About BUF Black Lives Matter Team

The BUF Black Lives Matter Ministry Action Team seeks to nurture the social, spiritual and personal development of congregation members in the exploration of how racism and privilege impact our congregation, our community, and our nation. In particular, we acknowledge the targeted violence which impacts black people disproportionately. We work to end racial discrimination and injustice, starting within ourselves and moving out into the world around us. We support multiracial, multiethnic congregations and advocate for stopping racist policies like mass imprisonment and attacks on voting rights. We are committed to harnessing the power of love to dismantle racism and white supremacy across our communities and to creating spaces inclusive of people of all races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds. We work with many partners in support of the Black Lives Matter movements.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

White Supremacy Culture

White Supremacy Culture

From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001

This is a list of characteristics of white supremacy culture which show up in our organizations. Culture is powerful precisely because it is so present and at the same time so very difficult to name or identify. The characteristics listed below are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. They are damaging to both people of color and to white people. Organizations that are people of color led or a majority people of color can also demonstrate many damaging characteristics of white supremacy culture.
Perfectionism
  • little appreciation expressed among people for the work that others are doing; appreciation that is expressed usually directed to those who get most of the credit anyway
  • more common is to point out either how the person or work is inadequate
  • or even more common, to talk to others about the inadequacies of a person or their work without ever talking directly to them
  • mistakes are seen as personal, i.e. they reflect badly on the person making them as opposed to being seen for what they are ó mistakes
  • making a mistake is confused with being a mistake, doing wrong with being wrong
  • little time, energy, or money put into reflection or identifying lessons learned that can improve practice, in other words little or no learning from mistakes
  • tendency to identify whatís wrong; little ability to identify, name, and appreciate whatís right
antidotes: develop a culture of appreciation, where the organization takes time to make sure that peopleís work and efforts are appreciated; develop a learning organization, where it is expected that everyone will make mistakes and those mistakes offer opportunities for learning; create an environment where people can recognize that mistakes sometimes lead to positive results; separate the person from the mistake; when offering feedback, always speak to the things that went well before offering criticism; ask people to offer specific suggestions for how to do things differently when offering criticism

Sense of Urgency
  • continued sense of urgency that makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making, to think long-term, to consider consequences
  • frequently results in sacrificing potential allies for quick or highly visible results, for example sacrificing interests of communities of color in order to win victories for white people (seen as default or norm community)
  • reinforced by funding proposals which promise too much work for too little money and by funders who expect too much for too little
antidotes: realistic workplans; leadership which understands that things take longer than anyone expects; discuss and plan for what it means to set goals of inclusivity and diversity, particularly in terms of time; learn from past experience how long things take; write realistic funding proposals with realistic time frames; be clear about how you will make good decisions in an atmosphere of urgency

Defensiveness
  • the organizational structure is set up and much energy spent trying to prevent abuse and protect power as it exists rather than to facilitate the best out of each person or to clarify who has power and how they are expected to use it
  • because of either/or thinking (see below), criticism of those with power is viewed as threatening and inappropriate (or rude)
  • people respond to new or challenging ideas with defensiveness, making it very difficult to raise these ideas
  • a lot of energy in the organization is spent trying to make sure that peopleís feelings arenít getting hurt or working around defensive people
  • the defensiveness of people in power creates an oppressive culture
antidotes: understand that structure cannot in and of itself facilitate or prevent abuse; understand the link between defensiveness and fear (of losing power, losing face, losing comfort, losing privilege); work on your own defensiveness; name defensiveness as a problem when it is one; give people credit for being able to handle more than you think; discuss the ways in which defensiveness or resistance to new ideas gets in the way of the mission

Quantity Over Quality
  • all resources of organization are directed toward producing measurable goals
  • things that can be measured are more highly valued than things that cannot, for example numbers of people attending a meeting, newsletter circulation, money spent are valued more than quality of relationships, democratic decision-making, ability to constructively deal with conflict
  • little or no value attached to process; if it can't be measured, it has no value
  • discomfort with emotion and feelings
  • no understanding that when there is a conflict between content (the agenda of the meeting) and process (peopleís need to be heard or engaged), process will prevail (for example, you may get through the agenda, but if you haven't paid attention to peopleís need to be heard, the decisions made at the meeting are undermined and/or disregarded)
antidotes: include process or quality goals in your planning; make sure your organization has a values statement which expresses the ways in which you want to do your work; make sure this is a living document and that people are using it in their day to day work; look for ways to measure process goals (for example if you have a goal of inclusivity, think about ways you can measure whether or not you have achieved that goal); learn to recognize those times when you need to get off the agenda in order to address peopleís underlying concerns

Worship of the Written Word
  • if itís not in a memo, it doesn't exist
  • the organization does not take into account or value other ways in which information gets shared
  • those with strong documentation and writing skills are more highly valued, even in organizations where ability to relate to others is key to the mission antidotes: take the time to analyze how people inside and outside the organization get and share information; figure out which things need to be written down and come up with alternative ways to document what is happening; work to recognize the contributions and skills that every person brings to the organization (for example, the ability to build relationships with those who are important to the organizationís mission)
  • only one right way
  • the belief there is one right way to do things and once people are introduced to the right way, they will see the light and adopt it
  • when they do not adapt or change, then something is wrong with them (the other, those not changing), not with us (those who ëknowí the right way)
  • similar to the missionary who does not see value in the culture of other communities, sees only value in their beliefs about what is good
antidotes: accept that there are many ways to get to the same goal; once the group has made a decision about which way will be taken, honor that decision and see what you and the organization will learn from taking that way, even and especially if it is not the way you would have chosen; work on developing the ability to notice when people do things differently and how those different ways might improve your approach; look for the tendency for a group or a person to keep pushing the same point over and over out of a belief that there is only one right way and then name it; when working with communities from a different culture than yours or your organizationís, be clear that you have some learning to do about the communitiesí ways of doing; never assume that you or your organization know whatís best for the community in isolation from meaningful relationships with that community

Paternalism
  • decision-making is clear to those with power and unclear to those without it
  • those with power think they are capable of making decisions for and in the interests of those without power
  • those with power often don't think it is important or necessary to understand the viewpoint or experience of those for whom they are making decisions
  • those without power understand they do not have it and understand who does
  • those without power do not really know how decisions get made and who makes what decisions, and yet they are completely familiar with the impact of those decisions on them
antidotes: make sure that everyone knows and understands who makes what decisions in the organization; make sure everyone knows and understands their level of responsibility and authority in the organization; include people who are affected by decisions in the decision-making

Either/Or Thinking
  • things are either/or ó good/bad, right/wrong, with us/against us
  • closely linked to perfectionism in making it difficult to learn from mistakes or accommodate conflict
  • no sense that things can be both/and
  • results in trying to simplify complex things, for example believing that poverty is simply a result of lack of education
  • creates conflict and increases sense of urgency, as people are felt they have to make decisions to do either this or that, with no time or encouragement to consider alternatives, particularly those which may require more time or resources
antidotes: notice when people use ëeither/orí language and push to come up with more than two alternatives; notice when people are simplifying complex issues, particularly when the stakes seem high or an urgent decision needs to be made; slow it down and encourage people to do a deeper analysis; when people are faced with an urgent decision, take a break and give people some breathing room to think creatively; avoid making decisions under extreme pressure

Power Hoarding
  • little, if any, value around sharing power
  • power seen as limited, only so much to go around
  • those with power feel threatened when anyone suggests changes in how things should be done in the organization, feel suggestions for change are a reflection on their leadership
  • those with power don't see themselves as hoarding power or as feeling threatened
  • those with power assume they have the best interests of the organization at heart and assume those wanting change are ill-informed (stupid), emotional, inexperienced
antidotes: include power sharing in your organizationís values statement; discuss what good leadership looks like and make sure people understand that a good leader develops the power and skills of others; understand that change is inevitable and challenges to your leadership can be healthy and productive; make sure the organization is focused on the mission

Fear of Open Conflict
  • people in power are scared of conflict and try to ignore it or run from it
  • when someone raises an issue that causes discomfort, the response is to blame the person for raising the issue rather than to look at the issue which is actually causing the problem
  • emphasis on being polite
  • equating the raising of difficult issues with being impolite, rude, or out of line
antidotes: role play ways to handle conflict before conflict happens; distinguish between being polite and raising hard issues; don't require those who raise hard issues to raise them in ëacceptableí ways, especially if you are using the ways in which issues are raised as an excuse not to address the issues being raised; once a conflict is resolved, take the opportunity to revisit it and see how it might have been handled differently

Individualism
  • little experience or comfort working as part of a team
  • people in organization believe they are responsible for solving problems alone
  • accountability, if any, goes up and down, not sideways to peers or to those the organization is set up to serve
  • desire for individual recognition and credit
  • leads to isolation
  • competition more highly valued than cooperation and where cooperation is valued, little time or resources devoted to developing skills in how to cooperate
  • creates a lack of accountability, as the organization values those who can get things done on their own without needing supervision or guidance antidotes: include teamwork as an important value in your values statement; make sure the organization is working towards shared goals and people understand how working together will improve performance; evaluate peopleís ability to work in a team as well as their ability to get the job done; make sure that credit is given to all those who participate in an effort, not just the leaders or most public person; make people accountable as a group rather than as individuals; create a culture where people bring problems to the group; use staff meetings as a place to solve problems, not just a place to report activities
  • iím the only one
  • connected to individualism, the belief that if something is going to get done right, ëIí have to do it
  • little or no ability to delegate work to others
antidotes: evaluate people based on their ability to delegate to others; evaluate people based on their ability to work as part of a team to accomplish shared goals

Progress is Bigger, More
  • observed in systems of accountability and ways we determine success
  • progress is an organization which expands (adds staff, adds projects) or develops the ability to serve more people (regardless of how well they are serving them)
  • gives no value, not even negative value, to its cost, for example, increased accountability to funders as the budget grows, ways in which those we serve may be exploited, excluded, or underserved as we focus on how many we are serving instead of quality of service or values created by the ways in which we serve
antidotes: create Seventh Generation thinking by asking how the actions of the group now will affect people seven generations from now; make sure that any cost/benefit analysis includes all the costs, not just the financial ones, for example the cost in morale, the cost in credibility, the cost in the use of resources; include process goals in your planning, for example make sure that your goals speak to how you want to do your work, not just what you want to do; ask those you work with and for to evaluate your performance

Objectivity
  • the belief that there is such a thing as being objective
  • the belief that emotions are inherently destructive, irrational, and should not play a role in decision-making or group process
  • invalidating people who show emotion
  • requiring people to think in a linear fashion and ignoring or invalidating those who think in other ways
  • impatience with any thinking that does not appear ëlogicalí to those with power
antidotes: realize that everybody has a world view and that everybodyís world view affects the way they understand things; realize this means you too; push yourself to sit with discomfort when people are expressing themselves in ways which are not familiar to you; assume that everybody has a valid point and your job is to understand what that point is

Right to Comfort
  • the belief that those with power have a right to emotional and psychological comfort (another aspect of valuing ëlogicí over emotion)
  • scapegoating those who cause discomfort
  • equating individual acts of unfairness against white people with systemic racism which daily targets people of color
antidotes: understand that discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning; welcome it as much as you can; deepen your political analysis of racism and oppression so you have a strong understanding of how your personal experience and feelings fit into a larger picture; don't take everything personally
One of the purposes of listing characteristics of white supremacy culture is to point out how organizations which unconsciously use these characteristics as their norms and standards make it difficult, if not impossible, to open the door to other cultural norms and standards. As a result, many of our organizations, while saying we want to be multicultural, really only allow other people and cultures to come in if they adapt or conform to already existing cultural norms. Being able to identify and name the cultural norms and standards you want is a first step to making room for a truly multi-cultural organization.

10 Ways to be an Ally


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

10 Ways to be an Ally

As I have gotten deeper into anti-oppression work I find that I discover more and more subtleties and complexities than I ever considered. Learning to be a good ally is not a linear education with some sort of graduation or certification at the end. It is a process full of experimentation, humility, confusion, challenge, and clarity. This list is by no means complete. It’s really just a few suggestions on how to turn your mind towards solidarity.

1. Consider your position and how it benefits you to be in that position As a white person, a heterosexual person, a person with money, a man, etc. one has certain privileges that are not afforded to others. Many of these privileges are unearned, meaning they are afforded to the person, simply because they are white, a man, a heterosexual. The idea of privilege is also bigger than just making a list of these unearned benefits. It is important to understand how these benefits affect your daily life, your career, your education, and your relationships with authority (landlords, police, bosses, teachers, etc.) among other things. The idea is not necessarily to make a hierarchy of oppression but rather consider how all our identities intersect. For example, if someone is poor but is also white they may not have class privilege, but as a white person, it is likely that they’ll have an easier time being poor than a person of color with the same income level. For more on white privilege specifically check out Peggy McIntosh’s article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf)

2. Do a personal inventory It is helpful to understand how particular issues like racism, sexism, etc. have played out in your own life. One way to do this is to write about all the times that you can remember when some form of oppression affected your life. This could mean that you were the recipient or the perpetrator of oppressive behaviors. It could also be things that you observed or events with which you were personally involved. It could be painful memories from school, work, family, etc. A personal inventory may also include a very honest evaluation of your feelings, thoughts, experiences with, and beliefs about people who are different than you. As a heterosexual, you may discover feelings of discomfort about gay or as a cisgender person (a person whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth) you may feel some discomfort around people who identify as transgender. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It does mean that you have thoughts or feelings that could lead to perpetuating oppression.

3. Do your homework Sometimes people from a dominant culture have a very sincere interest in understanding people from other cultures, races, genders, or sexual orientations. One way to do so is to be in conversation with those other cultures. However, there is a big difference between a natural or intentional conversation about oppression and simply asking someone who has experienced oppression to teach you about it. Asking one person of another culture to be your teacher is disrespectful for a couple of reasons. First, experiences of oppression are utterly personal and often painful. When a white person asks a person of color to share their experiences it could trigger some painful memories.

Second, this creates a false understanding of entire cultures and people. When we ask one person to speak for an entire people, this is what is known as tokenism. Humans are so wonderfully diverse, even within subcultures. Latinos are not just Mexicans and what one African-American person thinks about an issue may be different than what another thinks. When we tokenize someone, we run the risk of reductionist essentialism, reducing a whole group of people into one fixed idea about who they are. Curiously, white people are rarely, if ever asked to represent the ideas and beliefs of their entire race.

Third, there are so many other ways to get a multicultural perspective. Many, many books, articles, and videos are out there to give someone an understanding of other cultures. In seeking these things out one should consider looking into the history of a culture and understanding what role your own culture played in their history. For example, how did policy decisions by able-bodied people affect alter-abled people? Consider the books your read and the movies you watch. Are the others, actors, producers usually from a dominant culture? When one is in conversation with someone who is talking about their experiences in oppression, the best, most supportive thing they can do is to just listen and learn. While some things may sound difficult to believe it is important to remember that this person knows their experience better than we do and that our privilege may have made such experiences unthinkable in our own lives. Receptive listening also ensures that the experiences of people who have been oppressed, as well as the people themselves do not become invisible. Listening can be an act of solidarity.

4. Consider the difference between guilt and action
Discovering that one has benefits that others do not simply because of circumstance can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt or shame. While it is certainly useful to have a sense of regret for conscious or unconscious ways that we have personally or communally perpetuated oppression, it doesn’t necessarily serve us to dwell in that regret. Oppressed people may not care if people in a dominant culture feel bad or guilty. However, they might very well care about how you act upon that guilt. If you want to make a difference, don’t be guilty, be active. Being active means interrupting oppressive comments or conversations but it also means active participation in the struggle.

5. Be clear on why you are involved in the struggle (against racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc)
If you do take action it is important to consider why. Sometimes people from the dominant culture get involved in a struggle in order to “help” or to take up a cause for other people, or to assuage their own feelings of guilt. Part of privilege is that one can choose to engage in the struggle or not. However, for oppressed peoples the choice is not as simple as being a part of a cause or not, it can be a matter of survival. Do we believe that oppression is a problem for the society as a whole or just a problem for it’s victims? While racism affects people of color in very detrimental ways, racism is a problem for white people because it is white people who need to act to change it. As well, it is good to consider how oppression benefits you and what you may get out of ending oppression, and what you may lose. If you’re involved simply to help, get a good internship, or take up a cause, you might be doing yourself and your community a disservice.

6. Consider the difference between charity and solidarity As you do get involved in ending oppression consider not only your intent, but also the effectiveness of your action. Charity is a form of help. Examples of charity include volunteerism (short-term, limited participation in a cause) and philanthropy (donating money to a cause). Consider Martin Luther Kings Jr.’s admonishment: “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”

Solidarity is a different sense of involvement. It is a long-term participation in the struggle, understanding the part you play and how the issues affect you personally. As well, solidarity may very well mean not being the center of the solution, but just a small part. It may mean deferring your sense of authority and leadership. It can also mean dropping your own agenda for how change should be achieved. It can be very problematic when the leadership in an organization is people from the dominant culture. When people from the dominant culture define the issues or strategies for oppressed people it can be condescending and ineffective. So, an example of solidarity is being part of community organizing efforts led by people of color, womyn, etc in an active, but non-leadership role. Being in solidarity means seeing how you will benefit from the liberation of others.

7. Don’t be afraid to mess up or be to be uncomfortable
This is difficult work and it requires a lot of humility and vulnerability. It is important to realize that we are asking ourselves to challenge things we’ve believed since we were children. We were brought up with a frame of reference that has inevitable blind spots. We are trying to change behaviors that are well ingrained. We will mess up. Sometimes people will be kind in their response to our follies and sometimes they won’t. However, we can be kind to ourselves by getting support from other people and by attending kindly to whatever emotions arise. We can be kind to others by not letting these mess ups lead to give ups. Anyone who has been involved in anti-oppression work probably has one or many stories of being called out on some unskillful behavior. It is part of the process and something we can ultimately be grateful for, even if it is painful as hell in the moment.

8. Make Amends
If you do mess up, or if you recall some instance in which you feel you acted unskillfully, try to make amends. Apologize to your community or to the person/people directly. Realize that in doing so you may or may not get a positive response from the persons you hurt. Apologizing is not in and of itself the end of the situation. Either way, the best way to make amends might be to continue to be internally introspective and externally active.

9. Don’t expect a pat on the back
It is exciting to engage in social justice work. As we begin to change our internal landscape we may feel our self-esteem rise with our integrity. Sometimes our head may get a little big. Some people have experienced a feeling of being one of “the good white people”, for example. Don’t let this hinder your own self-evaluation and openness to being challenged on your stuff. And don’t expect oppressed peoples to acknowledge your internal or external achievements. If you do find yourself wondering why you aren’t getting more positive feedback for the work you are doing, it may be a good time to check your intentions. Are you doing the work for yourself and your community or because you are trying to be a good helper, feel less guilty, and/or get the respect of others?

10. Do the work within yourself, your own cultures and your own communities
For people who are in the dominant group it may be very difficult to experience the anger or frustration of oppressed people. The level of emotion may trigger very deep wounds of our own and it can get really uncomfortable, really fast. It is important for us to do our own emotional processing work. It is helpful to be clear about our own relationship to anger and other strong emotions so that we are not defensive or shut down when we experience these emotions with people who have been oppressed.

Part of solidarity is creating active change within the privileged communities. This also creates allies for allies, meaning as an ally, it is important to have support from others who are trying to do the same. This helps keep you in check and gives you a place to explore some of the pain and challenges of this work. For example, as you do a personal inventory it can be good to have another person from your same culture to talk with about these memories. It can be transformative when men get together and talk about ways they have mistreated womyn or when white people get together and talk about ways that they could have handled racially insensitive remarks differently. Work within your own culture or community may manifest as a monthly support group or discussion group, a caucus or sub-committee within an organization, or a blog devoted to discussing such matters.


Christopher Bowers is a social worker, student and writer. He hosts a social blog about white privilege at www.whitepriv.blogspot.com.

Tools for achieving equity in people and institutions

Tools for achieving equity in people and institutions

Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on. Part of becoming an ally is also recognizing one’s own experience of oppression. For example, a white woman can learn from her experience of sexism and apply it in becoming an ally to people of colour, or a person who grew up in poverty can learn from that experience how to respect others’ feelings of helplessness because of a disability.
I learned about patterns of oppression through my experience as a woman and a lesbian, then encountered my privileged position in the world as a white person. This experience led me to recognition my other privileges, from being educated, English-speaking, healthy, a Canadian citizen, etc. I found a wealth of books and other resources to help me understand my position as a person experiencing oppression, but very few to help with understanding privilege. Those I did find were oriented toward a specific form of oppression—men writing about sexism, white people writing about racism and heterosexual people writing about heterosexism. There did not seem to be a resource about living on both sides of oppression/privilege, and how to learn from both sides about ending all forms of oppression. My search led to years of keeping a journal, reading, discussion and conducting workshops on these issues. Eventually, two books emerged from this process: Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People (first edition 1994, second edition 2002, third edition 2015) and Beyond Token Change: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in Institutions (2005). Both books are published by Fernwood Publishing, Black Point, Nova Scotia, Canada.
This website contains a brief introduction and sample chapter from each book. I have also written a section for adult educators on educating allies with an annotated collection of further resources. If you are interested in the struggle for equity, in people and institutions, I am delighted that you have found this website. I hope it is useful to you in your work.
Anne Bishop

Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People
Becoming an Ally is a search for the origins of racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, and all other forms of oppression that divide us. The book examines history, economic and political structures, and individual psychology looking for the roots of discrimination. It attempts to answer such questions as: Has oppression always been with us, part of "human nature"? What does individual healing have to do with social justice? What does social justice have to do with individual healing? Why do members of the same oppressed group fight one another, sometimes more viciously than they fight their oppressors? Why do some who experience oppression develop a life-long commitment to fighting oppression, while others turn around and oppress others? What can we do to change oppression? The book looks for solutions by examining the process through which we come to recognize ourselves, first as people who have experienced oppression, then as members of oppressor groups. In particular, it lays out guidelines for becoming allies of oppressed peoples when we are in the role of oppressor.

 First Chapter of Becoming an Ally   (from Second Edition 2002)
Why Write a Book About Becoming an Ally?
My first reason for writing this book is a dream. This dream is a deep, driving force in me, and I know many others share it. The dream is a vision of the world I would like to live in, a world based on cooperation, negotiation, and universal respect for the innate value of every creature on earth and the Earth herself. This is a world where no one doubts that to hurt anyone or anything is to hurt yourself and those you love most, a world where everyone works to understand how everything we do will affect future generations.
I am what is called an "activist." I like to live my commitment to my dream. I often distrust language, because I am tired of hearing the same words I use-"respect," "cooperation," "justice," "equality," "the people"-with their meaning co-opted by exploiters. However, it is time for me to converse with a wider network than those I can know face to face. I have something I want to say.
I have a vision of how my dream can come about. It is not detailed, because it is not for one person to predict the path of consensus. In general, though, I long to see all of us who are giving our work, ideas, energy, and lives to a society which benefits the rich and powerful, rise up together and say: "No more. We can develop social, political, and economic structures that benefit everyone, and we will. We want to take on the challenge of moving towards equality, and we will. We are by far the majority; we can change things."
Between me and my dream stands a high wall. Its name is "Divide and Conquer." We have learned all too well to despise and distrust those who are different from us. Ironically, we have also been taught to despise and distrust people like us. This is because we have been divided even from ourselves. We distrust ourselves. Rather than looking within, to our own thoughts and experience, we accept the word of "the experts."
The second reason for writing this book is anger. Again and again I see examples of division among oppressed people, as in the images at the beginning of this chapter. Incidents like these rob me of hope. How can we take back our world and reorganize it to benefit everyone if we cannot even talk about our different forms of oppression without getting tangled up in the net of competition?
When I see people competing, claiming their own oppression as the "worst," or attacking the gains made by other oppressed groups, I see us all running on a treadmill. As long as we try to end our oppression by rising above others, we are reinforcing each other's oppression, and eventually our own. We are fighting over who has more value, who has less, instead of asking why we must be valued as more or less. We are investing energy in the source of all our oppressions, which is competition itself.
The truth is that each form of oppression is part of a single complex, interrelated, self-perpetuating system. The whole thing rests on a world-view that says we must constantly strive to be better than someone else. Competition assumes that we are separate beings-separate from each other, from other species, from the earth. If we believe we are separate, then we are able to believe we can hurt another being and not suffer ourselves.
Competition also assumes that there is a hierarchy of beings. Those who "win" can take a "higher" position, one with more power and value than those who "lose." It is a short step from accepting hierarchy as natural to assuming that exploitation is just. It becomes right, even admirable, for those who have more power and value to help themselves to the labour, land, resources, culture, possessions, even the bodies, of those who have less power and value. The result is a class system, where power and privilege increase as you go up the ladder, and those standing on each rung take for granted their right to benefit from the labour and resources of those below them. Class will be discussed further in Chapter Five.
As long as we who are fighting oppression continue to play the game of competition with one another, all forms of oppression will continue to exist. No one oppression can be ended without all ending, and this can only happen when we succeed in replacing the assumptions of competition, hierarchy, and separation with cooperation, an understanding that each being has value beyond measure, and the knowledge that we cannot harm anyone or anything without harming ourselves.
The connection between different forms of oppression is often seen in the liberal sense which denies differences, ignores the continuing presence of history, and blames individuals-"We're all the same, all equal, everyone has problems, let's just decide to get along." I have found it difficult, when speaking in public, to say that all oppressions have one root without my audience hearing me say that all oppressions are the same, or equal. People often feel that their oppression has been belittled. But I am not saying that all oppressions are the same or equal; equality means nothing in this context, for how would you measure? I certainly am not saying that we all have problems and should just learn to get along; this denies a long, complicated history and all the terrible scars that need healing, collectively, before we can live together in peace. What I am saying is that all oppressions are interdependent, they all come from the same world-view, and none can be solved in isolation. We can either perpetuate a society based on competition, where some win and some lose, or we can work toward a society based on cooperation, where winning and losing become irrelevant. In the first scenario, oppression will continue to exist for almost everyone. In the second, it will fade away, because it serves no purpose.
The idea that one form of oppression, or even one person's oppression, can be solved independently, is of great benefit to the rich and powerful. This belief is enough to keep oppressed people fighting and jostling in competition with each other, never reaching a point of unity where we can successfully challenge those with more than their share.
Reverend Martin Niemöller, a Nazi prison survivor, recognized this:
"First they arrested the communists-but I was not a Communist, so I did nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats-but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then they arrested the Trade Unionists-and I did nothing, because I was not one. And then they came for the Jews, and then the Catholics, but I was neither a Jew nor a Catholic, and I did nothing. At last they came and arrested me-and there was no one left to do anything about it." (Bartlett 1980:824)
I regain hope every time I see someone reach out past the boundaries of their own oppression to understand and support someone else's struggle. Hope is my third reason for writing this book.
I have a fourth reason for writing about becoming an ally. Through my own journey of recognizing first my oppression, then my role as an oppressor, I found written work that helped me understand my own oppressions and the process of liberation from each one. I found excellent literature on unlearning racism, and good workshop materials for unlearning heterosexism. I also found a few writers who are working to understand and communicate the complex interrelationship of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and class, and a growing literature of personal accounts by individuals coming to grips with their role as oppressors.
What I have not found is a critical analysis of the relationships among all forms of oppression, or of the journey from fighting one's own oppression to forming an alliance with others. Not everyone who is active against his or her own oppression breaks out of the competitiveness and learns to support others. For those who do, what is the process?
In Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics, bell hooks asks for more discussion of the roots of racism in white people, and the process of becoming anti-racist:
"One change in direction that would be real cool would be the production of a discourse on race that interrogates whiteness. It would just be so interesting for all those white folks who are giving blacks their take on blackness to let them know what's going on with whiteness. In far too much contemporary writing-though there are some outstanding exceptions-race is always an issue of Otherness that is not white; it is black, brown, yellow, red, purple even. Yet only a persistent, rigorous, and informed critique of whiteness could really determine what forces of denial, fear, and competition are responsible for creating fundamental gaps between professed political commitment to eradicating racism and the participation in the construction of a discourse on race that perpetuates racial domination. Many scholars, critics and writers preface their work by stating that they are white, as though mere acknowledgment of this fact were sufficient, as though it conveyed all we need to know of standpoint, motivation, direction. I think back to my graduate years when many of the feminist professors fiercely resisted the insistence that it was important to examine race and racism. Now many of these very same women are producing scholarship focusing on race and gender. What process enabled their perspectives to shift? Understanding that process is important for the development of solidarity; it can enhance awareness of the epistemological shifts that enable all of us to move in new and oppositional directions. Yet none of these women write articles reflecting on their critical process, showing how their attitudes have changed." (hooks1990:54)
Knowledge of this process is crucial to overcoming all types of oppression. If we understood how and why some people choose to give up privilege and become allies, we would have an important insight into social change.
The need to understand this process is behind my effort to generalize from my own experience, and that of others around me, and begin to create a theory of how one becomes an ally to other oppressed people. Becoming an ally is a liberating experience, but very different from liberating your own people and, in some ways, more painful. I want to provide a resource for, and open up a conversation with, others who are traveling this road with me.
In my experience, there are six steps involved in becoming an ally. They are:
1. understanding oppression, how it came about, how it is held in place, and how it stamps its pattern on the individuals and institutions that continually recreate it;
2. understanding different oppressions, how they are similar, how they differ, how they reinforce one another;
3. consciousness and healing;
4. becoming a worker for your own liberation;
5. becoming an ally;
6. maintaining hope.
The remaining chapters will expand on each of these steps:
Chapter Two: Step 1: Understanding Oppression-How did it come about?
A Journal Entry: "They Wouldn't be Able to Pick Us Off One by One"

Chapter Three: Step 1: Understanding Oppression-How is it held in place?

Chapter Four: Step 1: Understanding Oppression-The personal is political

A Story: Racism and Sexism

Chapter Five: Step 2: Understanding Different Oppressions

Two Quotes: Breaking Silences, Healing

Chapter Six: Step 3: Consciousness and Healing

Chapter Seven: Step 4: Becoming a Worker in Your Own Liberation

A Journal Entry: Racism and Sexism

Clipping: Moving Toward a New Emancipation

Chapter Eight: Step 5: Becoming an Ally

A Journal Entry: How Not to be an Ally, An open letter to the young man who spoke at our memorial rally on December 6th

Chapter Nine: Notes on Educating Allies

Chapter Ten: Step 6: Maintaining Hope

Beyond Token Change: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in Institutions

Beyond Token Change: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in Institutions is the sequel to Becoming an Ally. In it, the author examines the patterns of oppression found in organizations and institutions. Using a case study as her starting point, she considers the nature of institutions beyond the “sum of parts” of the individuals that participate in them. She defines the difference between token change and transformation of institutional structure at a deeper level. She explores twentieth-century physics for clues about how large, complex entities like institutions change. Finally, she looks at the implications for the tactics we employ to achieve equity in our institutions. In particular, she proposes a method of focusing attention on the institution and its dynamics that goes beyond putting individuals within the institution “on trial” for discrimination.

First Chapter of Beyond Token Change
Introduction
Over a period of many years, I came to understand that there are extra hurdles I must jump in my life because I am a woman and a lesbian. I found literature on oppression and liberation and explored these processes in my practice as an adult educator and community development worker. I also became involved in work against poverty and racism and discovered my role in others’ oppression. I found more literature, written by and about allies; for example, men working against sexism, white people opposing racism, able-bodied people supporting those with disabilities, people from more privileged classes striving to end poverty and straight people working on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. I often experienced people putting different forms of oppression in competition with one another, mostly in the form of “our oppression is worse than yours.” This disturbed me, because I found the dual processes of learning about myself as both oppressor and oppressed to be very complementary. When I looked for literature on the larger jigsaw puzzle of oppression, I found very little. I began to write about it myself. It started as a journal but, over a period of years, became a book-length manuscript.
In May of 1994, Fernwood Press published Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression, followed by a second edition, Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People, in 2002.
I summarized the heart of my argument against competition among those who experience different forms of oppression in the opening chapter:
When I see people competing, claiming their own oppression as the “worst,” or attacking the gains made by other oppressed groups, I see us all running on a treadmill. As long as we try to end our oppression by rising above others, we are reinforcing each other’s oppression, and eventually our own. We are fighting over who has more value, who has less, instead of asking why we must be valued as more or less. We are investing energy in the source of all our oppressions, which is competition itself.
The truth is that each form of oppression is part of a single complex, interrelated, self-perpetuating system. The whole thing rests on a world-view that says we must constantly strive to be better than someone else. Competition assumes that we are separate beings—separate from each other, from other species, from the earth. If we believe we are separate, then we are able to believe we can hurt another being and not suffer ourselves.
Competition also assumes that there is a hierarchy of beings. Those who “win” can take a “higher” position, one with more power and value than those who “lose.” It is a short step from accepting hierarchy as natural to assuming that exploitation is just. It becomes right, even admirable, for those who have more power and value to help themselves to the labour, land, resources, culture, possessions, even the bodies, of those who have less power and value. The result is a class system, where power and privilege increase as you go up the ladder, and those standing on each rung take for granted their right to benefit from the labour and resources of those below them.
As long as we who are fighting oppression continue to play the game of competition with one another, all forms of oppression will continue to exist. No one oppression can be ended without all ending, and this can only happen when we succeed in replacing the assumptions of competition, hierarchy, and separation with cooperation, an understanding that each being has value beyond measure, and the knowledge that we cannot harm anyone or anything without harming ourselves.
The connection between different forms of oppression is often seen in the liberal sense which denies differences, ignores the continuing presence of history, and blames individuals—“We’re all the same, all equal, everyone has problems, let’s just decide to get along.” I have found it difficult, when speaking in public, to say that all oppressions have one root without my audience hearing me say that all oppressions are the same, or equal. People often feel that their oppression has been belittled. But I am not saying that all oppressions are the same or equal; equality means nothing in this context, for how would you measure? I certainly am not saying that we all have problems and should just learn to get along; this denies a long, complicated history and all the terrible scars that need healing, collectively, before we can live together in peace. What I am saying is that all oppressions are interdependent, they all come from the same world-view, and none can be solved in isolation. We can either perpetuate a society based on competition, where some win and some lose, or we can work toward a society based on cooperation, where winning and losing become irrelevant. In the first scenario, oppression will continue to exist for almost everyone. In the second, it will fade away, because it serves no purpose.
The idea that one form of oppression, or even one person’s oppression, can be solved independently, is of great benefit to the rich and powerful. This belief is enough to keep oppressed people fighting and jostling in competition with each other, never reaching a point of unity where we can successfully challenge those with more than their share.
In other chapters of Becoming an Ally I analyzed how oppression came about and how it is maintained. I reflected on how the oppression we experience becomes internalized so that we reproduce it in situations where we have a degree of power. I did a comparison of the similarities and differences among different forms of oppression and I defined some steps for breaking the cycle of oppression in individuals: breaking the silence, consciousness and healing, becoming a worker in your own liberation, and Becoming an Ally . I wrote guidelines for Becoming an Ally and a chapter on education of allies. Finally, I wrote a chapter on maintaining hope.
In the process of condensing my experience into Becoming an Ally , I developed an understanding of the patterns of oppression as they exist in, and are reproduced by, individuals. I answered my own questions as far as those questions went at the time.
When Becoming an Ally was published, I was working at a Canadian university. Because of my practice of acting as an ally, I became known as a supporter of Black, Native, and gay/lesbian students and faculty on campus. This reputation lead to my involvement in a difficult and painful situation in one of the University’s departments. At one point, I sat in a room of people deeply embroiled in conflict. We were discussing the possibility of asking a mediator to work with both sides. I looked around me, thought about my own experience in facilitating conflict resolution, and thought, “Where would you start?” The sides were very polarized and their power in the institution was very unequal. Also, the dynamics of oppression as they function in and through individuals did not fully explain what happened. I began to see that institutions have patterns resistant to change despite the will of the individuals that live or work in them.
I knew then that I needed to examine institutional oppression, beyond the “sum of the parts" of the individuals within them. Because the situation at the university involved an allegation of racism, I began to study the particular dynamics that come into play when an institution is accused of racism, the processes it uses to protect its interests and return life to "normal."
I am not abandoning the analysis I wrote about in Becoming an Ally . I believe that as individuals we unconsciously internalize the injuries done to us, both personally and as a result of belonging to oppressed groups. As long as the damage is unhealed and unconscious, it comes back into play when we achieve a measure of power. We sometimes project what we have experienced on to others and then act on it, behaving oppressively towards them.
Beyond this, however, there are patterns that belong to the institutions in which we participate. I can imagine it as an accumulation of all the individual decisions and actions that have ever taken place within that institution since its founding, but it is even more than that. The institution itself takes on a character. It is not a living being, but it can sometimes behave as if it is one. It is, in the words of theologian Walter Wink, an “entity.” (Wink 1992) It can put pressure on individuals—choosing, forming, punishing and rewarding them, shaping their attitudes and framework of understanding. As a result, certain patterns tend strongly to hold true, even when many individuals within the institution want them to change.
If individuals wish to change an institution, they must work together, taking action aimed at gaining power and influence over those basic patterns, and they must plan to work at it for a very long time. Too brief or shallow an effort to change an institution can act as a “vaccine,” making things worse than they were to begin with. Change strategies aimed at individuals can go only so far. The strategies required for institutional change must be directed toward transforming the institution itself.
An institution is like an elastic band. When people take collective action to change the basic patterns, the institution has a powerful tendency to snap back into its original shape. At this level there are another set of patterns, the strategies institutions use to return to “normal.” We must understand and expect these “second level” patterns, often called “backlash,” and be prepared to counter them from the beginning.
Most of our methods for dealing with discrimination in institutions are modeled after our court system. They involve accusations, investigations and a trial-like hearing where it is determined whether or not discrimination occurred. If the hearing finds that discrimination occurred on a “balance of probabilities,” a remedy is ordered. These procedures, typically focussed on the behaviour of individuals, mask the characteristic patterns of the institution’s behavior and its power to shape the behavior of the individuals within it.
This book begins with the experience that made me conclude that being an ally as an individual isn’t enough. The account is based on interviews with the four students and one faculty member who were at the heart of the events. After transcribing the interviews, I wrote a draft of the story. That first draft was shallow and disconnected. I realized that I couldn’t base my account on the interviews alone, because I was the one writing the story and it was my own experience that tied everything together. I re-wrote it with my own account as the central thread. Once the second draft was written, I began a process of negotiation. Drafts went back and forth with the interviewees. I incorporated all of their edits and suggestions until I had an account that we could all live with.
I would love to have also included the viewpoints of those who became the “other side” in the conflict. Curious about how they perceived the events and particularly their reasons for their actions, I tried to talk with three of them. However the situation had become so polarized that they didn’t want to speak with me about it, let alone participate in an exercise of collective story-telling. This is the nature of conflict. As a result, the story is told from one side only.
I have tried my best to be disciplined about simply telling the story. I have included as much detail as possible about what happened with as few general labels and judgements as possible. I have tried to avoid language that implies judgement. However, I have not tried to be objective. I don’t believe any such thing is possible, even if I had access to the thinking of people on both sides of the conflict, which I don’t.
There is precedent and reason for telling a story about what I see as misuse of institutional power from the point of view of the victims. Those with less power can usually see the situation more accurately than those with more power because their survival depends on understanding and being able to predict the situation. Power and privilege obscure the view of those who benefit from them. I quote from Becoming an Ally :
Part of the oppression is that we are cut off from our ability to empathize with the oppressed. If we are aware of it at all, we tend to get defensive or write it off as not very serious—‘They are just whining.’ For another thing, the privileges that we obtain from oppressing others are invisible to us. For a third thing, oppression is structural. We derive benefits from being male or white or straight or able-bodied without taking any personal action against a woman, a person of colour, a gay/lesbian/bisexual person, or a person with a disability. (Bishop 2002:128)
In her book Is Nothing Sacred? When Sex Invades the Pastoral Relationship (1989), Marie Fortune explains her choice to tell a story of sexual abuse from the point of view of the victims. She says:
I will tell this story as truthfully and carefully as I can. I will tell it from the perspective of the women, because when considering the question of whose perspective should be taken as definitive in an ethical situation, ‘the one against whom power is used has the more accurate perspective on the situation. (xvi-xvii)
Fortune’s internal quote is from Karen Lebacqz, Professional Ethics: Power and Paradox 1985). Here is the full quote:
All of this suggests that ethical issues related to the existence, use and abuse of power should be at the core of an analysis of professional ethics. Yet while sociologists have long touted the autonomy and power of the professions, most ethical analyses have ignored this dimension and focused more narrowly on issues of trust. For instance, Sissela Bok argues that deception is akin to force or violence. She thus hints that analyses of power would be relevant for making decision about truth telling. Yet in presenting and refuting arguments for lying, she fails to develop any explicit norms in response to the implications of this kinship between deception and power.
Nonetheless, Bok does give us a helpful beginning point. She suggests that we should look at lies from the perspective of the one who is deceived rather than from the perspective of the one who tells the lie. This focuses attention on the question of whose perspective on the situation should be taken as definitive. It suggests that the one against whom power is used has the more accurate perspective on the situation.

Now this is a startling suggestion in a professional context. Since professionals profess—that is, claim to know what is wrong and what to do about it—to suggest that someone else’s perspective is more accurate is to turn the tables upside down. Yet this may be precisely what we need if we are to take seriously the questions of power that arise in a professional setting. (p 128-129. Internal quote from Bok, Sissela, Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation New York: Pantheon, 1982, p 214)
As someone involved in these events but not central, hurt but not incapacitated, connected by friendship and common values with those whose stories I felt should not be lost, witness to much of what happened and holder of a great deal of information, I was, I felt, in as good a position as anyone to figure out what happened, why it happened, and propose a model for institutions to deal with conflicts of this nature. Others involved in these events have written and published their perspectives on it, of course different from mine. I can’t provide references because of the need to protect anonymity, but their work forms part of a growing literature on issues of institutional injustice and change.
The five women interviewed for the story chose pseudonyms. All other actors are identified by their institutional title or role. I know titles can be confusing. To help keep track, there is a list of actors and a chart of the university and its departments on the pages preceding the story. Also, because the story is not written in a strictly chronological fashion, there is a timeline included for the reader’s reference.
In the chapters that follow the story, I have given my own analysis of what happened, in terms of the institutional patterns displayed. I have also explored other writers to find documentation of institutional patterns in circumstances like these. Finally, I propose some methods that would improve the way we go about solving the problem of oppression in institutions. Like Becoming an Ally before it, this book is part of an ongoing conversation. May it lead us toward justice.