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?


  1. Dear Shelly,
    Hello, there, Shelly! I am so happy to hear about how all of you came together as community at the 2010 White Privilege Conference! I am so pleased to hear of how all of you kept faith in each other and continued the process of healing, even when there was conflict! What good news this is to learn about! I wish that I had been able to go to the White Privilege Conference, I have never gone, at least not yet! You as usual as always made so many relevant and remarkable points, Shelly! I for my part as a black/African-American woman who has very dear and very close interracial relationship and friendships with my white women sisterfriends know that I need to stay with the process, at all times, as I see and recognize that healing from racism and dislodging from white privilege is a lifetime process and is a lifetime recovery. Sometimes my white sisterfriends are surprised when I say that I do understand when they make honest mistakes and think or do something that may show white privilege or be racist, because my white sisters are close in my heart, and I truly feel for my part that I must be patient and realize that they are indeed trying, and I truly think that it is natural that they make honest mistakes along the way. I know that processing learned racism and taking apart white privilege does take a lifetime to work at and to heal from. I am so proud of my white sisters! I look at our relationships, we have been dear friends for decades, and I can see so well how they have healed over white privilege and racism, they are ahead of where they were say for example back in the 1990s, and I as well have healed and come a long way since I was a lot younger, and I have processed my hurt and anger over racism and discrimination which I faced earlier in my life, like when I grew up black middle class in a suburb that mainly had white inhabitants back in the late 1960s and the 1970s, until I graduated from highschool in June 1980. In fact, I am going back for a visit to Cleveland Heights, Ohio for my 30th highschool graduation class reunion later this year. I also have such good memories of having grown up in Cleveland Heights, it was not all bad. I understand so well in my heart where my white friends and classmates were coming from back then when they would at times (not all of the time) be hurtful. They were trapped by their families, like their parents and other adults, and by the community, they were just innocent children, learing racism when they were too young to have a choice in the matter! I often encourage my dear white sisterfriends to feel safe coming to me, and we very frequently have open discussions about racism and white privilege, I don't mind if they ask me questions, I want them to feel safe coming to me!

    What great work and advocacy you and the others have done, Shelly, in this quest to end racism and racist inequities, and to dismantle white privilege! I am so heartened by all of you, coming together as beloved community, and sticking with the process, for it is truly well worth it, well worth the effort! I must say again that I appreciate you so, so much, Shelly, and all of the superb work you do with such efficiency, sensitivity, and productivity! Thank-you, thank-you so, so much for all of your advocacy and hard work in this great quest toward racial justice, Shelly! Remember progress not perfection, it is quite normal to make mistakes along the way, Shelly! Blessings so, so much to you for always, Shelly!

    Sincerely Always,

    Sherry Gordon

  2. "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."

    Shelly, that is a great way to put it! As a first-timer, I had had the pleasure of getting that first big growth spurt. It is hard for me to be convinced that too many others got more out of the experience. Still deeply reflecting a week later...

    -- thanks Shelly and Joy for leading a productive caucus sessions which were as valuable as any other part of the conference.

    -- The workshops were excellent or I just had a great draw. Out of nine, at least seven were really worthwhile, usually an unheard of percentage for a conference.

    -- Dr. DeGruy was simply phenomenal. Got the book and study guide, and she can also be found all over youtube. You can allot two to three hours to get her message in full. On her book recommendation, I got "Medical Apartheid". I only read the first chapter and it is scary stuff. "Scary" in a must read and be educated sort of way... and in an "I had no idea" sort of a way... and in a "I'm mad that I had no idea sort of a way"...

    -- Most of all, I met so many very cool and committed people who have been doing this important work for years. This aspect was definitely re-energizing, inspiring, and contagious.

    -- Main regret? I'd like to see more white men there. Maybe a future goal.

    -- what to do with it all back home? beyond personal development, I'm still figuring it all out. Still processing...

    Finally, Sherry Gordon, I don't know you, but you have a wonderful spirit. But you already know that!

  3. As a first-timer, WPC exceeded my expectations in every way. I felt as if I'd crawled out from under a rock and found my tribe, a group of intelligent and compassionate kindred spirits who care deeply about our cultural condition.

    If I had to sum up my experience in a word it would be CONNECTION -- connection to the whiteness that lives in and through me; connection to other whites working to identify and own their whiteness; connection to people of all colors feeling the urgency of America's racial condition; connection of data, analysis, and opinion to gut feelings and observations; connection to more people, books, and videos to use in my teaching back home ... to name just a few.

    I also learned how to connect my heart to this work in a new way.
    The compassionate and inclusive co-learning culture Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. creates models for me the way I want to be in the world. If healing means wholeness, it follows that I must bring my whole self, heart and head, body and spirit, to this work. My goal this year to develop a gentler (and more disciplined) style in working with those still questioning the existence of racism and/or white privilege and culture.

    Shelly, your book will be a powerul tool for me. Thank you, thank you for living it into being.

    Charles, you were a high point for me in the conference. Yes, more white men are needed!

    Sherry Gordon, I also don't know you but, wow, you exude grace. Thank YOU!


  4. Thank you, Shelly, for your reflections. You are indeed a wordsmith.
    And, thanks to the rest of you for your touching and inspiring comments.
    This was my 2nd WPC and it, too, was different than my 1st experience. The 1st time was loaded with "ahas." Just to experience white privilege being enacted at the WPC was such a great teacher for me in gaining a glimpse of how insidious this privilege is.
    Rather than monitoring others so much (I was the self-appointed WP Police), this time I was much more introspective. Dr. Degruy's presentation was incredibly powerful. And, I was deeply saddened about the history of suffering that is my legacy. Also this time, I was profoundly aware of the gulf of distance my privilege creates between me and people of color.
    As I returned to the very white rural North Dakota, that sense of separateness was magnified.
    So, I'm particularly grateful to you, Shelly, for encouraging a dialogue, and maybe a connection with others on this issue.

  5. Unable to give you a heart. so have a reply to push up your post. ........................................