Appreciations, The Racial Imaginary Institute, and more

Thanks to all of you who sent responses to my last newsletter in which I shared about coming up against my white supremacist patterns. I just reread them and wanted to cry all over again. Here's an edited collection:

You are so awesome. This newsletter is awesome. What a treat to read it and to know you . . . . Your words touched my heart. I am melting and grieving and growing right beside you . . . . You’re fantastic! Keep up all the good work. . . .Great insights. Great sharing . . . . The last paragraph about community vs. isolation is so profound and important. Blessings on your project . . . . I appreciated your vulnerability here . . . . Lovely letter. Thanks for sharing your own thinking and vulnerability. . . .Thanks for your story, Anne and most of all your bold honesty. Proud to call you my friend. . .
When I wrote it I had to trust that if I feel something, others, especially my fellow white people, would resonate with it. And it was true. The comments cut through that isolation and reminded me that I am not alone in my efforts. Someday I will remember that.
The concept of whiteness is in the air. On June 30, 2018, The Racial Imaginary Institute, founded by poet and MacArthur fellow Claudia Rankine, put on “On Whiteness: A symposium at The Kitchen.” This organization is choosing to focus first on whiteness. From their website: “We begin here in order to make visible that which has been intentionally presented as inevitable so that we can move forward into more revelatory conversations about race. Our first project questions what can be made when we investigate, evade, beset and call out bloc-whiteness.”
I didn’t attend since it was in New York City, but watched the entire day long event on videos posted on their website. The speakers were scholars who spend their time thinking, researching, and writing deeply about race and whiteness. The primary perspective was non-white which was revelatory to me. To follow their theses I had to rewatch segments and also frequently look up words I had never heard before. I had to remind myself repeatedly that they were speaking about the concept and system of whiteness, not about me, Anne. Yet they were also speaking to me and calling out my blindness. So I flipped back and forth. The audience was also majority people of color.  Whenever a white person asked a question, which was not often, I was embarrassed by their earnest ignorance and confusion that reminded me of myself. The speakers graciously answered their “questions”, which were really attempts to be reassured and taken care of. It was clear that this event was a place for white people to just listen.
So where can white people express confusion and fear rather than letting it spill out at POC? Together with artist Jane Keating, I have been developing a project we hope to implement next year in Portland: a workshop for white artists to explore how their white identity affects them as artists. My theory is that our obliviousness limits our view of the world and thus our work. I am curious to see what might change if we could see outside of our oppressor blinders. Personally, I want to have a cohort of fellow artists who want to actively use the transformative power of art to help end white supremacy and be better allies to POC and artists of color. Yes, it's ambitious but I don't see a reason not to try.

Taking art everywhere

Back in fall 2013, when the idea for I Am My White Ancestors first came to me, I envisioned the project appealing to all kinds of groups: high school English classes, genealogy clubs, college religious history courses, diversity and inclusion trainings, psychology courses, and so on. In particular I wanted to bring it to groups and communities that might not voluntarily examine their beliefs about oppression or white identity.

So I was pleased to meet Sara Anderson, librarian and genealogy teacher at Lawrence Academy in Groton, MA. last January at the reception of the project at Northfield Mount Hermon. She was on fire and wanted me to address her class via remote technology.
So last week I sat at my computer in Portland, OR with my face projected into a remote technology classroom all the way across the continent in Massachusetts. I could see the students and teachers sitting on chairs and desks and talk directly to them. It was almost like standing in the front of the room giving a presentation. I know this is nothing new but it was my first time. I was struck by the possibilities. How many other ways could I think of to share the project?
Sara teaches a two-week intensive genealogy class at Lawrence Academy each year with history teacher Natasha Huggins. During the course, students are exposed to all sorts of technology and methods for finding their ancestors. So I proposed to Sara and Natasha a presentation where students could think about the emotional and historical aspects of their family using my project as an example.
In order to bridge the distance and keep them engaged I divided the talk into three sections interspersed with a simple listening process. For the listening process I asked them to pair up and take two minutes each to answer specific questions that related to the short talk I had just given. This allowed them follow their thinking without being interrupted or criticized. For example, after the section on whiteness and what I learned as a white person the students answered this question: What are some values or beliefs you learned from your family? After the section on specific oppressions my ancestors acted out the question was: What systems of oppression were your ancestors affected by or acted out on others? How does that affect you now?
I appreciate Sara and Natasha for being able to see how the project related their class. I also thank the students for being so brave and honest. I began the class with the hardest question, say your name and one thing you like about yourself. About halfway though the class, Natasha's 8 year old daughter Zinnia piped up. She wanted to tell us what she liked about herself just like the high school students did. Her answer? "I like that I am creative." Natasha said she had never heard Zinnia say this before.