The Sabo Center is convening the Undoing White Body Supremacy Pilot Project in partnership with Augsburg’s Equity and Inclusion Initiatives. This pilot is a cohort of white faculty and staff learning to undo the ways white supremacy shows up in our bodies, not just in our minds. Selected applicants will meet and learn together throughout the 2019-2020 academic year. This is body-based racial justice work, informed by Somatic Experiencing® and Interpersonal Neurobiology. Applicants should be open to both intellectual development and also to the opportunity for tracking the body’s physical responses to racialized experiences.
Applications are due by 5:00 p.m on Monday, May 13, 2019. All applicants will be notified by Friday, May 17, 2019.
ABOUT THE PILOT PROJECT
Racism has been foundational to the United States, and the patterns and implicit beliefs that sustain racism are baked into our culture, political systems, and ways of engaging with one another. Changing the narratives that rationalize racist systems is necessary, and there is much to be learned (and unlearned) through education. Many are doing exactly that through the Diversity and Inclusion Certificate and other learning opportunities. However, as long as there exists a gap between our intellectual commitments and the impact of our action, something we’ve heard from students time and time again, intellectual work alone is insufficient.
The Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship, in partnership with Equity and Inclusion Initiatives, seeks to complement current racial justice efforts on campus by creating a deliberate space for white faculty and staff members to address white body supremacy in ourselves, our classrooms, and our community. This is a nine-month program that begins in September 2019 with a series of three foundational training sessions specifically designed for white identified staff and faculty members. Following the foundational workshops, we will convene seven monthly cohort practice sessions (November – May) for a cohort of 21 people (14 faculty members and 7 staff) to deepen this learning. This is not an all-white group making plans for racial justice work on campus without our colleagues of color or group therapy for assuaging white guilt, but rather an intentional space for strengthening skills and deepening accountability for undoing white body supremacy.
This cohort model is being developed in direct conversation with the work of Resmaa Menakem MSW, LICSW, SEP (“My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies”) and Rachel Martin M.S., LAMFT. Sabo Center staff members Rachel Svanoe and Allyson Green are participating in ongoing communities of practice with Resmaa and Rachel to develop their capacity to facilitate this work at Augsburg.
Who is involved?
Rachel Svanoe and Allyson Green: Project coordinators, lead facilitators
Rachel Martin, M.S. LAMFT: Curriculum developer and facilitator of the first foundational workshop and coach to Allyson and Rachel who will lead the remainder of the program
Joanne Reeck: Project advisor
Participants: 14 white identified faculty, 7 white identified staff, others who attend foundational workshops
Why only White folks?
While colleagues of color have power, agency, and essential roles to play in racial justice work, the intention of this pilot is to focus on the part that white bodies need to play, and the dynamics of whiteness which too often evade the spotlight. White bodies, because of our conditioning, tend to lack the capacity for holding discomfort in racialized experiences and, in multi-racial settings, we tend to lean heavily on colleagues of color to ease tension, soothe our anxieties and make things feel okay again. This can be wounding and exhausting for colleagues of color, and it inhibits the development of individual and collective capacity among white bodies to hold our own (and each other’s) discomfort and move through it together. We will build culture, community, and capacity among white bodies to show up more fully to the work of dismantling white body supremacy and creating a more just world.
If you wish to discuss this choice further, we welcome conversation.
Three Foundational Workshops (Fridays, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.)
September 27, October 11, October 25
Monthly practice cohort meetings (Fridays, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.)
November 8, 2019
December 13, 2019
January 10, 2020
February 14, 2020
March 13, 2020
April 10, 2020
May 8, 2020
***Cohort members will commit to attending all ten sessions when they apply. The first three foundation workshops will also be open to other white colleagues at Augsburg.
OUTCOMES FOR PARTICIPANTS
- Shared language and practices for staying engaged through moments of racialized stress and discomfort, creating a container for the institutional evolution that is underway.
- A co-created culture of loving accountability among white colleagues, helping us stay connected rather than shutting down or cutting each other off, shifting our mindset from “I have to figure this stuff out on my own, so I don’t make mistakes” to “I can learn and grow, and I am part of a community that will love me through my mistakes.”
- Increased capacity to 1) understand racism and its impact, 2) address racism when it happens, and 3) cause less harm to students and colleagues of color, responding to their call for us to do our work.
- Greater collective capacity among white colleagues for undoing white supremacy in our institution, decreasing the burden carried by colleagues and students of color, creating more space for them to be and to lead.
ABOUT WHITE BODY SUPREMACY
In My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, local trauma specialist, trainer, and author Resmaa Menakem writes, “only a small fraction of white supremacy lives in our conscious mind.” Much of the patterns and reflexes that sustain racism are unconscious and manifest in our bodies. This manifestation informs the term “white body supremacy” and calls for racial justice work to include a focus on the body, not just the intellect.
Each of us who has been shaped by life in the United States carries in our bodies wordless stories about who and what threatens our safety, along with reflexive responses to protect us from those threats. These protective responses to threats (to our physical safety but also to what we do, believe, and care about) are for our survival and yet, our nervous systems cannot differentiate between threats that are real and those that are perceived. Because of our history and socialization, white bodies’ nervous systems predictably mobilize to protect us in the very presence of a black or brown body and even to the mention or thought of race. In these moments, whether we intend it or not, our nervous systems often go into fight, flight, freeze or collapse, taking us out of social engagement, causing harm and impairing us in the face of each others’ racism. As long as our nervous systems experience the mere awareness of race as a threat, they will predictably respond to protect us from experiencing our racial reality and thus, leave us with very little capacity for tolerating the discomfort of race and racism, keeping us from the work that we need to do. If we lack awareness of these nervous system patterns and practices for staying engaged and moving through them, we will continue to look to Black and Indigenous people and people of color (BIPOC) to soothe our racialized stress, and shoulder the burden of dismantling racism.
Fortunately, our bodies also have the capacity for awareness, connection, and resiliency, and this is what we aim to cultivate through this effort. In this work, we learn to notice the physical sensations that accompany nervous system responses and develop practices for staying present and connected as they occur. For example, when we begin to notice a racing heartbeat, constriction in our chests, shallow breathing and a narrowing focus, before following our gut reaction, we can practice looking around and expanding our focus to the space that we’re in, moving our bodies in ways that ground us and making eye contact with a familiar face for support. As we learn to experience nervous system energy for what it is, simply our bodies trying to protect us from real or perceived threats, we learn to recognize when our bodies’ reactions match reality and when they are responding out of unhelpful conditioning. Against a backdrop of often-paralyzing white guilt and shame, we can learn to separate feeling bad when we continue to cause harm from thinking we are bad.
As white colleagues develop greater collective capacity to lean into the discomfort of racialized experiences and the resilience to bounce back from our own stress responses, we will be better equipped to walk through the transformation that our community and institution are beginning to undergo. White colleagues can develop the capacity to hold our own and each other’s discomfort, seeking less comfort from colleagues of color and creating more space for them to work, influence, lead and be. Not only that, but we experience more authentic relationships, greater ability to take imperfect action, and the resiliency to seek repair and move forward.