Let's Talk About It: Getting off the Dime in Racial Dialogue

Story author
Susan Davies

Note: Members of the Challenging White Supremacy (CWS) workgroup of Permanent Board are available to facilitate and assist meetings to get started, or to dive deeper in work already begun. We would love to visit you! Contact CWS co-clerks: Fran Brokaw or Susan Davies.

My home meeting is entirely white. The town, county, and state are also very white. For a while this everyday fact of life seemed to provide a handy excuse not to start down the challenging road of honest and intimate dialogue about racial identity, racial trauma, and our understanding of white privilege. Collectively we weren’t very tuned-in or awake. But in 2015 my meeting embarked on the journey, thanks to a committed member who offered her long experience facilitating racial dialogue. That first year, during five mid-week evening sessions, we discovered we were “all over the map”—most everyone was on-board that we should talk about it, but we were all starting from very different places. The “words” presented stumbling blocks, pitting those who embraced the necessity of those words against those who were offended by them. Some had been reflecting for decades on race and the effects of racism and white privilege, while others had barricaded confusing early experiences of race behind padlocked doors, relieved at how easy it was to avoid it in a state that is 95% white.

Gradually we came to trust each other. Just as pain cannot be healed until it is felt, so remorse and confusion cannot be transformed until they are confessed. Our meeting is blessed by the gifts of Friends who have been able to help us to very intentionally build trust, and to share intimacy and vulnerability.  Racial dialogue is a work of the heart, whether across races, or within one racial identity.  The transformation of “black/white”, “either/or”, “us/them” thinking is only possible when we are willing to be vulnerable, to be open to being hurt by the truth of what we find, to be willing to hear others’ anguish, to keep trying, keep learning, keep reaching for the understanding that our own salvation is at stake, as much as the salvation of the world.

Have you ever lived the epiphany of a nascent understanding suddenly coming alive in real time?  The concepts you have been reflecting upon burst from you, grow legs, then wings and take flight in the here and now, carrying you to an entirely new understanding of reality and possibility?  I experienced a living, breathing, soaring Beloved Community for the brief span of days at a Beyond Diversity 101 retreat.  The gathering of peoples of many colors, shapes, genders, gifts and torments was woven together by the loving skill of the facilitators to such an exquisite degree for me that I lived in the truth of our oneness, experiencing the intimate joy of trust, and feeling trusted.

The best-kept secret of “swimming in the sea of diversity”—multi-racial, multi-ethnic, many-gendered, differently aged and differently abled community—is the feeling of lightness, wholeness and joy that can be released.

Here are a few of things that have worked great in my meeting to get us talking about race and racism:

  • Sharing our histories of how we “learned racism” and “white privilege,” and our personal race-related experiences, reflecting on manifestations of institutional and cultural racism and white privilege, and holding a dialogue about the language of racism, racial justice and racial healing.
  • Building such sharing into a multi-part religious education series to share and learn more deeply about the trauma caused by racism
  • Sitting in Friends’ cozy living rooms after potluck, watching the Virtual Plenary videos, brilliantly prepared by Lisa Graustein. We had a very rich conversation following the viewing and scheduled additional dates to see all the videos before Sessions.
  • Inviting a local Friend and a “Friend from Away”’ to share their different personal takes on what it was like to participate in different Beyond Diversity 101 retreats. This was followed by a facilitated conversation that explored the differing and changeable perspectives on race that were present in the room.

So let’s get into it!

Members of CWS are available to visit your meeting, or for consultation about programs and events that have worked well in meetings.