Reflections by Diane J. Goodman, EdD, Professor of Education and Psychology; Diversity Consultant; and author of Promoting Diversity and Social Justice: Educating People From Privileged Groups
Racism, white privilege, slavery—these words evoke a range of reactions. For white people, issues of racism can be provocative since they challenge us to think about who we are, what we’ve been taught, how we see the world and how we participate in inequality. Clearly, we need to reflect on the intellectual or “cognitive” aspects of these issues —the information presented and the problem-solving required. However, we also need to explore the emotional domain—the feelings which are often generated, such as guilt, sadness, anger and fear. Left unattended, these emotions can be debilitating. They can leave white people feeling hostile, immobilized, emotionally shut-down or constrained by “political correctness”. When feelings are worked through, it opens up new possibilities. We can gain greater empathy, authenticity, courage, and commitment. Not only do we become more effective allies, we heal ourselves.
White caucus groups can give white people the space to openly and honestly share our thoughts and feelings without worrying about the reactions of people of color. There can often be discomfort with the idea of breaking off into separate caucuses, and they aren’t indeed right for every group. But it is often the case that white people are able to participate more freely when we are less self-conscious about offending people of color, saying the “wrong thing” or being seen as prejudiced. White people can often relate to each other’s experiences and offer needed support and challenge. Importantly, people of color are relieved of the burden of having to educate or take care of white people as we grapple with our experiences. After working through issues with other white people, we are often better prepared to constructively and open-heartedly engage with people of color in the work of racial justice.