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Dismantling Chaos Session #1: Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression Workshop

General Assembly 2006 Event 2046

Sponsor: Young Religious Unitarian Universalists

Speaker(s): Jyaphia Christos-Rodgers, Elandria Williams

This year at General Assembly (GA), the youth gathered at the first of a series of workshops on racism, oppression, and prejudice, led by young adult Elandria Williams and grown-up Jyaphia Christos-Rodgers. Chaos, they told the youth, is what the human family has fallen into. Williams explained that people shouldn't wake up hating someone without any reason other than their skin, gender, economic status, or sexual identity. This does happen today, she said, and far more often than it should. Christos-Rodgers told us that to dismantle this chaos, we must learn to form relationships without regard to the aforementioned factors. No one is born with a certain race, gender, or sexual identity, she said, but they are instead "baked" into us by society on the basis of the color of our skin or the organs we have.

The youth then broke into groups of four, where they shared their name, the pronoun they wished to have applied to them, and how they felt that the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism inspire them to fight against oppression. In these groups, they also shared what groups they identified themselves with (white, black, transgender, female, etc.) and how these identifications were gifts and challenges. The youth were then asked to look at twelve definitions that had been taped to the walls. These definitions were of words that all had to do with the oppression of certain groups.

The definitions were:

Ableism: A pervasive system of discrimination and exclusion that oppresses people who have mental, emotional, or physical disabilities. Like other forms of oppression, ableism operates on personal, institutional, and cultural biases.

Classism: Prejudice and/or discrimination either personally, institutionally, or culturally against people because of their real or perceived economic status background. Classism works through and backs up all the other "isms."

Heterosexism: The concept that heterosexuality, and only heterosexuality, is natural, normal, superior, and required. This can refer to any institution or belief system that excludes or makes invisible GLBTIQQ, which stands Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, and Questioning. Heterosexism enforces and is enforced by a gender binary system.

Internalization: The values and messages of intuitions and the dominant culture that get "baked" into people through socialization and reinforced by social systems. People in the oppressed group then live out definitions of themselves as less than others. People in the privilege group live out definitions of self as deserving of privilege, as though it is normal. People from both groups live these messages out, whether they consciously accept them or not.

Levels of Oppression/Privilege: Oppression/privilege can manifest itself at different levels:

  • Personal - individual people acting and making decisions based on bias and prejudice.
  • Institutional - laws, policies, and methods of operation which cater to or favor certain group.
  • Cultural - norms of dominant culture which reinforce personal and institutional biases.

Oppression: Systems of advantage based on socially constructed identities such as race, class, gender, sexual identity, religion, able-bodiedness, age, and size. Oppression is not only a personal ideology based on prejudice, it also involves cultural messages and institutional policies and practices, as well as the beliefs and actions of individuals.

Power: The individual or collective ability to be or act in ways that fulfill our potential. The purpose of power is to be used for giving life, but it can be misused to control, dominate, hurt, and oppress others… to destroy life.

Prejudice: A positive or negative attitude toward a person or group, formed without just grounds or sufficient knowledge and unlikely to change in spite of new evidence or contrary argument. Prejudice is an attitude.

Privilege: Unearned advantage, power, or normative status given to a person because of a certain identity that they have (e.g., white, male, etc.).

Race: An arbitrary socio/biological classification created by the Europeans during the time of the worldwide colonial expansion, to assign human worth and social status using themselves as the model of humanity, for the purpose of legitimizing white power and white skin privilege.

Racism: Race prejudice combined with the misuse of power by systems and institutions.

Sexism: The outward manifestation of an inward system of values deliberately designed to structure privilege by means of an objective, differential, and unfair treatment of women for the purpose of social advantage over scarce resources. This value system gives rise to an ideology of supremacy which justifies power of position by placing a negative meaning on perceived or actual biological/cultural differences.

Youth read these definitions and were invited to write comments, questions, and opinions on these posters. Finally, as the workshop drew to a close, the youth asked clarifying questions. One of the most interesting of these was a question directed at Williams, asking why she called heterosexuals "hetero" instead of "straight" and homosexuals "queer" instead of "gay." She replied that she didn't like the word "straight" and preferred "hetero." As for "queer," it is a word the younger non-heterosexual community has reclaimed. Instead of a derogatory term, it can be used as an inclusive name for all who do not identify as heterosexual. Instead of listing off the many subcategories of queer, or even the cumbersome acronym "GLBTIQQ," one can just say "queer" to encompass all of these groups.

Report prepared by Meg Young and Emma Richards.