Ebonique Little, Spectrum Editor
Shani Barrax Moore, director of diversity and inclusion at University of North Texas, held her face mask closely to the camera on a Zoom call to convey a powerful written message — “Legalize Blackness.”
“I’m here because I don’t want my two daughters to experience the same sort of oppression and marginalization at the hands of white women as I have,” Barrax Moore said. “And, in effect, I’d like Blackness to be legalized and not demonized.”
VCU Student Government Association, Graduate and Professional Student Programming Board and Graduate Student Association hosted a virtual panel discussion about allyship between white and Black women on Monday night.
The event, titled “Women of Color Need Courageous Allies in the Academy: An Open Dialogue Between White and Black Women,” was moderated by Holly Mendelson, co-publisher of Insight Into Diversity magazine. The conversation surrounded condescending treatment by employers and how white and Black women engage with one another in professional and academic settings.
Here are the highlights from the discussion and tips on how to navigate issues of recognizing unconscious bias, performative allyship and white self-discovery.
Dismantling internalized dominance
Realizing the damage one has done onto another by regarding them as inferior requires courage and honesty, said Jennifer Laflam, panelist and professor at American River College. Laflam said these imbalances in power have dated back to slavery, when white women used unfounded claims, largely surrounding sexual abuse and harassment, to wield power over Black men.
“As I explored and continue to explore my own white racial identity and discover the internalized dominance that I hold as part of that identity,” Laflam said, “I’ve learned how it’s based on dishonesty, broken connection with people of color and other white people, and really come to learn about the damage that that has caused my own sense of humanity.”
Laflam said she and other white women have to begin with self-love. People will only have the capacity to love and respect others if they start with themselves.
Fostering difficult conversations about race
Many people shy away from tough conversations in fear of saying the wrong thing, said Karen Dace, panelist and vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion at Indiana University.
However, she urged Black women to speak their minds freely and be comfortable in their feelings in order to create meaningful change. Those on the receiving end have to let their guard down and be prepared to accept the message regardless of how it’s delivered. Strong reactions may be the result of pent-up emotions.
“We should not assume that it’s always possible for Black women to tailor their communication or a message in a way that it can be heard by white folks,” Dace said. “Very often, that message is not what folks want to hear.”
Barrax Moore, who also sat on the panel, added that it can be selfish to disengage from these types of conversations, as it does a disservice to minority women.
“That is the tool that has been used against women of color to silence us and put our masks back on,” Barrax Moore said.
Understanding cultural humility
According to Barrax Moore, cultural humility is acknowledging the presence and importance of different perspectives.
“Sometimes, people hear things through their own lens,” Barrax Moore said. “This is where that humility comes in and acknowledging that … no one can ever really tell another person what their lived experience is.”
Microaggressions may seem small, but they affect people of color regularly and can have a loaded impact.
“With humility, you have to realize that sometimes you may get called out if the person has been triggered,” Barrax Moore said. “Humility tells you that it may not necessarily be all about you.”
Guiding your own self-reflection
Barrax Moore suggested free online resources that can be used to assess one’s understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
The Racism Scale helps users identify their own bias using a scale, ranging from from “denial” to “terrorism.” The White Racial Identity Model, developed by psychologist Janet Helms in 1990, can help white people quantify their identity and the way they perceive people of color. The model explains the behaviors at each particular stage of identity.
Dace said addressing systemic racism is a lot of work, but she urged the audience to stay the course.
“While you might not change the world, you might change somebody else’s world,” Dace said.