants and donations. That's where we come it. They are short the funding they need and have had to make some drastic cuts that, if left to stay in place, will radically alter the lives of hundreds of people who are still in need of hope and support. (I have friends working there - disclaimer - but this means I also know what I'm talking about.)

There are three important things to do:

1) Read the editorial in the LA Times, Homeboy: What price hope?, and then tell me you don't think this is an essential group to support. Not possible.

2) Get out your credit cards or check books and get on the Homeboys website to become a supporter. I've just sent in my check and I really ask you to do the same.

3) If you are in LA (or not), make some noise at the Mayor who is happy to use his funding to hire gang interventionists who go out and get people to COME AND USE the Homeboys services, but then won't actually FUND Homeboy Industries itself for all the services it provides. Ridiculous and embarrassing!

Our city is better than this, and I think it's time the public allocates its own resources into the programs we know are effective.

Unlike my usual posts, this isn't just something to ponder. This requires much as is possible for each of us. Since individual Homies are standing on street corners to do bake sales and car washes, the least we can do is stand in solidarity with them and contribute what we can to the effort.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May Day march in Los Angeles: May 1, 2010

As protests and boycotts surrounding Arizona's newly passed legislation continues, I'm reflecting on last Saturday's May Day march. Not much of a street demonstrator myself, I decided to venture out this year to stand (too crowded to really march) in solidarity with the working people of Los Angeles. Here's what happened for me:

Within 15 minutes of my arrival I found myself standing on a street corner holding a sign that read "White folks for immigrant rights" along with other AWARE-LA members who held various other messages lending support to the collective effort of the day. (See the LA TIMES article linked below where one of our AWARE members is mentioned toward the end. His sign said "Gringos for immigrant rights".)

Soon after taking up the sign, other marchers began to ask if they could take our picture as they thanked us for being there. Admittedly, the white contingent out that day was rather sparse. But, white folks were there, and they weren't just with AWARE. We found some Unitarian Universalists collected, many white folks allied with other community groups, as well as some sole white folks who simply came out on their own. Two of them ended up talking with us to find out about our group and asked if they could be part of our AWARE group for the day.

As we stood out there together, one of our members began videotaping and asking us to name why we'd come out. While I didn't go on video at the time, here's what was in my head...I was out there to show support for the millions of undocumented people in this country who are striving for a better life, who want desperately to improve conditions for their family, who contribute to our country, and who have suffered the kind of economic difficulty that is often made worse by governmental failings (on all sides of borders). I thought of the quote I'd heard earlier that week attributed to the recently departed Dorothy Height wherein she said that although we may have come to this country on different boats, that we're all in this boat together.

I know that not all people come to this country by boat, and I know that there are debates regarding newly arrived people's "choices" in that regard. But even for a middle-class white girl like me, I already knew as a young teen that when Jean Valjean stole the bread in Les Miserables to feed his family, that his resulting imprisonment was unjust. I truly question how others who've experienced such privilege (whether it be race, class, or citizenship status) cannot imagine themselves into people's situations and recognize the lack of viable alternatives many face (and how our international treaties often make predicaments worse).

In the end, it was a lovely day. The families with strollers waiving flags and signs were a joy to see. And when I got back in my car to call a friend, his question to me was this..."So, how were the crazies today?"

My reply was this: The marchers by and large, basically hard-working, quite reasonable people. The only crazies I saw were the few tiny groups we passed along the side of the road offering a counter-protest telling us all that we were all going to hell.

Any other reflections from the day you'd like to share?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

White Privilege Conference 11 - A Reflection

Thank you to the over 1700 people who made WPC11 what it was...but especially...

This year's April 2010 WPC offered me a chance to connect more deeply with other anti-racists working across the country. It's an amazing learning opportunity. So, if any of you have yet to learn about WPC and attend, check out the basics regarding the mission of WPC at the conference website.

For me, a few lessons learned and/or renewed this year include...

1. Stay open. A year ago I left WPC worried that key relationships with important allies in the work were irreparably damaged. Conference calls throughout the year didn't assuage my fears. But, all sides coming together with open hearts has healed unintended woundings that I believe has allowed a strong foundation to build that will support us as we move forward. (Building a strong community around this work is so important for it to be sustainable, and part of that is ensuring that we get to know one another deeply. (Keeping our hands and hearts extended to one another is a key to building a strong movement for justice.)

2. Invite communication. Part of my pattern is to reflexively hunker down with those I know, staying locked in the comfort of secure relationships and friendships. But, the magic that happens when open invitations are shared and new allies walk through the door is energizing! New ideas, better programming, increased effectiveness.

3. Follow up. When something feels funny between you and someone else, follow up and ask what's going on. Turns out that it may just be reflective of your own process, but the conversation can reveal new insights. Doing this has opened the door to a fabulous new friendship, a person who will likely teach me a whole lot on our shared journey toward refining our ally work (particularly in terms of my facilitation abilities).

4. Be sure to see Joy DeGruy speak whenever possible! If you haven't heard of her, buy her book immediately - Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (and she has a new workbook too!). It's essential reading, and hearing her speak is both emotionally difficult (in a very important way) and exhilarating. For me, I deeply appreciate her work on multiple levels. But, for brevity's sake - she offers a view that is honest, revealing, and healing all at the same time --- and her message is important for ALL people. And yet, she also recognizes her role in doing what she calls "ethno-specific healing work". She recognizes that every group has different healing work to do...since every group has a different and unique history. It is because she does what she does that I feel like I have support to do what I do with the Witnessing Whiteness work.

5. Be accountable to yourself and your allies. That's what this is all about, trying to remain accountable for continually self-reflecting, disrupting racism, and making personal change as needed to examine and challenge unearned privilege. Sharing my personal experiences in this blog is part of me holding myself to my word. If I say it to the world, it helps me feel even more responsible for living up to my own intentions.

Thanks to all who planned and participated. Each year I return to WPC it feels like I'm a kid whose backing up to that growth chart my mom used to measure how tall I was. Last year, struggling over that. This year, struggling over this. Next year, who knows? But, it's a fabulous journey and I appreciate WPC's supportive role.

Anyone want to share what they learned from the experience?

Good-hearted White People, Privilege, and Damage

What follows is a short essay written recently by one of my former students and current AWARE-LA allies. It's a great example of the critical thinking required when good hearted white people decide to offer ourselves to support young people living in inner cities. Let me know what you think...

White Privilege and Security

Recently I attended a brainstorming session for a proposed teen center for at-risk youth in inner-city Los Angeles. The adults present were part of a youth mentoring program and with one exception (a Latino), all were white. The kids were in their late teens. Two African-American guys, one African-American girl, and one Latino. We were talking about the ideal things they'd find at such a center - a safe place to hang out, art and music classes, basketball court, swimming pool, job training, resume help, etc. The safety issue kept coming up and it was clear that these kids had few if any places to go where they felt really safe. So we asked what kind of security they'd want the center to have; what would we need to do to make them feel comfortable? Their answers: a security guard - a big strong one. Cameras, especially in the hallways. A metal detector at the main entrance.

In light of what they'd said so far, their answers probably shouldn't have surprised us, but they did. And that's what this is about - not their answers, which when you think about it are perfectly reasonable and understandable - but our response. We were surprised and dismayed. And I believe that our dismay is rooted, at least in part, in white privilege. Why? Because not only are our day-to-day lives different when it comes to crime and safety, our entire outlook is different. When we have to go through security we tend to be offended, put out. We view security cameras as an invasion of our privacy and find being eyeballed by a security guard heavy-handed and oppressive. We're able to do this because we take our security for granted, and that security is a part of our privileged, white world. Our homes and workplaces are relatively safe. Sure, we take reasonable precautions, but we don't go through our days constantly on alert for attack, always fearing for our safety and the safety of our loved ones. Our neighborhoods aren't gang territory and crime is under control. When we have a problem we call the police and we trust them to believe us and act accordingly. Thus our ability to be surprised when people whom we are well aware don't share our privilege also don't share our view on what constitutes adequate security.

To take this full circle we need to look at how white privilege might play into the final decision about security at the center. On the one hand, we have the desire to remove what we as white people see as symbols of oppression (overt security). We want to promote an open door policy while teaching these kids new ways of addressing potential conflict. But we need to be aware that if, in the process of seeking to further these noble gals, we completely ignore the voices of the very people we are seeking to support, that we are engaging in a blatant act of white privilege. These kids, speaking through their experiences of lives we can't begin to imagine, are telling us what it will take to make them feel safe. We cannot then turn around and insist that they be satisfied for what passes for safe in the world of white, middle-class privilege. Unless we honor their truths we fall into the "white savior" trap. We might not come right out and say "yes, that is your experience, but our experience has more value" but the effect is the same. We got into their world with the idea that we will save them - but on our terms, not theirs.

As a white woman involved in anti-racist work, including mentoring and education, I am all too aware of how easy it is to fall into the role of savior. And I know I am not alone. This tendency is, I believe, and inherent part of white privilege intertwined with the inner racism we constantly fight to overcome. For me, recognizing the part privilege played in the above incident is a big step forward on what is a long road full of hazards.

NOTE: This is not to deny that age and class status also play a role here, but to highlight that these situations all too often play out with adult, white, middle class people making decisions for youth of color.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Unmasking Whiteness - A Summer Institute by AWARE-LA

I'd appreciate your help getting the word out about this event.

AWARE-LA is offering its workshop series on building white anti-racist practice and community in an intensive, 4-day institute
for white people.

The institute invites white people to deepen their self-awareness and build community with other white people taking
up work for racial justice. Through personal reflection, small and large group dialogue, and experiential activities, this
institute offers an opportunity for white people to explore the meanings of whiteness, white privilege and multiple
identities, how to resolve guilt and shame, systemic white supremacy, and building an anti-racist identity and practice.

WHEN: July 22-25, 2010
WHERE: Los Angeles, CA
COST: $200 if registered before April 30th, $225 after April 30

What does this institute involve?

This four-day experiential workshop series invites participants to explore seven distinct topic areas:

The Meanings of Whiteness - Many people struggle to grasp what it means to be white in today’s society. How do
we create a positive, anti-racist white identity? An important issue is figuring out how we relate to dominant white culture while simultaneously supporting the movement toward a culture dedicated to social justice.

Historical Assimilation into Whiteness - Becoming “white” didn’t happen the same way for all European groups. How did the experiences differ? What impact does this have on different groups? Understanding how our assimilation history affects how we view race can help us when in conversations in diverse groups.

The White Supremacist System - Racism is not just about individuals’ ideas and actions. White supremacy is a systematic way of organizing the world that privileges one group at the expense of others. How do we participate in the maintenance of this system unknowingly? What can we do about it once we become aware?

White Privilege - U.S. society does not usually ask white people to explore how race affects our lives. Without honestly grappling with this question we often fail to recognize the various ways we receive social and economic benefits based on being seen as part of the white group.

The Many Aspects of Ourselves - We are more than just our race, our class, our gender, our sexual orientation, etc. We are an interrelated mix of our multiple social identities and each has an impact on how we experience the world. An essential step, however, is attending to both the areas where we may feel oppressed and also staying responsible for areas where we experience privilege.

Guilt and Shame - Two common emotions that arise when we learn about our history of racism and privilege are guilt and shame. These emotions often lead to paralysis and an inability to effectively participate in movements for change. Working through negative emotions is essential to building a solid anti-racist practice.

Building an Anti-Racist Practice - A key to creating a viable and sustainable anti-racist practice is forming a community that is similarly striving. Within a community we can develop and practice skills, hone our analysis, be challenged, and find support. This institute invites the creation of this type of community.

Who should come to this institute? All self-identifying white people interested in contributing positively to race relations in the U.S. - This experience is essential for educators, students, school administrators, social workers, community organizers, social justice activists, and all those invested in building equitable multiracial communities.

How will participants benefit? Increased knowledge and skills to: recognize racism in interpersonal interactions and institutions, engage in constructive dialogue about race, build an anti-racist community, and build confidence to disrupt racism in action.

Email if you'd like to register.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Overt Racism on UCSD's Campus - Fallout from a Culture of Colorblindness

In case you haven't heard, the University of California at San Diego has been the location of some extremely overt racially motivated and hateful events in the last couple of weeks. Although many may say that "it all started when...", that would be in error. A hostile environment has existed for far too long (and this is also likely true in many other places), but the overt and "in-your-face" nature of this has garnered national attention recently.

In "honor" (yeah, right) of Black History Month, a group of students at UCSD hosted a party called the "Compton Cookout". It pretty much denigrated African-American students in a host of horrible ways. In response to protests about the party, a noose was then found hanging in the campus library. The unidentified student who admitted to placing it there apparently said that is wasn't racially motivated (yeah, ok, really?) and then just a few days later a "KKK style hood" was placed on the head of a statue standing outside the library (not racially motivated either, right?)

From my vantage point, this is what happens when colorblindness rules our culture. We act as though racism goes away if we simply don't talk about it. It gives us (white people especially) free reign to claim that nothing we do is about race and that it's all in the past. And, the saddest part about it is that a bunch of people actually believe that b.s. We stay ignorant of our country's history of we then can claim that our actions have no link to it. Then we blame the very people who have been injured by it for years and act like they are the ones creating the issue.

It's like a wound being taped over so tight that no air or light can help it heal. Our racism has been festering underneath the cover of colorblindness (sometimes unconsciously) for years and it should be no surprise that it erupts full force once the surface is scratched.

It's the reason the witnessing whiteness idea is so important (my bias, of course) because until we can actually recognize the deep history underlying our ideas and actions, we will continue to create and support the development of environments hostile to people of color and underrepresented groups.

Creating a teach-in to talk about "tolerance", which is part of how UCSD responded, is pretty much in line with a colorblind approach. Without naming power and privilege, there is really nothing productive being accomplished.

If you'd like more info about this event, Democracy Now has a clip discussing the recent issues on the UCSD campus. "Following String of Racist Incidents, UC San Diego Students Occupy Chancellor's Office."

And yet, there are moments where I find hope. Just this last week I had the privilege of sitting at a dinner table with a phenomenal young white woman in Tulsa, OK who had just come home for spring break from a university in the midwest. She spoke of a recent outbreak of racism on her campus wherein a bunch of cotton was spread out on the lawn in front of the African American cultural center (if I remember correctly) and she had gone to her campus Town Hall to hear from their Chancellor. The good part is not how this Chancellor handled the situation. In fact, it is just as unhelpful as how UCSD is responding. It's what this young white woman said to her Chancellor that I find encouraging.

As the Chancellor essentially ignored questions from students asking what the administration was going to do in response --- this young woman, a freshman, took the microphone a second time, after her first effort was dismissed, and told her Chancellor in front of all that far more disturbing to her than the cotton balls is the way the administration was handling everything.

It's not just her courage that touches me. In fact, at this point, perhaps that's a minor point. Being a person of color on these campuses apparently takes far more courage. But, it's her ability to perceive that injustice is truly being done that, sadly, appears rare. I applaud her and those around her (big shout out to the YWCA-Tulsa) for helping to create the awarenes that allowed her to stand up and be a witness for racial justice.

There are simply not enough white people standing up against these overt displays of racism and working to root out the underlying causes...yet! For those of us working toward that, let's keep passing on these messages to build community and get the word out re: how much work we really need to do.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Haiti womens micro-lending bank - spread the word!

This is the type of thing that too few of us know about because too few of our media outlets pay attention to truly supportive and community based projects.

Please take a moment to learn about how a network of women in Haiti have been able to mobilize quickly to distribute funds to get the economy moving again.

A branch of the Grameen bank of Bangladesh (specializing in micro-lending), Fonkoze, was able to work with high level officials within 24 hrs to get money to people in need.

Most essentially, read this and pass it along so that we can spread the word about some really important avenues for reducing dependence on commercial banking (which cannot easily respond in crisis).

Even the U.S. State Department understands how important this is --- saying that this alternative operation "may well have stabilized the banking system for the country's most vulnerable population."

Haiti womens micro-lending bank brings cash to the rescue

Understandably this was not the lead story during the first two days of the crisis. But, I would love to see us challenge more of the mainstream media to shine some light on these smaller, unconventional approaches to banking that really work to support people in challenging circumstances.

Yes, it would mean accepting that not all great ideas come from the U.S., and it would also mean accepting that the most powerful (by which I mean essentially contributing to society's well being) and important operations are NOT run by U.S. non-profits and/or government aid entities. Self-determination and grassroots organizing in action would need to be valued.

But, wouldn't this be a much better use of time than talking ad nauseum about fears of violence from those in desperate circumstances? The stench of racism in that conversation is so strong that it diverts attention from the remarkable work being done by many within third world countries today. Truly, this type of micro-lending is something that we could use more of here in the U.S. too. Read and feed your imagination. Then, pass it on to someone else.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Re: James Arthur Ray charged with manslaughter, guilty of cultural appropriation

Glad to see the news this morning. It looks like James Arthur Ray will be facing charges stemming from the $9,695-a-person "spiritual warrior" workshop he led last October which included a sweat lodge as a final activity...and the death of three of the participants.

Let's be aware, though, that although these serious charges are significant and justifiable (from what I know), they do not capture the foundation of what led to the deaths of the three individuals who lost their lives in this tragedy. (For more thoughts on that...see my earlier blog posting.)

As the conversation moves forward, take note as to whether or not James Arthur Ray is held accountable for his cultural appropriation, his use of white privilege, his wanton use of a sacred healing and purification ceremony that HE turned into a profane trial of will.

Saying that he "researched" these practices in Peru hardly absolves him...In fact, it just makes it worse, as far as I see it. I've not heard him speak of elders who passed down their practices to him. I've not heard him name how he came to see himself as sufficiently trained in the tradition to become a water pourer. I've not heard him speak humbly in any way, shape or form around this issue. The question becomes, I suppose, do I think this misuse of a culture's traditional practices in this way constitutes, in and of itself, a criminal act?

Yes, cultural appropriation used in this fashion SHOULD be considered criminal. This is not to shift the attention away from those who lost their lives. But, instead, my hope is that we would draw the line about what is acceptable well before someone has to lose their life.

But, what do you think?

Do you see the privilege in this, as I do?

Do you recognize the difference between being influenced by other cultures vs. using them in an exploitative fashion?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Profit in anti-racism, and why the workshop series is free

The question arose the minute the Witnessing Whiteness Workshop Series was posted and people started receiving the announcement. Why are you giving it away? You should be charging for this!

Not everyone responds in this fashion. Friends in racial justice work are far more surprised than opposed. They recognize that all-too-often important resources are priced out of reach of many of the grassroots or community groups who would really like to use them.

For me it is largely a matter of wanting the resources to be used. I want people to really dig in to the ideas in the book and get as much out of the reading as possible. In an economy such as ours, starting with a relatively pricey book but then adding a really rich companion resource for no charge makes the book purchase a lot more rational.

Admittedly, if I were trying to make my living from this work, this approach would likely be more challenging. But, I work a full time job in addition to my anti-racism efforts. This allows me to make the choice more easily.

This is also not without context. There are many that rightly question how white people doing anti-racism benefit markedly from the work. How many of us are called to speak more often because of the very privilege that we're trying to dismantle? I think it happens a lot. I recognize it in the reasons people give when they call me to invite me to give a talk. We talk about it.

Let's be honest. For those who know me, they know I have a nice enough quality of life and I receive compensation when I travel to offer presentations. Making this workshop series accessible and free to anyone wishing to use it is simply the right thing to do. No self-righteousness involved. It just makes sense.

My only hope is that people don't imagine that the series is less valuable because they didn't need to pay for it. (You know, that does happen sometimes.) That is truly my deepest concern.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mama's Tamales - Beautiful Community Support

When we think about how businesses can really serve people, this is what should come to mind. What a beautiful example of people supporting one another. 3 minute video. Watch it and be inspired! Then, pass it on to others.

Mama's Tamales helps homeless people start their own businesses.

I should also disclose that I am proud to know the mother who developed Gorilla Life, the product highlighted in this video!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Witnessing - Second Edition and Workshop Series

Announcing two new resources to support diversity and racial justice initiatives. More information at

Just Released - WITNESSING WHITENESS: THE NEED TO TALK ABOUT RACE AND HOW TO DO IT, 2nd edition, by Shelly Tochluk

This new edition, revised for a general audience, offers a comprehensive look at why white people need to pay attention to race, what we will see when we look closely, and how to respond. Written in an easy-to-read style, the book describes how to develop an anti-racist white identity. Perfect as a first introduction to issues of white privilege, this book also includes practical suggestions for the creation of an effective and sustainable anti-racist practice.


An 11-part workshop series aligned with the book is now available for multiracial or race-caucused groups interested in exploring their relationship to race and privilege. Detailed, chapter-by-chapter agendas allow local facilitation teams at schools, organizations, or businesses to augment their leadership capacity as they lead book groups through 2 1/2 to 3 hour workshop sessions.

Topics include:
• Why Pay Attention to Race?
• Culture, Tradition, and Appropriation
• Authentic Relationships
• History of White Anti-racism
• Racial Identity
• Privilege and Multiple Social Identities
• Transformative Relationships
• Racial Scripts
• Self-Evaluation and Goal Setting
• Cultural Change
• Group Goal Setting

Workshop agendas and resource documents required to implement the series are available at no charge for download at Also, visit the website for more information regarding the workshop series’ development, book orders, and author’s contact information.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bail for Alex Sanchez!

It can take a long time, but sometimes moving through the system and keeping hope and faith alive brings great results! Alex Sanchez was granted bail yesterday.

This will allow him to remain close to his family while he prepares for the trial, which will begin in October. (His family lost their home in all of this.)

After being admonished by the 9th Circuit court, Judge Real reopened Alex Sanchez' bail hearing and this time, listening intently and following up on important questions, the judge saw fit to grant bail. As I was unable to attend this session, I don't know any more that that.

Many thanks to those who kept Alex in your thoughts during this time.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Justice for Alex Sanchez?

I went to my first bail hearing the other day. What drew me to this one is that I know the man charged with multiple serious counts, including conspiracy to commit murder. I don't believe the charges for a second. I have a letter on file with court expressing this opinion and my understanding of the character of this man.

The man accused is a former gang member, yes. His name is Alex Sanchez. But, I've know him as a gang intervention worker and community advocate and supporter for over 10 years. He has been the Executive Director of Homies Unidos since I've known him, and he's fought to stay in this country for years, even going so far as to apply for political asylum from his native El Salvador - which he was granted after a long fight.

Based on how the police scandals broke around LA a number of years back and the people involved...I have come to believe that this case is about retaliation at worse, and misunderstanding and competing viewpoints at best.

My father was a police officer. As a fairly mainstream sort of person when it comes to law enforcement, I don't immediately assume the criminal justice system is always unjust. This case is one of those, however, where even staunch supporters of the system should rightly question the judge in this case...and keep their eyes wide open and focused on how this unfolds.

Here's how this began: Judge Real in Alex Sanchez Case is Surreal This is a post written by former California State Senator, Tom Hayden, and published by The Nation about the first bail hearing, to which I WAS NOT present.

Here's what happened a bit later: Victory for Alex Sanchez Appeal, But... A follow up regarding a rebuke by the 9th circuit court...a hopeful development.

Here's where things stand now: The Judge Gets Real, But Why? A post describing the second bail hearing, to which is WAS present. This pretty much sums it up.

The real question is, what is going to happen next? Having sat in that courtroom, hearing the evidence presented, it makes no logical sense to me how Alex can be denied bail. I know I'm just one person...and that's why I hope many additional eyes will start to follow this with me.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sonoma, AZ - Sweat Lodge - James Arthur Ray

New shoots sprang up in the meadow the first day I entered the sweat lodge. The evening was crisp, hawks hung on the breeze, and the fire crackled. A peace I'd not known previously settled upon me as I waited, watching. The elder prepared the prayer ties, arranged objects on the alter, and filled the pipe with a mixture of sage and tobacco.

Later, having crawled inside the dome-shaped lodge, supported by willow branches and covered with tarps and blankets, I sat in a community circle. Warmth filled the lodge as glowing stones were brought in one by one and placed in the center. After the first seven stones entered and prayers were said, the elder offered an explanation.

"This is the safest place on Earth," he began.

"It's a return to the womb of the mother," he continued.

We enter the sweat lodge as a purification ceremony. It is where we pray to be reconstructed, made anew. It is where we acknowledge the gifts of our ancestors, pray for help and health, both for ourselves and our loved ones. It is a place of healing, where medicine envelops and toxins are purged.

Sitting on the earth, feeling the fire from the stones, seared by the steam that arose each time the elder poured water, longing for the coolness of the night air outside, I felt the sacrificial nature of this ceremony. Choosing to sit in this place to pray reminded me of the essential elements of life: fire, water, air, earth, interconnection, and humility.

In this place we pray for the creepy crawlies, the four leggeds, the winged ones, as well as our two-legged brethren. The full circle of life is honored in this place. We sit in the lodge so that when we re-emerge we are better able to offer ourselves to our community.

Exiting the lodge for that first time, crawling out with an acknowledgment of "all my relations", a centered, although exhausted, gratefulness overwhelmed me. The moon shone above and we dressed slowly, silently, each incorporating the medicine offered in that symbolic womb.

The sweat lodge has become a sanctuary for me, one that I've returned to on a monthly basis for the last 14 years. It's my home, it's a church, and it's sacred.

And, my practice has been a source of tension for me. As a white woman trying to be diligent about disrupting racism and dismantling privilege, I have recognized the need to interrogate my participation.

"I was invited in", I'd say, thinking about my elder, trained in the Lakota tradition. I'd recall his words, "You are doing what your ancestors should have done when they first arrived on this land." "You're praying to make the way clearer for us all as we move forward."

Any yet, I'd hear people talk about "cultural appropriation" and what it meant that white people participated in traditions not their own.

Yes, it's true. I found solace in the sweat lodge in ways not found through my American customs.
Yes, it's true. My various European ethnic heritages did not provide me with a tradition that resonates with me and offers me this level of community.

"But, I'm not trying to be what I'm not," I'd console myself, knowing that I don't try to claim that the fullness of my life represents Native American religious practices.

For years, I wondered, I struggled, I sat, I sweated, and I admitted what felt like a contradiction. I am committed to this practice, and in doing so I've adopted another's cultural practice as my own. Is this cultural appropriation? Is it wrong what I'm doing?

To some, they do see my participation as problematic. For others, my level of respect and devotion satisfies. From my elder's point of view, this practice is for everyone, regardless of cultural origin. But, not all people of Native American descent share his perspective.

For me, I remained both devoted to the practice and simultaneously a bit self-critical.

I then read the newspaper in October 2009.

Sonoma, Arizona. A white man named James Arthur Ray charges people upwards of $9,000 to participate in a week long initiation journey that utilizes various spiritual practices and trials to help the individuals find their warrior within...or something like that.

The culminating experience is a community sweat lodge. People died.

That lodge was not the safest place on Earth. Instead, it was rendered deadly.

The ego and hubris of a white man turned a sacred ceremony into a money-making venture.

A purification ceremony within mother's womb was turned into a trial to be overcome.

A sanctuary space for prayer was turned into a prison from which people begged for release.

We spoke about the tragedy the following week in our lodge. We prayed for the victims. We prayed for those responsible. And, we prayed that there would not be a reaction against those who participate regularly in this ancient ceremony.

For that is also one of the dangers. Cultural appropriation often distorts the beauty of the original form.

Worse, blind appropriation and defensive egos shield people from recognizing the harm they perpetuate on others. Within weeks of the deaths, the white man was busy offering workshops and lectures, telling audiences that he prays for the families of those who died. At not time does he publicly recognize the role he played, his lack of humility and use of privilege to take and modify what he had no right to desecrate.

Weeks later, I sit, I consider, I write...

Must I still question myself regarding how my life might involve cultural appropriation?

Yes, of course. It's a healthy question to ask, repeatedly.

But, can I speak out, as a white woman, against a white man, charging him with an offensive and deadly form of cultural appropriation even though I am not part of the culture from which the practice was taken?

Yes, of course. It's my duty.