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White Identity and Anti-Racism in Progressive Cultures
Many White individuals struggle with reconciling their identity as a ‘Good [White] Person’ with the larger oppressive racist structures they have come to identify. Facing conversations around racism can bring up feelings of fear, guilt, defensiveness, and perfectionism. Often when receiving feedback around racism they may get immediately defensive, rather than opening to that insight. Unfortunately this hesitance creates complicity with the racist systems that oppress us all, and becomes a barrier to collective liberation for people and organizations seeking to have honest, reciprocal relationships within a conscious multi-cultural organization.
This work requires a path to moving from internalized, personalized shame and complicity to conscious behavior change.
White-bodied individuals in progressive spaces who are at this identity reconciliation stage often become overly focused on seeking approval from the People of Color in their life, with a focus on “doing it right” in anti-racism / anti-oppression work. Often, White people may turn to their friends and colleagues of color to ask questions about the impacts of racism without engaging in their own personal work of unlearning the socialized & systematized racism we are all fed daily. In this way, they are asking for free labor on the part of people of color to become teachers about the system they are being disproportionately oppressed by.
Meanwhile, it can be difficult for White folks to connect with the idea of holding a positive white identity while being actively non- or anti-racist, especially those who are newer to learning about anti-racism and may make the attributes of White Supremacy Culture which are systemically reinforced onto all of us into a personal failing. This can result in a soil that is not fertile for truly reciprocal, rather than transactional, relationships between People of Color and White people.
Truly multi-cultural organizations can begin the path to thriving with organizational equity by first naming the often unnamed dominant cultural norms, which traditionally center whiteness and especially the “good/successful White person” as the idealized persona and lifestyle to aspire to. Unlearning this goal can unlock the understanding and further exploration needed for an actively anti-racist, multicultural organization in which a diversity of perspectives and ideas are involved in the active work of unlearning complicity with an oppressive system, and advancing equity for all.
“Culture is powerful precisely because it is so present and at the same time so very difficult to name or identify. The characteristics listed [here] are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. They are damaging to both people of color and to white people. Organizations that are people of color led or a majority people of color can also demonstrate many damaging characteristics of white supremacy culture. We cannot enter reciprocal relationship without first healing. Otherwise we are putting the burden of approval from those [we are] asking it from.” — Tema Okun & Kenneth Jones, Attributes of White Supremacy Culture in Organizations
Robin Counts navigates the spaces of facilitation, human curiosity and Anti-Oppression. Her background includes social services, working abroad in Namibia and Korea, 18 years at Microsoft as a Research Manager and PM, 2 years of freelance consulting and 2 years of Learning-focused research at Salesforce. For the last few years, she has been integrating her lifelong research on bias and differences to facilitate culture change in organizations. Last year she catalyzed 150 hours of group-facilitation centering Anti-Oppression and healing internalized oppression. Her work today focuses on systems design and inclusion, supporting diverse groups in collaborating across their many beautiful differences.
On our panel, Robin can speak as the LTHJ Global Research Catalyst from the perspective of living in a White body and working in reciprocal relationships with other people in the anti-oppression space. She has been exploring the intersectionality of relationships through a lifetime of navigating these spaces. She is committed to decolonizing our society, and the Anti-Oppression journey she shares with individuals was born from that commitment.
You can check out Robin’s work & connect further on LinkedIn.
Joel Kampf is a seasoned Executive Coach, Leadership Development Consultant, Facilitator, and Cultural/DEIB [Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging] Assessment Specialist. He guides his clients through a process to access a Positive White Identity that leads to a better understanding of how racism hurts White People and how ending it serves the interests of all People.
On our panel, Joel can speak to working with shame from a ‘blank slate thinking’ perspective, learning from historical context and taking the steps to a positive white identity. In order to change the current paradigm, Joel asserts that we must begin with an acceptance of where we are & how we got here. He puts name to our lifelong social conditioning, which helps us deal with feelings of shame by realizing they are not our personal failing, but rather reflective of current oppressive power structures.
You can check out Joel’s work & connect further at JoelKampf.com.
And your host… 🎙️ Lindsey T. H. Jackson!
Lindsey is a creative force in motion. Every year, organizations and outlets like MoPOP, the Washington State GSBA and King5 News call on her to guide thousands of individuals through their shared journeys of Unlearning our culturally patterned biases and traumas. And now, we’re fortunate enough to be one of them!
Through her ongoing research on the root causes of our Western culture of pressure and burnout, Lindsey has spent over 15 years clearing the path to wellness & liberation alongside leaders, teams, and organizations.
And today, she’s the CEO creating the future of work with her team at LTHJ Global — leading the organizational Diversity, Equity & Inclusion evolution from the inside out.
You can connect with her on LinkedIn or learn more about her work here at LTHJ Global.
We explored this together in the shared space of our virtual Zoom event on Unlearning White Complicity.
Registration is free for this event each first Wednesday of the month; bring a friend!