Old White Men Talking About Race: 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 to appear colorblind; and on, “implicit racial biases” which leads 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 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 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 social, political and economic self concept which has been present since our founding. 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.
We will be reading two influential books to lay a foundation for an expanded discussion of the current state of this “White Supremacy Culture”. 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. And 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. If you have already read one or both of these books you are still encouraged to attend the group and participate in the discussions.
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. Short, targeted readings may be added to the two primary books.
Please note: this group’s focus on racism is not is intended to deny or devalue the many other forms of oppression or marginalized groups in our world. Also, the group is specifically targeted toward people self identifying as “older white men”. With much current emphasis on dismantling patriarchy, sexism, and racism it may be helpful for men in a common age and race cohort to explore these matters in the company of their peers.
Draft 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 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.
Mondays, 7:00-8:30, approximately weekly, max 15 people
- September 23, 30
- October 7, 14, 21, 28
- November 4, 11 (Skip Nov 18, 25, Dec 2)
- December 9, 16