January 18, 2008 by multiracialsky
I’ve been working on a curriculum for anti-racism training for a while. I am also the point person for the Education/Training sub-committee of our Undoing Racism group. I met with another committee member to discuss training ideas, and also to hear about a workshop on White Privilege she is currently co-leading at the local college. As we talked, I realized that she and I have very different perspectives on the purpose and best structure of training, specifically on the racial composition of groups.
Let me explain. During our conversation, I told her that my biggest challenge in designing a training for our area is the inherently racially unbalanced group we would be training (think at least 75% White, probably more). She talked about how People of Color have carried the burden of educating White People about racism for too long, and how it’s time that White People take on the responsibility for educating themselves. I was with her so far. And then she said we should be designing a training on White privilege for White people only–led by White people. I asked her, “Is your college workshop mixed?” Her answer shocked me. No.
She said they had advertised it as specifically for White students, but that students of Color had applied anyway. There was an interview process to ‘balance’ the class (I think gender, primarily), and they had turned down all the students of Color based on their race alone. I said, “I don’t think you can do that.” She assured me that she could–and pointed out that she is co-leading the workshop with a high-up (White) administrator at the college.
Reportedly, the ‘full’ students of Color who applied to the workshop understood why they were being turned away when the purpose of the class was explained to the them. But there was one biracial, half-White, White-appearing student who is still figuring out their racial identity who was also turned away from the workshop–again based on their race.
This woman’s primary training curriculum idea is that we should hold separate trainings for White People and People of Color–and that the White People training should be led by a White person and that the People of Color training should be led by a Person of Color. “Where do the multiracial people go?” I asked. Her idea (theoretically) was that they (we) should not only have their own bi/multiracial group, but that they(we) should also be allowed to be part of the White People and the People of Color groups (but not the White People college workshop?). This is also obviously assuming that biracial and multiracial people are all ‘part’ White, which they are not.
She trotted out the old ‘tragic mullato’ (she didn’t use those exact words) theme of bi/multiracial people needing their own group so they can figure themselves out, because she knows ‘they’ have self- identity issues. I didn’t even go there.
I stuck with my main issue, which is this: To me, the best part of antiracism training (especially around here) is getting a racially diverse group of people together, talking, in the same room. Monoracial groups of people gather and talk all the time, sometimes about race and racism. But bringing everyone together is the most educational part of this kind of training.
To some people it makes sense to teach White people about White privilege in a more ‘comfortable’ setting–but doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of talking about White privilege in the first place? I mean really, a purposefully segregated all-White group of people talking about White privilege? As my partner said, “First you have to get White people comfortable enough to say ‘Black’–in front of an actual Black person.”
Then there’s the excluded biracial student. I was angry about that. The woman said that was the only student she felt bad about turning away, and that she wished she had ‘somewhere else to send’ the student. But she didn’t.
I felt somewhat invisible in this context. If you are White-appearing, as I am, you are a beneficiary of White privilege (which means you may benefit from/have a lot to offer a workshop on White Privilege or Whites Fighting Racism or Whatever). It reminds me of another invisible-People-of-Color moment, when the Undoing Racism group was discussing canvassing for information about what it’s like to live in our state as a Person of Color. The canvassers would be targeting People of Color–that is, visible People of Color. I pointed out that this method of collecting information would miss a lot of People of Color (using several of us sitting at the table as examples). In that survey, I (and that biracial student) wouldn’t be counted as a Person of Color, but when it comes to the White Privilege workshop, I would. And I’d be excluded both times.
I just want to go on the record as saying I do not believe trainings about race or racism or White privilege should be racially segregated. (I’m still not even sure this is legal.) As a multiracial person in a multiracial family with four multiracial kids, I don’t think anything should be racially segregated. A training about combating racism that uses a person’s race as a criteria for admission? That sounds like racism to me.