Where Privilege and Justice Collide: A Recap of WPC18
A few years ago I stumbled upon a daring & dynamic dismantler, Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr, founder of The Privilege Institute and The White Privilege Conference. For the last couple of years I have headed to the conference to present, participate, facilitate, learn, reflect, question everything and understand some things, and take one step further on my journey of self discovery and what it means to be an anti-racist racist in the United States. This year was no different.
Since I left my my job in January, I have been learning how to organize and structure my time. So I decided to head out to Kansas City a little early and volunteer this year. As soon as I arrived I caught a glimpse of the fast-paced, energetic work that goes into making this conference happen. I was stuffing conference folders, noticing nametags being organized, and watching the hotel transform into a space where over 1500 participants would spend a long weekend discussing and working toward dismantling the systemic oppressive system of white supremacy. I also spent time at the registration table explaining what was in those folders I was stuffing and answering questions about sessions, directions, and activities. I also had the opportunity to say hello and talk to hundreds of people who have the same desire to sit in spaces where talking about dismantling white supremacy is the norm. This conference has become a place where I can reboot, refuel, reflect, rejuvenate, and reassure myself that this work is necessary and important. This year was no exception.
The conference started with a keynote from Glenn E. Singleton. Most teachers know him as the Courageous Conversations author. He gave a great talk on complicity as taking payment from white supremacy. This talk left me thinking about how much I have taken in payments from this oppressive system, including the privilege that my life is valued more than others simply for being born in white skin in the United States. He also flipped the script on who should be leaders and who should be allies. He said because racism is a white problem, we need to lead its dismantling and people of color should be allies in the work.
I followed this up by heading to a workshop led by a woman I referenced quite a bit in my dissertation, Dr. Ali Michael. She wrote a book, Raising Race Questions that shares findings about a study she did with teacher inquiry groups focused on asking questions about race with each other, students, family, and friends. This book was intriguing for me because my research is also about racial identity development in predominantly white spaces and how to raise anti-racist, race-conscious children. It was great to share space with a scholar I have dedicated much time getting to know through her books and articles.
Saturday I had the honor of presenting with daring & dynamic dismantler, Raedell Cannie. Raedell has been a teaching partner, colleague, CRREW founder/supporter, and dear, dear friend for many years. Titled, Dismantling White Supremacy While Engulfed in White Supremacy, we shared Forum Theatre as a tool for dismantling white supremacy as well as a tool for healing from the oppression of white supremacy. Here we discussed Augusto Boal’s ideas of theatre as a revolutionary space, modeled using tableaus (many powerful actions to injustice shared), played games meant to bring people together, and shared our production of Theatre for Hope & Healing that depicted our experience being forced out of a school for social justice because our social justice curriculum focused on analyzing and questioning systemic forms of oppression. In just three hours it became a valued, loved, and compassionate space for both of us, as well as the participants. It is three hours I will never forget or take for granted.
Michael Eric Dyson, prolific writer, professor, and sociologist, sat for a conversation about his new book, Tears We Cannot Stop. While I did buy the Kindle version of this book as soon as it came out, I have not yet read it. Seeing him in person, hearing his frank and no BS stance on white supremacy has put it to the top of my queue. His understanding of white supremacy, combined with his knowledge of pop culture, and sense of humor made him, for me, one of the most powerful of the dynamic & daring dismantlers at the conference. He has a perspective on the United States that everyone needs to hear and understand.
Another highlight of the conference was the last workshop, late Sunday afternoon by Alice Ragland. This PhD student from Ohio University gave a brilliant workshop that lead participants to see the connection between racism and capitalism. Because they are so inextricably linked, you cannot dismantle one without dismantling the other. For many this seems even more impossible than ridding ourselves of racism, pretty much everyone knows racism is “bad” and to be racist is intolerable. But to not be a capitalist? What are the alternatives? However, racism, just like capitalism, is an oppressive system put into place before our founding fathers deemed us a democratic nation as a guise for a capitalistic one. Like racism, capitalism is woven into the fabric our history and culture, both founded in the institution of slavery. But to imagine a different way of knowing and doing commerce is too much for some to wrap their head around, which is case and point for analysis and deconstruction.
A final high point of the conference was being a facilitator for a white caucus group. A staple of the conference is to join together in racial affinity groups to discuss, process, and interrogate our feelings and understandings about the conference and white supremacy. This year I was assigned to facilitate a group alone...all by myself. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I was terrified. What if I perpetuated privilege and whiteness norms instead of interrupting them, what if over-analyzed comments, what if I allowed white fragility to take over, what if I was super whitey racist? Well, because I am white, I probably did do some of these things, but for the most part, I think the group was very open to and reflective about the feelings that came up in the conference. At the end of three evenings together, I felt like I had new friends in social justice work, created a community where mistakes were allowed and encouraged, and judgement was replaced by love and compassion as white people dismantling the very system that gave us our privilege.
Overall, the conference, once again, did not disappoint and I will be back next year when it heads to Grand Rapids, Michigan for its 19th annual conference. Will you join us?