I co-facilitated a workshop this week for white leaders leaders in ministry. I was pleasantly surprised that people turned out! It’s not easy or often fun work for us to do, yet as I’ve heard time and again while doing cross-cultural dialogues from People of Color that the same conversations that do not result in lasting change grow evermore tiresome at best. More and more POCs are sending white people to other white folks to get some education in cultural literacy in preparation for more comprehensive conversations and discernment. White people have work to do among white folk, and that work must include action — dismantling the systems of privilege that benefits us, not just improving our attitudes.
First I asked them to reflect on what they knew about white fragility. To some the term itself sounds like a liberal buzzword, pseudo psychology, or even a [worldly] way to view sin in our hearts. Robin Diangelo (recommended reading) addresses a number of ways that the emotional processes of white folks often waylays the work of organizing for change and then all too often, white folks do their “gliding rather than deciding” which ultimately maintains the current systems of privilege, reward, exclusion, and oppression. Chapter 11 called White Woman’s Tears particularly stands out to me as critical analysis in the conversation. If you’ve ever had a white boss, you’ve probably experienced the group centering their feelings when a diversity issue arises or a cross-cultural conflict occurs. Change, too often, happens at the speed of white people in power in a given social space.
I offer these Response Ability Protocol Cycles to direct some effort for people serious about transformation. I hope this describes many experiences by someone leaving their comfort zone of privilege to experiment toward solidarity — de-centering whiteness in their lives, organizations, communities, etc. The very shape of our processes need to transform the shape of its pattern. For example, the cycle devolves from a quasi butterfly to a triangle, to simplify.
The White Frailty cycle ensures the perpetuity of white supremacist systems by diverting us from significant listening, connection, or action. It is the most common way that white people or white institutions respond to racially or culturally charged stimuli. White guilt gets fused throughout, yet whiteness is made to be able to glide not decide, moving the process and results along with the status quo rather than transformation.
With so many opportunities to be an ally to a minority or oppressed group, white people struggle in their journey to have “skin in the game” as an accomplice in the movement. Cost is the key difference in the Accompliceship cycle, teeming with new growth and new possibilities. Listening moves us from ignorance, which becomes a launchpad rather than a safety net. We learn how to connect — the issues move from statistics and concepts into stories of our friends, our relatives. We become able, empowered to process and act differently.
The real magic in a learning environment lies around and in between these patterns. Maybe we need more protocol cycles in between for more nuance to really describe it as it’s nearly seems a binary. I am trying to help white people to not get too caught up in the model, but to intentionally form transformative friendships that result in deep cultural change in communities and healed hearts. The life is not just in the letters word connection, life thrives in the spaces between and around the letters also (the “white” of the page).
Gatherings like these aren’t rounding up all the woke white people to celebrate how our minds have been renewed by the Spirit. It is in that very renewal process by the Spirit in which we co-investigative, co-stimulate and co-animate. If we are going to have good faith conversations about reparations or restitution in the USA, we need to transform our thoughts and deeds, and help others to do likewise.
For example, if institutions or individuals want to explore how they can deploy the assets that they own (a piece of land, well paying job opportunity, money, buildings, etc) — that would be a much more fun conversation. Several of us can personally introduce you or your community to high impact relational opportunities to deploy them. If redistribution of personal and community wealth is indefinitely off the table for you or your organization, please see figure 2 above because you probably still have some crusties in your eye.