Recognizing the Intersection of Racism and Discrimination
Rev. Russell Meyer, Florida-Bahamas Synod
The theme for the 13th Annual White Privilege Conference focused on the ways in which various “isms” interact and reinforce one another. “Intersectionality: Vision, Commitment and Sustainable Partnership” was held March 28-31, 2012 in Albuquerque New Mexico.
Several ELCA members attended, including Judith Roberts (Racial Justice Ministries), Rev. Barbara Berry-Baillie (Global Mission – Africa), Inez Torres Davis (Women of the ELCA; accompanied by several others), and Rev. Russell Meyer (EALA Board Member, Florida-Bahamas Synod).
Intersectionality is “an approach largely advanced by women of color, arguing that classifications such as gender, race, class, and others cannot be examined in isolation from one another; they interact and intersect in individual’s lives, in society, in social systems, and are mutually constitutive” (from the program glossary). Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term in 1989, gave the Saturday morning keynote, explaining the concept in depth. Understanding how kinds of discrimination intersect allows a person of privilege to ask “What kind of an ally am I?”
Arriving a day early, I was able to take advantage of two events. An evening banquet included the University of New Mexico – Albuquerque honoring Angela Davis. Davis spoke passionately about mass incarceration and the need for a new abolition movement addressing prisonization in America. The end of slavery has brought the rise of imprisoning people of color, propelled in part by the 13th Amendment.
The second opportunity was participation in a day-long institute, White on White: Communicating about Race and Privilege with Critical Humility. Lead by the European-American Collaborative Challenging Whiteness (ECCW: http://www.iconoclastic.net/eccw/), the institute led participants through a series of exercises to help develop critical humility in addressing “white supremacist consciousness” with other persons of European descent. A published paper of the institute can be found at http://bit.ly/WoWHumility. ECCW might serve as a helpful resource for EALA members.
The conference included daily keynote addresses (five in all), two or three workshop sessions (eight sessions in all), caucus groups, and evening programing that included an open mic poetry and film screening. Each morning session was initiated by a ceremonial presentation from local Native peoples.
Workshops of note that I attended included “Religious Diversity”, “Facilitating White Caucuses”, “Organizing Anti-Racist Groups”. The Religious Diversity workshop highlighted the difficulties of disentangling assumptions of privilege from deeply held religious convictions and gave voice to those who have been harmed by religious communities. Facilitating White Caucuses was an over-subscribed workshop, reflecting the popular desire to increase caucusing skills. After several engagement exercises, attendees practiced caucusing in small groups around prepared issues. Organizing Ant-Racist Groups was an energetic workshop in which attendees learned to distinguish between individual and comprehensive views on race questions and then engaged as teams in debating race around the Trayvon Martin killing. In engaging others in “the race debate”, the presenter recommended that one “name it, frame it, and explain it” – “it” being the racism specifically under consideration.
Since the workshop occurred at the same time as the Martin protests, the case was served as a touch point for many conversations – and drove hoodie sales as well. Rapper Jasiri X performed his video in person; see http://24wired.tv/34699/trayvon-martins-death-reenacted-with-rap-video/.
The 14th WPC will be held in Seattle, April 10-13, 2013 (http://whiteprivilegeconference.com). The conference yields valuable anti-racism leadership skills and is highly recommended. I would also add that attending the WPC with colleagues is very helpful for processing and debriefing the experience.