Frequently Asked Questions about WPCR: Moving From Talk to Action:
1) Why is this workshop about white people’s racism? Can’t people of color be racist as well?
People of color can hold stereotypes and act with hostility because of their prejudices. But it is white people who control all major institutions in the U.S. and this class addresses that widespread inequity.
2) Why are most of the courses co-facilitators white? Don’t white people need to learn from people of color about racism and how to end it?
This assumption follows from the widely held belief that the problem of racism is a problem of people of color. The effects of racism are mistaken for racism, allowing us to think that only the victims of racism can talk about it, never those who are engaged, even unwittingly , in its maintenance.
3) What do white people even know about racism?
It would be impossible for a white person living in the United State not to have absorbed at least a tacit knowledge of racism. Through the simple act of living as white people, through exposure to the media and to club culture, they have within them a very deep knowledge of racism. They carry within them all the stereotypes, ideologies, assumptions of skin color privilege and prescriptions for action (or inaction) that underpin racism. It’s not from books that they will learn, but from examining their own beliefs.
4) Why focus on white people’s role in ending racism? Isn’t it a problem we all have to solve together?
Racism is a WHITE problem: white people today may not have taken part in creating structural racism but they do receive unearned advantages because of it, and are therefore responsible for undoing such inequity. It is up to white people to educate each other about racism and not rely on people of color to do so. Transforming the institutions that perpetuate racism and white privilege requires the participation of white people.
5) Why is a course on the role of white people in eliminating racism open to people of color? Don’t white people need a “safe space” to feel free to talk about their prejudices?
There can be no guarantee of a “safe” space when racism is discussed. White people need to be open to dialogue that may reveal unintended racism. People of color DO talk about racism, although being among white people talking on the subject can be painful. Yes, white people have to spend time to understand racism and commit to doing something to end it, but they also need to hear the experiences/perspectives of people of color who are willing to share them.
6) Why do you want people who take the course to make an action plan? Don’t people need to get rid of their stereotypes before they take effective action?
Thinking, feeling, and doing can interact dynamically. Understanding the history and dynamics of institutionalized racism that few learn in school, can give white people new perspectives to help them act. Acknowledging feelings such as guilt and fear can help develop healthier feelings: yearning for racial justice, joy of appreciating people as individuals, and feelings of trust and solidarity from acting together for what they know is right. Doing speaking up practices and committing to action plans can bolster us, and spur us to learn and think about the information and strategies we need to act effectively.
7) If racism is a powerful force continuously in action in almost every aspect of our lives, even if we act, what difference does it make?
Each of us has the ability to act for racial justice in some sphere of our lives: family, friends, jobs, businesses, school, clubs, neighborhoods, communities: all these changes count.
8) If a white person who wants to challenge racism doesn’t know what to do to make a difference and so does nothing, isn’t that better than doing the wrong thing?
Doing nothing is not neutral. Whether we want to or not, each and every one of us – is making a difference right now. The question is: what kind of difference do you want to make? If all the people who were troubled by racism were to take some action to change the system where they intersect with it, things would change very quickly. It takes work, it takes commitment, it takes perseverance, it takes humility. But if we do nothing to act to challenge racism, we are colluding with it. In short, doing nothing is supporting racism.
9) Isn’t classism the real issue, not racism?
Race and class are linked. But racism has a particular history and dynamics that deserve scrutiny. While economic mobility can be achieved by effort, education, and luck by people with white skin, people of color can’t change their skin color, which does affect their opportunities irrespective of education, luck, or effort. The challenge for people who care about social justice is to understand both racism and classism, and how they can create a vicious cycle.
10) How do white facilitators of “White People Challenging Racism: Moving From Talk to Action” classes hold themselves accountable to people of color?
As of 2013, our co-facilitator group includes two facilitators of color. Those of us who are white receive feedback, constructive criticism, and support by building authentic relationships with each other. We also build relationships with individuals and organizations that strive to eliminate racism. In the process, we break down the ways racism separates us from each other, and we grow increasingly accountable and connected to anti-racist community.
11) We’ve had an African American as a U.S. President. He didn’t run on the basis of being Black. Doesn’t he, and therefore, shouldn’t we, consider that racism is a thing of the past?
“In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds.”
– Barack Obama, 2008 speech on race in America and building a more perfect union