The latest DREAM Collective webinar honed in on how white anti-racist allies can contribute to equality and inclusion while avoiding being too passive.
The DREAM Collective, an SIUE group focused on identifying and addressing institutional racism, held its third webinar last week, titled “How Do White People Engage in Anti-Racist Work?”
Webinar guest Jim Scheurich, professor of Urban Education Studies at Indiana University, was asked to give his perspective on how white people can contribute to anti-racism efforts.
The moderator for the webinar, Jennifer Hernandez, associate professor in the School of Education, Health and Human Behavior, asked Scheurich his opinion on how white educators can eliminate white toxicity in classrooms.
“White folks need to [understand that] folks of color live in a very different world than white folks do,” Scheurich said. “As [white] folks, we don’t worry about the police doing something to us. We feel safe … We feel comfortable, and particularly those of us who are educators [and] have decent salaries … we don’t live on the edge of one check away from disaster.”
Scheurich pointed out that Black parents fear when their children leave the house with the knowledge of the potential dangers, such as police brutality, that could await them. According to him, people need to realize that white people have the privilege of rarely having to feel that way about their own children.
“White people need to understand … we are the beneficiaries of a system that has privileged us and continues to privilege us,” Scheurich said.
As the forum continued, Scheurich explained that instead of focusing on being allies, white people need to own up to the fact that they are the problem and they should focus on correcting racial issues on their end.
“They don’t need your help,” Scheurich said. “They need you to help yourself and your people because we are the problem.”
This idea was also discussed in the DREAM Collective’s first webinar, during which Dominic Dorsey, director of ACCESS, expressed similar views. Dorsey said he wanted to see more initiative from white people and fewer empty gestures.
“What I’m really waiting on is for somebody to say, ‘Hey, that’s just racist, cut that out,’” Dorsey said. “I don’t need white people to be sympathetic to the plight of Black people. I need white people to be angry about the conditions that Black people are living in and act upon them.”
Hernandez agreed with these sentiments and said white people should reflect upon their inherited advantages. According to Hernandez, this was an important lesson conveyed to her during her doctoral program.
“I remember in my own doctoral program my white doctoral adviser … [he] used to call us ‘recovering racists.’ All white people are just in the process of recovering once we realize that we’ve been socialized to a white supremacist society,” Hernandez said.
As the webinar moved to questions from the chat, the subject of a recent incident that resulted in an email discuss listserv being shut down was brought to Schuerich’s attention by Hernandez. The incident involved a faculty member who made a comment that brought him into conflict with a number of other faculty members and staff, most of whom were Black, on the basis that they thought he was being insensitive about race issues in the U.S.
Hernandez asked Schuerich what he would say to the chancellor, whose office shut down the listserv following the heated exchange. Schuerich said he didn’t believe it was the best idea to shut it down, but wondered why more white faculty members didn’t push back, and speculated it was fear of not being able to deal with the issue in an ideal way.
“They’re afraid ... that they can’t handle it well,” Scheurich said. “If we want to do something about that, stand in front of a mirror and say ‘I cannot let this go on and keep quiet.’”
According to Scheurich, giving into fear and convincing onesself to stand down is in itself being complacent with racism.
“Anytime you talk yourself into not speaking up, standing up, acting up, that’s … you directly participating in the continuance of racism,” Schuerich said. “Let’s quit kidding ourselves, there is no space outside this. You cannot go hide in your house ... and be free of all of this.”
He urged white people to watch the infamous video of George Floyd being killed all the way through to understand what the problem is. Schuerich also pushed white people to quit being complacent after he was asked by Hernandez how they could help with racial equality.
“If we don’t want to be complicit in [racism], if we don’t want to be supporting that, we have to speak up, stand up and act up,” Schuerich said.