January 24, 2011

Sixty or more Quakers to attend 2011 White Privilege Conference

NOTE: In addition to reading about my experience at last year's conference, below, you can contact me to receive a "teaser" flyer, an FAQ sheet, and other information on how to register for the conference! Email me at lizopp AT gmail DOT com

The twelfth annual White Privilege Conference (WPC12) will be held in the Minneapolis area, April 13-16, 2011. Early indications are that as many as 60 Quakers (and presumably attenders!) may be participating, allowing Friends General Conference to work with conference organizers and local volunteers to arrange for a sizeable discount for Friends.

Regular conference rates for an individual are $315. The FGC discounted rate for Friends who go through FGC's pre-registration process, are as low as $144--because a handful of Friends and FGC staff have committed to bringing sixty or more of us there.

All of the information in the teaser and FAQs is also on FGC's website, but only as text.

By the way, there are already 15 Friends who have already pre-registered or who have indicated they are planning to attend! That's already 25% of what we are striving for, and FGC's webpage has been up only for three days!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

My 2010 Experience as a White Friend

As a Friend of European descent, I probably first heard the phrase “White privilege” in the 1990s when I was working as a sign language interpreter. One resource that was inevitably reprinted, passed out, and discussed at each diversity training that I interpreted was the essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack."

One night in April 2010, I sat listening to the remarks of the woman who wrote that seminal essay, Peggy McIntosh. She was no longer a byline beneath the title of a photocopied essay: She was an attender at the eleventh annual White Privilege Conference--and 11 Quakers from the United States, including my partner and me, attended that conference.

Whiteness and White privilege aren’t topics that most North American Quakers talk about easily, even though our meetinghouse benches and chairs are filled nearly entirely with White worshipers on First Days in Canada and the U.S. Maybe Friends don’t talk much about White privilege because we mistakenly equate it with White supremacy, but more likely it’s because we Quakers of European descent don’t see or pay any mind to the Whiteness that we live, breathe, and incarnate. Many of us at one point believed that when it came to racial and ethnic differences among us, being “colorblind” was a goal we were to pursue.

Those four April days in La Crosse, Wisconsin early in 2010, however, changed my understanding radically--that is, at the root--of what White privilege means, as well as its relation to meaningful social change. Where once I had been stymied by how to engage in anti-racism work, now I am finding my voice to raise questions of how unearned privilege has been keeping me, my meeting, and my family unintentionally engaged in reinforcing oppressive social, political, financial, and educational structures.

I am moving from being a well-intentioned bystander to becoming an engaged agitator of sorts.

Quakers and non-Quakers ask me why I went to the White Privilege Conference and why I plan to go again in 2011.

About two years ago, I realized that when it came to “walking the talk” about anti-racism work and working toward equality, I was “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.” That’s about the same time when a long-time non-Quaker acquaintance started telling me that the White Privilege Conference (WPC) that she had been attending would be coming to my part of the country and that I ought to consider attending it.

A year later, I found out that a few Quakers of European descent had also attended, or had been thinking of attending the conference. Then, in the last half of 2009, as Jeanne and I were reviewing our end-of-the-year donations, we agreed to devote more of our resources--time, money, and energy--to addressing racism, equality, and social change. It was an opportunity for both of us to walk the walk, and we made plans to attend the conference.

We soon learned that the White Privilege Conference offered discounts for groups as small as five. I thought to myself, “How hard could it be to round up another three Quakers from the area?” Then I learned that two Quakers from a nearby meeting were also planning to attend; that would make four of us. I sent emails to Quaker friends around the U.S.--I realize now that I need to work on building more relationships with Canadian Friends!--about the conference.

Given that the year before, FGC’s Quaker Press had printed Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship, and given that FGC had a standing Committee for Ministry on Racism, I asked the organization if we could identify FGC as our “group” in order to take advantage of the discount, which was okayed.

These days when I talk about being Quaker and looking at White privilege, I explain that White privilege and racism are two sides of the same coin: Racism exists because White privilege is safe-guarded by those systems and individuals who have their hands on the reins. White privilege exists because racism is institutionalized, thereby retaining as well as passing along power and control to people of European descent.

Talking about anti-racism work quickly becomes politicized, intellectualized, and somewhat removed from our immediate circumstance as White people; but learning about White privilege as a White person becomes immediate and highly personalized. It creates a healthy cognitive dissonance for many of us of European descent: What is this THING that immediately seems to relate to who I am...?

The conference transformed my approach to anti-racism work, helping me realize that there’s a harmful way to engage my privilege, and there’s also a useful way to leverage my privilege as a White, educated, wealthy person.

For well-intentioned White Friends, the White Privilege Conference can open a door into anti-racism work that is personal, interpersonal, meaningful, systemic, and transformative. Just as Peggy McIntosh’s essay helped shift the focus in the last two decades from “diversity training” to “unlearning racism,” so too in this decade, we are shifting from “unlearning racism” to “looking at and dismantling White privilege.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If you are a Friend, or if you are a regular or frequent attender at Quaker worship, you can pre-register for the 2011 White Privilege Conference. After completing the pre-registration process, you will receive an email with more information about the FGC discount and how to apply it to the conference's own registration form.

DEADLINE: We are asking Friends to pre-register through FGC's process by March 7, 2011.

For more information, contact me at lizopp AT gmail DOT com, or Vanessa Julye at vanessaj AT fgcquaker DOT com.

And please do contact me if you want to receive the PDFs of the "teaser" and/or the FAQs.


Brad Ogilvie/The William Penn House/The Mosaic Initiative said...

Thanks, Liz. I do think that we miss something huge in this conversation when we neglect economics. Too often (with HIV-work, for example), there is talk about it in the black community but really it is an issue of economics, not skin color. There is also some wonderful materials about this - troubling, but informative. I am increasingly convinced that if we do not passionately embrace the economic component of this, we are missing the mark.

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for the comment, Brad. A few people who attend/have attended this conference share the same concern. And I've been told that two years ago, the theme of the conference was focused on issues of social class--and presumably on economic justice.

As more participants in the White Privilege Conference come under the weight of the concern about oppression that is based on social class/social status, there will likely be more attention given to the intersection of skin color and economic status.

I hope William Penn House will post general information about the White Privilege Conference as well as FGC's work in encouraging Friends to attend.


Anonymous said...

As an African-American Quaker, I am glad that you and others are acknowledging white privilege and seeking to be more informed and aware of it.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that focusing on such a vague term as "white privilege" will ever end, or even limit racism-in fact-it may well increase racist ideology.

Those involved in the white privilege movement claim that their purpose is not to beat up on white folks but their language rhetoric says something quite different. In a book called the First R the author claims that white children begin to show their racism as early as 3 years of age. The authors of other books claim that "only" white people are to blame for racism, sexism, imperialism, homophobia and genocide.

To those who suppot this movement I ask: once you get rid of white privilege will you next go to India or Pakistan and remove brown privilege?