White People Challenging Racism: 20th Anniversary Symposium Recap

October 7, 2019

White People Challenging Racism Anniversary Symposium Cambridge

Since its first run at CCAE in the fall of 1999, more than 1,500 people have taken the White People Challenging Racism workshop at venues throughout New England. The October 6th symposium was an opportunity to gather with WPCR alumni, current and former WPCR co-facilitators and other interested people, to share the challenges they have faced, and discuss new ways to help.

The overarching theme of the event was "The Fierce Urgency of Now," a phrase commonly used by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, including in his 1967 speech, "Beyond Vietnam": "We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late."

After brief introductions by representatives from CCAE, Community Change Inc., and White People Challenging Racism, and a Land Acknowledgement led by Xochitl Kountz, sadada jackson led exercises to ground participants in body and practice.

A panel followed, moderated by Lavette Coney, which discussed the history and future of White People Challenging Racism and included WPCR facilitators Tatiana Williams-Rodriguez, Marcia Kimm-Jackson, and Danilo Morales.

Tatiana Williams-Rodriguez acknowledged the need to bring more people of color into the WPCR classroom, discussing the possibility of thinking of the program less as "white people challenging racism," and more as "all people challenging white supremacy," to center the conversation away from white people and more towards white supremacy and to be more welcoming of people of color in the conversation.

When asked, "what are the most important qualities can white allies bring to anti-racist work?", panelist Marcia Kimm-Jackson offered a six-pronged concept of trustworthiness in white allies:

  • Recognize that we live in a racialized society.
  • Make privilege visible: If you see instances of white privilege in your home, friendships, workplace, or public life, call that privilege out and offer ways to make other, less privileged voices heard.
  • Work collaboratively with people of color, including working under the leadership of people of color and learning about the ways people of color have resisted racism throughout the years.
  • Nurture truth-telling relationships, including challenging those in our lives to be more truthful.
  • Work through your own shame and guilt, do not seek forgiveness from people of color.
  • Do the work from a place of self-love, not expecting love from people of color, and to forge a new way to be white in this world.

Tatiana Williams-Rodriguez added that white allies should center people of color in other activism work, e.g. in women's movements, climate movements, etc. Danilo Morales emphasized the sharing of resources including job recommendations, scholarships, and more. All speakers stressed the importance of bringing indigenous history, practices, and voices into anti-racist work.

Keynote speaker Nwamaka Agbo gave an insightful presentation of restorative economics, which she defines as "the process of prioritizing socio-economic resources for communities most impacted by structural economic disinvestment and political disenfranchisement, resulting in systemic oppression." Learn more about Nwamaka's work here. Nwamaka highlighted organizations in the Boston area who do restorative economics work, including the Center for Economic Democracy and the Boston Ujima Project.

After the keynote address, participants went into breakout sessions to continue the conversation, and then reported back to the larger group. sadada jackson closed the event with another grounding meditation.

Thank you to all who attended, supported, and facilitated this symposium.