Why a Workshop for White People?


In our experience over the years working in diverse groups, we would hear our colleagues of color say over and over “White people need to do their own work.” This workshop series is one answer to this need. It is intended as a learning and practice place for us as whites to begin taking responsibility for our own education and skill building. Otherwise, we put the burden for our learning on BIPOC and expect them to teach us about racism. And because we are not affected by race in the same way people of color are, we can make the dangerous assumption that racism is a problem for BIPOC to carry and to fix.

“If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” 

         — Congressman and Civil Rights Leader, John Lewis

Our whiteness is like the air we breathe so it is hard to “see” it and its effects on us and BIPOC. Yet it is often uncomfortable for whites to initially gather and identify themselves as belonging to the group of “white people.” Many of us do not relate to that identity. We fear by doing so it will be divisive. However, identifying as white is a key step in being able to see what is not visible to us. We can learn about our whiteness and understand it so as to better join with other whites and people of color to address racism. This is not to condemn ourselves for being white; it is to become aware of the effects of race and privilege in our society and ourselves so we can begin the journey to work toward racial justice—and to form a more constructive white identity.

White people need a challenging and non-judgmental place to unlearn racism and to develop the skills and capacity for action to confront racism. Our experience in working with mixed- and single-race groups has shown that it is very important for whites to have an all-white place to deeply explore feelings and experiences, including biases and racist beliefs. We build a learning community in these workshops in which we learn to support each other in the process of unlearning racism and building skills in working to dismantle it.

Further, many people of color experience pain when white people express their racism. Since people of color experience racism on a daily basis, we don’t want to inflict more pain by working our racism in their presence—or by making them responsible for teaching, counseling, admonishing, or advising us.

All-white learning groups are not intended to be the only means of learning. It is also essential to work in cross-race groups and to work toward forming relationships with BIPOC so as to create a two-way dialog. By doing your own education, however, such dialogs across race have an added chance to succeed.

“We live in an age in which silence is not only criminal but suicidal.  For if they take you in the morning, they will. be coming for us that night.”

— James Baldwin, American novelist, playwright, activist