Men Talking About Racism: a book and discussion group

Men Talking About Racism: a book and discussion group

Facilitator:  Alan Coltri

Current racial justice work within the UUA and UUCC challenges our members with a modern framing of the “race” problem.  For the last 50 years, at least, we have focused our attention: on individual “racists” as “bad” people; on dysfunctional social systems involving ghettos, drugs, and incarceration; on the revision of legal structures; and, on “implicit racial biases” which lead us to interact negatively with people of color.  Many of our members have been active in the civil rights movements of this era, and see themselves as positive contributors in the historical striving for racial equality.

Yet, racism persists, and we, especially white UUs, are being challenged to examine the mechanisms behind racism’s resilience.  In one view, the United States operates as “White Supremacy Culture” in which whites are systematically advantaged over people of color in a dizzying and mutually reinforcing network of social, educational, political, legal, and economic interactions.  For many older Americans the terminology of “White Supremacy Culture” evokes intense negative reactions and visions of KKK torches and swastikas.  We were raised viewing “White Supremacy” as the intentionally vicious acts of individual bad people.  However, an examination of American history quickly reveals “White Supremacy” to have been a feature at the core of our national story since the beginning.  This quote from Abraham Lincoln gives a taste of this rarely told history:

“I will say (then) that I am not now nor have ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races:  that I am not now nor have ever been in favor of making voters of free Negros, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office or having them marry with white people.”  Abraham Lincoln at Charleston 1858

Unwinding “White Supremacy” from the nation’s core is still our challenge.

In this group we will be reading 3 influential books to lay a foundation for an expanded discussion of the current state of this racism in America.  First, The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander which places current policies and practices of racial oppression in a historical context.  Second, White Fragility – Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo which addresses the social dynamics which reinforce the network of oppression while hiding its operation behind a screen of alternative explanations.  And third, So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo which directly addresses communication and related issues, and then concludes with executable strategies for moving forward as individuals.  If you have already read any, or all, of these books you are still encouraged to attend the group and participate in the discussions.

The group will meet once a week for 10 weeks.  Three books is a large reading load for this time frame so while reading the entire texts is recommended, a schedule will be provided highlighting the chapters which will be most relevant each week.  Discussion will be as open, and as challenging, as we can tolerate.  And we will examine subjects in greater detail where the group expresses interest.

Mondays, 7:00-8:30, approximately weekly, max 15 people

  • February 3, 10, 17, 24
  • March 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
  • April 6

Please note that this group’s focus on racism is not is intended to deny or devalue the many other forms of oppression or marginalization in our world.

A note about the group name:  in the first instance of this book cycle, in late 2019, it was titled “Old White Men Talking About Race” and was specifically targeted toward people self identifying as “older white men”.  With the emphasis dismantling patriarchy, sexism, and racism it was felt that it would be useful for men in a common age and race cohort to explore these matters in the company of their peers.  In this cycle the the group will be open to all men, with the understanding that several of the books were written specifically for white audiences with the goal of prompting white readers to “do the work” of deepening their understanding of racism and shaping their future actions.  People identifying as men of color should discuss their expectations and concerns with the organizer before signing up.

January-March 2020 Covenant –

  • Speak from our own experience and perspective.
  • Listen generously to the experiences and perspectives of others, creating supportive space for each person to learn.
  • Actively resist making assumptions about one another.
  • Refrain from fixing, saving, advising, or correcting each other.
  • Be mindful of “taking space and making space” to ensure everyone has opportunities to speak and to listen.
  • Expect and accept non-closure, because the work will be on going.
  • Be willing to be challenged to disrupt racist patterns, both by activities and discussions and by other participants
  • Respect the confidentiality of personal information, discussions, and stories shared here.  Do not continue our discussions in social media spaces (Facebook, ListServe, . . .)
  • Commit to attending each weekly session (with exceptions for compelling reasons)
  • If you decide to leave the group, commit to telling the group your reasons, in person.