Anti-Racism Workshop In Reading
Green Party Still Has A Long Way To Go, Say Participants

by Diane F. White and Isabelle Buonocore, Green Party of Pennsylvania

“Attendees at the workshop shared their experiences of how people of color and white people are treated when the need to address racism is brought up in predominantly white organizations like the Green Party.”

At a workshop on dismantling racism Greens determined that the Green Party straddles between being a “passive institution” and a “symbolic change” institution in the way it deals with racism. The workshop, held at the 2007 Green Party Annual National Meeting in Reading, Pennsylvania in July, reviewed the six stages in which institutions deal with racism from exclusive/racist to anti-racist/multicultural. The lesson learned is that the Green Party has a lot of work to do and a long way to go on the continuum of becoming an anti-racist, multi-cultural institution/political party.

Rita Harris, an African American woman from Tennessee, and Bill Price, a white man from the Appalachian coal region of the newly affiliated Green Party of West Virginia, facilitated the workshop. Both were highly skilled, knowledgeable and effective as a team. They presented attendees with a six-stage continuum towards becoming an anti-racist, multi-cultural institution:

Stage 1—Exclusive: A segregated institution; Stage 2—Passive: A “club” institution; Stage 3—Symbolic Change: A multicultural institution; Stage 4—Identity Change: An anti-racist institution; Stage 5—Structural Change: A transforming institution; Stage 6—Fully Inclusive: A transformed institution in a transformed society.

Most Greens at the workshop felt the Green Party straddles stages 2 and 3. The details of a stage 2 institution (Passive) include: being tolerant of a limited number of people of color with “proper” perspective and credentials; may be secretly limiting or excluding people of color in contradiction to public policies; continuing to intentionally maintain white power and privilege through its formal policies, practices, teachings, and decision-making; often declaring, “We don’t have a problem.”

A stage 3 institution (Symbolic Change) includes: making official policy pronouncements regarding multicultural diversity; seeing itself as non-racist institution with open doors to people of color; carrying out intentional inclusiveness efforts, recruiting “someone of color” on committees or office staff; expanding view of diversity; including other socially op pressed groups such as women, disabled, elderly and children, lesbian, and gays, third world citizens, etc. But in stage 3, an institution does not include those who “make waves,” shows little or no contextual change in culture, policies, and decision-making, and is still relatively unaware of continuing patterns of privilege, paternalism and control.

This intensive 18-hour workshop was held over three consecutive days and was open to the public. Attendees shared personal stories, watched videos and had meals together. Of the 29 attendees, 13 were persons of color, including African Ameri cans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Asians, Mayans, Mus lims and immigrants, and 16 persons identified as white. 61% of the attendees were Green Party members. At one point Harris and Price split the group into separate color and white caucuses. This was a powerful exercise giving people a chance to “work” within their own identity group.

Everyone shared his or her experiences or lack of experience on racism and white privilege. People discussed the grinding effect of racism on the lives of people of color, the lack of awareness of white privilege by whites, and the impact of both. The workshop examined racism and white privilege in assumptions, in communications, and in practices from the personal to the cultural and institutional. For some this was very emotional, yet liberating; for others it led to closer self-examination.

A Class Divided, a powerful documentary which was shown at the workshop, demonstrated the influence of bigotry through an experiment with a second grade class conducted by a schoolteacher a few days after the murder of Martin Luther King. The class was divided into groups of blue-eyed and brown-eyed children. On the first day, the teacher told the children all the blue-eyed children were smarter, cleaner, and superior to the brown-eyed children and they were not to play with the brown-eyed children. The brown-eyed children assigned to the inferior group did poorly in their schoolwork and were upset that day. The blue-eyed students for the most part enjoyed their elevated status and some taunted the brown-eyes students.

The next day the teacher put the brown-eyed children in the superior position. Then it was the brown-eyed students who did better and the blue-eyed students did poorly and were sad and angry.

This film showed that within a few hours there could be a devastating impact of racism, discrimination, oppression, and bigotry on the psyches of these children. Today many adults, especially whites, deny the damage the system of racism has inflicted for hundreds of years on all of us — whites included.

What can white Greens do? They can become allies for people of color, meaning white persons who do not remain silent, but confront racism. Attendees at the workshop shared their experiences of how people of color and white people are treated when the need to address racism is brought up in a predominantly white organization like the Green Party.

Attendees, with few exceptions, felt that when a person of color brings up racism he or she is seen as self-serving by most whites. When a white person brings up racism he or she is seen as troublemaking by most whites. To be a white ally to people of color one has to be willing to risk not being liked by other whites, but that risk must be taken if any progress is to be made on the continuum.

At the end of the workshop each attendee vowed to take personal responsibility for actions towards dismantling racism and made plans to work together to transform the Green Party and other organizations into fully inclusive institutions. Some commitments from the workshop were:

  • Become better educated about people of color.
  • Read publications by people of color, outside the white canon of writers.
  • Listen to what people of color have to say.
  • Interrupt jokes about people of color and ethnic groups.
  • At all Green Party meetings, have racism and/or white privilege on the agenda.
  • Have strategic meetings with Greens who say, “We don’t have a problem” with racism.
  • Do not stifle the anger expressed by people of color. It represents something that needs to be heard. Take the time to determine what it is about.
  • Change the way one does things; progress cannot occur if things keep being done the same way.

For more information e-mail Diane F. White at diane@dlighten.com or Isabelle Buonocore at isabellebuonocore@hotmail.com.