Engaging Personally with Dismantling Racism
David Campt Workshop
In November of 2018, the University of Denver played host to two events that focused on critical engagement with privilege, power, and whiteness. The first event, The White Privilege Symposium (WPS), brought together a diverse ensemble of speakers who presented and led workshops on issues related to power, privilege, and oppression. The second event, titled 'Dismantling Racism One Conversation At A Time', was led by Dr. David Campt, scholar and author of The White Ally Toolkit, and was co-hosted by CRI.
WPS is an offshoot of the larger White Privilege Conference which, in 2018, was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Conference and Symposium are the creation of Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. who also founded The Privilege Institute. By bringing together national leaders and practitioners in the work of diversity, equity and inclusion, the symposium aims to examine the patterns, cultures and systems that contribute to identity, power and privilege. With the theme of "Disrupt Patterns - Shift Cultures - Change Systems", participants were called upon to question the ways in which they are socialized, learn about ways to actively fight for justice, and work to dismantle existing systems of oppression.
'Dismantling Racism One Conversation At A Time' is an interactive workshop that Dr. Campt has presented all over the country. The focus of the workshop is to prepare white people to engage in conversations with the goal of shifting attitudes about race. These conversations aim to circumvent the resistance and defense that builds when people's long-held views are challenged. By having these conversations, white people take responsibility for systems and structures that perpetuate racism, and can thus be part of the work to deconstruct them.
I had the opportunity to attend both events and found them to be simultaneously empowering, challenging, and uncomfortable. At the opening of WPS, Dr. Kathy Obear encouraged everyone present to acknowledge and lean into discomfort, because only then could it be understood. At the time of the conference I was researching the use of intragroup dialogue as a vehicle for white people to critically engage with their own whiteness and come to a greater understanding of the ways in which their power and privilege was built, and is maintained, through a brutal system of colonial white supremacy. At WPS I had the opportunity to learn from leaders who are working to educate people and dismantle these oppressive systems. While it was difficult to choose which 3 of the 35 workshops I would attend, in the end the ones I chose were invaluable to my own journey of trying to understand the ways in which I benefit from privilege and am complicit in the greater perpetuation of white supremacy. I had the opportunity to listen and engage in discussions around accountability, implicit bias, psychology, philosophy, economics, and the notion of repurposing and revaluing the world in its present state. I am incredibly grateful to the countless individuals who shared their truth and their talents at WPS, and to those who helped to organize the symposium.
The following Monday, in Korbel's Maglione Hall, Dr. David Campt laid out a roadmap for white people to have crucial conversations with their white peers in order to shift attitudes around race. He urged us to find ways to relate to those who held racist views by "looking the M&Ms in the Trail Mix", or essentially finding something in their views that can be connected with and then built upon. He acknowledged this was difficult, but stated that putting people on the defensive from the start will only strengthen their resistance to considering different views, and so the conversation needs to build upon some common ground. He followed by saying that for a white person this presents a way to utilize privilege as a means to address the realities of racism with other white people, and most importantly it puts the burden for confronting racism on the group responsible for its creation.
I came away from both events feeling empowered. Theo Wilson, the spoken word artist whose experience undercover in a white supremacist chatroom is immortalized in a famous 2017 Ted Talk, urged those attending WPS to focus on their own circle of influence and do what was possible to change attitudes within that circle. For a white person this means having challenging conversations with family and friends, in the workplace or in school, and always working to hold oneself accountable.
~Colin Johnson, MA '18