Nicole O’Connor, a nurse practitioner in St. Louis, was selling her dining room table on Facebook when a prospective buyer — a black man — reached out. She told her husband not to leave her alone if the man came to see the furniture, which she didn’t feel the need to say when a white woman like herself had shown interest.
That was her moment of clarity: “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s racism,’” O’Connor, 32, said in a group of all white adults this month. “So I told my husband. I’m like, ‘I don’t know what to do with this, but this is how I’m feeling.’”
O’Connor felt vulnerable and embarrassed but also understood as she shared the story with seven others sitting in a circle at a school in suburban St. Louis. No one passed judgment. This was their “white space” — a concept that has been growing in communities like St. Louis where racial incidents have prompted anger and even unrest.
A stream of viral videos this year involving white people — them calling police on black people doing ordinary activities perceived as suspicious, threatening to call ICE on Spanish-speaking workers or in racist rants — resonated in ways that have frustrated and disturbed not only minorities but white Americans who want to make sense of what they’re watching.
An NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll released in May found that 64 percent of respondents believe racism remains a “major problem” in America, and while 40 percent of blacks said they were treated unfairly in a store or restaurant, only 7 percent of whites said the same.
O’Connor’s group is one of several that began through the Metro St. Louis chapter of the YWCA, which has focused on racial justice in a region that has been historically segregated and where blacks have faced higher rates of poverty, infant mortality and unemployment than whites. The YWCA’s program — based on the 2010 book “Witnessing Whiteness” — began in 2011, but interest climbed after the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in the suburb of Ferguson in 2014, said Mary Ferguson, the chapter’s racial justice director.
Now, as many as 16 groups meet in schools, churches and other community spaces, with up to 25 people in each, Ferguson said. More than dozen more groups are set to begin meeting in January.
Enrollment is free and the groups are organized by volunteers, but there remains one catch: Participants must identify as white.
“It was important to us that we had a group where people of color wouldn’t be on the spot, wouldn’t be asked to teach, wouldn’t be asked to listen to white people as they struggle to understand racism,” she added.
Ferguson said having a place for white people to meet also promotes a more candid conversation. The sessions focus on book chapters such as “Culture, Tradition, and Appropriation?” and “Positions of Privilege.”
“One of the greatest fears that many of our participants express … is the fear that they’re going to offend,” Ferguson said. “That they are going to show their ignorance, that they are going to upset other people and they sense it themselves. One way that we can open up the space for conversation is to make the group all white.”
Such “whiteness” programs have been scrutinized by whites and people of color who believe the courses are their own form of segregation.
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs scrapped an “Unmasking Whiteness” class in May since it was not intended for all races, The Gazette, the local newspaper, reported.
But the assumption that America has moved into a “post-racial” space — particularly after the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 — is a fallacy, said Debby Irving, who is white and the author of “Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race,” about the concept of white privilege.
This year’s trend of white women, in particular, calling police on black people — including a man trying to enter his own apartment building in St. Louis and a young boy in Brooklyn, New York, wrongly accused of sexual assault — shows that “white ignorance and white silence” remain chronic problems in America, Irving said.
Is it just me… Am I the only one…
No, I jumped right on that.
… wow, that’s really some unfortunate wording considering the topic…
… actually (train of thought posting here) that was spot on! Women maybe should be wary of strange men? And men should maybe be okaywith such caution. It isn’t that I accept feminist nitwittery but I’m a guy. And just as every father who ever loved his daughter enough to threaten her prom date was also once a kid, you don’t need feminism to know that thought. In fact it probably helps if you DON’T know feminism.
So she attributes this to racism? As a woman, I’d be cautious of any stranger entering my home; male or female.
Gavin DeBecker does a great job of explaining listening to your gut in the “Gift of Fear”.
As far as women being a safer bet, the above shows that to be a fallacy as do probation & parole officers carrying concealed weapons into homes of both male & female offenders.
Should this woman have not felt comfortable selling in her home, she could have sold her table on consignment.