In my 11 years leading anti-racist discourse and education in diverse settings, I have recognized a variety of reactions that commonly arise from white folks who are new to (1) our shared history that has not been watered down to minimize white violence; (2) assertive, confident, and direct facilitation of discourse by a Black woman; and (3) the notion of white accountability for mitigating their own racism, and dismantling systems of oppression that provide them unearned privilege at the expense of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). These reactions function to derail conversation, center the discourse around their feelings and their (typically poorly educated and under-researched) perspective or opinion, and undermine the authority and expertise of the facilitator.
Here's an outline of the 6D's I often encounter:
Disagree to be Disagreeable
"...Whites are the least likely to see, understand, or be invested in validating those
assertions and being honest about their consequences, which leads whites to claim that
they disagree with perspectives that challenge their worldview, when in fact, they don’t
understand the perspective. Thus, they confuse not understanding with not
agreeing...Yet dominance leads to racial arrogance, and in this racial arrogance, whites
have no compunction about debating the knowledge of people who have thought
complexly about race. Whites generally feel free to dismiss these informed perspectives
rather than have the humility to acknowledge that they are unfamiliar, reflect on them
further, or seek more information."
Despite (usually) being the least educated or experienced in racial awareness, white
people, particularly men (in my experience) fully feel entitled to disagree with my years
of lived experience, academic study, and professional experience.
What you can do: If you are going to be in anti-racist discourse, enter with humility. If you hear information that does not sit well within you, or competes with your preexisting beliefs, write it down. Research it later. Ask the facilitator for an opportunity to discuss (not debate) outside of the session. Question yourself what is driving your feelings of discomfort? What is the source of information that is being challenged? Is the source of your preexisting belief based in anti-racism, or the status quo?
Anti-racism spaces, safe and brave spaces, and allyship development
opportunities are not debate team. They are not settings in which the humanity,
dehumanization, structural oppression, or historical trauma of people in the room or
people you work with can be debated, labeled "fake news", or invalidated as significant
to their daily lives. The extent to which BIPOC experience meaningful harm and trauma
from witnessing police brutality, lynchings, and structural violence is not up for debate. If
you really want to be an ally to marginalized people, you should not DESIRE to debate
the realities of oppression they are forced to navigate.
What you can do: If you are seeking to be an ally, practice doing the following each time you are exposed to discourse with BIPOC that triggers a desire to debate. First, be quiet, then (1) listen to what is being said, (2) receive what is being shared with you, and (3) validate that what has been shared is real and meaningful.
I have had white leaders admit that they know nothing about the topic at
hand, yet still attempt to reference articles, books, or citations that can refute the cited
historical facts and statistics I have presented. Oftentimes this comes up when I present
content that is researched and written by BIPOC leaders and thinkers, and a
contradictory citation is referenced, which usually has been written by a white man is
referenced as evidence that my claims are incorrect. Key to the attempt to debunk is
that if white people say it, it must be (more) true; if BIPOC say it, it is inherently
questionable, and arguable.
If you have never researched the historical context of the disparities and inequities that
plague BIPOC communities; experienced the structural violence and barriers presented
by poverty; had deep conversations with BIPOC about their lived experiences of racism;
or sought out the teaching of leaders, thinkers, scholars, or activists of color, please
trust you are not in a position to debunk the lived experiences of BIPOC. Further, if you
are in the space in order to learn and/or have a desire to be an ally to marginalized
people, you should not WANT to debunk what is being presented.