I signed up for “White People Challenging Racism (WPCR): Moving from Talk to Action.” with some trepidation, not knowing what to expect. I am a White woman in my 60s and, to be honest, in the early stage of my racial awareness journey. The workshop had a huge impact on me, and I know it’s an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Was it at times disturbing? Yes, for sure. It was difficult to come face to face with my own unearned white privilege, to recognize that race is a social construct created by White people long ago to allow for the oppression of others, and to understand the many ways that I participate in and benefit from our system of White supremacy. How can this not make one uncomfortable?
In WPCR, I learned about the different kinds of oppression and how they intersect, how stereotypes affect children, how to have difficult conversations about race, and how the norms of a White supremacy culture put oppressed groups at a disadvantage. I learned that I need to “unlearn” many things I was taught as a young person about our American history. And I’m shocked to know that we are still teaching these untruths to our children today.
I believe that many of us have spent most of our lives trying to avoid thinking about these issues in a personal way. We say to ourselves, “I’m a good person. Sure, there is injustice in the world, but what does that have to do with me and what can I do about it?” This workshop brings it home.
For me, it was a powerful exercise to write down my own personal racial awareness journey. For the first time in over 40 years, I found a safe place to talk about the Black roommate I had in college and how inept I was at making her feel welcome. Would I handle this situation differently today? And why have I found it so hard to speak up at the (unintentional and intentional) microaggressions that have occurred in my own family over the years? Through role plays, this course taught me helpful tools to use in these situations.
WPCR does not leave you overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and shame, but rather empowers you to identify ways you can make a difference. We all have these opportunities in our lives—each and every one of us. I believe that WPCR has helped me to recognize and challenge racism when I see it in my own life.
A word about how the workshop is structured: although WPCR is geared towards White people, the workshop is open to anyone who wants to take it. WPCR was started over 20 years ago—and appropriately the current leader is a Black woman, Lavette Coney. Like many WPCR graduates, I am inspired by Lavette and hope to find ways to be an ally in her important work going forward. The facilitators (mostly White) are well-trained, passionate about this work, and armed with an impressive library of curated readings, videos, and personal stories.
Each cohort is limited to eight people, allowing the two facilitators to provide individualized attention to each participant. I liked the fact that participants were at different stages in their journeys, so we could all learn from each other.
I strongly recommend this workshop to anyone who wants to learn/unlearn, grow, and take action in their own lives against systemic racism. At this time of reckoning, perhaps it’s the least we can do to live up to our responsibility as Americans.