Facing My Complicity in White-Dominant Culture

I’ve been reflecting these past several months, as the coronavirus upended all our lives, destroying the economy and sickening and taking loved ones from so many of us. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many others have weighed heavily on my heart and prompted me to dig deeper into the barriers to racial justice, at the personal, organizational and systems levels.

The Great Radical Race Read

Early this summer I participated in a five-week online event with about 1000 others around the country and the globe, called the Great Radical Race Read  , or GR3. We started by reading one or more books suggested by the organizer, Rev. angel Kyodo Williams and her co-authors Jasmine Syedullah and Lama Rod Owens of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation. But we didn’t just read the book, we participated in exercises the GR3 organizers had developed to open our eyes and hearts to our complicity in the oppression of BIPOC people and speed our collective efforts to end systemic racism.

We met in affinity groups with folks who identify as we do to talk about what resonated most from the readings, the exercises and the presentations. Most transformative for me was the session on how the implicit biases of white-bodied people show up routinely in my attitudes and behaviors—including my bad habit of jumping into a conversation lull to fill the void or take charge, assuming the group “needs” my leadership in that moment. Another insight was memories from my childhood–moments when I recognized how much race matters. A third was the many times I “white-splain” ideas, certain that my viewpoint is the correct one, when a deeper look would surface alternative, equally valid understandings–and when I strive for perfectionism with myself, my colleagues, clients and in personal relationships.

Join the Chorus–or Wait?

In June my inbox filled with statements of solidarity for the BLM movement, sent by just about every organization that has my email address. I was torn about whether to send out such a statement myself.  While I shared the rage and anguish over the recent unprovoked murders of black people by police, I resisted the impulse to jump in and say “me too.” I did not want to come across as “performative,” a term Rev. angel used repeatedly during the GR3. On the other hand, I didn’t want my silence to be complicit. I wavered back and forth. Finally I, decided to wait until I had more clarity for myself.

Meanwhile, inquiries for my consulting services pretty much dried up in the Spring. I was grateful when Cal State East Bay’s Nonprofit Management Program (NPM) chose to pivot to online instruction early in the pandemic. (In contrast, another CSU campus chose to cancel all its nonprofit courses, just after I’d signed up to teach two.) I had just three weeks to redesign a course at CSUEB that I’d taught face-to-face for ten years. The campus tech folks were incredibly supportive and helped faculty make the shift to a virtual platform. As the lockdown dragged on, our program received—and continues to receive–intense interest from students beyond the Bay Area. I am happy to say I am now confident teaching three online courses–with unprecedented class sizes–thanks to innovative virtual engagement tools and the wisdom of predecessors.

A Work in Progress

Have I achieved clarity around my complicity in our white-supremacist society and my place in the movement for racial justice? As a white-bodied, cis-gendered, older woman now waking up, I recognize that I am a work in progress learning to unlearn racism and become a more effective ally. I suspect my process will take awhile; after all, I’ve lived a long time not being “woke.” But I am taking steps each day. As time goes by, I hope my actions will speak louder than these words. And I hope that you, if you are so inclined, will let me know when you experience a teachable moment for me.