“What is your ethnic and racial background, and what about it are you most proud of?”
“When did you first realize there were different races, and when did you realize people were treated differently because of race?”
“What kind of support and education did you receive as a child when it came to interacting with people of different racial backgrounds?”
These were the questions asked by Carla Burns at last month’s Sustainability Workshop “Anti-Racism Training” hosted by Episcopal Charities. Representatives of 38 programs met to discuss their own experiences with race and learn strategies for breaking down racial barriers within their programs. Carla Burns led the workshop and is the Province II Antiracism Network Leader for the Episcopal Church and a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, Committee for Antiracism and well as the chair of the Diocesan Anti-Racism Committee.
Burns led discussions on racism and internalized oppression, which Burns defined as “when the victims of oppression begin to internalize or take into themselves, their psyches and self-identification, the opinions of the oppressor as if they were true.” Attendees shared painful, personal experiences of both racism and internalized oppression. One woman spoke of being called slurs in elementary school, an experience she vividly recalled decades later; another attendee talked about how even in his non-white community, the lighter-skinned you were, the better. Burns, who is African American, referred to this as the “lie of race” and said that when she was a girl she was also “taught to believe people who had lighter skin were better than people who had darker skin.” It wasn’t until she became a teacher in New York City that she realized how untrue this was.
White privilege was also discussed. Some white attendees expressed discomfort over being thought of as “privileged” because their privilege was really, as they saw it, just being treated like a human being. It was unnerving to learn that others weren’t treated the same. Other white attendees, however, spoke up about how powerful and important it was to realize and acknowledge their privilege.
In one thought-provoking activity (ed note: stop reading here if you’re planning on taking the Anti-racism Training!), Burns asked the attendees to stand in a group, all facing the same direction. Every person was given a crumpled ball of paper and asked to throw it into a wastepaper basket at the front of the group. After the paper balls had landed all over the room, Burns asked how people in the back of the group had felt during the activity. The consensus was frustrated. The game was unfair. While some attendees attempted to work together during the activity, by passing the paper balls to the front, some in the back just gave up and others threw the ball even though they knew they wouldn’t have a chance. Those who were in the front had a much better chance – even though they weren’t guaranteed to succeed.
Burns revealed the activity was a metaphor for society. For those who experience racial oppression, they are effectively in the back of the group, and asked to hit a target far in front of them. Only the truly exceptional could succeed. Those with white privilege are much closer to the front and have a much higher (though not total) chance of success.
Small groups met at the end of the workshop to discuss their thoughts after viewing the short film “The Lunch Date” and, in some cases, to discuss the questions below. Episcopal Charities recommends bringing these questions back to your own program staff and volunteers.
1. In your program, what is the racial and ethnic makeup of the volunteers, staff, and sponsoring congregation? Is it different from the racial and ethnic makeup of those being served?
2. Have you seen examples of prejudice, bigotry, stereotyping, discrimination, etc. in the program?
3. What “aha moments” regarding race or culture (if any), have you had working in your program?
4. In your program, are there any cultural barriers which prevent people from fully participating, either as volunteers or as students/clients/guests?
5. What measures are you taking or can you take to dismantle these barriers?
Two workshops were held. The first on October 15th at St. Paul’s Church in Poughkeepsie and the 2nd in Manhattan on the Cathedral Close of St. John the Divine. The Rev. Dr. Allison Moore, Juan Leon, and Anahi Galante also assisted with the workshops. Episcopal Charities would like to thank both presenters and the attendees for creating a powerful workshop.
See here for more trainings and resources.