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White and antiracist – stories of backlash from the US


How do White Americans who are actively antiracist cope with the backlash they sometimes experience? This is the focus of the upcoming Prestige Lecture: Whites Engaged in Antiracist Action: Struggles and Coping Mechanisms, at the University of Canterbury (UC) on 12 August.

The presenter, visiting expert Associate Professor Krista Malott from Villanova University in the United States, will draw on nearly 10 years of research related to White, antiracist activists in this free public talk. In particular, she will share findings from a recent study of one group of White, US citizens who are working towards greater racial justice and equity in their personal and professional lives.

The study came about after students studying counselling learned to become aware of their own biases and revealed they felt challenged taking antiracist action, Associate Professor Malott says.

“A colleague and I developed an antiracist curriculum, with the hopes of better preparing our post-graduate-level counselling students to address individual and systemic racism in their future workplaces, in themselves, and with their clients.

“However, part of the White students’ complaints was that there seemed to be no role models of other Whites engaging in such work. So we searched out Whites committed to antiracism - for example activists, or allies. In turn, we engaged in an in-depth interview process with them, to better understand how they work, what they struggle with, and what they did well that we might emulate in our trainings.

“Without giving away too much of my talk, I’ll present the outcomes detailing the many struggles described by these activists in attempting to align both their personal and professional lives with an antiracist stance and commitment. I’ll also present their solutions to those struggles, to offer some possible role-modelling for staying committed in the face of difficult work.”

When it comes to effective antiracist actions, Associate Professor Malott says there is no magic formula.

“The truth is much more muddy and complex, which in the end I personally find hopeful, as this means there’s hope for the rest of us in attempting to create a more racially just world.”

Professor Malott advises that backlash is very likely to occur and to be ready for it.

As to what drives people to take a position of antiracist advocacy even when they face consequences from family, colleagues and friends, Associate Professor Malott found that, “it seems many are committed because they feel a moral imperative to right a wrong; a wrong that impacts not only people of colour, but themselves, their family and society as a whole. There is a sense of moral outrage regarding racial injustices and how it impacts all of us.”

She quotes antiracist activist Tim Wise: “Racism, even if it is not your own, changes you, allows you to think things and feel things that make you less than you were meant to be.”

Associate Professor Malott is visiting UC as an Erskine Fellow. While at UC she is working with researchers and offering workshops for students, including Can Imagined Interactions Reduce Students’ Intergroup Biases? Applying an Imagined Contact Intervention with Students as Future Helping Professionals on 8 August. This session will challenge students to experience a unique pedagogical activity aimed at reducing their biases and stimulating growth-inducing dialogue.

The Prestige Lecture, hosted by UC’s College of Education, Health and Human Development, is open to anyone in the UC or wider community “interested in learning more about what it means to commit to fighting racism, as a White person, along with those wanting to train others to do such work”, Associate Professor Malott says.

The Prestige Lecture: Whites Engaged in Antiracist Action: Struggles and Coping Mechanisms is by Associate Professor Krista Malott, from Villanova University, USA, on Monday 12 August 2019, from 4- 6pm, in Te Moana a nui Kiwa, Rehua 226, Ilam campus. Register here to attend (free).

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