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Reflections on Power: In the Role of a Facilitator & the Body of a White Woman

john-dewey-reflection-quote-16vbfv9I recently facilitated a session where someone shared in the closing reflections that they felt dehumanized. For anyone to feel dehumanized by my actions is, for me, a fail. When I mess up, it’s imperative for me to own it, learn from the experience, act differently in the future, and make amends as best as I am able. My hope is that this public reflection will help me integrate what I am learning and potentially be valuable for people reading this (as I know I am one of many who carries the identities of a facilitator and a white woman). I am committed to facilitating with integrity and humility. Reflecting in depth on the feedback I receive is an essential part of my commitment. What follows is my perceptions and analysis. I’m sure that there is more to see from the perspective of other people who were present.

Perceptions About Power that I had Walking into this Session

When I am facilitating a group, I always hold power in the room. I guide where a group goes or doesn’t go. I hold the actual or symbolic microphone, making decisions about whose voices are heard or not heard. I take up space. I am the center of attention at times. I have influence over what is or isn’t happening in the room. Sometimes I use my power in ways that are contrary to how a person in the room would like the time to be spent. I take very seriously this facilitator’s position of power and influence and strive to use it to make equitable spaces where people are respected and able learn from each other.

problem-of-whitenessI am a white person and a White Woman. I share these identities with many other people that have historically and still currently hold social power simply because we are white. We act in all kinds of ways, intentionally or unknowingly, that hold us as superior and others as inferior. We have and still do cause trauma and harm towards people of color. Historically (and currently), white folks and White Women had the power of being listened to and believed, our word would be taken as the true word when in relationship with people who did not have as much social power as someone who looks like me. I would be listened to while others weren’t. And many, many folks who looked like me used that power to not only get what we wanted and control other people, but to actually harm other people. When I show up in a room, I am showing up as myself in that moment, and I am also showing up in the image of other people who looked like me and were allowed to be abusive, harmful, and inconsiderate, to name just a few things, towards people who did not look like me.

When I’m facilitating (and in life), sometimes people will be responding to my direct actions. Sometimes people will be responding to my actions that resemble those of people who looked like me in the past.

Another identity that I can embody is that of a White School Teacher, an archetype that has historically been abusive with its power (along with the education system at large). 80% of teachers in public schools in the United States are white and it is well researched that white teachers and the education system that white folks have created have not been fair, kind, honest, or effective in educating students of color (and some might argue all students).

As a white facilitator, particularly when working in a multi-racial setting, I must be hyper aware of my whiteness and all the ways that I am using or releasing my power and even the ways that those who looked like me have used and abused our power in the past.

What I learned in the Experience I Facilitated

  • Knowing all of that above — There was a 15-minute section of time where I forgot that I was white. I was centered on the task of facilitating a process and learning experience. I slipped into the role of a teacher. I used my power as the facilitator to teach the group something that I thought was important for them to learn. I did not realize that when I was the facilitator interrupting participants (an act that felt appropriate for what I was teaching in the moment), I was also a white woman, perhaps a white teacher, interrupting and shutting down people of color — a behavior that is very common for white people to do. In hindsight, I think if I had been holding in my awareness that I was white in that tense moment, I would have used my facilitator power in a way that did not replicate patterns of white folks using our power to oppress and silence people of color. But I forgot that I was white (a privilege and pattern that happens often for us white folks). It was a harsh reminder about how much diligence it takes to consciously disrupt habits of whiteness that are alive in me. I’ve grown up in a world that allows me to not know what it means to be white, but to just exist as “a person.” That ignorance is unacceptable if I am facilitating multi-racial groups and working towards racial justice and healing.
  • As a facilitation team, we were teaching something that the group did not give us consent to teach. This is contrary to how I like to operate, how I believe education is effective, and to my own sense of respect for learners. But I did not realize I was living that until it was too late.
  • I am reflecting on the wounds people carry from up to 25 years of schooling with white teachers that were abusive with their power. When I am facilitating and “teaching” something, how often might I be summoning up past experiences of trauma or mistrust from the white teachers of someone’s childhood?
  • I am also reflecting on — what could it have looked like for someone to interrupt and name the ways my whiteness was showing up and influencing the moment?

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What Happened — The Facilitated Experience

A social justice fellowship hired 3 consultants (a multi-racial team) to guide the Fellows (majority people of color) in a process to co-design the rest of their programming and curriculum with an allocated amount of money to work with. We facilitated:

  • Pre-session: 1-on-1 interviews
  • Session 1: Connecting, understanding the mission, the kind of learning environment that they want to experience and create
  • Session 2: Relationships with money, capitalism and collectively shaping a power analysis of what they want to amplify, interrupt and innovate
  • Session 3: Collective Decision-making process and begin designing

Session 3 is the session I’m reflecting on here. Our goal was to give the Fellows an overview of a collective decision-making process and then facilitate them through the process, highlighting the process in action along the way so that they could take over the facilitation and facilitate themselves as our contract ended after session 3. In session 1 we asked if anyone had experience with a collective decision-making process. No one raised their hand so we proceeded with the assumption that we would be offering them a process that would be new to them, something for them to experience first hand and then they could choose to use or not use it. We chose a consent-based decision-making process as the tool that we would offer.

Some mistakes that I and we made:

  • We did not explicitly get consent from the Fellows to teach them and guide them through the particular consent decision-making process.
  • Before we began practicing and using the process, I was assigned the role of explaining the process. We had created a handout and I explained the elements of the handout. My approach was very didactic teaching. In session 1, the majority of the Fellows indicated that they did not like learning in a lecture type environment. At least one Fellow indicated that they did like more traditional teaching styles sometimes. I was not listening to their request to learn by doing, but was instead taking 45 minutes to teach and explain.
  • I used my power as the facilitator and the assumptions that I had made that they were open to receiving the process and forced them to participate in the process, at times interrupting an organic flow so that I could fit their organic reactions into the process and highlight for them how to follow the steps. While I knew why I was making those choices, they did not and I think it felt like me inserting my power to control the process in the way I wanted it to go, disregarding their wishes and efforts towards shared leadership.
  • When I was using my power as a facilitator to interrupt people while they were talking and connect what they were saying to the process, not only was I forcing participation into something they didn’t consent to, I was also wearing my white skin, in a position of power, and interrupting people of color and exerting my power over people of color.

Some comments made in the closing reflections that particularly stood out to me:

  • Over-explaining is a form of Anti-Blackness
  • To point out process feels dehumanizing
  • Trust us that the work you’ve done is effective and we’ve got this
  • It felt like we were being blocked by the facilitation

I apologized for the mistakes I could see in the closing circle and I will continue to listen for ways that I can make amends for any harm that I caused. And, I think the best way for me to repair from these mistakes is to be diligent in myself about not replicating the same mistakes. I know as a white woman, my whiteness will continue to be revealed to me, and my inability to see how I am part of the problem or perpetuating problems will be illuminated. My prayers are that I keep learning, unlearning and embodying my growth and that I cause as little harm as possible. I know that I am on this journey of racial healing and racial justice for the long haul and I pray that I show up with humility and integrity, contributing in places where my presence is of value and is not a disruption to healing and justice.

P.s. This article was shared with me as a follow-up to this group: Consensus is a means, not an end.

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The Rise of Hate and Overt White Supremacy

During the election last year, I had 2 conversations with Trump supporters where I shared of my concern that Trump’s candidacy and potential election is bringing to the surface a quality of hate and violence that resembles Hitler’s era. They both responded to me with surprise, “You really believe that?” (met by my own surprise that they really couldn’t see that). Their responses to my emphatic YES were their own perceptions of how “he’s not that bad” and “folks wouldn’t take it that far.” And that’s “not what I support”. And here we are. A year of Neo-Nazi, White Nationalist, and KKK activity on the rise. Horrendous murders and violence like the one below. And the continued systematic deployment of a White Nationalist agenda that lives tucked in the legalities of all of the major US systems (criminal justice, education, housing, employment, healthcare, etc.). I have not revisited these conversations with these 2 people… I should.

I strongly believe that we must be able to see and face the reality that we are living before there is any hope of transforming it to create a brighter and more compassionate present and future… for ALL people. May we find the courage to act in different ways, to make different mistakes, to honor the many lives that are lost to hate, violence and discrimination, and to summon up the bravery, imagination and wit to create a future we actually dream of. (my “we” in this post is all the people with goodness in our hearts).

Articles:

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Institutionalizing Racial Justice in Schools

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As you’re reflecting on 2017 and setting goals for 2018, is there a line-item for addressing institutional racism?

What will it take to spur White Americans to action? We are living during a movement for racial justice. Will you spend the movement enjoying the privilege to ignore it, or will you join it?

Lobby your teachers, principals, school board members, and legislators to mandate Ethnic Studies.

This article asks some important questions, offers a ton of links for furthering your education, and offers some concrete suggestions for how you can be more active.

Thank you Marta Alcalá-Williams for pointing me to this article.

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50 of the most impactful creators, artists, and activists in 2017

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Who are the people whose ideas you are listening to? Whose leadership are you following or respecting? Are you making efforts to seek out and learn from the perspectives and insights of people who have been oppressed (for generations)? If not, PLEASE DO. Your life will be better and collectively we’ll be one step closer to a better life for all of us.

Not sure who to learn from? Here’s a list of 50 impactful creators, artists, and activists whose imaginations extend beyond normalizing and affirming the same mainstream messages, folks who have taken risks and are pushing us closer to democracy being a practice not a hope, and racial inclusion being a basic starting point instead of a goal. Google any of them and find some media to consume. Let it touch your heart and activate your spirit.

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Which America Do You See?

“I never knew. This isn’t the America I thought it was. It hadn’t touched me personally.”

I hear these kinds of comments a lot lately, about so many different aspects of this country. I’ve said these words myself. If you are feeling this way, may you find the courage to stay connected to the shock, horror and overwhelm so that you can actually act to address the causes and effects of the truths you are waking up to. We need you active, not deflated.

To those of you who have for generations been dealing with these realities and dedicating your lives and those of your ancestors towards changing the tides… thank you. Humanity is indebted to you. May enough of us join you to actually make a difference in the lives of those living now and future generations.

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Reflections on White Supremacy on the Rise

So many feelings around this

Nazi’s and White Supremacists are willing to be violent and kill people. Period. They also feel emboldened right now.

This feels like an instance where police acted fast and used their resources to stop actual violent perpetrators (With the partnership of a community member that knew to remember the license plate in a time of crisis). I’m grateful for that.

I was traveling last week. One of the things that I noticed and mentioned to my white male friend was that I kept noticing myself being suspicious of a certain type of white men (clean cut, polished and pointy ones) when I passed them in the hotel. Many times I caught myself wondering what was under their suit? Is he one of the alt-right folks? My friend encouraged me to continue listening to that thought, let it warn and protect, and at the same time, to also hold the awareness that my mind is recognizing patterns and making generalizations.

In writing this post, I kept deleting my thought that — their sunburns feel symbolic. Then I went to learn more about the conference and read the NYtimes article that quoted Richard Spencer, a leader amongst the alt-right and the keynote of their conference:

“But now his tone changed as he began to tell the audience of more than 200 people, mostly young men, what they had been waiting to hear. He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. Mr. Spencer called out: “Hail Trump! Hail our people!” and then, “Hail victory!” — the English translation of the Nazi exhortation “Sieg Heil!” The room shouted back.

And from the article about the 3 men arrested:

“In a coincidence, two of the men who were arrested spoke to the Gainesville Sun before the shooting. Said William Fears to the newspaper: “Us coming in and saying we’re taking over your town, we’re starting to push back, we’re starting to want to intimidate back. We want to show our teeth a little bit because, you know, we’re not to be taken lightly. We don’t want violence; we don’t want harm. But at the end of the day, we’re not opposed to defending ourselves.”

I wonder about all the men who are trying to show their teeth right now, what is the healing that they need? All the white people who feel threatened by changing power structures and are also trying to show their teeth or actually firing bullets at people, actual bullets or the ones dressed as laws and policies. What do they need to start acting differently?

And always, I wonder what we do to shift this. In this case, I can only look to all the other white folks I share this planet with. These are our people. These are our fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, sons and neighbors. It is also many of our ancestors who did, in fact, create an America that was initially only for white, wealthy people. In that way, I think the first part of what Richard Spencer says has truth:

“America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Mr. Spencer thundered. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

American governance is indeed the creation of white people. In most other ways, America was nourished and built by people of color.

I think that the rest of us white folks have a responsibility to help the future of America be one that is created by the vast diversity of people who inhabit this land, to share what we have inherited with those who are not white, and together, to recognize that this land actually belongs to Mother Earth.

Phew… so many feelings…

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A Note to White Women about White Supremacy

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 11.27.32 PMPeople often ask, what can I do?

Layla Saad has written this letter to spiritual white women. But it’s relevant to anyone who genuinely wants to be an ally and stand in solidarity. I think it’s worth a read if you are white, male, or wealthy. I’ve pulled out some snippets…

“Saying ‘yes’ to doing this work is only the first step.

If you’ve given your YES, then you need to know what your YES means.

Your YES means:

YES to constantly doing the work within myself of identifying how I oppress others and myself, and doing the work of calling myself out when I do harm – whether I meant it or not.

YES to doing the work of educating myself instead of expecting people of colour to tell me what to do or expecting them to make it comfortable for me to unpack my own privilege.

YES to constantly educating myself around issues of social justice, intersectional feminism, sacred activism and conscious leadership.

YES to listening to people of colour and other marginalised folk when they are taking the time to educate me for free, and not telling them how I think they should see things or what I think they should do.

YES to speaking up as often as possible in my personal and professional environments about this work and to calling out / calling in white privilege and oppression when I see it.

YES to supporting POC and other marginalised folk by reading and listening to their work, buying their services and products, inviting them onto my summits, podcasts and programs, and cultivating relationships with people of colour that are ‘transformational and not transactional’ (hat tip to Desiree Lynn Adaway for this quote). In other words, not using POC as tokens, but having real and respectful relationships with them of mutual support.

YES to taking an honest look at my business and the way that I may be perpetuating white supremacy through it (e.g. through cultural appropriation, mainly highlighting white people, refusing to speak on social justice, etc.) and doing what I can to change that.

YES to setting my ego and fragility aside so that I can do what’s right instead of what is easy.

YES to not letting guilt or making mistakes get in the way of me continuing to show up.

YES to apologising when I get it wrong and taking accountability for the harm that I’ve done.

YES to forgiving myself and educating myself, so that I can do better next time.

YES to not just doing this work when it is convenient or comfortable for me, or because I think that talking about social justice will somehow enhance my business brand, but because it’s the right thing to do.

YES to seeing my spirituality as a way to engage deeper into this work rather than as a way to bypass this work, and to recognising that being devoted to Spirit means being devoted to social justice.

YES to doing this work every day, even when I get it wrong, even when it’s hard, even when it feels like I’m not good enough at it – because it’s not about me.

YES to bringing my anger to the table and using it in conscious ways to call out spiritual-bypassing, white-washing, light-washing, racism, misogyny and microaggressions when I see them happening.

YES to calling out and not engaging in cultural appropriation – which is rampant in the world of spiritual entrepreneurship.

YES to staying in my own lane and using my unique spiritual gifts to show up in sacred activism – whether as a writer, an artist, a facilitator, a speaker, a healer, a teacher or a guide.

If you cannot be with your own rage, then you cannot be with the rage that arises when a POC is getting frustrated with you because of your white privileged behavior.

If you cannot be with your own grief, then you cannot be with the grief that POC feel as a result of living with the constant trauma of being oppressed and discriminated against.

If you cannot be with your own power, then you cannot make space for POC exerting their power through their voice, their boundary-setting and their no bullshit truth-telling.

If you truly want to do this work then saying YES to all of the above is a non-negotiable.

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