When it came time to register for the White Privilege Conference, I had to fill out the form quickly. That's because going deep into the topic of my whiteness always frightens me, and I knew that attending this conference would be the biggest uncomfortable race-related experience for me since my involvements in American Ethnic Studies during my time in undergrad. Despite the fears, I was glad to know that I would not be alone in the hard conversations about race and racism. In fact, out of the 2000 diverse attendees that registered for this year's conference, I was glad to be alongside 12 fellow members of Wallingford United Methodist Church as well as Zach, Stacy, Valerie, and Neah from the Krista Foundation. With deeply rooted community like that, meaningful dialogue on just about any issue is possible!
As you may know by now, one of the issues discussed at the White Privilege Conference is, well, white privilege. Even after many times hearing of or learning about the term white privilege, it's always nice to be reminded what this term really means. The term points to the fact that still today, whiteness carries loads of cultural capital. Without often recognizing it, I believe that we who are white actually cash in on the invisible advantages of our perceived "whiteness" each and every day. This gigantic form of inequality between white folks and people of color not only brings up the sting of white guilt, but much more importantly it does great harm to our relationships, especially with people of color who often encounter very different realities than many of us white folks experience.
Because I long for racial justice and healing within the human experience, I ended up feeling nothing but grateful to be present at a conference that was focused on creating racial justice from many different angles and approaches. Though it's not easy, being in a conference space (or book group space and/or community space, for that matter) where whiteness and racism are discussed has really helped me to more clearly identify the mechanisms that reinforce racial preference. And at the conference, being in a large group of white people who are also choosing to fight off racial privileging as a component of being in solidarity with people of color helped me to get more perspective on how I can continually contribute to co-creating a more just society.
After the conference, I started paying more attention to the many instances where people affirm my (unearned) moral goodness, success potential, and ability to be influential. Often at a very micro level, I see instances of this happening literally every day. A few hours ago, an example of this arrived in my inbox at work. I received an email response from an IT person who informed me that an important email that had gotten caught in my spam filters was now "whitelisted" - meaning that it got the stamp of approval for not being malicious spam and was therefore given permissions to enter my inbox. Acutely aware of how racial micromessaging comes in all shapes and sizes, I wrote right back to her. I said, "Thanks for helping me with that!" Then I added, "And on a side note, I encourage you to join my effort to get people to say good-list and bad-list, because it's always been weird to me that white ends up meaning good!" Friendly enough. Clear enough! She wrote back saying that she liked that change.
Progress toward racial justice will certainly involve a combination of many big steps, and even more small steps. For me, each of those steps are a little scary, or a little messy, and are commonly not the ‘safe' thing to do. But if there's one thing that the White Privilege Conference does a fantastic job of conveying, it is that white people have an enormous opportunity to break apart the structures that hold racism in place. As we in the Krista Foundation seek clarity regarding our responsibilities as global citizens, I with my whole heart invite each of us to scoot in closer to this messy table of racial justice work. It may not always be easy, but when we struggle for this together, we edge nearer to the beloved community that we have so often imagined.
Brandon Casey Adams is a 2009 Krista Colleague with a service placement from Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Chicago. He taught video production to underserved high school youth and served as an advisor to a student club. In addition, advising several video projects that students did through Free Spirit Media. Currently, Brandon is living in Seattle with his wife, Kara. He is working at All for Kidz as a Digital Media Developer.