This document outlines our approach to facilitating the #dareconf course on institutional racism via Zoom. There will be time during the first session to discuss your responses to this document and suggest additions or changes for your cohort.
This course works by helping professionals—who benefit from a deeply unequal status quo—to apply critical analysis to the ways in which they rationalise their part in reproducing it. For example, instead of learning about the evils of “unconscious bias”, you’ll learn to deconstruct the way that concept is used by leaders and diversity consultants to obscure the power structures which underly oppression.
To facilitate this type of learning we need direct, frank and respectful discussions. Most corporate environments, notwithstanding their claims to be “safe spaces”, do not meet this standard. Speaking frankly at work is very risky indeed, unless you are the most senior person in the room. And while “professionalism” demands a certain level of courtesy to others, it often does not extend to genuine respect for their experiences and viewpoints.
Because we’re trying to create a different quality of conversation, our facilitation style may be different to what you’ve experienced on other courses. Don’t get us wrong—most people find our approach refreshing, often fun, and challenging in a productive way that promotes learning. Occasionally, though, you may find our choices surprising or even jarring. This document aims to minimise such unpleasant surprises by outlining our approach.
Today, the dominant discourse on racism in professional spaces—eg unconscious bias, white fragility—focuses on individual behaviour. According to this school of thought, whiteness is a problem of the psyche, to be mitigated via therapeutic intervention. (A New Yorker writer likens best-selling author Robin DiAngelo’s workplace-diversity training to a “spiritual practice”.) This is part of a general cultural emphasis on individualised solutions to social problems, from mindfulness sessions at work to endless articles on self-care.
Because of this, people who attend our courses sometimes expect to find a therapeutic space, where they can connect with feelings of guilt, experience catharsis and seek personal transformation. While we don’t object to the idea of therapeutic spaces, they aren’t relevant to this course, which is explicitly about the systemic nature of racism and the necessity of collective responses to it. This course does not offer a 12-step programme to personal liberation. It’s not self-help—it’s more like political education. Although we do provide space to explore your reactions to the material, bear in mind that the course is designed to teach you how to use critical analysis to find strategies for collective struggle against oppression.
While many facilitators claim to be impartial, we believe that’s impossible—and people who make such claims tend to align with the interests of those in power. Our point of view is reflected in the way we describe the course and the thinkers and readings we cover.
We see our role as supporting the group to engage with and learn from the ideas and concepts in the syllabus. That includes advocating for the values that underly the work and encouraging you to apply critical analysis to your views and political positions. We don’t expect you to agree with us! But we ask you to engage with the thinkers’ arguments in good faith, and to provide space for others in the group to do the same.
There are a few scenarios in which we may interrupt you while you’re speaking to the group on Zoom. For example, if we think you are:
If we interrupt you in this way, you may see it as a personal attack. From our point of view, it’s not—we are trying to serve the group’s learning and we think stopping the flow is the best way to achieve that.
But we would also like to be held accountable, and we make mistakes like everyone else. So if you think we’ve made a bad call, you can:
The readings we set and videos we play on this course are from thinkers in the Black radical tradition, including Malcolm X, Angela Davis and A. Sivanandan. They theorise race as inherently tied up with economic structures, class and capitalism.
Most people will find some of the readings difficult to follow. If this happens, be honest about it—it’s a normal part of experiencing the course. In your group, discuss what you found challenging and work together to understand why. Use Google!
Watch out for your reactions and what you might learn from them. For example, if you think the readings are “academic”, how are you defining that term? The Black radical tradition is inherently in opposition to “the academy”. Or if you find yourself wanting “emotional connection” with the readings, try to deconstruct that. Do you expect these thinkers to address you directly, and what might that reveal about your analysis of the status quo?