So this past weekend I was incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to attend the White Privilege Conference in Madison, WI. I’ve spent the last couple weeks trying to explain what this conference is, especially since people seem to be confused and think I’m going to some f*cked up white supremacist gathering.
(from the conference website, http://www.whiteprivilegeconference.com/wpc.html)
What is the White Privilege Conference?
WPC is a conference that examines challenging concepts of privilege and oppression and offers solutions and team building strategies to work toward a more equitable world. It is not a conference designed to attack, degrade or beat up on white folks.It is not a conference designed to rally white supremacist groups. WPC is a conference designed to examine issues of privilege beyond skin color. WPC is open to everyone and invites diverse perspectives to provide a comprehensive look at issues of privilege including: race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, etc. — the ways we all experience some form of privilege, and how we’re all affected by that privilege.
————–I came to help table with Goddard College, where I just finished my undergraduate degree. I had some complicated feelings about tabling with Goddard at this conference–my experience of the college has not been incredibly diverse, and there’s been a lot of instability within the school and most small liberal arts colleges like Goddard. However, I think it was really important for us to be there as a college, to educate ourselves and to be engaging in thoughtful conversation with people about the school’s program and mission.
I was able to attend most of the conference, even with tabling. I would like to use this post to break down some of the larger themes I noticed in workshops/caucus time, and also to promote the workshops I attended.
-Social Justice Part 1: Healing from HIstorical Harm through Stories and Analysis with Shakti Butler (check her out! http://youtu.be/w7FeomuMQDo) and Michael Benitez
-Understanding white privilege through dialogue with Hsiao-wen Lo (I will refer back to this one A LOT)
-The roots of racism and christian hegemony: Decolonizing our Thinking, Behavior, and Public Policy with Paul Kivel (he has a new book out, sounds really interesting: http://www.paulkivel.com/bookstore/religion/living-in-the-shadow-of-the-cross-detail)
-Class, Community, and the Shock of Higher Education with James Bonilla (professor here at Hamline!)
-From Our Ancestors, For Our Future: Lessons from Legendary Organizers Ella Baker and Anne Braden on Building Justice Movements Today with Chris Crass (http://www.pmpress.org/content/article.php?story=ChrisCrass)
-White Privilege and the Color of Wealth with Bob Williams
-Exploring Intersectional Identity in Early Childhood with Kate Engle and Camille Fobbs
Other major highlights were Rosa Clemente’s keynote speech: http://rosaclemente.net/white-privilege-conference/ and Daniel Beatty’s poetry/theatrical performance: http://youtu.be/1INMYz0AMSI
This was a jam-packed conference! There is such a wealth of information that I want to share from these workshops, and I plan on doing so in a community report-back with another conference participant here in Minneapolis soon–for example, on the racial wealth divide, anti-racist organizing history, immigration laws and their connection to the prison industrial complex. But there was also these overarching concepts that seemed to connect across workshops, caucuses, and the discussions I was having at the conference–about love, guilt, fear, and accountability.
One of the first workshops I attended about dialogue focused on the need for white anti-racists to educate other white people from a place of love, instead of the competitive drive to prove how much smarter/enlightened they are. I’ve seen this happen over and over again, white people aggressively calling out other white people they are in community with, usually resulting in a lot of anger, confusion, misunderstanding, and isolation. How is this really being accountable to a larger community?
The guiding principles of dialogue that Hsiao-wen shared with us are something that I want to continue engaging with–understanding the cycles we create for ourselves of behaviors, feelings, and thoughts, and how easy it is to reinforce distorted thinking and assume our own correctness without being open to any other truth. I want to incorporate this into my daily conversations, the ways I address white supremacy in the bureaucracy of the agencies I’m involved with, and the organizing work I care about–all of these areas feel very tense with the desire to be on our shit, to be a good activist and good white person. I could feel how different it was to approach these conversations with love and willingness, although it is unbelievably hard sometimes. I’ve been trying to do a better job at listening while suspending judgment, asking questions, repeating back what I’ve heard to make sure I was listening. I want to be aware of when my voice is even necessary, if I’m taking up too much space.
The workshops I attended gave me a fuller sense of the ways that white supremacy has shaped my understanding of what makes history, not just in the ways that legalized theft, violence, and unequal opportunities have reinforced a legacy of racism but also in the ways that anti-racist organizing (including white anti-racist activism)also gets written out of history. I want to educate myself more around this history, the works of people like Ella Baker, Ann Braden, Stanley Levingston, Bayard Rusden, Septima Clark, and E.D. Nixon.
I want to think about what it means to develop leadership, who has helped develop me as a leader and how my work can allow for the development of others; all the variety of strategies that can bring in more people, more perspectives, and strengthen the interconnectedness between movements. In Minneapolis I often feel so split between communities; I want to work to bridge those gaps and use my social capital to bring these conversations about white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, classism, etc. to the table.
Lately I feel like there have been a lot of adults in my life who have been mentors to me, encouraging me to expand my education and experiences and consider career paths I had never considered. I’ve found myself conflicted, knowing that I have access to these opportunities that are directly tied to systems of power. My mind was really blown thinking about this: “the courts, the politicians, the professionals cannot free the people–the positions they are in simply would not allow it to be so”. I hear people all the time talk about their masters degrees or careers as an activist tool, but I’m realizing now that entering into a career job would distance me even further from the struggles I care most about. Certainly, those roles are essential to supporting social justice work, but is that the position I’m best suited for? Especially when I know I have the imagination, strength, and experience to work to dismantle those systems of power? No answers yet, just more questions.
Post-conference, these are my action steps:
-Research on Goddard, Antioch, and the University of Minnesota (all the academic institutions I’ve ever been affiliated with) and the connection each insitution has to segregation; did they open their doors to students of color entering under the GI Bill after WW2?, and other ways these institutions’s history plays into racism
-Bring an anti-racist framework to the hormone access program being developed at Family Tree Clinic, and other trans* organizing work that I’ve been involved with that has struggled to create access for a multi-racial community.
-Consider new concepts for my sex education zine series that directly relates to anti-racism: about embracing the place of not yet knowing, about white supremacy and allyship, a reader’s digest version of important radical texts, sharing the history of anti-racist leaders in community.
-Putting on a report-back session at the Minnehaha Free space this Spring.