Stay tuned to Liza’s blog over the next few days as she writes live from the People of Color Conference (National Association of Independent Schools) in Nashville, TN!
Dear White Folks at PoCC,
First, I’m glad you are here. I really am. As an Asian American woman who is nearly always the only person of color in white spaces, I know that it is not my job to dismantle racism. It’s yours. So, I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you are here learning about race and racism, exploring systemic and personal impact, and connecting with people of color.
But, there are some things I need you to know about being here. Pardon my directness, but it’s PoCC - that’s what we do here. For four days. No BS or tiptoeing or centering white fragility. We keep it real. We keep it on us.
I’m writing this to you to be proactive about some of the harm you might unintentionally cause while at PoCC. I’m writing this because I love my community. I’m writing this because I only get FOUR DAYS where my brownness, my ethnicity, and my unapologetic belief in Black Lives Mattering doesn’t have to be presented in the context of whether or not this will upset you.
So, here we go. Here’s what I’m hoping you consider while you are here:
First, if you are already pissed off reading this, please don’t start with, “Wow, I wonder why Liza’s so angry this morning.” Please start with, “What is my own reaction saying about me? How are these words, written by a person of color at a People of Color Conference, pushing up against who I believe myself to be?” You’re at the People of Color Conference - this is going to happen more often than you might be expecting.
Know that this is a time for people of color to come together, to fellowship, to exhale, to be centered, to be in a space where we matter, too. Also know that when you are in the room — simply because of your whiteness — people might feel the need to change their behaviors. Simply because of your whiteness. Whiteness has power, even if you don’t want it or identify with it. Know that this happens to us, though.
Because your whiteness has power, even at a place like PoCC, be incredibly mindful of how you are taking up space in workshops, meetings, and discussions. What would it mean if you weren’t the first to speak? What would it mean if you heard something in a meeting and then took time to reflect upon it instead of using up the workshop time having someone explain it to you? You are here to learn new things — just don’t always expect people of color to be your teachers.
If you are a first timer to PoCC, go to the First Timer Orientation. Here’s what happened this morning: I was thrilled to finally get to PoCC after getting in at nearly 2:00am. And, at breakfast, I overheard some white participants saying, “No, I’m totally not going to that first timer orientation. I mean, what are we actually going to learn.” Okay, that’s a problem, folks. First, you have a lot to learn. Second, I hate that I had to overhear that from white folks. Why are you here if you legit aren’t seeing every single opportunity as a learning opportunity? This isn’t a vacation — and if it is, what does that say about your own commitment to this work. Third, microaggressions can still occur even if not aimed directly at you.
We see you. If you are a white person sitting in a session but you are on your computer checking email, you are signaling to others in the room that this isn’t important. Step out. Check your email there. Or, if you find that you are checking email during a session about how people of color feeling, know that you are sending a particular message (even if unintentional).
Make eye contact. Say hello. You’ll likely notice that people of color at PoCC walk by and say hello to each other. This isn’t just a polite thing - this is an “I see you” thing. There are times when I’ll walk by white folks (wearing PoCC name badges) who won’t even glance my way or acknowledge we are the only two people in a hallway. Know what? If I wanted that experience, I would have just stayed in my community back home. I come to PoCC to be seen, validated, and be visible. Notice and listen - people of color are greeting each other. Be sure to be a part of that, too. You are also signaling when you don’t do it.
This is not Black and Brown people tourism. Again, I’m glad you are here. Please know that there is discourse at PoCC as to whether everyone wants your whiteness here. (upset by that comment? Ask “What is my reaction saying about me?”). It’s not that we don’t want white people to be a part of dismantling racism, it’s that we don’t want to be your spectacles. Like, are you out taking selfies and posting on Instagram because you want folks to see how woke you are? Are you posting about PoCC because you want to signal boost that you are an ally? Or are you here to do the work on yourself? Believe me…. we know the difference.
I write this to you as a love letter, for real. I want you to be successful at PoCC. And, I want my fellow chosen family to be safe and live in their truths this week.
Welcome to PoCC. I’m happy you are here.
Peace and Love,