by Joanna Rutter
The Community-City Working Group came about in March and began hosting the Doing Our Work series in June, after the Charleston Massacre, in a partnership with the Guilford Anti-Racism Alliance. It’s disconcerting to rake through centuries of oppression and discrimination with a fine-toothed comb, as I discovered when I attended a session on race and education earlier this month. It’s because of that pain that I plan on attending the rest of the talks. Here’s why.
As a white person shielded by my privilege, to own the historical narrative of oppression that I’ve benefited from is distasteful, though of course it’s a microscopic discomfort compared to actually bearing the weight of that oppression as a person of color.
The Doing Our Work series, held on the first Monday of the month at Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro, mainly functions as a place for white people to be educated about the dark side of our country’s history, acknowledge their part of that story, and then do something about it, though people of all colors attend. I find myself resistant to holding that horrific narrative and accepting the fact that I play an active role in it by simply existing, but as the talks reinforce, I absolutely must if anything is to change. Guilt is not enough.
Perhaps what made the discussion so moving for me was the novelty of its raw honesty. In my experience, the conversations about race I’ve eavesdropped on hosted by white people, or pieces I’ve read about race written by white people, have usually been nestled in the comfort privilege affords, speaking of the oppressor as “the other” and not “us.” Maybe I’ve just been listening to the wrong people. Regardless, Doing Our Work endeavors to pull white people out of that bubble, and it hurts.
After all, in most conversations about race, in my privilege I can remove myself and observe, detached, if I want to. With the spotlight on my privilege and the injustices it was purchased with by my forefathers, though, there is nowhere to hide. Perhaps this is why some tangible action can emerge from these talks. Hearing phrases like “eugenics movement” alongside “testing in the education system” make me nauseated.
And that reaction is a starting point. But voting in a school board who will put better policies in place and not re-segregate schools is the next step. And going to the next session, on March 7, is going to be the step after that.