Thanks to Caverly Morgan and our friends at Presence Collective for many of the definitions below.
In the words of Larry Yang, “The practice of these conversations is an opportunity to begin the journey towards narrowing the experience of separation.” For a good starting point, begin with Yang’s article Directing the Mind Towards Eight Practices in Diversity.
To deepen your understanding, check out the links below each term. We are grateful for your engagement!
Race: According to the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, a specific classification of human beings created by Europeans (whites), which assigns human worth and social status using “white” as the model of humanity and the height of human achievement for the purpose of establishing and maintaining privilege and power.
Watch: Race: The Power Of An Illusion, from California Newsreel
Watch: Finding Myself in the Story of Race | Debby Irving
Racism: According to the Anti-Defamation League, is the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.
Watch: What is Systemic Racism? from race forward
Whiteness: From the National Museum of African American History & Culture, Whiteness and white racialized identity refer to the way that people, their customs, culture, and beliefs operate as the standard by which all other groups are compared.
Read: Whiteness, National Museum of African American History and Culture & Smithsonian
Listen: Seeing White, from Scene on Radio Podcast
White Privilege: According to Sharon Martinas, a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of preferential prejudice for and treatment of white people based solely on their skin color and/or ancestral origin from Europe.
Read: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh
Watch: How Studying Privilege Systems Can Strengthen Compassion, Peggy McIntosh
Watch: Deconstructing White Privilege, Robin DiAngelo
Watch: Just Belonging: Finding the Courage to Interrupt Bias, Kori Carew
White Supremacy: The systemic and systematic ways that society gives benefits and opportunities to white people and denies those same benefits and opportunities to people of color.
Read: The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, by Kenneth Jones & Tema Okun
Watch: Understanding Our Roots - White Supremacy is More Than the KKK | hephzibah v. strmic-pawl
Read: White Supremacy in Europe: BBC
White Fragility: White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress. Even a minimum amount of racial stress can become intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves, including: the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.
Watch: Robin DiAngelo on "White Fragility" - EXTENDED CONVERSATION | Amanpour and Company
Watch: Debunking The Most Common Myths White People Tell About Race | Robin DiAngelo | NBC News
Intersectionality: Many people experience various levels of social injustice based on multiple social identities.(Sexism, Racism, Classism, Xenophobia, Ableism, Heterosexism, etc) Often, these identities overlap to cause people even more hardship. This overlapping of oppressed groups is referred to as intersectionality.
Watch: The Urgency of Intersectionality | Kimberlé Crenshaw
Anti-racism: from Ijeoma Oluo's famous tweet, "The beauty of anti-racism is that you don't have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it's the only way forward."
Watch: The Difference Between Being “Not Racist” and Antiracist, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
Watch: How to Be an Antiracist, Interview with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
Resmaa Menakem — My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies
Ruth King — Mindful of Race
Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens, Jasmine Syedullah — Radical Dharma
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel — The Way of Tenderness
Robin DiAngelo — White Fragility
Michelle Casandra Johnson — Skill in Action
Franchesca Ramsey — Well That Escalated Quickly
Layla Saad — Me and White Supremacy
Ta-Nehisi Coates — Between The World and Me
Ijeoma Oluo — So You Want To Talk About Race
Michelle Alexander — The New Jim Crow
Mica Pollock — Everyday Anti-Racism
Ibram X. Kendi — How To Be An Antiracist
“You Are Completely Forgiven!”
I was facilitating a racial healing workshop and a Black co-facilitator courageously shared how crazy-making it is to be Black in America, knowing that racism exists, feeling its noxious presence under the surface in daily interactions, but not being able to pinpoint it.
(Honoring confidentiality, let’s call him Jerome. I also acknowledge that all I can share is my own imperfect memory of our dialogue that day and its profound impact on me.)
A few white folks in the room empathized with Jerome’s experience and how painful, infuriating, and disorienting it must have been for him, but their words landed as somewhat hollow. He wasn’t opening up the way you’d expect when someone felt fully recognized and received.
As a facilitator, I know the feeling that a truth is being held back in a group. I knew what he was talking about from my own perspective, but did I dare speak my side of the truth?
A flush of heat through my own body let me know that the truth was mine to speak. I remember thinking to myself – ”FUCK... do I really have to say this?” – and spinning in my head with mental calculations. Would I be causing harm? Would I lose all credibility as a facilitator?
But the situation and my soul demanded that I speak up and potentially put my head on the chopping block. I turned and faced Jerome from across the circle.
I think I know what you’re talking about from my experience as a white guy, and I want to validate that what you’re saying is absolutely true.
When I go to a gas station in this neighborhood [the Laurel District of Oakland] and see Black teenagers playing their music and joking around with their jeans sagging, my body tightens up. Even if I reassure myself I’m perfectly safe, on a deeper level I perceive a threat and I feel superior, and this colors how I behave.
I may say “Hey, what’s up…” but they can hear the tension in my voice. They can hear the dissonance and lack of ease, and all of the racist belief system underneath. And I just added to the pile of racism and dissonance that these teenagers already have to deal with.
I feel awful about it. I know it’s fucked up and I feel a ton of shame telling you this right now. I don’t want to be a racist, but it’s in me, and it’s deep. I don’t know what to do to get rid of it. But I did want to tell you you’re absolutely not crazy. That sort of gaslighting happens all the time.
The room was silent. My heart was beating out of my chest. I was afraid Jerome was going to yell at me or ask me to step out of the workshop.
You can imagine how surprised I was when he replied, with a lot of energy and a palpable huge-heartedness–
“Peter, you are completely forgiven!”
He must have seen the shock on my face, because he said it again.
“Peter, you are completely forgiven!”
The second time, it started to sink in a little, as it simultaneously revealed and demolished an entire system of beliefs and expectations I’d been carrying:
I thought that being a racist meant that I was bad.
I thought that admitting my racism would cause me to be punished.
I thought that admitting my racism would deepen my feeling of alienation from Jerome and the group until I paid some sort of penance for my wrongs, jumped through various hoops, rebuilt trust over time, and made re-commitments.
Receiving instant and unconditional forgiveness completely scrambled my script.
Jerome went on –
Peter, thank you SO MUCH for what you shared. I’ve NEVER heard anything like that from a white man. Way to go!
You see, I KNOW that shit happens all the time, and it’s finally time someone spoke up about it.
But all that shame and guilt you’re carrying? You gotta LET THAT GO. It doesn’t help me or anybody. You didn’t choose to be racist. It’s the soup we’re all swimming in.
You’re a good man, Peter. And like I said, you are completely forgiven.
His words fully released me from a burden of shame that I’d been carrying for my entire adult life. I was liberated and humbled by his generosity and grace.
Jerome certainly didn’t owe me forgiveness, but I realized that as much as it benefited me, it was also for him. As a deeply spiritual man, forgiveness was part of his spiritual practice. It liberated his own heart.
That day I recognized the importance of spirituality in anti-racism work – not as a bypass, but as a tool for recognizing the larger context and our shared humanity.
His moment of unconditional forgiveness has stayed with me since then as a template of what’s possible. I’ve stepped up to forgive – Jerome-style – various times, and I’ve always thought of him.
At the next break, Jerome and I embraced, and I felt infinitely more connected. We were both smiling and at ease. By acknowledging the elephant in the room I could now feel much closer to my brother. It was a delicious moment.
But let’s be clear – there was more work to be done.
In the rest of that workshop, there were other rounds of truth-telling and reconciliation – all more messy and sticky than the one I just shared. These are the norm, and we shouldn’t expect this race work to be a Disney fairy tale.
But I tell this story because of its exceptional nature, because of the transformative power of grace.
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