Tag Archives: white privilege

About the “Beyond White Privilege” workshop

paper-people-joined-hiresSince first offering a one day racial equity workshop for white people in Vancouver, I’ve had a few inquiries from local folks asking more about who I am, what the impetus for the workshop was, why I’m offering it, and where the proceeds are going. I’ve done my best to answer those questions here. I also welcome further opportunities for dialogue about how to best advance racial equity locally, in this city that I love and call home.

Q: Who is Suzanne?  I’m a white, heterosexual woman of mainly English, Scottish, and Irish descent. I grew up in a working class family in Vancouver’s West End, on the un-ceded Coast Salish territory of the sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) nations.

I worked in the non-profit sector for several years before becoming a freelance facilitator and leadership trainer, working across the US and Canada. Most of my work involves facilitating leadership development, strategic planning and organizational effectiveness, which I do either alone or in partnership with people of colour. Recently, I’ve begun co-facilitating local equity and inclusion trainings in partnership with a woman of colour who has done this work for many years locally and internationally. I’m also on a mixed-race team at InPartnership Consulting that co-facilitates the Racial Justice Learning Lab, a multi-day leadership training in the US.

In additional to my consulting work, I’m a trainer with the Rockwood Leadership Institute, where we lead retreats for diverse social justice leaders from across the US. There, I co-facilitate Rockwood’s flagship Art of Leadership trainings, plus fellowships for Women in Racial Justice, Racial and Gender Justice Leaders in HIV/AIDS movement, LGBTQ Advocacy, the Service Employees International Union, and the Pipeline Project’s Fellowship for LGBTQ Leaders of Colour. As a multi-racial training team deeply committed to equity, inclusion and working across difference, we are immersed in an exploration of ‘beloved community’ – reflecting, learning and strengthening our work together and with our participants.

Q: What is your background in racial equity work?   I started learning about racial equity in a more concerted way about twenty years ago at the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society, through staff-led conversations and peer-to-peer education. My learning deepened through several trainings, including components of a year-long fellowship offered through what is now the Social Transformation Project. I continue to seek out even more focused learning opportunities. For example, several years ago I and other white trainers realized we needed to ‘up our game’ without burdening our co-trainers of colour with constantly having to be the ones to ‘handle’ race issues that come up in the room. So we organized our own intensive anti-racist facilitator’s training with a white trainer who works across the US with groups like ours, often at the behest of their colleagues of colour. Learning about privilege and power, especially when it comes to race, has been essential to my own development and capacity to support the leadership of others. And it is ongoing.

Q: Why offer a racial equity training in an all-white space?  I’ve long been taught that it is essential for white people to do this work together, sometimes in all-white spaces. That’s where we can make mistakes, ask ‘dumb questions’, share our emotions and learn together, without perpetuating harm (eg. through ignorance, unwitting micro-aggressions or inappropriate space-taking), and without constantly putting the burden of our education on people of colour.

Q: Why here?  Here in Vancouver, I’ve noticed that many people talk about the value of diversity and multiculturalism, but seem unfamiliar, if not outright uncomfortable with key concepts such as “white supremacy”, “white privilege” or even the simple act of naming whiteness – much less the multiple ways that structural racism, implicit bias and colonialism pervade every aspect of our lives. All too often, friends and colleagues of colour tell me they are called to educate white people about these concepts – and that it can be tiring.

I designed the workshop to help address this gap; to pay forward the teachings I’ve received from racial justice mentors over the years on both sides of the border. I’m not an ‘expert’. I am keenly aware that the process of unlearning racism and internalized privilege, and enlarging my deepest sense of “we”, will be a lifetime journey. My intention is to offer a supportive place for white people to learn some key concepts, practice getting comfortable with discomfort, and make commitments to advancing racial equity – without burdening people of colour and indigenous people with their education.

Q: What about fees? I’m offering this public training as a volunteer, and am taking no fees for it. Any net revenue (after hard costs such as venue rental, workbooks, etc.) is being donated to organizations focused on reconciliation and racial equity. Scholarships are also available on request. For the November offering, I asked the two participants that did request scholarships to simply ‘pay it forward’ as their means allow. I set the regular fees at $125. Some people said that was too high, even with the offer of scholarships. Others said that this was too low – that white people should commit to this work and value it appropriately. Going forward, I’m going to be more explicit about a sliding scale for fees.

Q: Why now? In the summer of 2016, I offered the workshop (at no charge) to the white caucus of the Health eQT2 Collaborative, which is focused on improving health outcomes for queer, trans and two spirit people across BC. Before that training, two Indigenous leaders from the collaborative’s Indigenous and People of Colour caucuses met with me to review and vet the curriculum. They approved it, and the workshop took place several weeks later. Feedback from the workshop was positive. I was recently asked to offer this workshop again for an arts organization, and we decided to open it up more widely since others were interested. I wasn’t sure there would be demand for the workshop, but to my surprise the workshop sold out in 4 days. There is a waiting list, so at this point, pending the schedule of my paid work, I’ll offer it again in the New Year.

Q: Who ‘vetted’ the curriculum, if anyone? Several other colleagues have offered feedback on this curriculum, or variations of it in other contexts, over several years. Since I only train and facilitate with leaders of colour, where the topic of racial equity is often part of the conversation, I’m lucky to have continuous opportunities to learn from others with lived experience and expertise on working across difference. At the same time, I have no doubt that each group of participants will have different needs and strengths, so I expect a continuously steep learning curve going forward.

But I don’t feel for one second that I have the right or the luxury to stop, delay or wait until I’ve got it ‘just right’. As I’m writing this I hear the words of my colleague Clarence Patton, founder of the Pipeline Project for LGBTQ leaders of colour, in the wake of the 2016 US Election:

“Right-thinking White folks need to sing lead on this if it’s ever going to get fixed. We can sing backup, shake a tambourine, or do the triangle, but White folks fucking sing lead for the foreseeable”

I stand by that and the truth – that will be hard for a lot of White folks to take – is that the folks that voted for Trump out of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and yes, even economic anxiety or displacement are not going to be able to listen to me or people like me right now. And despite the empathy I can have for Whites I deal with in the work I do, I’m not sure I can have the same for the great red ocean of Whites out there.

There are simply conversations that Whites need to have with Whites.

The problem, the challenge, the real likelihood is that there aren’t enough right-thinking White people willing to do the work. I hope there are, but understand that it’s very hard to create even positive disruption when we hold our comfort too dear.

 

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Leadership Essentials: Choudhury’s Deep Diversity -Overcoming Us Vs. Them

DeDeep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them is hands-down the most useful, accessible book I’ve read on strategies for achieving deep, enduring racial equity at the personal, organizational and community level. Shakil Choudhury writes with the friendly ease and accessibility of Malcolm Gladwell, mixing compelling stories with cutting edge research, ranging from neuroscience to political theory.

It is simply not possible to be an effective leader without not only emotional intelligence, but what Julie Diamond refers to as “Power Intelligence“. Choudhury sets out a clear map for getting there, and welcomes us all to take the journey.  He sets out a four-part framework (emotions; implicit bias; tribes; and power) for understanding and overcoming the devastating effects of racism and marginalization, bolstered by abundant research and his own decades of work as an international leadership trainer, teacher and consultant.

Once we have the awareness of how both unconscious bias and racism play out within ourselves and in the world (yes, racism exists, and it is everywhere; yes, all human brains are hard-wired to both see and respond to difference in ways that are unconscious and instantaneous; and yes, our emotions – not our heads – drive our actual behavior), coupled with the intention to change, Choudhury offers a set of 7 inner skills for shifting our own habits of thinking and becoming potentially powerful change-makers:

  1. Self-awareness – become aware of our own blind spots, unconscious bias, emotions, body language and body signals
  2. Mindfulness – through practice, developing our ability to witness and interrupt unhelpful habits of thinking and replace them with new habits
  3. Self-regulation – develop the inner power and skillfulness to master our own emotional responses, to return from a state of being reactive and brittle (or ‘triggered’) to one of emotional resilience
  4. Empathy – tapping into the human power of empathy to build bridges of understanding, kindness to enlarge the ‘circle of we’
  5. Self-education – actively seeking out stories, data and facts directly, blasting out of well-worn assumptions or reliance on ‘conventional wisdom’ from the dominant culture
  6. Relationship – actively enlarging that circle, personally and professionally
  7. Conflict skills – developing our skills, comfort and ease with conflict – an inevitable by-product of working across difference – so that we can lean in rather than contract or withdraw

Master these skills – and be a brilliant, compassionate and effective leader in any field – a leader that can help unleash the massive collective power and wisdom of diverse teams, organizations and communities.

‘Deep Diversity” is available at most bookstores, through the publisher, or via Amazon.

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Filed under Ideas, Leadership, Racial Justice, transformational leadership, white privilege

NEW COURSE: Measuring Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Practices

shakil_small

The talented, results-driven team at Anima Leadership has a brand-new workshop offering: Measuring Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Practices, on May 23rd, 2013 in downtown Toronto.  I frequently work with organizations that struggling to become more inclusive, diverse and reflective of the communities they serve.  The team at Anima Leadership is simply brilliant at this work,  fusing the latest research from neuroscience, psychology, prejudice reduction, organizational development and mindfulness with proven practices for sustaining organizational performance. Now they’ve surveyed the latest smart practices research on recruitment, retention and advancement in order to develop unique diversity instruments for measuring inclusion in the workplace. Assess where your organization is at and where it wants to go using the Anima Inclusive Workplace Toolkit.

In this workshop you will learn:

  • What gets in the way of establishing a diverse and inclusive organization.
  • Leadership competencies for developing Diversity Champions including emotional intelligence, mindfulness and authentic connection.
  • How unconscious bias results in “blind spots” within all individuals and organizations and the importance of developing bias detection and management skills.
  • How to apply the Anima Inclusive Organizational Practices Continuum using seven factors for measuring organizational change with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion.

For anyone on the East Coast and/or in the Toronto area (or beyond), this will be a fantastic workshop. Click here for more information.

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Facilitation, tricky language and racial justice

What does it mean to be a white facilitator wanting to actively support racial justice, and what Martin Luther King described as “Beloved Community”?  And specifically, how might that intention be reflected in the subtle use of language when facilitating or training? Looking back on two recent experiences as a facilitator working with diverse social justice participants in the U.S., this question has me flummoxed. Let me share two stories (actually, two stories-within-stories).

Tale of the Bus-Stop Crack Addict
Last February I was in the hills of California co-facilitating a leadership training with an incredibly inspiring multi-racial group of participants. We were teaching a skill called ‘meshing’ to help leaders stay centered and resourceful in the face of aggression or hostility from others.  To illustrate, I described an early evening last summer in Vancouver, when my two boys and I were waiting at a bus stop in the downtown east side – one of the lowest-income neighbourhoods in Canada.  A young, powerfully-built man walked up and started hassling my teenaged step-son. The man was high, red-eyed, agitated and extremely aggressive, jerkily swinging his fists as though he were about to strike. Like many of our street homeless, he was probably mentally ill. I stepped up between them, actively ‘meshing’, grounding my energy and  started calmly talking with him while the boys watched nervously. By the time our bus arrived, he’d calmed right down. As we stepped aboard, he clutched my shoulder and said in an almost pleading voice, “I’m not such a bad guy you know.”

Later on, a Vanessa*, a brilliant young African-American participant, shared that while the story was a good illustration of meshing, it also reinforced the stereotype of black men as violent and drug-addicted.

I was startled. Not for one second did it occur to me to mention his race. And, as I’d recounted the tale, I saw the man’s white face, curly reddish hair and blue eyes ringed with red as vividly in my mind’s eye as if he’d been standing right in front of me. To the extent I thought of it at all, I implicitly assumed that everyone saw the same thing.

Was I being naïve? Obtuse? ‘Colour-blind’?  Well, in a way, yes.  I was unaware of what author Drew Weston describes as the unconscious ‘networks of associations’ the story may have triggered for the participants. In Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, a neighbourhood I’d worked on the edge of for 12 years, the vast majority of street homeless and drug-addicted people are white or aboriginal. As a Western Canadian, I simply have not been inundated with the kind of relentless media portrayal of black men as violent criminals that Americans are subjected to every day. As a result, I don’t automatically picture black men when I hear stories about street crime. I picture white men.

My take-away from Vanessa’s feedback? Don’t risk leaving my participants to ‘fill in the blanks’ with their own racial stereotypes or unconscious networks of associations. Recognize that, as another African-American woman  noted in a training this past weekend, “it’s always in the room. Race is always the first thing people notice.”  So name it – use a quick adverb: “white”, “black” (especially in Canada), “African-American”, “woman of colour”,  and so on. In the last few months, mindful of this lesson, I’ve started doing exactly this, usually as a quick aside in the process of sharing longer stories. As part of this effort, I try to interrupt the often unconscious assumption that ‘whiteness’ is normal (and everything else is exotic).

Tale of Two Hunky Candidates
But wait – is this always the way to go? Consider Story Number Two. This past weekend I was facilitating a fantastic group of multi-racial, progressive political and policy leaders in Philadelphia. At one point we were talking about the classic “message box” used in most political campaigns to clarify the central message and differentiate between two candidates. I was recounting an electoral race I’d been involved in where the two candidates were seen by the media as being virtually identical in several ways. “They both rode their bikes everywhere and advocated for sustainable transportation,” I explained. “They were both successful business leaders, middle-upper class, and both were athletic, environmentally progressive, white and good-looking.”

Afterward, Joan*, one of the participants asked if we could speak privately in a break. “Suzanne,” she said, “I’m curious. Why did you mention their race at all? And why did you describe them as ‘good-looking whites’?” There was a lot to unpack in those two simple questions, as we discovered.  First, from her perspective – and she was a white woman married to an African-American – it was klunky and unnecessary of me to mention that they were white at all. Secondly, she felt I was playing into racial bias by implying that white men were generally better-looking. Whoah! How did I imply that?  Who even thinks that? Again, I found myself blind to the automatic assumptions or networks of associations of at least some of my participants might have.

Once gain, I found myself back squarely in the “flummoxed” box.

After I’d explained the crack-addict story that had led me to start noting race, Joan suggested that next time I might consider separating adjectives like “white” and “good-looking” in time and space – maybe slip another adjective in between them – to ensure the people don’t fill-in-the-associations. It’s another idea I’ll add to my growing ‘language toolbox’ when it feels appropriate.

But is the ‘answer’ clear to me? Not at all. It’s an ongoing dance between being skillful on all the levels any facilitator has to track (agenda, timing, participation, group energy levels) while also being mindful of the subtleties of language and other dynamics connected to racism and privilege. There is often no “right” answer in how to frame issues or use language. But that’s the work, isn’t it? As a facilitator, my goal is to help provide the most supportive, safe space possible for participants to learn and collaborate.  As a woman committed to social justice, I see my job as being awake to the dynamics of power and privilege – to be an effective ally in the collective journey toward beloved community. And I am so damned lucky to be surrounded by generous participants like Vanessa and Joan, and so many of my fellow facilitators and trainers, as I stumble along that path.

(* not their real names)

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Leveraging white privilege for racial justice

The 11th Annual White Privilege conference is this week in Wisconsin April 7-10th: http://www.uccs.edu/~wpc/.

And I just came across this beautiful little article on white ally-ship, trauma and somatics (embodied, ‘whole-person’ approaches to change) from the Oakland-based Seminary of the Street: http://www.seminaryofthestreet.org/id28.html. She talks about the way racism causes trauma for each of us – people of colour and whites alike – and points to a path of integrated healing.

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