"Helping Whites Develop Anti-Racist Identities" – an article

THINKING ABOUT RACE (Sep. 2009) – This segment, longer than usual for newsletters, is extracted from a 4-page article by Elizabeth Denevi and Nicholas Pastan, both of Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC, published in Multicultural Education, Winter 2006. It is entitled “Helping White Develop Anti-Racist Identities:  Overcoming Their Resistance to Fighting Racism.”  Our aim in sharing these quotes is to increase Friends’ understanding of the phenomenon of racial identity development.  It is crucial to effective anti-racism work and to progress in dismantling racism. Please direct questions or comments or requests for the full article to the clerk of the BYM Working Group on Racism, Elizabeth DuVerlie, eduverlie@jhu.edu.

“Another key point for Whites is the importance of pride, not as a form of supremacy, but as something that says, ‘To the extent that I can love and appreciate my group’s difference, I can love and appreciate yours.’ … ‘Collective pride is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end—authentic human connections and intimacy across differences.’

“Men have been embraced for their willingness to come together to fight sexism, but we have yet to really embrace Whites who come together to support one another in the struggle against racism. …  My focus has been on what I call ‘White-on-White’ dialogue … groups meeting to talk about what it means to be White in schools, how privilege manifests itself, and what we can do to combat racism.

“So often I work with White folks who have never even thought about their racial privilege.  For them, Peggy McIntosh’s [Google her] work is revolutionary.  So the idea of talking about the costs of racism with Whites … seemed like too big a jump.  But I realized that this was the jump we had to make for those who have trouble recognizing privilege and put up walls to keep out any feelings of accountability.

“ ‘If you knew this work to end racism would never benefit anyone but you, would you still do it?  If so, why?’ …  Participants in the White-on-White group had a range of responses, and many commented on the fact that they had never thought about anti-racist work in these terms before.

… Whites need to establish principled groups that explore, challenge, and, ultimately, affirm White identity.  Once we have been able to locate ourselves in the struggle, then we can come together with people of color to end racism.

“… students [often] solely see the work they are doing as work for other people and only want to be involved in the work as long as they can see that other people are benefiting from their efforts.  They have turned work about themselves into something disturbingly paternalistic.  The labors are being made for all the wrong reasons and because of this, we are unable to progress.

“… while individual work is key, another concept is … the idea of building a positive anti-racist group identity.  What does this mean exactly?  This simply means that we aren’t just focusing on defining our own anti-racist racial identities, but we are also focused on presenting the group as an entity committed to fighting racism.”

Friends, could this become true for us, that we are “an entity committed to fighting racism?”

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