Privelege, Interrupting

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Some Western Friend readers may have already met RantWoman, an official Quaker holy terror known for telling too much of the Truth about all kinds of things, at rantwomanrsof.blogspot.com. Recently a call went out for Friends to write articles about the 14th White Privilege Conference, held near Seattle in April 2013. RantWoman was stirred to venture into print and even agreed to let the editor of Western Friend have a crack at making her slightly more presentable than she appears in her electronic journal.

The 14th White Privilege Conference (WPC) considered “The Color of Money: Reclaiming our Humanity,” and it promised “a challenging, collaborative, and comprehensive experience . . . to empower and equip individuals to work for equity and justice through self and social transformation. ”Oh good, straight out of Elise Boulding: heal inwardly; heal the world around us.

The program also offered, “Reciprocity between us and our participants . . . Accountability and responsibility . . . civility and respect at the heart of our discussions . . .diversity and inclusiveness. . . We agree that equity pertains to all people, NO exceptions.” RantWoman finds the last quote refreshingly absolutist. RantWoman found the conference itself energizing and challenging.  In other words, she got exactly what the program promised.

RantWoman was one of about 2000 activists, educators, youth, and ordinary citizens – including about 40 Friends – who attended WPC this year. The conference is designed to encourage organizations to send people to attend as groups; it also comes with options for continuing education credits important for many professions.

Participation by Friends in WPC over the years has grown from a few who just happened to attend at the same time and who formed an ad-hoc group at the conference, to an intentionally pre-planned, mutually supportive group of Friends who shared the conference together. For the past four years, Friends General Conference has arranged a discount registration process and a hospitality space for Friend sat the conference.

At the conference, RantWoman sampled keynotes, workshops, caucuses and exhibits about the artifacts of slavery and the WWII-era internment of Japanese Americans. The conference also involved all-day institutes, a new track of activities aimed at youth as young as middle school, a book and merchandise section, and lots of evening film showings.

Some of the keynotes that RantWoman found especially memorable were:

  • Betsey Leondar Wright: The co-director of Class Action spoke on the topic, “What anti-racists stand to gain from greater class awareness.” The speaker described how poor people are rarely considered experts on poverty. Here RantWoman’s brain short-circuited to her own Meeting. RantWoman has become legally blind in midlife and has spent two years laboring with her own Meeting about the experience of blind people in meetings. RantWoman apologizes: RantWoman appreciates big strides some Weighty Friends have made, but she is nowhere near saintly enough to want to labor with every Friend she meets about every disability issue that comes bumping down the path of life.
  • Terrance Nelson: RantWoman found herself a little at sea during the keynote by this Canadian First Nations anti-sanctions activist. RantWoman herself is not nearly as engaged as she might be in every blockade ever. RantWoman was grateful that a non-white person called the talk hard to follow even before RantWoman did. RantWoman would have liked the speaker to focus more on his anti-climate-change message, along with more about the most recent pipeline blockade that he was involved in.
  • Jacob Swindell Sakoor: This 16-year-old activist from Brooklyn Friends School spoke on the need for youth to begin learning early about money, credit, how to protect their assets, and how to steer clear of many financial traps, including some he has fallen into himself. He took some elders to task for not teaching youth about these issues and called for everyone to learn about wise relationships with financial resources.

This year, most workshops at the WPC included as many people as would fit into their assigned rooms, often 30-50.  Example titles included “Indigenous Movement Solidarity,” “A Sports Justice Roundtable,” “Fair Funding for Public Schools: How Do White Mothers of Bi/Multiracial Students Help or Hurt?” “For the Love of Money: Commercialization of Asian-American Stereotypes,” “The Role of Listening and Emotional Healing in Ending Racism,” “Interrupting White Privilege at WPC and Beyond: Reclaiming Humanity through Intervention and Reflection.”

Faced with such a banquet of institute and workshop choices, RantWoman’s brain again short-circuited. RantWoman financed her attendance at WPC with a small personal contribution, funds from her Meeting, and a work-grant from the local organizing committee. Stints of work at the information booth got in the way of workshops, but RantWoman found it a privilege to help make the conference work and to make new local connections. RantWoman was grateful for the discount registration process through the FGC group. RantWoman was disappointed that information about further financial aid from FGC arrived after registration for institutes had already closed.

When RantWoman applies to her Meeting for money to attend an event, she always carries the queries, “What do I take with me, and what do I bring back?” RantWoman carried these queries in several directions.

RantWoman thinks she took to the conference an allergy towards white people expropriating the cultural expressions of other traditions. After the conference, though, another Friend spoke of being invited into a Nez Perce sweat lodge. RantWoman decided that’s a perfect metaphor: at the White Privilege Conference, there is lots of sweating to be done—by almost everyone. For instance, RantWoman took with her a pre-conference conversation with her sister about the privilege and challenge of Little Sister previously being invited to a national faith community conversation about race. Little Sister’s view is that everyone could just move forward in Christ. RantWoman came home having missed a workshop about Christian hegemony and one by Friends Janice Domminick and Vanessa Julye called “What’s God got to do with it?”

 

RantWoman took with her awareness that a number of people in her Meeting are actively engaged in anti-racist and white-ally work. But she also hears people in her Meeting imply that just because John Woolman wore undyed clothes and labored with Friends about slavery, and just because some Quakers in the past helped runaway slaves and were prominent abolitionists, that our Meeting does not need to think about race today.

Oops, well, and then there is the matter of the word Overseers in our bylaws and what to call the Oversight Committee. These issues have been simmering for several years, ever since Vanessa Julye, a staff person with FGC, conducted discussions about racial justice with our Meeting. In a “Thank you for coming to town” gesture, right after the WPC, Meeting for Business considered changing the name of our Oversight Committee—and RantWoman demurred! RantWoman came home from the WPC clear that there is more to talk about than a few words in our bylaws! Discernment about what to call our Oversight Committee will be an important vehicle for talking further about privilege in our lives, in our Meeting, in the larger world.

RantWoman took with her a sense of 30 years’ conversation in her Meeting about marriage equality and a sense that some who are new to the issue take all that history for granted even though it was only this year that voters in the state of Washington voted solidly for full marriage equality. RantWoman brings back one Friend’s gratitude that, for the first time at the WPC, she heard mention of LGBT issues in the People of Color caucus. RantWoman also brings back a whole tweet-stream on marriage equality measures in various legislatures, along with clarity about why legal progress does not mean anything should be taken for granted. RantWoman also brings back new clarity that her Meeting’s heritage on this issue flourishes in others’ continued struggles.

RantWoman brought with her frank mindfulness. RantWoman noted the caucuses aimed at people who identify as white, as people of color, as multiracial / multiethnic, and a “please go to the caucus most appropriate to your situation.” RantWoman thought, “Harrumph! I caucus with white people all the time.” RantWoman thought she would skip caucuses and go uphold the listening space. RantWoman thought wrong. RantWoman was called to caucus with white people in the listening space, just fewer of them.

RantWoman met the youngest white woman from one organization, very jet lagged, who had just had a whole lifetime of hurt dumped all over her by her African American colleague. RantWoman was in Quaker accompaniment mode, grateful that sitting and gently listening was all the young women needed until another co-worker found her. A white mother from RantWoman’s neighborhood has a multicultural child, but in the eyes of some at the multicultural caucus, was not multicultural enough. Still, RantWoman comes home grateful the WPC offered many people the feeling of having a home among other white people struggling with all this.

Next, RantWoman brings serious wonk identity. RantWoman would LOVE some looks at open data, broadband deployment, spreading racial justice and equitable access across the electronic frontier. RantWoman brings back a plea for workshops on practical hints about how to avoid drowning in privilege issues in the job market. She assumes that some of the energetic, powerful youth who participate in WPC are going to wind up with jobs in places like telecomm companies or transit agencies where their voices could have critical impacts on public infrastructures for decades. RantWoman has a reflex about counting noses and categorizing by gender and by race / ethnicity in different contexts. Suffice it to say, RantWoman goes about in some environments where the faces of those making decisions are consistently of different background than the faces of those affected by decisions. There is likely to be a big wave of retirements, and RantWoman would like the new faces in charge to have more in common with the faces of those who ride the bus. RantWoman is unclear how the WPC might help about this, but she has to ask.

While it is difficult to confront the past and the reality of racism and privilege, it is also rewarding. A good place to start is to recognize the value of what you have and the power of dialogue, however painful. Don’t wait until the next conference. Here are some options to connect electronically:

For more information including downloadable documents, see:www.whiteprivilegeconference.com and www.uccs.edu/matrix.

Twitter handles:@got_privilege , @eddieknowsmoore, @classismexposed , @OH_SNAP_YAP, @JizzySS.

Dorene Cornwell is a member of University Friends Meeting in Seattle, WA. She is involved in many community-organizing efforts related to digital inclusion and intercultural dialogue. Dorene also serves as Recording Clerk for the Friends Committee on WA Public Policy and strives to record minutes faithfully even when RantWoman threatens to take over her keyboard.

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