THE EAST COAST TOUR IN PITTSBURGH
Earlier this year, the BBC obtained a Racial Justice Grant from the Pond Foundation for, for an East Coast Tour of Creating Caring Communities. This is a pilot project that combines Sha'an Moulierts's workshop, which utilizes the very physical and often non-verbal techniques of the game Star Power and Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed techniques, and Donna Lamb's workshop "Being an Effective Social Justice Activist - the Personal Side," which takes a more verbal approach to dealing with the need for introspection in order to achieve one's goals as an activist.
The invitation to give our workshop on May 20th at the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh came from Pittsburgh branch member Edith Bell, who contacted us in response to the branch mailing in which we advertised the East Coast tour. The Thomas Merton Center wanted to begin to address racism and Edith thought the East Coast Tour would be a good place to start.
In the first part of the workshop, Sha'an facilitated warm-up activities and then the game Star Power.
One of the most dramatic things that emerged from it was how often white progressives think they are doing something really high-minded and generous for people of color - without ever reaching out to the community of color to find out what they feel they need or would like to have done for them.
The workshop continued to address issues of domination and oppression in the second part by looking specifically at how racial domination and oppression plays itself out in the lives of white Americas and the organizations they belong to.
Donna began by speaking about the fact that we can all just take it as a given that we are fallible human beings, and if we don't examine ourselves, our liabilities will interfere with what we hope to accomplish in our social justice work. She said, too, that due to the racist climate that permeates everything in the US either subtly or directly, to be a white American is to have racial issues. She told of several places she frequently sees racism working in herself and how necessary she believes it is for all whites to keep working on these issues and never feel they have graduated.
The participants soon broke up into smaller groups in which they discussed where they have observed racism in themselves, other white individuals or the organizations they work with. They also discussed ways they believe these racist mentalities and actions can be broken up.
Everyone then came back together and told of what they found most illuminating from their discussions. As to the harmful mindsets whites often bring to working with people of color, one group spoke of becoming so paralyzed by white guilt that they are rendered useless. Another spoke about the inextricable relation of race and class, and how they can make incorrect assumptions that a person of color has a lower income than themselves. Yet another told of a mother having said to her young children about a Black family, "They are just as good as we are." Instead of countering racism, this actually helped engender it because the children pick up on the fact that she wouldn't have felt it necessary to say that about another white family; it would have been self-evident.
Everyone agreed that a major part of the solution is taking responsibility and being more aware of how racism shows itself in themselves and in their organizations, questioning what they see in society around them, stopping being so afraid to discuss racism openly both with other whites and with people of color, and looking for greater chances for cross-cultural dialogue.
The workshop concluded with Sha'an leading the participants in creating images that first reflected the racism they spoke about and then changing that image to reflect the society they hope to bring about.
We wish to thank Edith Bell for arranging this workshop. She told us afterwards that it had been very well received by all participants, who were impressed and felt that they learned a lot and need to continue the discussion, and that they were planning a follow-up session/discussion the following week.