White Anti-Racism & Solidarity
by Candace Saunders
I recently attended this winter's National Conference on Organized
Resistance (NCOR), February 3-5 at American University in Washington, DC. NCOR
attracts primarily young, white activists for a weekend of workshops ranging
from revolutionary parenting to "Radical Perspective on Class and Ecology."
At the time Syracuse youth organizers Thor Ritz, Quay Winfield, and I were preparing
to facilitate an anti-racist training at the Westcott Community Center, so I
attended an NCOR (potty)training called "Racism and White Privilege in
the Radical Community."
|Designed for WRWG by James P. Anderson. (ccadp. org/jamesanderson.htm) an unjustly-convicted artist and activist on Californias death row.|
Unfortunately, after a somewhat promising start, the workshop lapsed into a white guilt therapy session where the white folks in the room listed their white privileges, felt bad about them, and ignored at least three suggestions from folks of color to turn the discussion towards solutions. I walked away thinking that perhaps the worst white privilege for radical white folks like myself is to ignore serious discussions of anti-racist strategizing. Many of us instead choose to superficially acknowledge our racism, then return to activism as usual. The experience re-solidified my reasons for wanting to lead a workshop. As I wrote recently in Threshold, the Student Environmental Action Coalition's national magazine: "We can't afford anymore ineffectual privilege discussions."
It's all too easy for white activists to get caught up in defining racism and listing privileges - focusing on what's wrong without mulling over what to do about it. I've left at least two anti-racism trainings seeing my fellow whites with their heads hung like guilty Eyeores, asking themselves and any sympathetic pink-lobed ear, "But if I'll never get rid of my white privilege, how can I ever be anti-racist? Oh bother " Guilt is a symptom of stagnation-white people feel guilty because we know we are the problem, but aren't doing anything about it. Or, more likely, we just don't know what to do. Dismantling racism is work-and not just the self-reflective, self-improvement kind of work. The long process that follows acknowledgement is what truly makes the anti-racist. It is the action behind the rhetoric of solidarity and justice that alleviates the guilt and changes the world.
Get to Work!
In the fall of 2005, Thor (a white guy) and I met the Syracuse Peace Council's call for program proposals with a plan for the White Racism Working Group (WRWG), which seeks to combine education and agitation in a study-for-action group. Then, together with Quay, a woman of color who helped organize a previous SPC white privilege training, we planned the February 2006 SPC monthly program. It was a kick off for the WRWG and a grand re-opening of dialogue on racism within the Syracuse left. We agreed to create a small task force that will emphasize accountability and solidarity organizing in the hope of changing the way white organizations and organizations of color interact (or don't) in our local community.
White anti-racism should be strategic and must understand that our personal struggles are tangled in a network of institutions benefiting from and perpetuating oppression. More importantly, white anti-racism seeks to change these institutions through anti-racist consciousness-raising and solidarity organizing.
I wish I could make a quick and dirty guide to anti-racist solidarity work-but I can't. I'm only just learning myself. I know it involves a lot of patience, even more humility, and enough passion to overcome the fear of screwing up.
For me, it's been a process catalyzed by activists of color (thank you) and continued through self-education. Now it's moving towards building anti-racist consciousness within my sphere of influence and forming authentic relationships with activists of color. This doesn't mean tokenizing people of color by inviting them to join our steering committees. It means approaching people of color humbly and expressing our wishes to get to know each other better because we believe building common unity-community-is the only way we will defeat capitalism and oppression.
You can start by sending a heartfelt letter to an organization led by people of color extending your support and recognizing the historic racism that has prevented you from working together in the past. Or, heck, do it in person. Be wary of your words, but don't let the fear of fumbling prevent you from acting. We will make mistakes. But we'll learn from them, won't we? I know I already have.
Be prepared to share resources pooled from the pockets of a privileged white constituency. Get ready to drastically change the way you organize events, rallies, and campaigns. Thinking of getting yourself arrested? Don't forget that people of color stand to risk much more than a fine and a night in the slammer.
And remember, when in doubt, shut up and listen!
The White Racism Working
Group will meet on March 5 and 19 from
4-6 pm at the Women's Information Center, 601 Allen St., Syracuse. Contact Candace,