White Privilege, Racism, and our Spiritual Responsibility
This workshop is designed to help white people examine the racial barriers that separate us from other racial groups and individuals, racial barriers that interfere with truly bonding with that divine spark in everyone. The intended purpose is to increase the potential of creating deep, honest, and meaningful relationships.
Through multimedia, laughter, deep listening, and sharing, we will examine racial barriers that interfere with connecting to that of Spirit in everyone. The hope is that all walk away with improved understanding and abilities to talk about race and privilege and their spiritual consequences.
Beyond guilt, shame, blame, denial, and resistance, the workshop will examine how to take responsibility for challenging specific forms of white privilege that are built around issues of decision-making processes, unmasking hidden issues of hierarchy and self-identity. We will examine some of the invisible wounds of oppression that are part of our inner landscape and relationships with each other and people of color and ultimately Creator. We will examine ways in which white privilege has been woven seamlessly into our personal and community lives so that what some would identify as privilege others would say is just the way things are.
Further, we will consider how the doctrine that preaches a colorblind approach to race solidifies white privilege. In this process, we will open ourselves and our communities to the wisdom, leadership, authority, and energy of People of Color. Ultimately the goal is to provide one of the small pieces important to create a peaceable and just world.
Note: Depending on group size, there is enough material here for a 2-3 day, 15-20 hour total workshop. It could be done over a weekend or in small 1-2 hour weekly sessions for 2-3 months. Don’t forget to plan for break times.1-1.5 hours is all people should be doing before taking a breather. It is also helpful to have people choose a Buddy to connect with sometime between workshops to check in on how they are feeling and any thoughts about the workshop.
~~At each session, start with showing a different set of poster quotes, have a table with resources and invite people to quietly peruse them, and then settle into some quiet time of reflection
I. Workshop introduction, ground rules:
- Talk about self, personal experiences, personal opinion, thinking, “I” statements, hold each other to this. You decide how much to risk, it is scary but to risk is to grow.
- Ask people for a show of hand/fingers how many other anti-racism workshops have people done.
- Point out that:
- How we interact with each other across racial divides has a direct relationship to our relationship with Spirit or the universe.
- The good news that by showing up, just being here, you have fulfilled one of the lessons of this workshop.
- This is because one of the biggest privileges we have as white people is we are not forced to think about racism and its impact on how you go through your world, your day. You didn’t have to show up, but you did. Thereby contradicting this.
- Have people introduce themselves and share a short sentence on what they have to let go of to be present at this workshop.
II. Definitions, beginning:
a. Clarify that racism involves power, [distribute “Racist Stairs” handout]
b. Divide up people who have close family who are of color (group A) and those who do not. (Group B)
Group A discusses: what do you want to get out of this workshop? What do you want group B folks to know about? What/when have you felt pain for your loved one? Have you or your loved one ever felt wounded? (Day 2) What do you want white people not so connected to the issue in general to understand? Can you or your loved ones love someone if they are a racist?
Group B discusses: what do you want to get out of this workshop? What have you always wanted to know about what it is like to be a person of color but were afraid to ask? What are the major things you’d like to learn about or understand better? What gets in the way of the work?
c. Pair off Group A person with a group B person as much as possible. Share what came out of 1st exercise.
d. Come back to the group and share
3. Show video: “Sticks and Stones” (available by clicking here)
- “Sticks & Stones” directly addresses the psychological repercussions of racial and class disparity in the American public educational system. Based on the filmmaker’s own experiences this short film exposes the influence a teacher can bear on her student’s abilities and the role parents can play in their child’s education. —Rehema Imani Trimiew
a. Discussion, what does this film say, mean, what are its implications, could the teacher have been one of us good-intentioned people?
b. Then consider: What have you seen, heard, or read about racism recently?
c. Come back to the group and share whatever example you choose, get input
a. Read aloud essay and “Behind the Color Blind” and/or do Racism in community quiz
b. Brainstorm words connected with white/black (e.g., “white hats”)
c. Brainstorm feelings/connotations connected to each (if new people present)
d. Group discussion about how this does or does not speak to you?
e. Initial evaluation:
Where we are at so far, what spoke to you in wall sayings, music, AB groups, one on one time.
5. Show: “Legacy of Jim Crow” (available by clicking here)
Ask people to take some quiet time to reflect on the presentation, and
then invite people to speak out of the silence anything they wish to share
6. White privilege
a. Point out that: One of the things it’s taken me a while to understand is how often people of color wake to the thought of “I’m a person of color and that means …” Whites have the luxury of thinking anything we please and CHOOSING TO DO THE WORK OR NOT. People of color have no choice but to deal with race issues moment by moment, we can consider ourselves anti-racist and choose whether not attend a workshop on the subject. People of color have to deal with it in their immediate life, we have the ability to work on it anywhere we please, we can avoid looking at ourselves, our community even our country, rather than looking to another community even another culture.
b. Hand out index cards; have people write times, places, situations where they had privilege, and put them on a board
7. Game: Who said what? (see: Who Said it)
a. Give people at least 5 minutes to connect the person with the quote
b. In their AB groups (see 2b.), see if everyone came up with the same answers
c. Reporting back to the full group, were the answers the same? Show the actual solution of who said what
d. Point out that: the point of this game is to show that people are complex, Gandhi both fought with his life for freedom yet was racist. Show of hands for anyone who considers themselves on the same level of spiritual understanding as Gandhi? If he could think like this and be great, then surely each of us can be recognized as good people.
8. Show excerpt from “Iron Jawed Angels” film
9. Tape exercise game:
a. Point out that: Many people at times can feel marginalized, the dynamic of feeling hopeless, powerless. Ancestors pass down hurts. Hurts can be contagious. Society works to numb feelings because that keeps people powerless. And real listening is what contradicts this. Marginalization occurs for anti-racism workers as well as the marginalization of people of color both personally as well as ideas and work.
The tape exercise must be set up in advance with enough pieces of masking tape to give one per person. Make various colored shapes, one per piece of tape, 5-8 of each shape (red triangles, blue rectangles, green parallel lines, etc.). Then make 2 or 3 unique shapes (circle with two arrows coming out each side). Depending on the size of the group you will want at least 3 different shapes for large groups and 2 different shapes for unique individuals.
b. Introduce the activity as a game but don’t say too much. Have people close their eyes. Tell them you will put something on their forehead, but keep their eyes closed until you tell them to open them. You can get a volunteer or co-facilitator to help put the tape on people if you have a larger group. If you want at the end, you can put tape on the one helping you (with their eyes closed, of course).
c. Then tell people to open their eyes and “without talking in any language, form 5-6 groups (depending on the number of participants).” Say nothing more or less. It is up to the participants to figure out if they group themselves with the shapes or some other criteria.
d. Observe and be patient. Let things develop. Sometimes people will go one way, then shift around to something else. Give it all time. Watch the dynamics around the unique individuals especially. What is their experience? After things seem to reach a point of balance or conclusion, call an end.
e. Start debriefing with people still standing.
First question: “What happened?” Let people freely talk about it. Then steer the debrief first to the larger groups with the following questions:
“How did you come together?
What did it feel like?
How do you feel now?”
Ignore as much as possible the unique ones early in the debrief to establish the mainstream experience and feeling.
f. Then turn to the unique ones: “What about you? What was it like for you?” As they talk, feel free to prompt with questions about specific things you observed that they did or didn’t experience. Whatever happens can be a learning experience. You can ask questions like: “Have you experienced or witnessed these dynamics in other settings? What was it like?” Ask the group as a whole how they felt about people with unique shapes.
g. Point out that: People are hurt as victim, oppressor, AND witness. We all have been in all roles. We all have been marginalized and been part of the group that excludes. It’s not about guilt or shame. It’s about rising up the pyramid.
10. Song against racism – get up and move
Pick and play any song that is about challenging racism (such as on this list)
11. Experience exercise:
In AB groups, share something about recent experiences with racism, something you’ve seen, heard, read, felt, or thought.
12. Educating others exercise:
a. In random pairs, ask person #1 to try to convince the other to come to an anti-racism workshop or event.
b. Person #2 acts like someone you might have met in an all-white group who has no interest in the issue and the last thing they want to do is go to that sort of workshop.
c. Make note of what worked and what didn’t work.
d. Switch partners then repeat with #2 convincing #1.
e. Again make note of what worked and what didn’t.
f. Report back to the group.
13. Group exercise — Values Clarification:
a. Read story
b. Ask people, on a scale of 1-5, to rate who behaved best, who worst
Group people discuss their answers and try to come to an agreement on which answers they are going to report back from their group.
14. Consider and discuss
Starting with some quiet time consider and discuss in AB groups the following: Think about then share the 1st time you saw a Person of Color at your organization. Describe the situation and your reaction if any.
- What is your group’s reaction to considering why there are not more people of color?
- Think about people in your organization who are or have been in leadership
- Think about the people that you are pretty sure have never been in any of those positions.
- Run through your mind the people appointed to the most important committees over the years. Did or does it seem like they are ignored or a source of pride? how many? When?
- Did/do they continue to participate?
- Is there a regular group that rotates in and out of those positions? Is it often explained as “people all have different gifts and all equally important” when this isn’t reflected in reality? Is this familiar to anyone? This is our not-so-hidden hierarchy. It is possible for it to be as authoritative as any top-down system.
- Now think again about the 1st time you saw a Person of Color at your organization.
- Think about People of Color you know in leadership?
15. Dreaming of a racism-free world
Envision what it would be like in a racism-free world. What would it look like? what would be different? What specific things would change? Assuming the ripple effect, what else would change?
16. Consider and discuss
Starting with some quiet time consider and discuss in AB groups the following: During the times in my life when I had to do something really difficult (does not need to be connected with anti-racism work) what was what helped me through the most? Or if you’ve been doing anti-racism work for a while, where do you find the joy?
- Have an example of when you interrupted racism? What happened? An example of when you observed racism and did not respond? Why? How did you feel?
- Can you make a decision to start where you are? What is the importance of starting?
- How have you been oppressed?
- Whites often don’t like other whites in the work. How can you put your biases under lock and key? And have a space where you have permission to unlock it without judgment?
- “Whites are taught to think their lives are morally neutral, normative, average, and ideal so that when we work to benefit others, this can be seen as work which allows “them” to be like “us.” How does our work feed this condition?
- To be an anti-racist means to make visible that which is invisible. Is this scary? How do you do this in the “real” world?
- How is white privilege an asset? How is white privilege a trap?
17. One-to-One sharing
Pair up and discuss empathy is necessary if someone is going to change
“What I struggle with when…,” “I don’t know what to do when…,” “I get nervous when…”
Think of someone else and write what they would say to the above.
How would it feel if the response was “wow, that is exactly how I feel”? “That was exactly how a good friend of mine felt?” or “I can totally understand how you could react like that.”
18. Write down and share with a buddy or in AB groups
If I commit to continue this work, what personal strengths am I bringing to the work?
What kind of person am I becoming?
What things in my life have been hard and will continue to be hard as I continue on this journey?
How can I ask for help, and from whom?
What will I promise myself so I can become who I want to be?
19. Show a portion of the documentary “Long Night’s Journey into Day” from the Amy Biehl section through the Cradock 4 section. (available for rent by clicking here)
After viewing the film excerpt, find a buddy and process what you saw.
Who is marginalized? Whose voices aren’t heard or taken seriously? Whose opinion “wins out”? Whose credibility is damaged? Where is the power?
20. Consider next steps and final evaluation
What I have come away with from this workshop is… Rate from 0 being least to 10 most how helpful was this workshop for you?
You say you see no color.
I see you full of it!
I hope when you look at me
you see black at least a bit,
for when you say you see me
how can that really be
when part of who I am
is my ethnicity?
I like my hair, my skin tone,
I like my heritage;
It influences my art,
enriches how I live.
I like your hair and color
and even your eyes too,
a favorite hue of mine is
that lovely shade of blue.
But I wouldn’t want to be you,
I like myself just fine,
and don’t want you to be me.
We’ll both improve with time.
You say you love Scott Joplin,
and I love a Bernstein score,
I love good gumbo and pot pies,
one flavor’d be a bore.
and meet at heaven’s gate,
then we can say “no color”:
We’ll have nothing to debate.
We’ll be at peace in truth,
and understand all things,
but until then let’s be real —
Enjoy what difference brings.
Yes! Until that day in Glory
when we’ll be truly one,
let’s love ourselves in color,
not pretend that we see none.
Let’s consider what it means
to love without condition:
Can’t you see all sides of me,
and let love be your decision?
Whether we sit high or we sit low,
can’t we love beyond ourselves?
It’s a better way to love,
surpassing earthly wealth.
But to claim you see no color,
and smile like that’s just fine
is to say you don’t see wholely,
and if so, we see you’re blind.
Note from Nordette N. Adams: “This poem, ‘Behind the Color Blind’ by Nordette N. Adams, has become popular with some educators around the world and has been used for anti-racism protests. You may find this poem online at other websites, and I’m happy that others appreciate it, but the version here is the latest. It includes minor edits I make now and then as I grow. If you use the poem for any reason, no matter which version, please credit Nordette N. Adams as the author.”