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Anti-Racist Work Begins at Home

Engaging the Challenge, Together. Information for returning to campus.

Anti-Racist Work Begins at Home: A Community Courageous Conversation & A Teach-in for Allies

  

 

Agnes Scott College’s Gay Johnson McDougall Center for Global Diversity and Inclusion recently hosted the first of a series of panels seeking to engage community members in courageous conversations about race and racism. This past spring, the college joined 23 other colleges and universities around the country in a national effort to eradicate racial hierarchies and eliminate social inequities through the AAC&U Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation project. As a THRT campus, Agnes Scott College plans to partner with local and community groups as well as the campus community to undertake projects that advance transformational racial change, promote racial healing, and erase structural barriers to equity and equal opportunity. 

The first-panel discussion featured Beth Hackett, Chair and associate professor of women's, gender, and sexuality studies at Agnes Scott College and Jacinta Williams `07, head of equity and inclusion at Atlanta International School. It was moderated by Yves-Rose Porcena, Agnes Scott’s vice-president for equity and inclusion. 

Porcena opened the discussion with a question for Hackett, “why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism?”. Hackett referred to Robin D’Angelo’s ,  book, White Fragility, which defines white fragility as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable and triggers a range of defensive moves.”  These “defensive moves” can shift a conversation from one about race to one that centers the white person’s feelings instead.  Hackett described, among other dynamics of white fragility, how suggesting to a  white person that they perpetuate racism or benefit from a system of white supremacy can be deeply threatening to their identity as a good person.  Williams agreed, saying that all people have a desire to be good, but our need to see ourselves as good people can really get in the way of us becoming better people. She then referred to the stress-induced responses of “fight, flight, or freeze” that often kick in when we are in the uncomfortable situation of confronting our own implicit biases and how these might play out in a discussion around racism. Citing the work of Dolly Chugh, Williams suggested that we might strive to be “goodish” rather than good, allowing room for growth rather than condemnation.  

Porcena quoted J. Kēhaulani Kauanui’s assertion that racism is a “structure, not an event” and asked Williams to elaborate on what this means. Williams identified the three components of structural racism as: policies (and how they are implemented and enforced by the government and institutions), practices (of the criminal justice system, educational system, and housing market, for example), and culture (as in how stereotypes and perspectives are portrayed and reinforced). Williams theorized that individual racism is a product of structural racism, and so we must address racism at the structural level to create real change.

When asked what parents and educators can do to teach anti-racism to their students and children, Williams offered several suggestions, encouraging adults to serve as models and never to ignore moments of opportunity to speak out against racism, however, these opportunities present themselves.  “Be explicit about where you stand” she urged. “Consistency is important and the one time that we don’t speak up will send a message that (racism) is okay.”  She described the anti-bias training and framework that her institution, the Atlanta International School uses, and encouraged age-appropriate education and training for all children and their families.

The panelists also discussed the importance of bringing an intersectional lens to issues of race (i.e., recognizing that systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, ableism, classism, etc., are co-constituting and mutually reinforcing) and reflected on the importance of centering the voices of Black and Brown people as we strive to envision what racial justice would look like.

In closing, Porcena took a poll of the 336 participants and asked them the number of actions towards allyship they would commit to during the month of June.  She encouraged everyone to review the resources and list of actions that can be found on the Center’s webpage, and reminded them to hold themselves accountable for their chosen actions and commitment. Hackett encouraged the listeners to get educated, take action (while following the lead of people of color), and recognize that “shame is not productive” as we all have work to do and should invite others to allyship in a way that does not condemn, but rather encourages accountability.  Williams reiterated that we all have work to do and quoted Arthur Ashe, who once said, “start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”

The Center will hold other conversations in this series involving local leaders, first responders, and community organizers, and invites the campus community and public to participate in the next conversation titled “Local Leaders Take Action to Combat Racism”, which will be held on Wednesday, June 24.  You can register now here: www.tinyurl.com/CGDIWebinar4