Bil Browning

Building bridges across our communities

Filed By Bil Browning | January 30, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: building bridges, Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz, NGLTF, People of Color organizing, race relations

I had a chance to sit down with Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz, NGLTF's Director of Capacity Building. Lisa arranged all of Wednesday's sessions on race relations. At one of the sessions, I noticed a sign on the door that read:

Building Bridges Across Our Communities: People of Color Organizing Institute for Intermediate Activists

Taped underneath the sign was another. It read:

This workshop is for people of color only

While I understand the idea of a safe space, it struck me as humorous that a session on building bridges was only for one group of people. (Disclaimer: I am not trying to criticize the session organizers. I'm not complaining. I just found it ironic and rather funny.)

I used my opportunity to ask Lisa about the sign and the rationale behind it as well as expand to some other race issues including trans people of color, the history behind the sessions and how white LGBT folks can better work with people of color. Video after the jump.

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There is sound difficulty on this video making it it difficult to understand your questions or the speaker's reply. I am interested in what she had to say. Can you briefly summarize the points she makes or would she write an OpEd for Bilerico outlining her points? I understand it is to give a safe place for people of color to speak out against white political priviledge but anything other than that was unintelligible. Thanks.

It never ceases to amaze me how it's considered perfectly acceptable to exclude whites from a community event like this but the reverse would be considered bigotry and racism.

I've lost track of how many events I might have attended (like job fairs, for example) but then discovered they were for POC only.

And we wonder why there's still such a problem with race relations in our community...

Fassbinder'sGhost | January 30, 2009 11:48 AM

Hi Ms. Juro

While I agree that such a judgement can be applied elsewhere, I must disagree with you on this particular judgement receiver. If there is a conference where POC focus on activism in their communities (hopefully thats what most of it is about) and/or have issues presented through the lens of POC, then whats wrong with that.

Sure there might not be any conferences or job fairs for whites only. But all you have to do is avoid the POC only ones, walk into the "inclusive" ones, and its probable you'll hit the mostly and/or all whites events.

And I vehemently doubt LGBTQ POC events contribute even a quarter of the race problem in this community.

Which two communities?

POC LGBTs and POC anti-racism activists?
POC LGBTs and POC congregations?
POC LGBTs and white-dominant LGBT organizations?

The first two are of interest to POC LGBTs specifically because they, family, POC friends are likely to be members of POC congregations, anti-racism organizations, etc - POC LGBTs are both insiders and outsiders in those situations. Strategies would be different from those involving complete outsiders (white LGBTs), in which there is no obvious pre-existing bond.

As for the last situation, I suspect it would be a beef and what works, doesn't work session that wouldn't be too candid if whites attended. I have no desire to barge in, and can understand the presence of a session like this - as long as there is another session available "white privilege 101" and an integrated session where actual policy and organizing work is done by everyone, because misunderstandings and beefs have been vented beforehand.

The reason that happens it that when POCs start trying to candidly discuss these issues with whites present, what invariably happens is that the POCs unconsciously start censoring themselves or if a POC makes a comment that a white person deems problematic in their POV, they start getting defensive as if the topic were about them.

What ends up happening is that the discussion bogs down and the whole subject gets totally derailed from what the POCs wanted to originally discuss.

Im sorry but I dont buy that lame excuse Monica you can not have it both ways.When whites are in a group with non whites they to tend to self censor there selfs.So you then have no real vetting of ideas for everyone is to scared to be the big bad racist bigot.

Bil, it's only ironic to have a session on building bridges across communities be for people of color only if you're assuming that the only communities are "white people" and "people of color." There are many, many communities of color, and it is meaningful and important to build bridges among them as well as between those communities and whites.

Rebecca and Cathy: the distinction between spaces that exclude white people and spaces that exclude people of color is that spaces in this country that claim to be for everyone are, by default, targeted at and concerned with the needs of white people. Whiteness is the default in our society, and one of the benefits of white privilege is that, most of the places you go, you are the target audience and your needs are paramount. To make matters worse, when a space prioritizes the needs of people of color but is welcoming to everyone, conversations there almost invariably end up being about the white people present and reassuring them that they don't need to feel guilty about racism, thus derailing whatever conversation people of color actually wanted to make room for that caused them to build the space in the first place. It is almost only when white people are not present that people of color get to discuss their issues, put the focus on themselves and put their own needs first. And so the need for a space that excludes white people exists, in a way that the need for a space that excludes people of color does not.
The thing about racism that makes "reverse racism" a nonsensical concept is that racism is prejudice plus power. People of color can be prejudiced against white people until they're blue in the face, but they don't have the power of oppression to back it up, and so their ability to hurt the white people in question is limited. White people, on the other hand, have the power to use their prejudice to block people of color's access to jobs, housing, fair trials, etc, etc. That's racism.

Aviva : Power depends on the circumstances. To use a crude example: If a Caucasian or Asian is outnumbered by African-Americans on the subway, and is assaulted for that reason, that means the power-and-prejudice came into play and makes it a case of reverse-racism (by your definition).

That's a lot of ifs you have there.
Why is it that examples of racism from black men nearly always involve hypothetical violence?

I can see why white guys like Bil at the convention are amused by being excluded in the dialogue. Why not just have the next NGLTF convention for People of Color only and avoid amusement or even hurt feelings by some. Is there a skin color chart at the door that has to match a certain shade in order to gain entry? I have olive skin and could have passed for Omar Shariff when I was younger although my birth certificate says caucasian.