originally published in 2014.
An Unhelpful Pattern After many years of doing cultural diversity workshops, we recognized an unhelpful pattern often emerged in the learning environment. In a typical workshop, people of color were asked to share their stories. The people of color in the session had a lot to say, their stories needed to be heard and understood. However, instead of listening to these experiences, white people often became overwhelmed by guilt, shame or denial. These reactions left the people of color vulnerable to judgment or rejection by the white participants. People of color often ended up being the source of ”the problem” without any real learning taking place. An unintended consequence, this pattern blocked healing and reinforced the fracture that racial misunderstanding causes all too frequently.
It was clear that to enable participants to move beyond historical and cultural understanding about race, that pattern needed to change and different tools were needed. We needed new resources to support a more effective dynamic of learning and healing between racial groups.
A New Dynamic: White People hear from other White People We created a new dynamic in our workshops where white people hear stories from role models — other white people who have already committed themselves to racial justice and have challenged their own internalized privilege. This approach takes the focus off of people of color. It allows white people to find their own voice, and to reflect on their own experiences and understanding of racism. This has been a missing piece in social justice and cultural competency work.
One challenge was to identify those role models and bring them into the workshop. We found the best way to do that is to use film.
Film as the Medium for White Voices on Race When the task is to shine a light on white privilege or introduce white people to the concept of unconscious bias, we now use clips of film that feature white activists and educators talking about their own learning. These clips are then braided with facilitated dialogue or other exercises. (When viewing these film clips, people of color have an opportunity to focus on their own issues of internalized racism, should they choose to do so.) Film lets trainers and educators bring the most powerful stories and storytellers into an equity & inclusion learning event. This results in a collective experience that can shape conversation and insight in a way that benefits all participants.
This approach provides pathways for learning and analysis that can build real bridges between white people and people of color, creating space for authentic relationships across a racial divide.
The World Trust film Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible is designed for learning and dialogue about white privilege.