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Reflections on Race

“If I didn’t feel so guilty about being white I would…be better able to teach my kids about racism.”

The words left my mouth before I realized I had formed the sentence. We were three weeks into our Eliminating White Racism class, and my discussion partner gave me an empathetic nod. As someone who doesn’t usually speak without knowing exactly what I mean to say, the words surprised me. I wasn’t aware that was roaming around my brain. Was that really how I felt? Three weeks ago I was apprehensive about starting this class at all, and now I was blurting out subconscious concerns.

Walking into the first class, I wondered how the weeks would unfold. Would there be lectures? Would we be asked to recall every instance we had ever had or experienced a racist thought, feeling or expression? As someone who has studied culture, race and gender across history, I could call to mind no shortage of occasions where my culture had dominated, repressed, rejected, minimized, shamed and even destroyed other cultures. I was not looking forward to a rundown 2 hours a week for the rest of the spring and early summer. Instead, I discovered a safe space meant for examining my own experiences, my own guilt as a result of unearned privileges based on something as uncontrollable as my skin color and, yes, my own racism.

Given the YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism, holding an internal Eliminating White Racism training is a fantastic way to get all of our staff on the same page. I think being immersed in this work that it can be very tempting to think we’ve got this under control; that we recognize racism when we see it- even our own. Having a reminder of all the forms racism can take whether overt or subtle, deliberate or unintended, internal or external helped to reinforce that all of us are participants in this struggle to end racism. Sometimes it’s not glamorous. Sometimes it’s as small as examining your own thoughts and calling yourself out on them, because the fight to end racism has to start somewhere.

Posted by E’lise Chard, YWCA Missoula Office Manager