Team building, racism and the foggy mountain breakdown

Today was another training day in the mountains at Tammy’s lovely place hanging onto the side of the Blue Ridge. After a lovely egg and cheese biscuit breakfast (Chef Moe is doing a great job with the catering!), we did a team-building exercise where each of us told two truths and a lie about ourselves and the others had to guess which was not true (true: I have been chased by a performing tiger in my underwear, I hitch-hiked to Orlando from Missouri when I was 15; false: I wore a tux to prom – I wanted to, since that was a $30 rental and a dress was 10x that price, but even though the invites specified only “formal” and not “gender-specific formal” I was not allowed to wear a tux. So I just didn’t go.) We also did skits based on a category of our service charter (our group did “Building Relationships”), watched a 50 minute presentation on the infamous “Blue-Eyed” social experiment*, then finished off the life maps that didn’t get done yesterday.

A group of us decided to round out the short day by trying the blueberry picking excursion that was talked about yesterday, but before we got halfway there the fog on the Parkway was so thick we could barely see the road, so just decided to turn around and come home. Hopefully, I’ll get to go up there this weekend and get some berries. I’d hate to miss out on that. (Update: Hubs and I went up Sat and got 3/4 of a gallon of wonderful berries. Yum!)

*The Blue Eyed tape was an eye-opener, no pun intended. The original classroom experiment was conducted by a teacher right after Martin Luther King Jr was shot, who was trying to explain to her all white, middle-class students what racism was and how it felt to be a victim of it. She divided the group into those who had blue eyes and those who had brown eyes, and each group had a day when it was the “superior race” and the “inferior race.” During that day, the superiors were supposed to shun or talk down to the inferiors, who had to wear an identifying collar, couldn’t drink directly from the fountain (they had to use a glass), couldn’t play with their superior friends and so forth. The next day the groups switched places. they then wrote essays about their experience.

The video isn’t just about the original classroom exercise, however. It’s a training film based on it, and the core of the film is a workshop conducted by the teacher who did the original experiment being led in 1995, with adults, and their reactions and responses, intercut with the teacher’s experiences, the reactions her experiment caused, the effects it had on the students and so forth. Apparently, she got tons of hate mail, her own kids were attacked and beaten, people refused to let their children be taught by the “nigger lover,” her family (an influential white family in the area) lost their businesses and her father died isolated from his previous peers. One lecture attendee said that, watching the tapes of the exercise, the teacher had created the same sort of environment that the respondant had lived through as Jew in Nazi Germany (which is an appalling thought, that people of color in this country have lived and are living in the same emotional climate as Nazi-persecuted Jews did, but for far longer, and most white poeple don’t even think it’s still happening).

The responses of the adults in the workshop, especially the black participants who were in the superior role for the day, were deeply disturbing to both themselves and to us watching, because we quickly realized along with the whites in the workshop that this environment is still going strong today even if we think it isn’t and that despite our best intentions and conscious efforts, we (our group is all white but one) are probably doing it every day and have no better ability to recognize it in ourselves as the participants did before the workshop.

It makes me deeply concerned that I will be my own worst enemy this upcoming year, due simply to my own blindness about how my actions may be discriminatory or simply different from how I treat white people (or making cultural assumptions that are offensive by virtue of their obliviousness). It’s already hard enough to establish trust with these marginalized groups, from what we’ve been hearing, that to add onto it oblivious white arrogance and discrimation is simply pouring salt onto a slow-healing wound. My worst fear is that I will miss or lose the chance to help someone who desperately needs it because I’ve done or said something offensive or discriminatory or demeaning, and have no clue. It’s a frightening thought that makes me sick just thinking about it.

We discussed this as a group, and Tammy pointed out that the fact that we cared and were trying to change the situation and were committed to helping was an important part in working through this, that it put us ahead of the game compared to others who just went on their merry, oblivious way without bothering to stop and think about it, let alone do something with those thoughts. That helped, a little, but it remains a deep dark pit of concern for me. I’ve asked the group for guidance, awareness and feedback, that if I do something like that would someone just please tell me and show me what and why and a better option. We’ve all pretty much agreed to help each other with these issues as much as we can. I do hope this year helps me grow past these fears and helps me get closer to being the person I want to be.

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One response to “Team building, racism and the foggy mountain breakdown

  1. Pingback: Mmmm…more hot-doggy goodness « Getting Things Done: A Year of Service

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