White people, you don’t need to hear from more white people
White people, you’ve been coddled and you are surrounded by whiteness. Wherever we go there are signs of whiteness – English language was created by white people, almost all our cash money has pictures of white males featured, sit in a professional meeting and it is most likely a white-dominated meeting. White people, you don’t need more whiteness if you’re trying to understand race and the impact of racial inequality. Let’s stop white centered racial equity trainings.
If you want to learn about race stop listening to white people and start listening to people of color. People of color are the ones who experience racism and the most impacted by inequities. Listening to a white person explain racism is a way of toning down the impact of racism. In these spaces, you can intellectualize and theorize about poc experiences, explain away realities, and most importantly there isn’t a need to act and change behaviors. It also allows white people to avoid confronting their own racism and biases, white safety abounds.
Diversify who you hear from
I understand people need spaces to process and think about race. We often say to white people go off and find another white partner to make sense of the complexities of race. Pocs don’t always want to be your teachers or therapist. That message is very different from having a racial equity training for all white people. Racial equity trainings filled with all white people are creating bubbles of whiteness; sounds so lovely and lyrical — it’s not. Sure, you’ll be learning about things like white fragility, systemic racism, and bias, but you’ll be learning those things from a white perspective. It would be like me trying to learn about the disabilities movement from a nondisabled person – nuances, urgency, and personal experiences are lost. At some point, it becomes an intellectual exercise versus a way to understand at the head and the heart levels.
In a good racial equity training, white people benefit from hearing from pocs. Pocs in the room aren’t there for the entertainment of white people but to provide honest views of race and the impacts of racism, and many time solutions pocs want to see put into place. However, for this to work a few things must be in place:
- Safety in numbers for pocs—there needs to be at least a few pocs so it the pocs aren’t tokenized or the spokesperson for pocs. It also helps to hear from many different poc experiences. If you need to provide stipends to the pocs in recognition of their time, expertise, and the burdens they are taking up to be there.
- Center poc voices and experiences—racial equity trainings that focus on whiteness, such as talking about white fragility are interesting, but not impactful.
- Poc safety and comfort—along with centering pocs a good training will center and focus on poc safety and comfort thus allowing pocs to be more honest and open. Safety means laying ground rules or norms for how people will behave, remind people that they don’t have to answer if they choose not to, and what pocs are sharing is a gift to white people (no reciprocity needed—we don’t need white gifts). White people will be ok being uncomfortable for a few hours.
Can we achieve equity without equity?
If we will ever achieve racial equity we have to also think about power, control, and money/resources. Can we achieve equity if money is being invested in white spaces and with white trainers? Stepping back who controls the training budget is it pocs? Who do the white people want as a trainer/facilitator? The answers to these questions may point to hiring a white trainer and hosting a training for white people is the right move, but you better ask a lot of hard questions about why the group is going down this route – including is it centering white people’s needs again, is it safer, is it more comfortable, why?
Training versus Caucusing or Affinity Groups
There are times where it is appropriate to break-off into poc and white spaces. Last year CiKeithia and I were co-facilitating a discussion around race that got deep fast. Towards the end of tour two-hour meeting I ‘read’ the body language of our pocs attendees. They looked just tired and fatigued. We had done our best to center their needs and create as comfortable a space as we could for our poc partners, but cross-racial conversations around race are difficult. I looked at CiKeithia and she said, “You want to caucus – I know it.” In planning the agenda, we had agreed to not caucus, however, in that moment the pocs body language was begging for a space to unwind.
In this case, creating separate spaces for pocs and whites was the right thing to do. It was the pocs who asked for it (even if it was through non-verbal ways) and we were centering poc needs first.
Cross-racial work is hard but necessary. We reap benefits from it when done right so stick with it and be willing to embrace being uncomfortable in the name of learning something new.
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