The first participants in the “Detaching from Whiteness” series were generous enough to share their thoughts and feelings about their experience.
This workshop is necessary for all white folks. Erin asks you to think critically about the spectre of whiteness and how it operates both subtly and obviously every day. To be clear, this is not about getting white folks to feel guilty: this is about accountability, understanding how everyone suffers from white supremacy and how white people can begin to tackle the systems of oppression they are complicit in, often without even knowing it.
Now that the workshop is done, and after reading materials that Erin has recommended and ones I discovered along the way, I'm shocked to learn just how entrenched white supremacy was/is in my upbringing and my thinking. It's crucial for us white folks to buckle down and do this work—it is hard, it is emotional labour, and it's uncomfortable, but it's also necessary.
I liked that we connected via video each week. I think being able to see each other was crucial. One thing I'd recommend is to have more suggested reading, and maybe one required reading, each week, but presented to us a whole week in advance, maybe at the end of the session? Sometimes the suggestions would come a few days before we're meant to meet up and I know we all work full time and often have other commitments in the evenings, and it's crucial, I think, to not rush through the readings but to actually have time to read and reflect. Having one or two readings to talk about will help root the conversation if the group is feeling quiet or if nothing much happened over the previous week related to the workshop (i.e. didn't go to any lectures/talks, didn't find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation regarding race, etc.).
The tone of the workshop was always very serious, somber, because this is serious, somber work. This might just be my fragility flaring up, but one thing I thought was crucial was when we would talk candidly about our favourite movies, or what liquid we'd choose to squirt out of our fingers (nice and bizarre one, Nick) during warm up or wind down. This is not to say that some of my favourite moments weren't those surreal "ah hah" moments about whiteness—they were, and I learned a lot from those—but because this is so emotionally laborious, it was nice sometimes to be reminded that the four/five of us are people with complex lives outside of this workshop. That we can make each other laugh even though our main aim is to begin to critically understand our structural privilege. I think those short activities are crucial for other reasons, too: they warm us up to each other, remind us that we're in a safe space with nice people, and can help create an air of community.
One of my takeaways echoes something Layla Saad says about her workbook: it's crucial to enter into this work whole-heartedly and fully genuine. It can't be an intellectual experiment, which I think is how I approached this workshop at first. If you're going to truly benefit from it you need to be prepared to think critically—and in ways that sometimes feel antagonistic—about your family, your community and your way of thinking. You have to suit up for that emotional labour, sometimes at great cost, including having uncomfortable conversations with people you were close with who aren't prepared to think critically about their whiteness. I do think the rhetoric of cost/benefit is irrelevant when it comes to anti-racism work, though: I believe that it's morally required, an ethical expectation of being a citizen of this world. When you are someone who has historically benefited from the ideological structures at play—structures that are violent and homicidal at worst and trauma-inducing at best to minority groups—you have an obligation (no matter how it costs or benefits you) to understand how you are complicit in that system.
The self work of detaching from whiteness for me has been no easy task. And the DFW course was no exception. At times, the course and our discussions left me an emotional wreck. And at other times, validated me in my experience. I spent a significant amount of time questioning myself, my motivations for this work, my identity as a white man, and the source of my underlying racist thought and beliefs.
As uncomfortable as that has been, I’ve also really benefitted from the conversations we’ve had, and the input I’ve received from the DFW group. The meetings and our talks allowed me to begin to step back from the narratives that I’ve been living with most of my life, and start the work of rewriting them. Meeting by meeting I also became more comfortable opening myself up and having these uncomfortable conversations with people that I had only just met. That was helped a lot by the facilitation and set up of the meetings by Erin.
I found the the structure of the group and our meetings to be a great set up. There were times we had long silences, and times where I wasn’t sure who was going to respond first, other times I was stuck in contemplation after what we just talked about, and times I had things I wanted to say immediately. But I knew going in that the DFW course wasn’t always going to be easy, or comfortable, or really any thing like what my own mental image thought it would be. And that was some thing I accepted as a natural part of the process.
Overall I was thankful to be a part of the DFW group and came away from our series with a greater appreciation for what shared experience and knowledge can bring to my own self work. Sharing myself with others and having other share themselves with me has made me realize how I would like to continue adding in more structured group courses to my own individual work. The insight into other people’s experiences, their interpretations, and how this work is impacting them has been immeasurably valuably. And being a part of Erin’s DFW course has truly put a personal touch on this work that I hadn’t expected. I’m thankful to Erin and the others who participated in our weekly meetings for everything they all brought to the group.