By Maureen McCauley, Communications, Hazel Wolf K-8 Racial Equity Committee (REC)
The Hazel Wolf Community of Practice (CP) for White Women began in June 2020. It is an action of the Hazel Wolf PTSA Racial Equity Committee (REC). In the month or so after the CP was announced, we received at least three emails from White people about why we created a group “segregated by race and gender,” as one writer termed it.
Here’s a bit of background on our CP, and our response to those who’ve asked about why we did this:
The PTSA Racial Equity Committee (REC) formed in 2018. Since that time, we have sponsored multiple events open to the entire HW school community promoting racial equity in our school. I can share a separate document that gives an overview of REC’s work to anyone who’s interested. The HW REC, by the way, is currently made up of 60% Black, Asian, and mixed race members. The decision to create these CPs arose from the groundwork of other general offerings.
In particular, the Community of Practice for White Women evolved from a March 2020 event, when the four White women on REC held a workshop titled “White Women: How Can We Do Better Talking About Race and Racism?” We undertook the creation of the CP in consultation with the leadership and support of our Black and Brown REC members. REC approved the idea of a CP for White women, in part so that we White women could do the anti-racism work that is desperately needed without asking more labor from our Black and Brown colleagues. Some of you may be familiar with affinity groups or racial caucuses. Our CP is similar in concept.
I want to stress that we White CP facilitators report back to REC on what we are doing, and they offer insights and advice as they are able to do so.
REC was asked also about forming a CP for White men, and two volunteers stepped forward, again with the agreement/support of REC, and they created that CP.
The possibility of a CP for BIPOC was raised but, at this time, no one is available to volunteer to lead such a group.
We focused separately on White women and White men (those who identify themselves as such—we are of course open to trans women or men, or non-binary folx) because of the power dynamics in society related to genders. We have had conversations in our CP for White women about healing from sexism to become better allies in anti-racist work. White men are the dominant, historic power-holders in our society, and of course we White women hold great power as well. We hope to create a community that reflects on how racism has been formed in us as White people from childhood on, and how we can be better allies and accomplices in anti-racist work. We rely on resources and readings by BIPOC, and we regularly check in with our colleagues on REC. Some of the focus has been on how White parents can help their White children to talk about and speak out against racism.
The CP for White women has met eight times so far. We always provide a resource list that is almost exclusively based on articles and books by BIPOC. We are working on accountability and anti-racist actions.
The CP for White men has met, I think, four or five times. They have been focusing on Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy workbook. Like the CP for White women, they have checked in regularly with REC members.
On a related note, following the October 2019 peaceful protest, HW began a task force on creating affinity groups for Black and Brown students. That is still being discussed by school administrators and a Task Force, but since schools closed in March, I believe it’s been on a sort of hold, and I am not certain what it might look like this fall.
HW also has a Racial Equity Team (RET) that is comprised of HW teachers, staff, and administrators. Like most public schools in America, the HW teachers, staff, and admins are mostly white. The RET work has largely focused on curriculum issues and professional development. REC and RET members have attended trainings together on racial equity in schools a couple of times.
I’d like to stress that the HW PTSA has declared racial equity work as a priority, and has supported the work of REC in many ways, for which we are grateful. The two new PTSA co-chairs (Marina Gray, a Black woman, and Camille Mulchi, a White woman) were formerly members of REC, and both are active in anti-racist work in and outside the school.
A reality in racial equity work is, for me at least, the expectation that folx (whatever their race) will question and push back on almost everything. We White folx are especially prone to making mistakes and offending or even harming BIPOC. We nonetheless have to keep moving on in this work, learning from our mistakes, apologizing and making amends whenever possible, and encouraging open dialogues and growth.
Here are some resources we shared with our CP regarding white women in anti-racist work:
- Fleur Larsen, a Seattle-based White woman who regularly facilitates workshops on racial equity, called Power With, Not Power Over: Accountability in Action for White Women. Fleur is not without controversy, in the vein of Robin DiAngelo. What is a White woman doing talking about racial equity? Why should a White woman be making money talking about racial issues?
- Here’s a link to a recent podcast by The Ethical Rainmaker that addresses some of these issues, called “White Woman as Gatekeepers With Fleur Larsen.” The Ethical Rainmaker is hosted by Michelle Shireen Muri, who is the co-founder of Community-Centric Fundraising, a new fundraising model grounded in equity and social justice. I love their work; they are here in Seattle.
- I’ve attended a few of Fleur’s workshops, and found them useful, including one she presented last year with Jodi-Ann Burey on “The Pacific Northwest’s Language of Racism: Disrupting Passive Aggressive Communication Norms.” Jodi-Ann Burey is a Seattle-based Black woman who describes herself as Writer, Speaker, Disrupter.
- I recently listened to a podcast featuring Jodi-Ann, hosted by Jenna Hanchard. You may know Jenna, a Black woman, from her work here in Seattle on KING-5 as an anchor and reporter. She was recently featured in this article in the South Seattle Emerald: Award-Winning Journalist Jenna Hanchard ‘Unmutes’ Herself with New Podcast, ‘Lola’s Ink.’
- Jenna’s podcast with Jodi-Ann on Lola’s Ink is called “In a World full of Karens, be an Elizabeth,” and includes Elizabeth Jarvie. Check out all of Jenna’s podcasts, not just this one.
Take care, everyone. Stay well.