Becoming a better ally

Workshop seeks to open a dialogue about racism in America

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The Springfield-Eugene chapter of Standing Up for Racial Justice, a national anti-racist campaign, hosted the “White Ally Toolkit” workshop on Feb. 18. The workshop, developed and hosted by Dr. David Campt, is designed to give tools to people seeking to hold conversations about racism and privilege in American society.

Dr. Campt is a renowned presenter and race relations specialist, whose past clients include universities, corporations, and even the White House during the Clinton administration. He currently travels the United States presenting his “White Ally Toolkit” workshop to communities seeking to further expand their anti-racist “toolkit.” He takes a unique approach to anti-racist education, in that his workshop is light-hearted and non-confrontational, despite the serious subject matter.

“Just because we’re talking about serious issues doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun and enjoy ourselves while we do it,” Campt said.

During his presentation, Campt defined two categories of white people when it comes to talking about racism: “allies,” those who acknowledge that racism is a serious issue, and “skeptics,” those who don’t. The workshop sought to give people who identify as allies better ways to talk to skeptics in respectful and non-confrontational ways. A large part of Campt’s philosophy is the idea of “indigenous white wisdom,” the notion that most white people understand the role of racism in society, but choose to ignore it or push back against it. According to Campt, that wisdom is the greatest tool an ally can have when talking to a skeptic, as it can be used to “build common ground.”

Another unique element to Campt’s presentation is a simple electronic remote polling system that allowed the crowd to respond anonymously to a few survey questions. Through these survey responses, Campt can better hone his message to his audience. It also presented an interesting peek at the demographics of the audience. For example, 100 percent of the audience self-identified as white, and 75 percent were over 45 years old. People who lean left on the political spectrum made up 83 percent of the crowd, and 46 percent said they had never attended a racism seminar before.

Brian, a retiree who chose not to reveal his last name due to Dr. Campt invoking the so-called “Chatham House Rule” of not revealing the identities of people at the workshop, was one of those first-timers.

“I’ll admit, I was skeptical, I even rolled my eyes when my wife first told me about this thing,” Brian said. “But I’m surprised, this was pretty entertaining and informative, and no one tried to make me feel guilty about being white.”

Dr. Campt stressed that empathy, authenticity and understanding were the most crucial elements of connecting with racism skeptics.

“Don’t be embarrassed if you used to believe the same things they do,” Campt said. “Use that to connect with them, and share what you learned that made you change your mind.”

Toward the end of the workshop, small groups role-played various scenarios designed to hone listening and empathy skills. Members of the groups would recite racially problematic statements, and others would respond using pre-written retorts that serve to open a dialogue about racism, rather than offend or confront. Among the people in attendance, this seemed to be the most personal — and useful — element of the workshop. One such retort encouraged people to ask a racism skeptic how a person of color would respond to their problematic statement.

“The role-playing was huge for me,” Tera, a social worker seeking to improve her racial communication skills, said. “I always get in arguments with my dad during the holidays about racism and politics, so being able to work through those scenarios is going to help make Thanksgiving dinner easier for everyone.”

The Springfield-Eugene chapter of Standing Up for Racial Justice hosts regular events that attempt to combat racism and encourage education about civil rights. More information about upcoming events can be found on their Facebook page.

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