As a part of my anti-racist work, I am trying to commit to regular engagement with this community by answering questions that came up in the webinar. One question that came up that we did not get to answer during the webinar was: Could you give examples for what bystanders to racist interactions can say?
I can begin a conversation about this, by thinking about regular interactions that happen in the academy and at least one strategy – with vary effectiveness and consistency – I have tried to use to intervene. Intervening in real time can be challenging. We have to build our facility with intervening because these interactions are happening all the time. Intervening hopefully halts the trauma-in-process at the moment. Additionally, intervening is important for expressing solidarity with your colleagues and letting them know they can count on you engage in anti-racist practices.
Some of the harms we do, as White scholars, is in the way we respond to being exposed to knowledge that is new to us (but not new). This knowledge may be, for example, about policing, or other aspects of systemic racism. We commonly fail to respond with humility. Instead, we respond with questions or comments that have the effect of undervaluing the knowledge, thinking of exceptions to it, or centering (either directly or indirectly) White experiences in reaction to the information. So, perhaps in a faculty or committee meeting, a colleague educates us about racism on our campuses and we have additional questions – but our questions inherently invalidate the information, or invalidate the lived experiences of members of our (in this particular case, scholarly) community.
I strive to interrupt and disrupt this line of questioning because I see this as an example of how unpacking White ignorance = Black and Indigenous trauma. That being said, I do think addressing some of these questions is important for helping Whites to see racism and see how and why expressing doubts about racism and racism's effects is harmful. So, I have tried to create informal/safe spaces in my unit where we can address some of these questions – but not harm our Black, Indigenous and POC colleagues. I have created informal readings groups and working groups as places where members of my unit can come to tackle these conversations. I invite the full community to these spaces, but I am explicit that these are spaces to do work on dismantling White community members' roles in maintaining racism (e.g., in our school or at our university). I say that all are welcome, but I especially encourage my White colleagues to join me. This way, if Black, Indigenous or other colleagues of color choose to come, they know that they may encounter White victim, White savior, colorblind, or similar narratives.
With those spaces in my back pocket, I respond to these racist interactions by saying something like "Pam I think these are questions we can address in working group discussion on such and such date." Or, if I don't want to address "Pam" directly, I might say something like the following to the person who shared the information and to the full group: "Thank you for sharing the information about this example of racism on campus. I definitely have more to learn about this topic. I don't want my lack of knowledge about this topic to be harmful to my colleagues, so I am going to work on creating a reading list. I'd be happy to share that list with everyone and maybe the readings are something we can discuss in our upcoming antiracist reading group."
These are small acts – just temporary disruptions really – but I find they often at least halt the trauma-in-process. The real work comes afterwards.
I'd like to acknowledge that this example is very academy focused and welcome additional examples and suggestions. I'd like to point out that there are far more overt types of racist interactions, like the one Eleanor shared from twitter of the older White woman draped in the confederate flag – that likely require different strategies. Finally, I am always open to hearing that I have not done enough to disrupt racism and welcome that feedback too.
Arizona State University
Sent: 06-25-2020 08:42
From: Staff Srcd
Subject: Antiracism for White Scholars
This thread is a conversation about how White scholars can critically self-reflect and work to effectively address their own Whiteness and White privileges so that they can develop some of the skills necessary to dismantle systems of structural racism in academia, in science, and in society. In addition to suggesting strategies and sharing resources, we hope to use this thread to plan future actions.
In particular, what structures, groups, or resources can SRCD provide to support groups of White scholars committed to confronting their own racism and incorporating an antiracist perspective into their work? How can we create a safe and effective space to do this difficult work?