InciteChange! Exploring Whiteness

InciteChange! Exploring Whiteness

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Hi! This is Heather and robbie from InciteChange!…
Hi! We want to have a critical conversation about
race – right here, now – and in this format. Whiteness is something we think a lot about-
both at home and in our professional lives. We think it’s really important when we’re
doing social justice work to evaluate that and we want to share with you, today, what
that’s all about for us and what it means for our greater society, and also how we do
social justice work in this field. It has, you know, many different places in our work
and in the way we live our lives and think about things, and so especially when we’re
talking about social justice education that’s such a critical piece in examining how to
do this work. I mean, it impacts greater society, It impacts a lot of stuff and we wanted to
share with you what that’s all about and how we can talk about race and talk about
whiteness and talk about how to address it. Whiteness is having to unlearn internalized
superiority or not even having to think about race whiteness is being the default image
of the Jewish community (and the gay community) and not having to have your opinion tested
or invalidated by dominant society Whiteness is being able to go into any circle
and be acknowledged. Whiteness is not having your terminology appropriated. Or having one
member of your racial group stand for everybody else in your group. Whiteness is being able
to see yourself positively and consistently reflected in advertisements, central television
characters, history textbooks. Or being able to apply for a loan, moving into any neighborhood
of your choice, feel like you can go shopping without threat… go to the airport. Frankly
just exist… without fear of being negatively profiled because of your race. Academically speaking – whiteness is a sociological
phenomenon of privilege based on the color of one’s skin. But what does it look like
in real life? This system of injustices makes people who aren’t white invisible in dominant
society. It is so invasive that most of our shared experiences, on a societal level, leaves
people operating from a lens of white as the norm. Even in social justice work sometimes,
it is so internalized that it maintains its privilege through everything and affects people
of all backgrounds through things like the Media, cultural authority in academia, whose
voice gets heard and whose doesn’t and how people get treated. There’s so many pieces. People of color in society, people of color
are viewed as one-dimensional people- based on solely their race. It is overlooked that
people of color have multiple identities and that race is just one of them. People are
dismissed as only racial beings – as that and only that.
Then you have to think about whiteness, and what is whiteness? I think about whiteness
like air, because whiteness is the given, it’s the norm, you don’t see air because
its invisible, and so you often (if you’re not looking for it) don’t see whiteness. So I had, what I considered to be a pretty
typical white upbringing. I grew up in an area where white was the norm, white was what
was expected and anybody else was kind the other. I got many cultural messages around
this. Everything from the community I grew up in to the school system. And sometimes
even my family. As I was growing up I knew that something was wrong with that and I could
not put my finger on it. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that that wasn’t right
and I guess its that very point around not being able to put my finger on it that makes
me relate this to air, right? That white privilege is something that is so pervasive that we
don’t even have words to define what it feels like. I remember growing up and going to the toy
store and looking for a doll, right? And the dolls that were there (it was right after
Christmas) and all the dolls that were there were dolls that weren’t white. So what does
it mean that all of the dolls that were left were the ones of color? Then I think about an example when MTV would
come on and there’d be times when either at friends houses or at home or whatever,
when the “Black music” was on it was time to change the channel. I always knew that
was really messed up, but I couldn’t figure out what to do about it. And I want to make sure that I tell you that
I’m still working on it. I think we all are. White privilege is so pervasive that
we need to critically evaluate our perspectives all the time, especially when we’re doing
social justice work. In so many ways, I benefit from a system that disadvantages so many other
people. As a social justice educator, I keep that in mind in my work all the time. I can vividly remember, during the time when
I was in college, I was part of a student organization and we often talked about race.
There were about eight of us in the group, all of whom were (except for me) were people
of color. I remember that when we were talking about race they would start talking about
all of these experiences they had, mostly negative experiences either on campus or just
generally in their lives. I remember sitting there in silence, trying to figure out what
my story was, what I could add to the conversation and just feeling increasingly guilty and feeling
really bad about the fact that I was just really quiet. Just listening to the conversation
and taking from them in that moment, I’ll always remember that experience and me trying
to figure out for years after that what my voice was, what was my experience related
to race. I feel like that moment was really a turning point, it was an awakening, I had
always felt that whiteness was the default and so I had to try and figure out how do
you define the default? “How do you describe air?”, as Heather says. This was the challenge
that I really had to figure out. A lot of the models and activities that tend
to be used in social justice education focus on a white-centric perspective. Being a social
justice educator, that can really be a challenge. So just as we think a lot about our own whiteness
and where whiteness plays out, and where whiteness plays out in social justice education, we
also try to use a very multipartial approach to the work that we do. Which means asking,
“Whose voices aren’t present? Who’s not in the room?” And trying to use theories
and models that aren’t being considered. .
Part of InciteChange!’s purpose is to work with groups to critically explore privilege,
including white privilege and how it plays out in sometimes subtle and sometimes overt
ways. Through using an intersectional approach, we can go into more depth and actually explore
the nuances and the ways that oppression plays out in society. We don’t pretend to understand the full
impact of whiteness on people of color and definitely do not want to speak for them.
So we try to structure a curriculum where everyone can share their own voice and find
their identities. This can be difficult for people, whether it be because hidden because
of internalized privilege or because they have to silence it in order to cope with living
in such a racist society. Talking about race is complex. It would be
limited to talk about race in a binary way (white people, people of color). The reality
is that through history, whiteness has pit different groups of color against each other,
creating horizontal violence between different groups of color. So when we talk about race
and we have dialogues about race, it really needs to be multi-dimensional way and having
a voice for the multiracial people in the room as well. With that said, we know that having two white
facilitators isn’t always the best plan. We work with other facilitators and trainers
in order to make sure that we can create consultant teams and facilitation teams who are going
to meet the needs of the group and reflect the experience of the people we work with. For many people – talking about this stuff
is really scary – Many white people don’t want to do or say the wrong thing. I know
I’ve been there. We have been socialized to think that our ideas are right (and I guess
what does it mean if I am wrong?) For many people of color, it would mean reliving the
pain caused by a racist society, by that I mean the institutions and the people and the
media and the ways in which culture operates, promotes this whiteness norm. So reliving
the pain that’s caused by that particular society that we live in and potentially even
uncovering some of the ways they might collude with that system, meaning that they would
further hurt themselves and other members members of targeted racial groups. As educators, as much as our responsibility
is to facilitate people’s learning – it’s even more so our responsibility to facilitating
people’s unlearning. Our approach, frankly, is to be honest authentic
people that name our vulnerabilities and call ourselves out when we do something that isn’t
as just as we would like. We think of ourselves as real people and we want participants to
see us as real people. To be part of the family that is – our family. That allows participants
to come to a place of community pretty quickly and with that we’re able to really dig into
issues like whiteness and race and help people be authentically themselves. We have been learning messages from society
since the moment we were brought into this world and many of these messages are many
generations old. Racism affects everybody… and while we don’t pretend to know everything
about it and its impact on our subconscious, we believe it’s our responsibility to create
environments in which we can have group sharing and group accountability. This is how we create change
with people and institutions – this is how we incite change.

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