Tema Teaches

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Last week, Tema Okun of the dismantling RacismWorks, spoke about her new book, The Emperor Has no Clothes-Teaching about Race and Racism to People who Don’t want to Know at an event hosted by Community Change (see their website for a video of the talk) in Boston.

She talked about her own journey to understand race and confront racism, beginning as a high school student in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Since then, she has worked to understand how race works in the U.S. and how racism confers advantages on her as a white woman. She has been working in multiracial settings and teaching others not to resist understanding racism and their role in it. What’s at the root of resistance to seeing white privilege?, She said “We’re afraid that we’re going to find out that we’re deeply bad, in a culture that doesn’t want privileged people to feel bad…”

How to get around this resistance? She offers a few fundamentals (more or less quotes from her talk):

  1. Provide the larger context, a historical understanding of racism and the ways that every institution participated in constructing race, so that people see it’s not personal.
  2. Build relationships; it’s about people working together to interrupt the dynamics of racism
  3. Teach people to answer the question with “What are we going to do about it?” rather than “What am I going to do about it?”
  4. Build a shared language (definition of racism) and shared analysis (understanding that racism is more than personal) so that people can collaboratively interrupt white supremacy when you see it happening.
  5. Avoid demonizing others and us/them dynamics.
  6. Offer positive alternatives. It’s not enough to tell people what to stop. We have to offer them what to do instead.

Have you tried these strategies in your work? What do they offer? What would you add?

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