Pre-Conference Institute: The Body Already Knows: A Framework for Dismantling Race, Racism and Whiteness and Achieving Racial Justice

Dr. Hackman will be facilitating a pre-conference institute at NCORE this May. This workshop is based on two key ideas: The first is that Race, Racism and Whiteness (RRW) serve to unnaturally divide us and violently disrupt our inherent human connection. The second is that our bodies already know how to live in just and supportive community and this knowledge can serve as a powerful framework for uprooting racial oppression and achieving racial justice. Thus, the dismantling of RRW is not actually something we have to “work toward”, but rather a “coming home” to our rightful human interdependence. And, it is in the space of this interconnectivity, rooted in our bodies’ own knowledge, that we can find the deep sources of racial liberation and healing.

Starbucks – Missing It By A Latte

Written by Dr. Heather Hackman

There has been quite a kafuffle about Starbucks closing for a whole day to do implicit bias training in response to the racial incident in Philly last week. To be clear, I do not doubt the intent and level of concern expressed by their CEO, Kevin Johnson. Nor am I questioning the knowledge, both professional and through personal experience, of the “consultants” they brought in to lead the day-long discussion. What I take issue with are three critical things: leadership, training, and time.

As a consulting group, we do not train front line staff unless the leadership of an organization has a) gone through extensive training itself, and b) done this training before the front line staff. The former is critical in that you simply cannot lead around issues you do not know, and the more power one has, the more in-depth the training and application needs to be. We meet many CEOs and organizational leaders who have read one piece of information or had one emotionally moving experience and are suddenly “motivated” to “go do something”, but in actuality are nowhere near being able to lead from an equity and social justice frame. Connected to this is the need for the leadership to be out in front of staff so that they can actually lead around these issues. It is often quite difficult to have the leader(s) of an organization going through their own “ah-ha’s” simultaneous to those that they supervise. The nature of training around race or gender or class or other social justice issues is such that there must be time to internally process, to lean into one’s edges, and to do the personal work necessary to change behaviors and apply a more socially just lens to their vision for the organization. This is almost impossible to do if the staff is having the same sets of experiences as leadership at the same time; the logical question from staff, “what are you going to do about it right now!?” cannot be answered if both are going through it together, and this can lead staff to doubt leadership’s ability to really do anything about racial issues within the organization.

Starbucks’ choice to send everyone through a training is good optics and will provide an opportunity for everyone to have together. But, with respect to a system of racial oppression that has been in place for 400 years, there is absolutely no way that one day of “implicit bias” training will do much of anything in terms of deep and substantive organizational change for Starbucks. This brings me to my second critique of this “day of training” – it’s not really training. I meet thousands of folks a year (mostly white, but also some people of color and Native peoples) who are badly educated about issues of race, racism and whiteness (RRW) in the U.S. It’s not surprising. I have spent enough years in teacher education and training P-12 folks to know that what we are taught in mainstream education (both public and independent) in terms of race, racism and whiteness is not just bad, it is explicitly false with the intention to avert our nation’s gaze from the racial tragedy of its past and present. Thus, the Starbucks employees for whom the U.S. is their first nation have been exposed to years and years of explicit and intentional lies about RRW and no one-day training en masse is going to make even a tiny dent in the deep and calcified socialization folks have received about RRW.

So why train like this? Because it “looks” like the organization is doing something. Most private sector organizational leaders have become profitable by learning how to maximize their performance in transactional spaces where solving problems and addressing issues is about decisiveness, taking charge and “doing something about it now”. That works well with phenomena that are themselves transactional. But, RRW are sociological phenomena and absolutely cannot be addressed in quick, transactional, check-list ways. This does not stop leaders form choosing this approach because the illusion of quick and strong action = effective solutions is a powerful one in the private sector. In white dominant spaces, this “rugged individual” and transactional manner actually serves to reinforce the dynamics of whiteness and in the end leaves the influence of the Racial Narratives, the systemic targeting of people of color and Native peoples, and the systemic advantaging of white people firmly in place because it has actually never been addressed.

Additionally, Starbucks did not choose actual racial equity trainers to lead this training. Rather they chose big names to match their desire to look like they’re doing big things about race. I’m not dismissing the incredible knowledge and life experience of former Attorney General Holder, for example, I’m simply suggesting that while brilliant, he is not best qualified to train on racial justice issues. Why? Because to be an effective trainer on this content one needs to know something about the art and science of teaching. Moreover, they need to be exceptional at training (not quite the same as teaching) – meaning they need to know exactly how to lead a racially complex group of people through the process of identifying RRW and uprooting it at its core. While the trainers chosen for this day-long are all knowledgeable with respect to their various sectors, none of them have the extensive experience training necessary to make real change at Starbucks. To the lay person who might also not have experience teaching and training on this content, however, the big names will likely be equated with “big action” and Starbucks will be let off the hook.

Connected to the above need to have long-standing experienced trainers do this work, is the fact that one day is absolutely not enough time to cover anything of substance. The mainstream corporate media has reported on the financial losses for Starbucks (roughly $12 million) taking this “bold” move of closing their stores. In so doing, the media reinforces the erroneous notion that one day is really going to change racial dynamics in Starbucks. I often encounter folks who say that HCG’s three-day training is simply too much time. I then suggest, however, that 400 years of racism compared to 24 hours of training time is really not much of a comparison. In addition to being steeped in that long national legacy, however, I remind participants that they have individually been miseducated (to varying degrees, depending on their identities) about these issues and therefore, again, 24 hours is actually nowhere near enough to counter that.

Ignorance about what is really at the heart of this nation’s racial reality leads companies like Starbucks to make misguided, and in the end unhelpful, choices about how to address RRW issues internally. But, if this is not the answer, what is an appropriate response? Here is a general outline of the approach we suggest for large organizations: 1) make sure leadership understands what RRW issues actually are and be sure that they are on board with the level of organizational change necessary to more fully address them, 2) work with an internal team to identify a strategic approach for training layer after layer of the organization beginning with the top levels of leadership and working down to the ground, 3) implement various forms of firm-wide assessment to know where participants are starting, and 4) once a critical mass has been trained, support them to apply that lens to organizational changes that will support the front line folks in also being able to be trained and rewarded for engaging with customers differently. Of course, there is much more to all of this than what is mentioned here, but the general outline of work stands – be sure the organization is ready to commit to this work, assess them, train them as extensively as possible, begin the organizational change process, and then do that work for the next layer down and so on. If Starbucks had chosen the path of real organizational change, they would still be taking immediate action, but it would have a very different look and feel, and would be over the long haul. Most importantly, perhaps, they would spend a little less time in the headlines and more time committing to the actual work of racial equity within their organization.

Conference Session: The Body Already Knows: A Framework for Dismantling Race, Racism and Whiteness and Achieving Racial Justice

Dr. Hackman will be presenting this concurrent session at the White Privilege Conference in April. What stops any of us from taking action, what hampers our courage, what slows our resistance to injustice? This workshop is based on two key ideas: The first is that the creation of Race (and the system of racial oppression it supports) serves to unnaturally divide us from each other and disrupt our inherent human connection. The second is that the 50 trillion cells in our bodies already know how to live in just and supportive community and these patterns can serve as a powerful framework Thus, the dismantling of Race, Racism and Whiteness is not an idea or reality we “work toward” but rather a pathway that helps us all “come home” to our rightful human interdependence and find deep sources of racial liberation and healing. The workshop (1) begins by grounding into the body in myriad ways and helping participants explore the notion of “embodied racial justice”. To be sure, this is not a watering-down of critical race work and instead helps participants be more present and more capable of leaning into the complexities of racial justice work. (2) We discuss concrete concepts regarding Race, Racism and Whiteness such as the power of the U.S. “racial narrative” and the role of the White Imperial Gaze, (3) examine the innovative framework of “cellular wisdom” and then (4) practice using it to upend the divisive patterns of racial oppression and replace them with ways of being that speak more truthfully to our human connection and the core principles of racial justice. The workshop ends (5) with small group discussion and dedicated time for concrete application of this framework to participants’ lives and to their racial justice work.”

Conference Session: The Healer’s Power: How Whiteness Kills

Dr. Stephen C. Nelson will be presenting this concurrent session at the White Privilege Conference in April. This session will highlight how racism and whiteness affect the health of people of color. Even when the social determinants of health are equal, people of color have poorer outcomes in the United States. I will share my personal role and responsibility as a white male physician in racial health inequity. It can be very difficult to sustain social justice work at any institution. It has been especially difficult within healthcare. There is much resistance to this kind of work. We will examine the greatest barrier to health equity and institutional change…..the power of whiteness. Dr. Nelson will describe experiences and we will discuss the types of resistance to establishing social justice work. We will discuss tools and interventions to help break down these barriers. This will be a highly interactive session as we work together to build our super powers for breaking down institutional and personal barriers to social justice work. Participants will leave the workshop with: 1) A clearer sense of how racial bias and systemic racism impact the health of persons of color, 2) A clearer sense of the institutional barriers to social justice work, 3) An understanding of how we can break down these barriers with specific tools.

Conference Session: Know Racial Justice, Know Climate Justice: Why Getting to Climate and Environmental Justice Demands a Dismantling of Whiteness

Dr. Hackman will be presenting this concurrent workshop at the White Privilege Conference in April. Issues of climate disruption and environmental destruction are deeply connected to systems of Racism and Whiteness both in terms of who will suffer first and worst, and with respect to the ideological roots that have led our planet to this precipice. This session suggests how a racial justice lens can be used to more critically understand the roots causes of our current environmental moment, and demonstrate how it can be used as a means of finding deeply just and truly sustainable means of existing on this planet. The session begins by critically examining the race (and class and gender) mindset that has led us to this current climate moment and then offers a framework of racial (and gender and economic) justice to be used when developing climate and environmental solutions. The session is interactive via reflective questioning, paired discussion, and case study examples where participants can apply this knowledge to current technocratic and politically insufficient climate strategies and identify new, more racially just means of organizing and strategizing around climate issues. This session is best suited to folks who have both a basic understanding of current environmental realities and of racial justice concepts.

Pre-Conference Institute: Post-traumatic Master’s Syndrome: An Exploration of Whiteness as Trauma and Embodied Racial Justice

Dr. Hackman will be facilitating this pre-conference institute during the White Privilege Conference in April. Thanks to the work of Dr. Joy DeGruy and Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, as well as countless other POC/N folks who have spoken truth to power, we know that the deep and long-lasting impacts of racial oppression do not merely register in the systems of our society but also land in the bodies of those targeted. This work has been incredibly important in expanding our notions of what racial justice looks like and feels like. However, just as there can be no “oppressed” without the oppressor, the exploration of racism as trauma for the oppressed also requires an examination of the generational and historic dynamics of Whiteness and how it, too, lands as trauma in the bodies of multigenerational White folks. This day-long session will undertake that investigation and explore the ways that Whiteness as trauma has disrupted the work of even the most well-meaning White folks as they strive for racial justice. There is a cost to Whiteness, as we know, but that cost is often laid out in moral or ethical terms alone. This session explores another area of “cost” via the impacts on the body of witnessing, participating in, and/or ignoring the dynamics of racial oppression propagated in our name. Elements that will be explored are the general dynamics of trauma, dissociation, and the distancing effect that Whiteness has on many White people. Conceptually, the session begins with some grounding work and a few ways of getting into our bodies, it will then explore the narratives given White folks with respect to their racial identities and the ways they live those narratives out. The session will then turn to the more nuanced and complicated aspects of White privilege and White supremacy and the ways they synergistically feed each other, thereby supporting the ubiquitous dynamics of Whiteness in the U.S. More specifically, the session will explore the “counterweights” to the work of Dr. Degruy by leaning into three key aspects of “post-traumatic master’s syndrome”: 1) inflated esteem, 2) ever-present hostility toward / fear of People of Color / native peoples, and 3) supremacist socialization. The session concludes with work around resiliency tools and ways White people can more effectively show up in the midst of painful and complicated work for racial justice. Experientially, while the session will explore some intense aspects of what it means to be White in the U.S. it is not meant as a therapeutic space for White folks. Instead, this session seeks to create a space where White people can more deeply, thoughtfully and honestly explore places where they feel “inexplicably” stuck in their racial justice work. Through personal writing, paired conversations, small group work, and physical engagement, this workshop is designed to help White people ground the content in their bodies and establish “movement” through those “stuck” spaces. Because the session is completely geared toward the experience of White people, and therefore centers the White experience, it will not likely have significant resonance for participants of color / native participants. The session utilizes the work of Dr. Peter Levine, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Thea Lee, Tommy Wong, and of course the example set by Drs. DeGruy and Yellow Horse Brave Heart. The session is quite interactive, asks participants to lean into discomfort and seek authenticity, and is not well suited for those for whom racial equity issues are a new area of exploration.

Pre-Conference Workshop: Exploring Post-Traumatic Master’s Syndrome: Dismantling Whiteness and Moving to Action

Concurrent Session: The Body Already Knows: A Framework for Achieving Racial Justice

Conference Workshop: “How Did a White Boy Like Me Get to a Place Like This?”

Dr. Stephen C. Nelson will be presenting a conference workshop at the upcoming Overcoming Racism Conference. This highly interactive session will address the difficulty in discussing issues of race and racism with family members and work colleagues. “We will discuss specific barriers to this work through my personal story of awakening and with audience discussion. Together we can take command.” – Stephen C. Nelson, MD Children’s-Minnesota, Hackman Consulting Group

An Inside Job

This morning, as I sat down for a few minutes of contemplation and quiet, I began reading the forward of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step, written by H.H. the Dalai Lama. I didn’t get very far because the first line of the forward read, “Although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.” Only? Only. Intellectually, this was not new information. Physically and spiritually, however, I was a bit overwhelmed. Given all of the suffering and layers of personal pain each of the 7.5 billion of us might have to work through to get there, how can we possibly achieve peace if this is the “only” way. Almost immediately, I felt myself start to shut down.

Structural change is critical, of course, but from the above point of view it is a necessary triage but not the solution. Not for its lack of efficacy in creating some form of change, but for its inability to get to the heart of the problem – the internal disposition that we each take regarding issues of oppression. By disposition I mean the ideas, stereotypes, narratives, ways of being, norms, rules, expectations, mental frameworks, or whatever you want to call the constructs that oppression is built on. And, it has to change. Case in point, while I laud Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to no longer use grand juries in determining whether police should be prosecuted in cases of use of force, if I am reading the research correctly (Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, The Guardian’s reporting on numbers of shooting deaths by police in 2015, etc.) there is something happening in the U.S. criminal justice system that no amount of structural change can fully address. There was something internal going on for the White people who shot Tamir Rice, who decided it was a just use of force and any “reasonable” person would have made the same decision, who decided not to prosecute based on the preceding “expert” testimonial, and who therefore decided that while it was “sad” there was truly nothing that could have been done differently. Yes, of course, there is something that could have and can be done, but it is the very thing that everyday White folks simply cannot even conceive of let alone do as a group – profoundly and completely change internally.

And by this I do not mean simply gain new information, I mean exploring a deep and fundamental change to the way White folks (and dominant group members in general) live in this world. It is one thing to have an “open” mind where I am willing to take in new information about race or gender or class, but that does not guarantee that the previously established mis-information will be uprooted and discarded. In trainings I often refer to this as akin to building a house on a Superfund site – you can have the best architects and builders for that new house, but if the soil in the foundation is contaminated with nuclear radiation and chemical toxins, they will inevitably seep into the foundation and eventually kill you. That is why superficial diversity trainings on “race” will never, ever change the nature of a police department’s long-standing approach to racial realities in this society. The centuries-old and toxic ideologies of race, racism and Whiteness will consistently seep in and literally kill unarmed Black men. The solution, therefore, is for White folks to completely displace these ideologies and the concomitant views that White people act on in every areas of our lives. This is incredibly deep work and it means that the ways of being for White U.S.-ers must transform. Importantly, this work cannot be a side project, or an “I’ll get to it later”. Rather the amount of energy, time and commitment that White folks have toward this must match the level of the problem.

As His Holiness indicated, this is no easy lift. So much of White peoples’ world view is attached to Whiteness – so much we cannot even perceive as being connected – family structures, owning property, what is considered social etiquette, the communication styles that are valued, the dress code, the ways of interacting with others regarding personal space, etc. So much of U.S. White lives are connected to Whiteness that it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. And yet, if Whites in this country do not undergo this kind of deep internal change, we simply cannot escape this racial nightmare. Every structural change will be undermined by the constancy of our socialization in and loyalty to the system of Whiteness. It will seem almost atavistic in how we keep reverting back to the ways of Whiteness. Again, I’m not knocking structural changes – we must change policing with body cameras, changes in prosecutorial power, changes in the ways police are trained, the demilitarization of our police departments, and so on. All that, however, does not undo the deeper currents of racial ideology that have so thoroughly saturated the minds of even the best White police officers.

The prosecutor’s decision regarding the Tamir Rice case was duly representative of how the systems of laws in the U.S. have responded to the racism directed to People of Color and Native peoples for over four centuries. This is not new. All of the absurd “decisions” by structures of power regarding race over the last two years are not new. What might be new is the recognition on the part of some White people in this country (the more the better) that the typical White liberal approach of supporting a few new laws and having taxpayer dollars go toward a new “training series” for police officers is not and never will be enough. Instead, White people (all White people) in this country need to undergo deep and profound internal changes, we need to reorient our moral, ethical, spiritual and social compasses, we need to upend the world as we know it and ultimately change if we have any hope of Tamir Rice being the very last unarmed Black male to be publicly murdered in this modern form of lynching.

It is time for White people to surrender our allegiance to Whiteness and be willing to admit that the corrosive thread of White privilege and White supremacy lives in each and every one of us. The source of this problem is the colonized elements of US White minds, bodies and spirits. This is not the problem of POC/N although it lands on their bodies and in their communities constantly. This is me, it is my issue, and it is squarely my responsibility to address it.

If you are White, please do not slip into White guilt and shame and trundle off feeling bad about your Whiteness. Also, please do not read this with an “amen” but then not act – I do not want to be your source of intellectual absolution but effectual inaction. Nor is this the time to deepen the centrality of Whiteness through a narcissistic reframe and endless navel gazing. This is a time to simply surrender and change.

And so what does this look like? Well, if I had that answer (or if anyone did) in some trite and “easy to read and do” format, we’d be out of this mess by now. I do, however, have a few thoughts to share on it and thus over the course of this year will be writing occasional installments of a series entitled “Surrendering Whiteness”. I frame it that way because it is really just that – I must let go of this thing that I perceive to give me safety and comfort (because on the surface it does, but in the long run it will destroy all of us). The change we seek has not come about because too many White folks simultaneously want racial oppression to end AND want the comfort of their lives to stay the same. I have felt that too at points in my life, and yet that is simply not possible given that the very comforts I crave and seek to protect have arisen off the backs of POC/N and at the lived expense of POC/N communities. As such, I must surrender my hold. Surrender – to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed; to give the control or use of (something) to someone else.

In closing, I want to be very clear that I do not pretend to have answers – the hubris of that is thankfully apparent even to me and my White self. But, I am in this struggle and so will share what happens with respect to my desire to surrender this Whiteness and what gets in the way. I am an average White person and have an average education about these issues, a lifetime of socialization into my role as a White person, a long history of dutifully playing that role, and find that the ways in which I enact my Whiteness are still largely invisible to me. Parallel to that, however, I am someone whose heart wants that internal peace, whose colonized body wants justice, and who can feel in my soul that this system is killing all of us and will surely be this society’s undoing. My values and beliefs are set against this system and yet my actions do not always manifest as such. And so I am a deeply flawed, wildly imperfect White person who will simply be sharing the struggle for the kind of internal change the Dalai Lama speaks of.

 

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