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“But I’m Not a Racist”: Education and Conversations

By Allie Day | 3/10/17 10:48am | Updated 3/10/17 10:48am
Lindsay Maizland/American Word Magazine

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion hosted “But I’m Not a Racist” on Feb. 21 to tackle obstacles for white people engaging in anti-racism. The event highlighted the importance of white people doing research to educate themselves about how to engage in this type of behavior, instead of relying on people of color to communicate this knowledge to them.

According to the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, being anti-racist means taking personal action to end the external racism that exists systematically and in the action of others.

“You can never know enough,” Liliana Ascencio, a third-year AU student said. “There’s always more to learn no matter how educated you are.” This statement rang true throughout the event, as there were attendees with various levels of knowledge about how to engage in anti-racist work. One obstacle to engaging in anti-racism is fear: people don’t feel comfortable speaking up, or they fear the reaction of their peers.

To combat this fear, the dialogue coordinators, Matt Bruno and Sean Furmage, created small groups through caucusing. This means they divided up attendees according to the race they identified as. This is something we all do in real life. According to the Pew Research Center, “one-in-six (16%) multiracial adults say all or most of their close friends are multiracial, compared with only 6% of the general public.” This shows that people tend to form their social groups according to race. The Center for Diversity and Inclusion understands this tendency, so they created realistic groups where people would feel comfortable having difficult conversations about race. Bruno and Furmage called this environment a “brave space,” where everyone could feel heard. Had the groups been mixed, some people may not have felt comfortable speaking up, and some groups may have relied on people of color to do most of the talking.

Bruno and Furnage also talked about caucusing as a way to avoid tokenizing the people of color in the room. Tokenization is when “someone is approached, befriended, questioned, or addressed because (and solely because) they are a member of a particular identity.” When addressing racism, sometimes white people look to people of color to educate them – this is tokenization. The goal of this program is to encourage self-reflection. Everyone has different obstacles to engaging in anti-racist work, so each individual can take accountability, address their obstacles and devise strategies to overcome them.

“It was interesting to have such an open conversation with other non-POC,” Natalie Landau, a grad student, said. “We talked a lot about how… we can work within our spheres of privilege to educate other non-POC.” These uncomfortable, awkward and scary conversations are the next step to engaging in anti-racist work. “But I’m Not a Racist” was the second event in Center for Diversity and Inclusion’s “White People and Anti-Racism” series. If you’re interested in attending the third event, you can get more information here.