What Are We Willing to Question?

Rally main stage with a purple banner that reads "We Won't Go Back!"
Main stage at 1992 reproductive rights march Photo credit @kvelte

Originally published in November 2021

Earlier this year, I started to think about what I had done in past in campaigns and projects that perpetuated, rather than disrupted, white supremacy, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Most of us do it because we’re conditioned to think that certain practices are normal or “the way things are,” when they are really legacies of white supremacy.

An example? Sure.

In the early ‘90’s, I organized college speaking events for the officers of a national feminist organization, as part of the organizing plan for a reproductive rights March in Washington DC. In Pennsylvania, the president did a week-long organizing tour. I don’t remember all the schools where I arranged a speech, but the list looked something like this: Bryn Mawr, Bucknell, Carnegie Mellon, Franklin and Marshall Colleges, Gettysburg College, Haverford and Swarthmore.

Notice anything? Yep. They’re all private. And then we wondered why the campus delegations to the March were so overwhelmingly white and middle-class.

While I was proud that students represented about a third of the 750,000 people who came to the March, I’m not proud of my role in perpetuating such exclusion. The urgency of building a crowd can’t replace our anti-racist values of inclusion and equity.

Then I started to wonder where else I’d contributed to traditions of oppression and where I disrupted them.

That interest was the genesis for a workshop that I developed with Cat Shieh called “Disrupting Traditions of Oppression in Organizations.” If I was trying to re-examine my usual practices, maybe others are too. Cat had created innovative curriculum for ethnic studies classes and piloted anti-racism, anti-bias curriculum for students, making her the perfect partner for this work.

In the session, we lead a discussion of the characteristics of white supremacy in organizations. Then, we offer several (real-life) scenarios for an exercise we like to call “What’s wrong with this picture?” Participants identify the places where white supremacy rears its ugly head and brainstorm equitable solutions.

The workshop was very well-received at last year’s Organizing 2.0 conference and we look forward to facilitating it again for the Nonprofit Technology Conference in March 2022. (Read more and register here.)

To talk more about disrupting white supremacy in your organization, get in touch!

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