Last month, Citizens Project and Jody Alyn Consulting presented Undoing Racism, a two-day workshop sponsored by The Colorado Trust and conducted by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.
I have to admit being initially skeptical about a workshop focused on rehashing the symptoms of racism. My fears were not alleviated when I walked into the room and saw a lot of white faces. I wondered if this would be a sanitized conversation meant to accommodate white fragility.
But I was too quick to judge — the facilitators brought it. Over those two days, 40 locals from a wide range of racial groups and leadership sectors gathered in a room to participate in facilitated conversations about history, leadership, accountability, networking, undoing internalized racial oppression and understanding the role of organizations that unknowingly perpetuate racist systems.
It became very evident this was not a conversation our community was accustomed to having in that type of setting.
Race is a social construct created to “rank” in order of “supremacy” and bestow subsequent privilege. Law professor, renowned scholar and author Angela Onwuachi-Willig, an African-American woman, writes in a New York Times op-ed: “[U]nlike race and racial identity, the social, political and economic meanings of race, or rather belonging to particular racial groups, have not been fluid. Racial meanings for non-European groups have remained stagnant.”
Defining racism as the meeting of race, prejudice and power, we talked about how “all white people are racist.” Or as writer Rachel Elizabeth Cargle puts it, “[E]very single person with white skin experiences societal privileges over black people. This country was structured from the beginning to benefit white people and to oppress people of color. And today, though you weren’t a part of the creation of this racist society, you are indeed benefitting from it. That means that unless you are actively working to dismantle it, you are a part of the problem no matter how passively you do so.”
We discussed how some choose to trade culture for whiteness (and white privilege), or vice versa, and how that can manifest into cultural appropriation.
Weaved through the agenda were the space and vulnerability to share our personal stories on the effects of racism and how racism gets internalized.
At times, shit got deep. A few people left. Those who stayed experienced the power inherent in those tense moments. There was a mock scenario in which injustice was imposed on some of the white folks. It didn't take 10 minutes for them to be up in arms. Welcome to the everyday experience of a person of color.
The Undoing Racism workshop has taken place in different communities across Colorado, but this was the first of its kind in the Pikes Peak region. I left the workshop thinking about the incredible value of local conversation, action and accountability. And maybe that’s particularly important in a town that seems to enjoy denying that it was ever impacted by racism.
I know that Colorado Springs is considered a “white town.” That doesn’t mean that people of color don’t live here — they always have — or that they don’t suffer under the same racist systems that make headlines in more diverse cities. We can invite all the national organizations, facilitators and experts we want to, but if we really want to end racism in Colorado Springs, we need to take action and be accountable.
What are we doing about mass incarceration, or immigration raids in our Latino communities? What are we doing to ensure police and courts treat everyone equally? What work are we doing to make sure that when people are arrested or detained, they are held under humane conditions? How are we making sure all people have an equal shot at earning a good income, getting a great education and living in a safe and adequate home? How are we verifying that school kids are disciplined the same way, regardless of their skin color?
Good intentions aren’t enough to prevent the furthering of systemic racism. So, to the folks working for change, often with very little support, thank you and God bless. And for the rest of you: This is a call to action. The time for real change is now.
Pikes Peak Community College supports conversations about diversity. To learn more, go to ppcc.edu/diversity.