Waking Up White: A Discussion Guide

Created by Jenny Truax and Grace Hagen

Feel free to contact curriculum creators Jenny Truax (cwjedi@gmail.com)
or Grace Hagen (graceannhagen@gmail.com) with any questions.

About This Guide

This guide was developed in 2016-2017. Each session is about 90 minutes with plenty of wiggle room. We often spent the first half of the session sharing our reactions to the readings, and the second half discussing a current article, video, or subject that touched on the issue of racism and white privilege. We’ve included these supplemental materials as well.

We tried to create a brave, vulnerable space where people could build relationships while engaging this work. To this end, we had people take turns bringing snacks and had breaks scheduled in every session. We hope you find it helpful!

 

Table of Contents

Session One : Book Introduction  and Establishing the Group

Session Two: Childhood in White

Session Three: Midlife Wake-Up Calls

Session Four: Why Didn’t I Wake Up Sooner?

Session Five: Rethinking Key Concepts

Session Six: Twenty-Five Years of Tossing and Turning

Session Seven: Leaving My Comfort Zone

Session Eight: Inner Work

Session Nine: Outer Work

Sesion Ten: Reclaiming My Humanity

 

Session One: Introductions, Key Concepts and Group Expectations

Expected Reading – ask the group to read the book introduction before this session.
Consider also having people watch Debby Irving TED Talk before the first session.

Prep: for YouTube Clip

7:10 Intros (name, gender pronoun, why you’re doing this, hopes, fears)

7:30 Group Norms (below) – present and ask for changes or additions to establish a shared agreement on discussion

7:40 Review Video of TED Talk:  2:15- 4:15  

7:45 Open Discussion on Video (don’t feel pressure to use all these questions)

        1) What was your initial reaction to the video?

  • What did you notice about it? 
  • Any feelings brought up by the video (uncomfortable, excitement, etc) 

        2) She brings up the ideas of Natural Order and Level Playing Field (land of opportunity/American Dream for all) 

  • Were you socialized with either of these ideas?  How?
    • What did you see that reinforced these ideas?
    • What were you taught growing up about who was in charge, and other social identity groups like impoverished people or people of color?

        ​3) She observes that her hometown was not randomly white, but that intentional policies had kept people of color from buying homes there (GI Bill). Does this mirror anyone else’s experience?

        4) She names 3 practices that help her in this work (“individual work to think about our own belief systems is a crucial piece of moving beyond racism”). Which of the below strategies seems easiest or hardest for you?

  1. Curiosity – We’ll always make snap judgements, but it’s important to ask:  which voices are present, what messages are sent, whose perspective am I not hearing?
  2. Courage – being courageous makes it easier to continue to be courageous
  3. Tolerance – for her own discomfort with imperfection

8:15 Set Reading Expectations, talk about logistics (food, time, location, amount of reading) –  

8:25 Evaluation (how do you feel, what went well for you, what could be improved?) –  

        Next Group Date and Reading

 

Suggestions for Group Norms

  1. Take space, make space – (AKA step up, step back; Make space for all voices – if you are typically quiet, consider offering your thoughts to the group, if you are typically first to talk, consider waiting to let other voices be heard)
  2. Creating a brave space (A lot of folks don’t have a lot of experience talking about racism so it can feel scarier than it is; give yourself permission to be vulnerable. Some of our best learning happens when we take risks)
  3. Lean into the discomfort, try to stay engaged; pay attention to what feelings come up for you. (Sometimes a hot button issue comes up for you, or you’re stretched into discomfort)
  4. Awareness of our gender pronouns (Our name tags state our pronoun gender pronouns, or how we would like to be referred to)
  5. Work the idea, not the person (If someone says something, chances are many others were thinking the same thing. It helps to build relationships and learn new ideas to address the issues that come up rather than making it about the person who says it)
  6. Speak from the “I” – Let’s try to share about our own experiences rather than speaking for other people or universalizing our experience
  7. We are all learners. No one here is an expert at anti-racism; it’s a lifelong process for white folks to unlearn racism, we are all on our distinct journeys. Not a one-stop thing.
  8. We have a “parking lot” if an issue comes up that we don’t have time to discuss, so that we don’t lose it.

 

Session Two: Childhood in White

7:15 Review group norms  

7:20  Time to review the last chapter

7:25 Anchor Quote:  (ask someone to read one of these quotes from Waking Up White to start)

“Race stands apart… Not only is race visible and permanent; it’s come to act as a social proxy for one’s value in American society. “

“White has long stood for normal and better, while black and brown have been considered different and inferior.”

“Social value isn’t just a matter of feeling as if one belongs or doesn’t; it affects one’s access to housing, education and jobs, the building blocks necessary to access the great American promise – class mobility.”

7:30 Break group into listening pairs to discuss initial reflections on this chapter.

Dyads (groups of two)– 2 min for first person to speak, 2 min for 2nd and then 2 min to dialogue together

  1. Talk about how dyads are a listening opportunity to just say everything that comes to our mind.
  2. 2 minutes may seem like a long time, if you run out of things to say please start again and repeat what you said, maybe something more will come up for you.  If not, no problem!

7:40 Large group share, 1-2 sentences:  what is something new or unexpected that came up for you from the chapter and/or the dyad?  We will go around the circle, then popcorn to respond if there is time.

7:55 BREAK

8:05  Cycle of Socialization  

  • Introduce concept. Whole article is here, a shorter summary is here
  • Have a facilitator (or both!) go through their personal cycle of socialization in terms of race with specific examples and stories.

8:15 Socialization worksheets (below) – filled out in silence

8:25 Sharing about answers  

  • Name one insight you had from doing this exercise.
  • If time, discuss commonalities between people’s experiences

8:40 Wrap up  

  • Review Dates
  • Next Group Date, Reading, snacks

8:45 Evaluation (how do you feel, what went well for you, what could be improved?)   

The Road to Socialization

None of us are born racist or homophobic. Early on, we are taught about how the world works from our close loved ones. We learn about roles and expectations, and as we enter school, these messages are reinforced. Bobbie Harro describes this process in her classic article, “The Cycle of Socialization” which can be found in Readings for Diversity and Social Justice.  This worksheet is an adaptation of her original work.             

THE STAGES OF SOCIALIZATION

1. Birth and Early Childhood

We are born into a society with established rules, expectations, and roles for us to fill, based on our different social identities (identities like our sex, class, race, ability, etc.).  In our early childhoods, we learn how to behave and relate from our loved ones. Some examples include: “Boys don’t cry;” “Other religions aren’t as truthful;” “You should stay away from those people;” “Don’t worry about your broken toy, we’ll just buy you another”.  

Reflection Question

  1. At the time of your birth, what messages did society enforce about white folks, and people of color?
  2. What early messages did you get from family and caregivers related to race? (What norms for behavior, values, rules for you to follow, roles you should take)

2. Immersion in Institutional and Cultural Messages

Later on, we’re bombarded with messages from institutions with which we interact: religion, the family doctor, family friends, the store, police officers, and teachers. The messages are relentless and reinforcing, and to resist them is to invite scorn, isolation or even violence.  We’re also bombarded with messages from our culture: the media (news shows, internet ads, advertising, newspapers, radio), the language we use, song lyrics, etc.

Reflection Question

Think about your time during high school and college, and the messages you received around race.

  1. What messages or “scripting” did you receive from institutions you encountered (for example, church, school, legal system, medical system, businesses)
  2. What messages or rules were you taught from the culture you consumed? (for example, cultural practices, song lyrics, language, social media, patterns of thought)

3. Enforcements of the Status Quo

It is not easy to exit this system of socialization; conforming to our assigned roles is rewarded in every realm (for parents, spouses, employees, students, etc.)  We are deterred from challenging racism in a million ways.

Reflection Question

  1. When you have challenged the status quo (challenged racism or white privilege) what messages have you received from co-workers, friends or family?
  2. How did you feel as a result of these messages?

4. Exit Ramps: Following a Different Path

It takes someone or something to show us the exit ramp away from the Status Quo. “Exit ramp events” can happen any time in our lives –  maybe through a particularly insightful teacher, a powerful book, or when we witness an act of blatant racism. “Exit ramp events” make us newly aware of oppression, and start us on a new path of awareness and action.

Reflection Questions

  1. What exit ramps have you experienced around race that challenged your earlier socialization?
  2. What new awareness or action resulted from this “exit ramp event”?

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES Additional Resources related to this Chapter (Feel free to send out before or after the session for additional learning!)

1.  Why I Have No Sympathy for Angry White Men

“…the assumption is that White men are smart, hard working, moral, and righteous fuels the idea that if the White men are not living the American Dream the system must be broken. For everyone else, failure is a sign of individual failure, cultural failure, and communal shortcomings but if White men ain’t winning, the game is rigged…”

2. Fighting Racism Where White Workers Are Hurting, Too

“…The last thing politicians who benefit from wedge politics want to see is working people across the nation transcending racial and cultural lines, and realizing those same politicians are the common source of their pain…”

3. There is no neutral there: Appalachia as a mythic “Trump Country”

“…Cultural elites have long used the plight and character of Appalachians to illustrate the darkest failures of American progress. This strategy shores up the righteousness of “good” white Americans while at the same time absolving them of the responsibility to think critically about race and racism. In an election cycle marked by a growing acceptance of white nationalism and misogyny, this is unacceptable…”

Session Three – Midlife Wake Up Calls

Prep: for YouTube Clip

7:15 Time to review the last chapter  

7:20 Initial thoughts/sharing – go around, then time for popcorn.   

Possible anchor quote:

(Talking about the Indian re-education Schools):  “Though it’s tempting to point out the arrogance of such an attitude, I can imagine that in the minds of the early Anglo Americans, belief in their mission to civilize the world felt justifiable if not noble. After all, isn’t this a close cousin of what I was doing in my work to “help” and “fix” children of color? The last thing I thought I was doing was imposing my culture on students. I thought I was being helpful. This is one of the many horrors of whiteness – the ease with which good intentions can instead perpetuate one’s attachment to racial roles?”

8:00 Break

8:10 Film –  We’ve been introduced to the way that structural racism has functioned in the US since before its founding. (Check out supplemental videos listed below if you have time.) Structural racism is like a smog that we can’t help but breathe.  We’re going to watch a film that talks about some of the effects this has on African Americans in particular in terms of health.  

Video:  UNNATURAL CAUSES: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?

8:20 Large Group Reflections

  • What struck you?
  • What surprised you?
  • What feelings does this bring up?

8:40 Wrap up  

  • Next Group Date, Reading, snacks

8:45 Evaluation (how do you feel, what went well for you, what could be improved?)   

Additional Resources related to this Chapter

Feel free to send out before or after the session for additional learning!

The influence of racism on pregnancy outcomes:

· This is the video clip we watched here.

· Two other clips are here and here (both are excerpts from the 29 minute video”Unnatural Causes: When the Bough Breaks.” These clips are really good, and the whole site is super interesting).

The social construction of race and how it plays out in the medical field:

· Unlikely Mix: Race, Biology and Drugs (Can we create drugs that target different races? Should we? An exploration of some of the pitfalls of a recent study)

· A really interesting looking article list on the race, genetics and medicine.

· Is It Time To Stop Using Race In Medical Research? – NPR story: “There’s so much evidence that [race is an] invented social category…. How you can say this is a biological race is just absurd…..As a human geneticist wouldn’t want to imply that there are no differences — but among different ethnic groups, not racial classifications….”

Random other sources

· An interview (and book summary) with the author of How the Irish Became White – some interesting details and history.

· Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome and Intergenerational Trauma: Slavery is Like a Curse Passing Through the DNA of Black People – how the chronic trauma of slavery, racism and Jim Crow resides physiologically in the body.

Session Four:  Why Didn’t I Wake Up Sooner?

7:15:  Time to review last chapter.  

7:20:  Initial thoughts/sharing – go around, then time for popcorn.   

Possible anchor quote:

“When we went to our home in northern Maine each summer, i say the indigenous people in the area picking through white people’s trash at the dump. This observation bolstered my storyline that indigenous people couldn’t keep up with white people. When we replaced the screens on our cabin’s front porch one summer, my parents had us carefully roll up and bind the old screens and set them off to the side for “the Indians”. Acts of charity for people i was taught to see as inferior fed right into my belief that the white race was not only better at achieving, but an exceptionally generous and moral breed on whom others depended. Missing from my storyline was the part about how the land grant my family used to settle the town had been a catalyst for the demise of Native peoples.”

8:00:  Break

8:10 Anchor Quote talking about Zap Moments:   

I now understand that my exchanges and friendships with people of color were cautions ones.  As nervous as I was about saying something wrong, my racial counterparts likely felt equally apprehensive that I would judge them or perhaps expect that they teach me about racism, putting them in the weary role of educating yet another white person, a white person who registered disbelief at every revelation.  Looking back, I can see now that my few friends and colleagues of color had in fact made attempts to share the burden of racism with me, only to have their worst fears realized.  As I openly or silently judged and questioned their stories of discrimination with words and body language that said, “Really?  Are you sure she meant it that way?”  They must have thought, “You don’t have a clue, do you?”

  • Moment of silence to think about an example, then
  • Break into listening pairs and discuss: (consider posting these questions)

1) Give an example of a zap moment you’ve experienced – maybe a time when you really misinterpreted a person or situation.

2) What information were you missing?

3) What belief system, “filed-away stereotypes” or personal socialization contributed to your misinterpretation?

4) Have you had a zap experience that was positive?

8:25:  Large group wrap up:  what did you notice, what feelings were brought up?  

8:40 Wrap up   

  • Next date:  
  • Next reading:  Rethinking Key Concepts p. 99-111
  • Snacks?  

8:45 Evaluation (how do you feel, what went well for you, what could be improved?)   

 

Session Five: 25 Years of Tossing and Turning

Prep: for YouTube Clip

Consider sending out Trump and White Feminism article so people can read in entirety before session

7:15:  Reminder of norms, and time to review last chapter.  

7:20:  Initial thoughts/sharing – go around, then time for popcorn.   

  • Possible anchor quote: page 107 – dysfunctional rescuing

7:45 Video: White feminism Video

  • Time for quick clarifying questions just about definitions

8:05 Trump and White Feminism article

  • Highlights for people to read aloud (below)

8:15 Large Group Discussion

  • Emotion flash – in one word, describe a feeling you’re having right now
  • Open sharing – what are people’s reactions to this reading?

8:40 Wrap up   

  • Next date:  
  • Next reading:  Rethinking Key Concepts p. 99-111
  • Snacks?  

8:45 Evaluation (how do you feel, what went well for you, what could be improved?)   

Selected Quotes from Trump and White Feminism article

from BlackGirlDangerous

These are just a few quotes from a much more in-depth article. We encourage you to use the whole article if possible and consider a donation to BlackGirl Dangerous, a blog that amplifies the voices of queer people of color.

1. The majority of white women voters actually voted for Donald Trump, about 53%. By contrast, around 4% of black women and 26% of Latinas voted for him….This phenomenon is not simply “white feminism,” something that has turned into a catch-all descriptor for white women’s poor politics. Time and time again, white women have demonstrated that their interests and loyalties ultimately lie with their race prior to their gender.

2. This support for Trump represents a continuation of the ways in which white women internalize being placed on a pedestal, the okayness with certain kinds of gendered and sexual violences, and, of course, their deep investment in the white supremacy and racial entitlements implied and promised by his politics.

3.  White women voted for Trump because he can ultimately empower white women in a way that Clinton cannot and could never……. Because white womanhood as a social position was constructed by white men through white patriarchy, white women frequently look to white men for validation and affirmation. Many of these women are either willing to subsume their own interests for that of whiteness because of their internalizations of patriarchy or they earnestly believe that the flourishment of whiteness is necessarily also the flourishment of white women. Of course, history has demonstrated this not to be the case.

Session Six:  Twenty-Five Years of Tossing and Turning

7:15:  Reminder of norms, and time to review last chapter.  

7:20:  Initial thoughts/sharing – go around, then time for popcorn.   

Anchor quote:  

“Far from the important work of understanding systemic racism and its impact on my life outcomes and perspective, my new aim was to understand some magical set of cross-racial manners.  What drove my pursuit was a desire to learn how not to screw up and embarrass myself so I could preserve my good-person image.  Still trapped in my white-dominated belief system, I didn’t’ know what I didn’t know.  Topping the list was the unknown truth about just how much humility would be required to become an effective agent of change.”

7:40  Cultural Rule Book

What are rules from the “rule book” of social interaction that you grew up with?  Can you imagine how it interferes with honest cross-cultural dialogue?  Go around.   

8:00:  Break

8:10:  Anchor quote:  

“As I reexamined my life from an awakening perspective, the whole Robin Hood role felt particularly humiliating.  The idea that my career had revolved around trying to help those I’d been taught to see as less fortunate felt twisted.  Understanding their misfortune as directly related to my good fortune made me feel as if I’d offered a hand to a drowning person, who was drowning because moments earlier I’d burned their ship out from under them.  And, worst of all, I had been giving myself a pat on the back for offering them a hand.”

Discussion in Listening Pairs:  Are there ways “we keep people down by lowering our expectations of them?”  

  1. Give an example of this playing out at work with clients/patients/co-workers
  2. Offer an example of how you might dismantle it and/or be more inclusive.

8:30:  Large group – Briefly share from dyads.   

8:40 Wrap up   

  • Next date:  
  • Next reading:  Leaving My Comfort Zone, pages 157-184
  • Snacks?  

8:45 Evaluation (how do you feel, what went well for you, what could be improved?)   

 

Session Seven:  Leaving My Comfort Zone

7:15:  Reminder of norms, and time to review last chapter.  

7:20:  Initial thoughts/sharing – go around, then time for popcorn.   

Possible anchor quotes:  

“I had a rush of fear that came with the thought, ‘what if this is the future?  What if people of color take over the world, and I get reduced to an unappreciated, resented, has-been minority?’  As quickly as the thought emerged, a sense of shock and shame overcame me for having had it….”

“All I wanted to do was explain my intent or, more accurately, hide behind my intent in an effort to protect myself from my own sense of regret, humiliation and vulnerability…”

“Facing up to the unintended impact I could unleash on people through sheer ignorance was painful.  It humbled me and motivated me to become more of a learner and less of a knower.”

7:45:  Break

7:55 Culture of Niceness — Anchor quote:

“[My parents] were passing onto me a survival skill, one that bought a place in the high-class world of comfort and gentility, even if that meant diminishing one’s capacity to plug into the circuitry of feelings, cutting oneself off from one’s own heart and soul.  The culture of niceness did nothing short of program me away from my humanity and into a socially scripted role with diminished capacity to feel my way through situations.”

  • Discussion in Listening Pairs 
    1. On anger, culture of niceness, and angry black person stereotype – What do you need when angry? How do you react when people are angry – specifically people of color?
    2. And/Or, Talk about a time when “niceness” prevented you from speaking honestly.  What were you afraid to risk?

8:10:  Large group share from dyads.   

  • What insights did you have?
  • What feelings were brought up?
  • Anyone want to share their own examples related to Irving’s insight that moving away from maintaining her self-image and admitting her ignorance and missteps is what is considered “good”?   

8:40 Wrap up   

  • Next dates:  
  • Next reading:  Inner Work, pages 185-215
  • Snacks?  

8:45 Evaluation (how do you feel, what went well for you, what could be improved?)   

Additional Resources related to this Chapter

Feel free to send out before or after the session for additional learning!

1.               Local NPR Story:

http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/amid-big-inclusivity-conversations-st-louisans-plan-join-women-s-march-dc-and-home#stream/0

2.               Longer NYT story that goes into more depth about intersectionality

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/us/womens-march-on-washington-opens-contentious-dialogues-about-race.html

3.         Great primer on the critiques, including “white feminism”

http://www.brittanytoliver.com/blog/2016/11/16/why-i-do-not-support-the-one-million-women-march-on-washington

 

Session Eight:  Inner Work

7:15:  Reminder of norms, and time to review last chapter.  

7:20:  Initial thoughts/sharing – go around, then time for popcorn.   

Possible anchor quotes:  

“Cultural forces acted on me, shaping me as I developed, squelching certain impulses while cultivating others.  I didn’t concentrate on removing the constrictions; I focused on how to survive with them in place.” 

“I could not have told you what it meant to be white.  And I couldn’t learn what being white meant in my life until I was ready to calm down long enough to tolerate the terminology.”

Additional discussion question:

  • It has been a rough week, with many horrific Executive Orders and actions from the White House that are targeting people of color.  This chapter focused on patterns of white behavior and inner work.  How can you connect these two things?

7:40:  Dominant White Culture Behaviors and Beliefs

“The purpose of identifying and examining the dominant white culture is not to prove that white people are racist or that everything white people think and do is wrong.  It’s a way to provide feedback along the lines of ‘here are some dominant white culture ways of thinking and acting that are holding back efforts to dismantle racism.’ ”

  1. Fill out handout from page 197 (below)
  2. In listening pairs, discuss 
    1. What sticks out at you from this list and why?  
    2. Which trait is strongest in you?  
    3. Which is least applicable for you?

7:55:  Break

8:10:  Moving Forward    

  • Anyone want to share their own examples related to Irving’s insight that moving away from maintaining her self-image and admitting her ignorance and missteps is what is considered “good”?
  • In terms of taking action and moving forward, any new insights or new analysis about being a white person working for justice?

8:40 Wrap up   

  • Next date:  
  • Next reading:  Outer Work, pages 217-241
  • Snacks?  

8:45 Evaluation (how do you feel, what went well for you, what could be improved?)   

 

White Dominant Culture Characteristics

Have a look at the continuums below, from page 197 of Waking Up White. The qualities on the left are often associated with the dominant white culture. The qualities on the right can coincide with doing racial healing work. Place yourself along each line. What causes you to move one way or the other?

Original meme from Craig Froehle , this version from Angus Maguire

 

Additional Resources related to this Chapter

Feel free to send out before or after the session for additional learning!

White People: I Don’t Want You To Understand Me Better, I Want You To Understand Yourselves

“People of color have been begging you to see what you are doing and why. We’ve been begging you to see what you came from and the true legacy you have inherited. We’ve begged you to see your boot on our necks as long as it’s been there.  Find yourselves white people. Find yourselves so that you can know what whiteness is. Find yourselves so that you can determine what you want whiteness to be. Find yourselves so that you can stop your loved ones from voting for a definition of whiteness that you no longer want to subscribe to. Find yourselves so that racism no longer surprises you. Find yourselves so that maybe I can try writing fiction for a change….”

The Cowardice of White Women: Learning to Resist

 

Session Nine:  Outer Work

7:15:  Reminder of norms, and time to review last chapter.  

7:20:  Initial thoughts/sharing – go around, then time for popcorn.   

Possible anchor quote:

She shares the story of mixing up the name of a black student in her daughter’s class, then choosing to call the mother to apologize. She states, “Tolerating the discomfort of owning up to my blunder gave me the opportunity to share the discomfort caused by racism and send the message: This situation stinks, but I want to be in it with you so I can get out of it with you. By holding myself accountable for what I knew to be a misstep, I was able to stand in solidarity.”

“I realized that the word solidarity had lived in my imagination as a radical idea and piece of vocabulary best left to rebellious armband wearing angry people. Recently I looked up the definition and found descriptors such as union, fellowship, common responsibilities and interests…How on earth did a concept as compassionate and life affirming as solidarity get misconstrued in my head as angry and aggressive?”

7:45: Break

7:55 The Great Turning: Read Aloud or Silently  (below)

8:05 Journalling Time – Great Turning Worksheet

8:15 Large Group Reflections on the Worksheet

8:35 Wrap up   

  • Next date:  
  • Next reading:  245-255 Reclaiming My Humanity
  • Snacks?  

 

The Great Turning – by Joanna Macy

Adapted from a 2006 Yes Magazine article

Wherever I go, in every group I work with, the Great Turning becomes more rewarding as a conceptual frame. It is the essential adventure of our time. Of course, most people involved in this adventure do not call it the Great Turning. They do not need that name in order to fight for survival, and to fashion the forms of a sane and decent future. For me as teacher, activist, and mother, the Great Turning helps me see what the physical eye cannot: the larger forces at play and the direction they are taking. At the same time, it sharpens my perception of the actual, concrete ways people are engaging in this global shift. In other words, it serves me as both compass and lens.

From the countless issues that compete for attention, we can take on isolated causes and fight for them with courage and devotion. But the forces we confront seem so great and time so short, it’s easy to fear that our efforts are too scattered to be of real consequence  The Great Turning invites us to lift our eyes from the cramped closet of short-term thinking and see the larger historical landscape. What a difference it makes to view our efforts as part of a vast enterprise, a tidal change, proportionate to the crisis we face.

As compass, the Great Turning helps us see the direction in which our society is heading. Already our system is on “overshoot,” using up resources beyond Earth’s capacity to renew and dumping wastes beyond Earth’s capacity to absorb. War, violence and oppression are everywhere. As Earth’s record attests, extinctions are at least as plentiful as successful adaptations. We may not make it this time. That is part of the anguish that is widely felt.

That anguish is unavoidable, if we want to stay honest and alert. The Great Turning comes with no guarantees. Insisting on belief in a positive outcome puts blinders on us, and burdens the heart. We might manage to convince ourselves that everything will surely turn out alright, but would such happy assurance elicit our greatest courage and creativity?

The Great Turning, as a compass pointing to the possible, helps me live with this radical uncertainty. It also causes me to believe that, whether we succeed or not, the risks we take on behalf of life will elicit dimensions of human intelligence and solidarity beyond any we have known.

The Great Turning also serves as a lens. Initiatives are sprouting on all sides, like green shoots through the rubble of a dysfunctional civilization. The Great Turning lens reveals that initiatives as different as a health clinic for immigrants, a march against police brutality, and a fleet of kayaks protecting marine mammals are all part of an historic transition.

The lens of the Great Turning has three major dimensions. The first dimension includes all the efforts underway to slow down the destruction being wrought by the industrial-growth society. These range from soup kitchens to conservation efforts, and from civil disobedience against weapons makers to support groups fighting racism. Often discouraging and even dangerous, work in this dimension buys time. Saving some lives, some ecosystems, some species is a necessary part of the Great Turning. But even if every battle in this dimension were won, it would not be enough. A life-sustaining society requires new forms and structures.

In the second dimension we see the emergence of sustainable alternatives, from solar panels to farmers markets, from mutual aid groups to radical home-school networks, from permaculture to time banking. At no other epoch in our history have so many ways of doing things appeared in so short a time.

The third dimension of the Great Turning is a shift in consciousness. Both personal and collective, both cognitive and spiritual, this shift comes through many avenues. It is ignited by the new sciences and inspired by ancient traditions. It reveals our mutual belonging in the web of life.  As Linda Hogan wrote, “Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”  We sense our ancestors and the future ones moving in our midst, encouraging us in the work that is ours to do. We feel the presence of those living now and the magnitude of their abundant efforts on behalf of life.

We call each other seedlings. That’s what the Great Turning makes of us: seedlings of the future. How can I falter now, with so many hands and hearts at work, and all generations lending their support?

Reflection Questions

1. The Great Turning has three dimensions – disrupting and tending to destruction and harm, building alternative structures, and shifting our consciousness to see our work in the context of a larger picture.  

  • Where are your energies currently?
  • Are there ways you can support efforts in the other dimensions?

2.  The Great Turning talks about seeing through a new lens the efforts of those around us, those who came before us, and those who will come after us.  When you put on this new lens, what other efforts come to mind?

3. What does it mean for you, having finished this book group and moving forward, to be part of the Great Turning in terms of combatting racism?

 

Session Ten: Reclaiming My Humanity

7:30:  Reminder of norms, and time to review last chapter.  

7:35:  Initial thoughts/sharing – go around, then time for popcorn.   

Possible anchor quote:

“I couldn’t have known at the age of five that by thinking a fellow human being less human, I made myself less human, or that by disconnecting from my human family I began the process of disconnecting from my natural intuition and ability to love, relying more and more on what I was told and less and less on what I felt.”

7:55: Break

8:05 Liberatory Consciousness Explanation

8:10 Quiet time to fill in Liberatory Consciousness worksheet

8:20 Go-around reflections from worksheet

8:35 Thanks to everyone!

  • Resources: Organization sheet (below)

Liberatory Consciousness

Adapted from the article by Barbara Love in Readings for Diversity and Social Justice

To be effective as a liberation worker–that is, one who is committed to changing systems and institutions characterized by oppression — a crucial step is the development of a liberatory consciousness. A liberatory consciousness enables humans to live their lives in oppressive systems and institutions with awareness and intentionality, rather than solely on the basis of our socialization. These four elements are practiced moment by moment in a flexible, non-linear way. Anyone can work on developing these elements into their lives.

1. Awareness

The awareness component of a liberatory consciousness involves developing the capacity to notice, to give our attention to our daily lives, our language, or behaviors, and even our thoughts. It means making the decision to live our lives from a waking position. (You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Stay Woke”). This can be painful, because we can’t un-see or unlearn new truths, and noticing the breadth and depth of different forms of oppression can be disheartening.

  1. What new insights or experiences of “Being Woke” related to racism have you had in the past six months?
  2. What feelings accompanied these new insights? (fear, despair, hopelessness, discomfort?)
  3. Where do you need to pay more attention?

2. Analysis

In this component, it is necessary to think and theorize about things we notice. We get information and develop an explanation for what is happening, why it is happening, and what needs to be done about it. This reflection stage often requires us to get new information, which then helps to determine what our next step is, in terms of action.

  1. Outside of your family, what are the top three sources you most trust  for analysis? (particular news outlets, trusted Facebook people, particular organizations, friends, co-workers?) Why do you trust these particular sources?
  2. What analysis or perspectives might you be missing?
  3. What obstacles do you have to developing your analysis?  What steps could you take to address these obstacles?

3. Action

The action component of a liberatory consciousness is based on the assumption that the participation of each of us provides the best possibility of getting liberation for any of us. Sometimes this means taking individual action. Sometimes it means encouraging others to take action. Sometimes it means organizing and supporting groups or organizations to take collective action.

  1. When you think about combatting racism, do you have a default preference between taking individual action, encouraging others, or supporting organizations? What influences this preference?
  2. Have you taken any new actions (large or small, individual or in a group) in the past six months to address racism?
  3. In the next six months, how do you aspire to take action? In what ways do you hope to grow?

4. Accountability

We are socialized to act in specific ways according to our different agent and targeted identities. So, when we are isolated from each other, we rarely find the courage to act or to even notice oppression – the power of socialization is just too strong. Therefore, in developing a liberatory consciousness, it is essential to work both across identity groups (intra-group connections between people of color and white folks), and within our identity groups (inter-group connections among people of color and white folks in racial caucus and affinity groups.)

We know that it is not the responsibility of targeted groups to educate agent groups. However, we also know that people in targeted groups can take the lead in setting the world right. Liberation will be hampered if we hold our thinking and perspectives back from each other. In this element of accountability, we commit to interrupting oppression, and to develop new agreements regarding our interactions with each other. Within their identity groups, white folks can offer feedback to each other, and people of color can hold each other accountable. Across the divide, white folks and people of color can share information and collaborate to dismantle white supremacy in supportive relationships and coalitions.

  1. Do you have any individual white folks, or groups of white folks that are “co-conspirators” in dismantling racism?    In what ways could you strengthen these inter-group connections?
  2. Do you have any individual people of color, or groups of color that are “co-conspirators” in dismantling racism?  In what ways could you strengthen your  intra-group connections?
  3. What strengths do you personally have in giving and receiving feedback (“developing new agreements”) when talking about racism and white supremacy? What obstacles do you have?

Racial Justice Groups

Many folks are looking for ways to plug into social justice groups and asking, “Where do I start?” This is a very small list of some amazing national and St. Louis-based groups to get you started. We’ve focused mostly on groups that are led by people of color and/or directly confront issues that disproportionately affect people of color. This list is not comprehensive, just a start!

News and Analysis

For White Folks Combating Racism

National Groups

St. Louis-Based Groups