Reflections On The WPC 15

The White Privilege Conference (WPC) is such an incredible experience that I want to first thank Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. and the national team for their tireless work and commitment to the vision of this conference and the rare and beautiful space that it is. This year was the largest gathering in the WPC’s history with over 2400 people converging on Madison, WI for several days of deep thought, hard work, laughter and good juju, and a shared goal of ending systems of racial oppression. As per usual, the keynotes were excellent, the workshop offerings superb, and the overall climate of the conference was one of connection and collaboration. Certainly there were times and places where tension arose, in fact I would be suspicious of the veracity of peoples’ commitment if it did not, but it was consistently handled with astonishing aplomb and often ended up being a learning experience for everyone involved.

And yet, on the last day I was wondering what the real take-away of the conference was for folks. What draws so many people to such a challenging conference and then stays with them as they leave? In conversation with some connections here in the Twin Cities it seems to be a range of things that take people to the WPC. What surprised me, however, was that the most pronounced reason was not the expected “an end to systems of racial oppression” but rather the possibility for deep and necessary healing. The WPC is a very emotional experience for almost everyone because it’s not only “present-time” pain that comes through in the tough moments, it is also what feels like (and is) the pain of generations, the story of lives long passed, the cellular memory of trauma never released, and the hold this all still has on our hearts and minds. I think that’s what makes the caucuses so fraught, some of the workshops so intense, and the keynotes so jarring and moving – the reality that as we sat in Madison listening to speakers, there were not just 2400 people in the room, but rather there were 2400 lineages in the room with varying degrees of relationship to the U.S. system of racial oppression. This year and in years past this dynamic has been palpable in some very intense moments. For example, a few years ago keynoter Dr. Joy DeGruy presented her work on Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome and there were times when it felt like the entire room was holding its breath lest the whole world crack open from the pain. This year, the opening keynote, Jackie Battalora, gave an extremely clear framing of the creation of “white” and the insidious ways it (and other racial categories) were shaped and reshaped throughout early U.S. history, always in the service of the White dominant racial structure and its perpetuation of Racism, White Privilege and White Supremacy. As she talked, you could literally feel the energy in the room shift – it was as if the curtain had been pulled back just a little more on The Wizard thus exposing more clearly his source of “power”. Understanding what that shift was is important because it wasn’t a reaction to “present-time” Racism or Whiteness, but rather a deeper, multi-generational understanding of the history and systems that have gotten us here. Some in the room felt despair at how intractable, powerful and unstoppable this system seems due to the way it has been so speciously constructed and then violently enforced and reinforced. Conversely, others felt a slight lift because it exposed the system for what it is, a complete facsimile and a toxic element of this society. Whatever the response, it was a generational one from a place of deep knowing and recognition. It exposed Whiteness as a system that is not “natural” or “just the way it has always been”, but rather one with a name, a history, and whose foundation is built on lies. The room knew this and thus Jackie’s presentation was really just helping us to remember that this is a lie, it is not “natural” or how we are meant to be, and that this can change. And that’s the healing, right? The release of the story and its hold on us, and the coming back to our true selves as connected, collective beings rooted in love (hooks), wired for empathy (Rifkin), and ready to mend and befriend (Neff).

The reality of the historical trauma of racial oppression was not new content to most people at this conference, but simply knowing about this history versus really feeling its impact and knowing how to heal it are two vastly different things. And I think the possibility of bridging that divide is what keeps so many people coming back to this conference year after year. It is a place that at least acknowledges that healing needs to happen, that it is possible, and that it will take all of us coming together in new and connected ways to make it happen. That’s what makes the WPC so different than NCORE, for example, with its academic framing of racial issues, or NAME where there is not enough critical examination of Race, Racism and Whiteness to even get to a conversation about generational trauma and racial oppression in meaningful ways. As such, I am grateful once again to the founder, Dr. Moore, the national team, the local team, and each and every participant for making the WPC 15 an experience of movement, both inside and out. I encourage everyone to peruse the WPC web site and put the dates for next year’s conference on your calendar now as we continue to support this deeply important experience and the learning community that grows out of it.