Dismantling Racism, Part 1: A Kyle Phoenix Workshop by Kyle Phoenix

I do professional developments for teachers and professionals and teach classes around race and racism and dismantling privilege. I am every White person's worse nightmare. I tell them upfront the check has been cleared and cashed so have at it and that I left emotional Kyle at home so they can say all they need to. It generally goes well. I don't count it as a personal success until I get at least 1 White woman to cry.....

Lord that's like hitting the number!  

Now when I express that I don't consider my workshops to be successful until at least one White woman cries, people off all races get nervous.  For a variety of reasons.  White men immediately jump to defend their sisters, mothers, wives---how dare I try and humiliate them (because since I'm brown I must be trying to exact some sort of racialized revenge against White people because what other motive could I possibly have?  What other motive could a crying woman have?  But we'll get back to that later.)  Blacks and Latinos, startled by the fact that I'm as brown as the floor and doing (and being paid handsomely) to do this to/with White people rail angrily (jealously?) that some sort of maliciousness must be going on.  That I'm hurting the White folk..and we've been bred for hundreds of years to dive onto your own sword before you intentionally hurt White people.  And I watch them.  I watch them play out this racial knee-jerk reaction---often coming from the people who claim to be the least racist.  Some people of color laugh nervously, giggle with a level of micro-pleasure at someone of color twisting a small pin, cause we can't raise knives, into White people. All of the above are by-product racist actions to racism, it's the reaction to one of the structural pillars of racism: privilege.

Oh, I have no need to humiliate White people, I know that racism is a mental illness and that Black and Latino and Asian and Native people have always held the higher moral ground. What generally happens in PDs is that White women when confronted with their internalized discriminatory beliefs and public revelation---immediately cry---for a crying White woman has a social and historical power---it neutralizes White men and historically it has demanded, sometimes by the tip of a whip, gun or potential legal accusation, that her displeasure could unravel a brown person's life...even if that was just a whistle.  So brown people back off when a White woman pulls out the tears.

Tears are a White woman's force field---when they whip out the force field, I know the psychic starship Enterprise is in rocky shape---ala Paula Deen on the Today Show (yes, I watched that piece of messiness with a different calculating eye.  her whole debacle was a public masturbation fest because we find racism sexy---that's another stage/session that I'll write further on)---but the answer to this crying, this form of a racial micro-aggression and passive aggressive display of privilege and entitlement (privilege to be so upset that "we" stop whatever work we're doing) is I instruct the other people, light and brown alike to allow her to cry, to allow her to get it out and we're to wait silently.  And we silently watch her.

Ponder that for a moment.  A sobbing White woman, and everyone around her being told to allow her to do it and we'll silently wait.  Invariably the White woman looks up and around and realizes that her greatest social weapon for power and pity, won't work in that space as we silently look at her.  I then assure her and everyone else that this woman is an adult, an educated adult, who can logically, just like the rest of us do, manage her emotions as we discuss race.  Her emotionality whether from shame or guilt or defense or confusion will not be allowed to derail our work.  We will be present but not waiver.

The perplexity, flummoxing and shock is really when I then ask a simple question of her---"Are you done?

I then point out as passive aggressive privilege: if I react distressed enough, you all will stop pushing me to deal with race and racism.....once I get a White woman to cry I know we're psychically entering a space where they feel the need for the Enterprise's highest shield level. 

And now the real work can begin.

Conversely in my workshops for people of color the threshold is generally their telling White people the truth.  The real truth in a mixed group.  They tell them that they regard them as another race, not the nexus for races, nor the pinnacle of all races---just like they see the yellow, red or other brown, they too see the pales---as just that, pale---with a level of indifference and to some degree in-deference.  

Then they can say they find them to be infantile and deranged. 

Most people of color think it about White people (honestly it's one of the racist things we're inculcated with growing up.  White folk are crazy and duplicitous and we have history to prove this true about them all, especially the ones who claim they're different.  Be careful of them, don't trust them.) but never say it directly too them. Brown folk, our force fields are about talking about what we really racially think of White people in front of them because again, historically and socially it was dangerous physically, economically, socially. 

Oh, the fun I have..........and the above is just the first step, the first breach crossed to honest communication and a level of ability to construct reconciliation.  There's generally a collective sigh when we do that part and then a structured break to give people time to settle into honesty, vulnerability.  Which is why all the shouting and arguing doesn't work, has never worked  It's the vulnerability of being non-violent, of listening, of being present but not culpable to care take anyone but one's self.  And being assured that you're fully capable of handling everything that will occur, that starts the process of dismantling racism.

Then bluntly, the next stage, the shit hits the fan.

Kyle Phoenix
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