Conference Highlight 2020: Whiteness & Anti-Racism - Holding a Space for Reflections and Conversations

2020 conference whiteness/anti-racism Oct 16, 2020

Whiteness & Anti-Racism: Holding a Space for Reflections and Conversations

Ingmar M. Pack, Academic Specialist at Michigan State University.

As intercultural professionals, SIETARians are well aware of the need for introspection on the journey to become more culturally responsive and responsible. Awareness of one’s own race and ethnicity as social constructs are typically logical extensions of such introspection yet are compounded by power structures so vast and difficult to grasp, that we may often not be conscious of these.

In two special SIETAR USA conference sessions, facilitators Justin Sitron and Ann Marie Lei led the effort for attendees to converse and reflect upon what it means to be white, the structures of privilege whites in societies around the globe are born into, and how being conscious of one’s whiteness may be the necessary first step into becoming anti-racist. 

Friday’s first session invited participants to not jump to solutions but to open their hearts and speak and share experiences. During an emotional deep dive in smaller breakout groups, attendees explored the personal difficulties of coming to terms with the realities of whiteness. Personal relationships with family, friends, and colleagues can be enormously difficult when discussing racism in the United States as embarrassment and fear may prevent us from speaking up. With the realization that silence itself is in part why white power structures remain dominant, participants expressed that we must embrace our own imperfection and discomfort in speaking up. Some of the other guiding discussion questions included in what ways our whiteness is internalized and in what ways we identify racism. 

Monday’s session intended to move participants to unpack critical whiteness and how the ideas of whiteness have been internalized by us. How have we benefited and gained power or access to power, just by adhering to norms of whiteness? Moreover, how do we lead others to see and accept that the invisible backpack of white privilege is real and that whiteness sets norms and expectations for all in white majority societies? 

While the breakout conversations were confidential, the group discussion centered on establishing a “Call-out culture” and making use of our refined skills as interculturalists to guide others in understanding themselves. Appreciative inquiry and compassionate challenges are part of our toolbox to challenge white supremacy, norms, hierarchies, and structures. 

When reflecting on what attendees learned from the two introspective sessions, one anonymous participant shared that “we are too comfortable in our whiteness. My takeaway is that we must break out of apathy and self-indulgent privilege.” Another participant added that “genuine efforts toward these goals means that we must check in with practitioners of color not to answer all our questions, but to keep us honest and question what we are missing.” 

The Whiteness & Anti-Racism: Holding a Space for Reflections and Conversations conference sessions are a continuation of SIETAR USA’s recent effort and commitment to critically reflect on matters of race and ethnicity, both within the organization and outside of it.