I recently got to attend two events with racial equity educator and filmmaker, Shakti Butler, in Boston. Her new film, Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity, is full of stories that help to paint the picture of how race and racism operate in the U.S. – at the internal, interpersonal, institutional and structural levels. Drawing on the work of john powell and others, Shakti emphasizes that racial inequities are constantly shapeshifting, that racism is a dynamic system with multiple layers functioning simultaneously, and that we are all wounded as a result.
Joy’s sister-in-law uses her white privilege to intervene in this situation. She asks the checker to reconsider the way she was treating Joy in a way that the checker and the other folks in the check out line could hear, causing the injustice happening before their eyes to become visible to them. I’d venture to guess that this checker was probably not intentionally discriminating against Joy. How do you think unconscious bias might be playing out in this story? Where and how are identities, culture and history playing out? How are institutional and structural racism playing out?
In my own racial justice work, I struggle with how to create spaces and facilitate conversations that help people to both learn about racial injustice AND get inspired to continue the conversation and continue the work together. I’ve been in too many anti-racism trainings in the past that have left me as a white person feeling guilty and paralyzed. We so desperately need ways to engage in conversations about race and racism that honor the complexities of our histories and experiences, where we go deep and can be authentic, and that propel us forward together armed with tools to deconstruct racism as it exists and create something new together – we don’t need more shallow or guilt-inducing conversations.
Shakti suggests that one of the most important strategies for us now is to get good at asking really good questions instead of confronting racism head on with people who might react defensively if their racial biases are called into question. We are dealing with cognitive dissonance and unconscious bias – these are the realms of the emotional and psychological, not of the logical. Most white folks in the US are terrified of being called racist and of their actions being perceived as racist, so more and more it seems to me like calling people out is not the way forward. How can we all get better at asking each other good questions that forward the work of racial justice rather than shut it down?
Shakti Butler’s new film is one tool that I think can help jump start some productive conversations. Check it out, as well as the accompanying conversation guide coming out soon!