Reflections & Resources for White Racial Justice Advocates
Food for Thought, For Your Consideration
Draft 1 (because there will always be another draft)
If you’re reading this, you are likely a racial justice advocate who identifies as being a white AND/OR you are someone who wants to learn more about what’s at play with whiteness in the racial justice conversation.
So, let me start by saying HI! and thank you for choosing to lean in and engage in this conversation.
I’ve had many conversations with leaders, educators, and activists this past year, and the more people I talk to, the more questions I’m asked. The more questions I’m asked, the more questions I walk away with. Sometimes I’m asked to share resources, tools, and tips. Other times I learn new things and want to share with others. Regardless–I have heard many many folks express desires for more opportunities to learn and connect.
So, since I feel a need for more places/spaces to learn, grow, share, develop, and connect around foundational racial identity work–specifically around whiteness–I’m offering these reflections and resource in the hopes that they are helpful for you.
You see, I believe that – in order to impact positive change for racial justice – we must learn and reflect – BOTH on our own AND in community. Sometimes that might involve exploring our racial identity, other times that might mean developing new habits that involve intentional reflection. That’s why I’m offering some reflections, some resources, and some ideas for keeping the conversation going.
I also believe we must always connect back to our WHY. We must reflect on why this matters and what’s at stake for our community if we don’t inform ourselves and keeping showing up to move the conversation forward.
My WHY is at the front and center of this work, which is very personal for me. After 11 years in education, and as a queer woman in an interracial relationship, the implications for this work is life or death for many folks in my community.
AND, to be honest, for years my blind-spots got in the way of authentic connection and meaningful bonds. My biases impacted my relationships, my fears paralyzed me, my white guilt silenced me, and my shame suffocated me.
Perfectionism poisoned my progress as a racial equity leader.
Only last year did I truly realized that silence is a luxury. And luxuries take “white privilege” to another realm.
So, I had to stop waiting for others, and I had to begin the practice of building new habits (and I still do) in order to be the best leader I could be–for humanity.
Here’s what I have learned: I still have a LOT to learn, and there are no shortcuts.
No amount of intellectual wisdom can guarantee an inclusive experience for all.
We must act, reflect, and learn.
I don’t need to remind you that the sociopolitical times we’re in are unprecedented.
AND, I think it’s important to name that folks have varying perspectives on the times that we’re in. Many folks in marginalized communities were/are not shocked or surprised by the overt discrimination, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and hate-crimes taking place — specifically targeting marginalized communities. Many people believe this administration is amplifying what’s always been there.
That’s why it’s imperative for us, white folks, to do our own work and reflect on what that means for us AND what is ours to do is times such as these.
In my work as a coach and facilitator I’ve found that some leaders feel paralyzed and afraid to speak up about race, class, equity, bias, and diversity for fear of saying the wrong thing or offending someone. Other leaders speak up so loudly their community members’ voices can’t be heard.
If you’re anything like me, you work intentionally for social justice, racial justice, LGBTQ equality, and educational equity. You probably care deeply about making the world better.
You likely work tirelessly so that the next generation can live with more justice, peace, and liberation.
And yet, working and leading are two different things.
To me, if I want to lead my community, and influence them to learn, grow, develop, and catalyze change for humanity, then I need to be explicit about my intention to dismantle systems of oppression that harm human beings.
Now, dismantling systems of oppression is complex work. My beliefs and perspectives are informed by what Paulo Friere calls praxis. To me, that means everything I do should be grounded in theory and practice.
To share a bit about what undergirds my approach, in order to truly do this work we must understand what’s happening at a systemic level and at the neuroscience level, and I have researched and studied these topics extensively.
I will share more on this in another piece, but the gist is: we are a part of complex systems that inherently were not designed for all people to be treated equally.
If we’re living (and therefore at times operators) in systems of oppression, we’ve likely internalized messages, so we’re therefore not immune to their impact.
Additionally, there’s a lot going on in the unconscious realm of our brains. My friend and colleague Zaretta Hammond (the author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain), recently reminded me of some important points: most white people have inherited a culture that’s individualistic (not collectivist like many Communities Of Color), which means that we, white folks, are prone to unconscious deficit ideologies that are experienced as micro-aggressions by People of Color**. I am happy to go into more detail about that, and I highly encourage you to read chapter 8 of her book.
So that’s a brief overview of why now, why us.
Here’s a brief overview of what this is (and is not):
What this is:
- A conversation-starter and an offering of 21 resources to check out to deepen our racial identity development awakening jour net
- An opportunity to raise awareness, gain new knowledge, and be positioned with a different level of understanding and consciousness SO THAT we can engage in conversations about racial justice with colleagues of diverse backgrounds with a level of awareness of what’s at play
- Resources as food-for-thought, provocations, and information for your consideration
- For your own self-reflection
- An invitation to learn and share, making-meaning with others
What this isn’t:
- A “quick fix”, solution manual, or one-size-fits-all answer
- Resources on activism or community organizing–that’s intentionally a different conversation
- Exclusive. If colleagues of different racial and ethnic backgrounds want to join in, by all means, I welcome your feedback/opinions. The reason I’m specifically targeting white leaders is because we, white folks, have work to do, and racial affinity spaces and offerings allow for important meaning-making to take place. I say this in the spirit of white people needing to reflect on what’s really at play and how we feel about the impact of white supremacy.
- A check-list. Once we read them, it doesn’t mean the information is absorbed. We need to re-read and engage in critical reflection with others after reading to fully internalize the messages. I’m with you on the journey.
- A polished or perfect list. I’ll keep adding to it each month, but the 21 resources I offer are just the beginning.
- Something that–after reading–we can assume other people (specifically People Of Color) will want to engage with us around. I believe racial affinity groups are important ways for processing so as to not burden People Of Color with our awakening process.
Now I don’t claim to be an expert, I just have some experience and have been fortunate to receive advice and resources from mentors on this topic over the years, so I’m sharing in the hopes that this sparks a meaningful conversation for you.
Since this a conversation-starter, I would love your input. Please comment and add to the resource list at the bottom.
Now, why this, why now?
I chose to offer resources specifically on whiteness first because we must know ourselves first. If we want to be in relationship with and experienced as being in alliance with our colleagues in the Global Majority, we must be in relationship with ourselves first, understanding what’s at play.
So, before I go on, allow me to attempt to define the terms “white” and “leader”.
To me, being white in America, it’s important that I understand that my racial identity is all tied up with white supremacy and therefore systemic oppression.
Now, most people start to get uncomfortable when they here “white supremacy” and “systemic oppression,” so I recognize that may be happening for you. Am I right?
You may even have a physiological reaction–that’s normal.
Feel free to take a breath, stretch, and/or do what you need to do to stay engaged, because part of being racial justice advocates is being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Feel free to jot down any reactions or reflections you have about that:
White, and therefore my, “people” have harmed large groups of people intentionally for centuries, which means that (as difficult as it may be) I cannot divorce myself from that history. So, I must work intentionally to learn and unlearn some things. Because choosing not to engage or opting-out is an act of benefiting from the privilege that White supremacy affords.
Now, what comes up for you after reading that? Feel free to take a minute and process / reflect below.
This piece on “understanding whiteness” resonates. The author says:
As with the term ‘race,’ it is important to clarify the differences between “white” (a category of ‘race’ with no biological/scientific foundation) and “whiteness” as a powerful social construction with very real, tangible, violent effects. Here are some useful definitions of ‘whiteness,’ followed by a list of its key features:
Racism is based on the concept of whiteness–a powerful fiction enforced by power and violence. Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to have certain privileges from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white (Kivel, 1996, p. 19).
‘Whiteness,’ like ‘colour’ and ‘Blackness,’ are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior (Henry & Tator, 2006, pp. 46-67).
This article in the New York Times also goes into detail around how the constructions of whiteness have changed over time.
Bottom line: to me, being a white leader means acknowledging and knowing our history in service of justice for all.
Now that I we have some common definitional understanding of whiteness, let’s turn a corner to what leadership means to me.
My definition of leadership was informed by my work at The National Equity Project, an educational nonprofit doing transformative work in service of every child receiving the quality education they deserve. They use and offer Julian Weissglass’ definition of leading for equity, and it instantly resonated with me the first time I heard it.
Now, the conversation gets more nuanced when we talk about what it means to be a racial justice leader.
In my opinion, racial justice leaders are committed to speaking up, showing up, and standing up for racial justice and inclusion. They are brave, persistent, and passionate. Discomfort doesn’t shake them, and they do intentional self-reflection on the impact of their racial identity–in service of the greater good.
So, if we want to strengthen our racial justice leadership and raise awareness of how our racial identity impacts our experience, where do we get started?
Let’s start with some pre-reading activities:
If you haven’t already…
*Check out Debby Irving’s 21 day challenge, which includes recommendations on things to read, listen to, watch, pay attention to for 21 days. She’s the Author of Waking Up White, which I’ll mention below.
*Check out Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice. This is a fantastic resource created by a fellow equity leader in Oakland.
Ready to read in-depth on various aspects of the white experience?
Read these articles:
- White Fragility, By Robin DiAngelo
- About White Spaces
- White Normativity: The Cultural Dimensions of Whiteness in a Racially Diverse LGBT Organization, By Jane Ward
- Stages of White Identity Development, By Megan Lietz
- Doing Whiteness: On the Performative Dimensions of Race In the Classroom, By John T. Warren
- Race, Racism, and Whiteness, By Dr. Alex Mikulich
- The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, By George Lipsitz
- Beyond the Wages of Whiteness: DuBois On The Irrationality of Antiblack Racism , By Ella Myers
And these books:
- Waking Up White, By Debby Irving
- What does it mean to be white? By Robin DiAngelo
- What Does It Mean to Be White in America? By
- Enter the River: Healing Steps from White Privilege Toward Racial Reconciliation, By
- For White Folks who Teach in the Hood, By
Now that we’ve read up on ourselves, it’s important to have foundational understanding of how we got here (from important perspectives and voices of those who are oppressed and marginalized).
- The New Jim Crow, By
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed, By
- Just Mercy, By
- The Mis-Education of the Negro, By
- Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, By Joy Angela Degruy
- Between the World and Me, By
- Pushout, By
- Other People’s Children, By
I’d like to call out that I have included voices of both People Of Color and white authors intentionally. I wrote a piece on “allyship” and the importance of taking care not to ever speak for People Of Color. In my next draft, and in community workshops I’ll host, we will have opportunities to intentionally examine the balance between Authors who identify as People Of Color and white Authors.
This is just a starting place.
The truth is, turning new knowledge into new habits and behaviors takes time.
We must make intentional choices with our hearts, minds, visions, and hands.
Our S.P.A.R.K. acronym is also a good reminder of habits and stances you can take moving forward:
S– Show up. for racial justice. Just show up and lean-in.
P– Pause. Reflect on your intentions. Listen with fearlessness and intentionality.
A- Ask before assuming. Show curiosity rather than certainty about other people’s experiences.
R- Respect and seek out multiple perspectives. Learn and process in both affinity and diverse groups.
K– Kindly expect tension and be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Now, what else can you do?
- Connect with friends and do a book/article group consistently
- Make a commitment to read one resource a week/month with your circle
- Practice having conversations about whiteness and race daily, in front of the mirror and in public
- Join our brand new community on Facebook so we have a virtual place to engage, ask questions, and have intentional discussions on the readings and conversation-starters
- Learn more about S.P.A.R.K. leadership opportunities
- 12 week course
- 1:1 coaching
→ schedule a virtual coffee to learn more about these offerings
S.P.A.R.K. Leadership development experiences involve:
- Acknowledging and accepting unproductive mindsets and old patterns of behavior, raising awareness of blind-spots and biases that impact one’s leadership
- Interrupting those patterns by setting intentions and taking small steps to shift habits
- Embracing the unique strengths and assets that each leader has, which in turn helps them lead authentically with intentionality, conviction, confidence
- Increasing comfort navigating the transitions, tensions, and complexities of their organization
I’d also encourage you to set an intention and write it down:
- “I want to learn more about…”
- “I intend to listen more closely to…”
- “I will pay more attention to….”
- “I will get better at….” or
- “I will show up with…” or
- “I will do…”
- “I will work on being more…”
Curious to learn more?
- Download my new S.P.A.R.K. Leadership Self-Assessment here
- PS- I’m writing another piece on blind-spots and “ally-ship” …so stay tuned!
📝Comment below and let me know what you think! Got resources, questions, or other ideas? Awesome. Let me know.
**A few words on the use of “People of Color”: I recognize that referring to folks in the Global Majority is is a complex and nuanced conversation, and I am mindful of my language and aware that identifying one group without naming their individual ethnicities, languages, and cultures is problematic. I do not see People Of Color as one homogenous entity by any means. I have had countless conversations about this with colleagues and friends of diverse ethnic backgrounds; so, I used it as a point of reference and also interchangeably with Folks in the Global Majority. If you’d like to read more about this conversation, check out this blog and ask any colleague / friend in the Global Majority about their perspective/opinion.
S.P.A.R.K. was founded in 2016 by Rachel Rosen, a seasoned facilitator, racial equity leadership coach, and LGBTQ advocate. S.P.A.R.K. offerings sit at the nexus of Rachel’s personal and professional passions, and she is on a mission to bring more empathy to the world, one conversation at a time. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice. S.P.A.R.K. offers experiences that support leaders and teams to unleash their potential to facilitate powerful experiences, collaborate, and build trust.