Letter: Engaging in racial dialogues
Talking about race is very challenging. As a white, since 1969 I have led and participated in dialogues and classes from fourth grade to adults in communities, classes and organizations. Some of them have been all white and some have been mixed people of color and whites. In my early years at the Milwaukee Race Desecration Institute, I facilitated, along with a multi-racial team, clusters of small groups talking about their experiences of being white or people of color. These groups usually contained one person of color and four or five whites in a room of many small groups. We found this experience to be draining on people of color since they were the "only," and whites would not listen and would rebut what people of color said; also they did not do their own work. We moved to a design of people of color and whites in separate groups, and then reporting out to the larger group. Whites started confronting their own racism, and people of color had an opportunity to support each other. I have used this latter model in consulting at organizations and in teaching race and gender awareness. In these situations, women and people of color have generally been outnumbered by men and whites and only have the safety to share their real lived experiences of oppression in shared identity groups; these experiences can then be safely shared in an aggregated manner with men and whites
Here in Brattleboro, we face similar issues when talking about race; people of color are a small minority. I have facilitated and participated in several groups recently with other whites who want to understand racism, how we benefit from and participate in it, what we can do about it, and the impact it has on people of color. At one of these groups, some whites were initially disappointed there were no people of color who chose to attend; it took some work for them to understand racism is a white problem and we need to work on it. People of color have to focus on surviving and get drained from constantly starting at ground zero with whites. Voices of people of color are certainly essential, and videos, articles and books can be useful. We have also brought in paid speakers. Whites in this area are at various stages on the journey of understanding racism in the United States of America.
I understand, from talking to friends who are people of color, that there are support groups for people of color in this community and in Vermont. I have heard how the stress of racism affects them physically, emotionally and financially and they need a space to heal. I certainly support these groups.
Hopefully with these initiatives we can have meaningful and safe interpersonal interactions where whites can truly listen to people of color.
Dummerston, May 11
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