The Work for White People

I am a white owning-class USer, and I work as an environmental activist. At the Eliminating Racism in the Environmental Movement Workshop,* my role was to talk directly to the white people about working on our racism. It was scary, and I trembled a lot!

I said that white people are good and that racism is not our fault but that we all carry its patterns and have a responsibility to end it. I said that the work for white people is go back and look at our pasts and how we learned racism and then use the healing process of RC to get the patterns off. I talked about giving up defensiveness and guilt about racism. And I said that doing this work is for us; we have been separated from people of color, and doing this work will improve our relationships with them, which will be good for our lives.

The most scary but possibly most important part was talking about the work I have personally had to do on racism. I talked about growing up in a majority-white, majority-wealthy town that was very segregated and how the distress recording in my head from that experience is that I’ll never be close to people of color. I also said that the recording didn’t start with me or my family or that town; it’s been passed down for generations. My ancestors, who were in North America since the 1600s, enslaved African people and did atrocious things to Native Americans. I said that they’d had to be very separated from the humanness of those African and Native people in order to do that.

Finally I talked about working on racism in our organizations, many of which are majority white. I said that many of us are asking, “How do we recruit people of color into our mostly white organizations?” and that there’s something wrong with that question. Better questions are “How do we back the leadership of people of color?” and “How do we break down the barriers of racism in our work?”

Many people came up to me afterward and said that they were eager to do this work in their organizations. I’m excited to figure out the next steps with the people who came, and the people in the movement I have close relationships with who weren’t there.

Elizabeth Saunders

Dorchester, Massachusetts, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion listfor leaders in the care of the environment

(Present Time 184, July 2016)

* See previous two articles.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00