When it comes to race and racism, the learning curves and needs of white people and Black people are very different. Many white people seek to understand—and perhaps confront for the first time– the history and current manifestations of white supremacy and racism in America. It seems entirely reasonable that this learning takes place with those who need it most—a group of committed white people. Historically, Affinity Spaces create a safe place for people of the same race to come together to learn about racism, anti-racism, racial equity, social justice, and the consequences of their racial identity within the context of white supremacist culture and history.
“White Women for Racial Justice in Pinellas County” launched in 2020 following an exploratory conversation about the role of white women in an anti-racism movement between St. Petersburg City Council member Amy Foster and Julie Rocco, Senior Community Engagement Advocate for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. Approximately 50 women committed to a 7-session series on white fragility, history of racism between black and white women, performative activism, power-politics-policy and race, and how to activate as a Black ally.
Black mentors served as learning partners to develop the curriculum for each session and provided additional resources. Smaller breakout groups allowed participants to reflect on their personal journeys and individual opportunities for growth.
In many instances, participants may wish to spare their Black colleagues, friends, or acquaintances the burden of responsibility for educating white people about the racism they experience daily. Participant Caryn Nesmith believes, “An affinity group creates the space for White people to deeply reflect on their own whiteness and the harm that the dominant White culture has inflicted, which is imperative for us to be effective allies. But this type of self-reflection can be messy and vulnerable; Black and brown people should not have to take on the burden of our growth and understanding of racial history, trauma, and injustices. It is our work to own and do.”
White Women for Racial Justice have applied the Courageous Conversations protocol to navigate uncomfortable and challenging topics. One tool, the Courageous Conversations Compass, identifies four primary ways that people deal with racial information, events, and issues: feeling, thinking, believing, and doing. This mindfulness exercise encourages participants to center themselves in all four methodologies before engaging. For example, in discussion, a comment may cause a strong emotion (feeling), and learning to process those feelings, thoughts, and ideas can help propel the individual towards appropriate actions. Connecting with others through all four segments can yield increased empathy and understanding.
For the final session, Black Male Mentors led a panel discussion about topics including:
- fears and biases of white women towards Black men
- interracial marriage, and fathering biracial children
- The experience of being the only Black male in the room
- Generational differences in St. Petersburg for Black men living in Pinellas
Affiliate groups can inform and educate and build individual capacity for conversations about race and deepen understanding of the systemic drivers of racial inequities. They can be helpful to better understand one’s own judgments, perceptions, and biases.
As the year comes to a close, the White Women for Racial Justice participants will translate their knowledge into activism and advocacy work toward systemic change.