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In Scalawag's second installment of our Southerners Combating White Supremacy Profile Series, Kari Points & Evangeline Weiss talk about the techniques they use to help white women confront their own involvement in white supremacy.
53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump; the stat surfaced immediately after last year's election. That political fact underscored the reality that white women exist at the intersection of race and gender in ways that can either challenge white supremacy or support it.
Kari Points and Evangeline Weiss designed their "Finding Freedom" workshop to equip more white women to seize that challenge. The two teach white women how to more powerfully embody their potential to combat systems that both benefit and harm them. Their immersive anti-white supremacy workshops combine one-to-one relationship building with breathing techniques and attention to the body to address the deep-seated discomfort many feel in combating racism and anti-Blackness.
Both facilitators bring race, class, gender, and sexual identity into their work. Kari Points describes herself as a white working-class dyke from Southern Indiana who grew up surrounded by conservatives. She creates opportunities for white folks to recognize their complicity with white supremacy and how it damages them too.
Evangeline Weiss joked that she's "followed the homophobia" in her public health career which started during the 1990's AIDS crisis and continues in Greensboro, NC, where she continues to advocate for freedom for all LGBT people.
Points and Weiss launched their first workshop together in Durham on November 11, 2017. The workshop quickly filled and then a 40-person waiting list formed. I spoke with them about what drives their engagement with anti-racist work. Note that their responses are lightly edited for clarity and length.
Lizzy Hazeltine: How do you define white supremacy?
Kari Points: I would say that white supremacy is an ideology and system of distributing power reinforced by state and corporate violence that reinforces the cultural idea that white people are superior.
Evangeline Weiss: So true. What reinforces it is how individual white people access to and are assimilated into [white supremacy]. It's a mixed metaphor, but it's like an echo chamber of silence as long as [white supremacy's] not named.
LH: How does white supremacy show up in your community?
KP: I use the analogy of addiction, there is addiction in my family and my community. When you're addicted, it's hard to grow as a person. Racism is a kind of addiction. You need to recognize the problem, make amends and reckon with all those years that you've lost to get right.
For a lot of white women who consider themselves feminists, it's a shock to understand that we're answerable to people of color for the outcome of this election, but also answerable for white women who voted for him or didn't vote.
We're working to help redefine whiteness and womanhood so that we can get our souls back and work with people of color for mutual liberation. Internalized white supremacy hurts people of color much more, though it has an impact on everybody.
LH: How does anti-Blackness show up in your community?
KP: Anti-Blackness shows up in my community in all of the government and economic institutions that touch Black people's lives in disparate ways: policing, the court system, mass incarceration, social services, public health, public schools, housing, voting, hiring practices, and so on. In just about every case, Black people face a higher level of discrimination and violence from the state than white people or non-Black POC do. They also face white people in positions of power who withhold from them the resources, loopholes, benefit of the doubt, empathy and support that we readily extend to other white folks and even non-Black POC in the same situations.
EW: When conversations about racial justice happen at an institutional level and the power brokers [only] use positive experiences of Asian and Latinx people as a demonstration of multiculturalism and "we are getting better."
It seems to me that light-skinned people enjoy more privileges and that images of POC who are light-skinned are seen as more beautiful, desirable and easier to work with… I see this is who gets to be the image of an organization, whose pictures are used in social media, etc.
LH: What are y'all working on right now to fight white supremacy?
KP: Our approach fights the idea that reading enough articles would change anything. We're focused on embodiment, how it feels to reinforce white supremacy, and how might it feel to fight it.
EW: We are working to help people manage the fear you feel when you think about interrupting on someone else's behalf. We're rebellious when self-interest is clear, and yet there are so many ways we tell ourselves we can't manage the discomfort when it's not.
It's possible to cultivate that ability to hold discomfort for a longer period. How could you learn to tolerate it?
There's also the absurdity of the idea that you could always be comfortable. Who is? Cis, white, straight, middle-class, able-bodied people get to be comfortable.
KP: Living with discomfort is part of stepping into these spaces. How it feels when you're one of the only white people in the room. It's not anyone doing anything, but you can be so used to whiteness being centered. Discomfort is not a reason to stay away from this work. Building the emotional muscles to sit with discomfort helps us join multiracial coalitions.
LH: Could you elaborate on some of the specific techniques you use in workshops?
EW: Breathing. We can't be effective with ourselves and each other when we are literally holding our breath. Our anxiety begets shame, guilt and more fear. Talking to strangers equals breathing!
Self awareness. Too many of us have never had 10 minutes to be quiet with ourselves and think. What does it mean to me to be a white woman? What kind of white woman do I want to be? I can make active choices about how I want to show up. I don't need to be protected as much as respected.
Brene Brown's "how to stop a shame spiral" is key. She talks about not holding the shame in and instead speaking it out loud to someone who can witness to the situation you might feel shame about. For example, if you realize you've participated in or witnessed something racist but done nothing, speaking that out loud to another white person can dissipate the shame and make you more ready to show up in POC-led multiracial spaces without white tears and get to work.
KP: Isolation, individualism and perfectionism are all tools of internalized white supremacy. One of the techniques we use to start breaking those down is a buddy system. Each workshop participant chooses a buddy for the course of the workshop. With this person they share their strategies for how to deal when they start to feel overwhelmed. They talk through what works for each woman to bring herself back into her body when she starts to disconnect. Buddies are invited to stay in touch afterward, because we believe that white folks building deep relationships of support and accountability with each other, as well as with folks of color, is key to collective liberation.
A lot of women have experienced trauma, often at the hands of white men. Trauma makes it hard to stay present and directly challenge the systems created and dominated by white men. Learning how to navigate difficult emotions and body sensations is a part of healing from trauma. It's also a crucial step in showing up more effectively for anti-racism work.
LH: Are these techniques are more suited for combating interpersonal racism, or do you see these techniques as helpful in breaking down institutionalized white supremacy as well?
EW: I believe that institutions are made up of people. If we want people to behave differently on search committees, policy meetings, funder briefings and election campaigns we need to give individuals the skills to do that. I think that there's literally no way to change institutions without changing people. Some people will take action interpersonally and keep it there. Some people may recognize the need to step up at an organizational level and work for systemic changes. Either way, organizing is about interpersonal conversations, building trust and being courageous.
KP: I think white folks tend to come into racial justice work through what we know and have experienced of the world, and for most of us, that tends to be interpersonal. It's fine to start there, but our goal in offering these workshops is to help white women explore our historical and current role as colluders in racist institutions so that we can start showing up to undermine white supremacy right where we are—as nonprofit funders and gatekeepers, as pastors, as shift managers at big box stores, as teachers, as artists, as parents, and so on.
Our bodies, minds and hearts belong to us, and we get to choose what we do with them in this life. Our approach encourages white women to do the work we need to do to show up in a valuable way to build political power for and with POC-led movements.
LH: What are some of the surprising things you've seen in your workshops and how did they happen?
EW: One of the things we saw from Saturday was haunting. These white women represent different careers, education levels, sexual orientations, ages, and yet the theme of how isolated and ashamed they felt emerged. This is how what's happening is not okay. Out of some of this shame and isolation, I hope people are motivated to engage and are called to bigger action.
KP: The roles that people have in the room – manager, oldest child, priest, funder, technologist. Seeing that list contrasted with the powerlessness they felt didn't make sense. These are all roles with calculated entry points where we have the opportunity to start doing this work.
Wherever you start is the place where you start. You're not taking the administration down straight out of the gate. It's important just to start, mindful of the power dynamic of showing up as a white person in multiracial organizing spaces. You should take guidance from leaders of color to be of service.
For more information about Finding Freedom workshops in Durham, Asheville, Wilmington and Greensboro planned for Spring 2018, contact Points & Weiss at firstname.lastname@example.org.