By Geri LaPlaca
The past few years of political, cultural and social upheaval have challenged me to examine my own thoughts, emotions, language and behaviors around issues of racism, classism, ageism, sexism, and many of the other ‘isms’. I read, I listened and I engaged mostly with my friends, both in and outside of the HM Community, on these topics . Gratefully, I found many others were also ready to participate in this dialogue.
I was referred several times over the last few years to an organization called Organizing Against Racism (OAR). The OAR Alliance is a network of anti-racism groups based in and around the Triangle area. OAR Alliance offers Racial Equity Institute’s (REI) two-day workshops entitled Phase I and Phase II. The anti-racism workshops are designed to bring together participants who want to support each other while deepening our understanding of how to be effective anti-racists. But first, there is a lot to uncover and learn.
Originally, I thought two days seemed like a lot of time to devote to this topic. After all, I think of myself (a mature, white woman) as a fairly aware individual who likes to delve into topics rather than turn away from those I don’t know much about or understand. However, the REI workshop alumni continually reinforced that the time I would invest attending, would be “time well spent”.
I followed the workshop schedule online for about 6 months wondering when would be best for me to sign up. I noticed that the ticketed training slots seemed to fill up rather quickly and was encouraged to see that a lot of folks were continually attending. So in line with my strong intention to know better, do better, be better (that’s an Oprah quote that I like), in November, I decided to jump in and sign up for the first Phase I workshop of the 2018 New Year.
Off I went, notebook in hand, on Monday, January 8, ready to immerse myself in this subject matter. Now that I am an alumni of Phase I, I find it difficult to summarize the two days because it was not at all what I thought it would be. It was much, much more.
The Racial Equity Workshop Phase I moves the focus from individual bigotry and bias by presenting a thorough historical, cultural, structural and institutional analysis of racial and ethnic disparities. With a clear understanding of how institutions and systems are producing unjust and inequitable outcomes, participants begin a journey toward social transformation and racial justice. Even 50 years after significant civil rights’ gains, the impact of race continues to shape the outcomes of all institutions in which we are affiliated.
Our three facilitators were a dynamic team; all with very different perspectives and stories to share. They were: a 60-year-old African American woman (she told us her age), who was a seasoned REI trainer; a middle-aged, Jewish man with years invested as a community activist; and a mixed-race, male millennial, just starting his career as a facilitator. They warned us that they would ‘prick’ our collective consciousness over the next two days….and they did. We would be challenged to examine individual bias, stereotyping, assumptions and unconscious responses we have been conditioned to think, believe and say throughout our lifetime.
Their expectations of the 48 attendees in the audience were: to get proximate to the issues of race and racism; listen and be open to learning the narrative; commit and engage; be willing to be uncomfortable; recognize there is no quick fix, yet maintain hope in the process.
By mid morning on the first day, having only heard the opening presentations, I realized this would be my new confession, an examination of conscience. I used my breath to calm myself throughout the day when participants were asked to consider questions such as: Why it is important to end racism? How are race and poverty related? How does our present system exploit, exclude and oppress the underserved in healthcare, education and criminal justice system?
After a good nights’ sleep, I reviewed my notes and was ready for day two. Our trainers focused on the disparities within our community institutions, provoking discussions about poverty, class, affirmative action, racial oppression, white privilege, conditioning, neighborhoods and home ownership, to name a few. I left the two-day workshop exhausted, concerned, in disbelief of my lack of knowledge and awareness …… yet grateful, uplifted, hopeful, and committed to a more extensive study of these topics.
For anyone interested in attending an REI Workshop, trainings are offered frequently and in a variety of locations in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. The workshop facilitators are highly trained and continually rotate, so there is always an element of surprise in the leadership.
I was pleased to learn that after completing the training, alumni are invited to come together and participate in monthly caucusing meetings. It is here that you can continue to dialog with others about how racism lives in each of us and in our institutions. In doing so, we can become strong, organized and clear in our efforts to dismantle racism.
Alumni may return and attend Phase I or Phase II workshops, as observers, as many times as they like. Why would you want to do that? Because the material is rich in content and complex to think about, I felt quite overwhelmed with all the new information. I can only imagine that I would be listening much differently and benefit more deeply the second time around.
Hart’s Mill strongly encourages members to attend this workshop as we work towards embracing and including diversity in its many forms. For information on dates and cost (sliding scale available), visit the OAR Alliance web site.