My Problem With Anti-Racism Classes

I have talked before about occupying two worlds here Mixed Race, Tortillas, and #DecolonizeLutheranism so I don’t really feel the need to talk about it again. I will say that I am constantly trying to deal with the white privilege that I have while at the same time being Latino and not always understanding were white folk are coming from.

I’ve also attended more Anti-Racism classes than I can remember.  They have taken many forms whether they be 2 hours, 6 hours, or weekend events with multiple sessions. The programs have looked different with some being more engaging than others.

Anyway, in general, my problem with anti-racism classes are not the classes themselves but that everyone attending are at different places.

For some they need to be convinced that systemic racism and white privilege are  real things.  They want it solely make it about the individual action and intentions that people have. And since they don’t have those they can’t be racists. One reason being shown how it works on a systems level is essential to understanding what People of Color experience on a daily basis.

Others strongly believe that racism is a problem still and understand that systemic racism is prevalent but that somehow they stand outside of that problem.  As if being a white liberal exempts them from having bigotry and prejudice in their own hearts. These folks act as if racism is something that exist purely at a systemic reality and they, being enlightened, exist outside of it. White liberals are racist too.

For People of Color, they are made aware that this space isn’t really for them. At one of the most recent events I went to we are asked was that if we had ever had a Latino in our home. My brother responded, “Every damn day.”  Three of us who are Latino started laughing. That wasn’t a questions that was for us. So, I question what is there for us in these events?

I find myself feeling so awkward in these spaces because I am embarrassed for people. Vulnerability could just be white fragility. Anger could just be unprocessed paralyzing white guilt.

Surely there is another way.  Am I being too critical here?


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4 responses to “My Problem With Anti-Racism Classes

  1. Gretchen Wagner

    You are correct to my thoughts. As a white person I have learned a lot about myself, white privilege and racism over the years. That does not mean I know everything. I, too, get frustrated with anti-racism training because it is often a broad sweep where the materials used are directed to a specific assumed experience level. I accept this as a white person because it is our responsibility to educate not people of color‘s responsibility. People of color‘s participation should be an optional choice and if there is a box to check, it is already checked.

  2. Diane Bowers

    Joshua, thanks for your thoughtful post. I don’t have an answer but I appreciate you articulating this particular puzzle in the big picture of the movement. I had the same issue when I preached about the sin of racism, or any aspect of it, in my former parish. Some, in the first category you describe, were furious, and people of color felt supported. And then all the folks in the middle. It wasn’t easy, there were very negative consequences, I hope there were positive but I didn’t hear about that so much, and I’ll say, along with you, that I long for a better way.

  3. Joshua, thanks for your thoughtful article. I appreciate how clearly you articulated this particular puzzle within the larger movement. I experienced the same dis/connect when I preached about the sin of racism, or any aspect of it, or how we are called forward together, in the congregation I served until recently. Folks in the first category were extremely angry, and people of color felt supported. And people were along the spectrum in the middle. The angry ones were also those who reacted most strongly and vocally to these sermons and they did real harm, to me and to the congregation. I don’t regret it, but I wish there was a better way.

  4. Trudy F

    Recently, I watched one of those videos online where people line themselves up and the privileges get called out. “If your parents are still married to each other, take a step forward!” “If you’ve always had health insurance, step forward!” “If no one questioned your desire to go to college, step forward!” Of course, the call outs were designed in such at way that at the end, lots of POC stood back with a bunch of white people in front. “Now, look at that,” the white people were told. “Recognize privilege. It is real. It isn’t fair. Now, don’t you feel guilty?” Well, cool, some people feel guilty. They’ve been schooled. But I looked at the POC and thought, “Damn, what must THEY be feeling? They’ve been used for a slick exercise to educate white people. As a white person, I cannot pretend to have any clue about what they would be feeling, but I had a huge desire to sit down with everyone one of them and talk out that experience, apologize that they had been put through it, and start thinking about a different way. Excellent observation on the thinking that one is “outside of the systemic problem once one understands it.” Nope. You can’t understand air, even though you breathe it. You can know a lot about it, but no. You are not outside of this reality. I think of that exercise and ask “Does that make the most of Christ?” No, I don’t think so.

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