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Race, Privilege & Identity was a three day gathering that took place
in Bristol, UK, April 24-26th 2009

The decision to hold the gathering arose from discussions within various
connected queer communities in the UK in November-December 2008. These
suggested that there was a pressing need to explore issues around
anti-racism, disability in order to build stronger coalitions, address
power imbalances, and create safer spaces.

Originally the gathering was due to take place in Manchester. When it
became apparent that it was not going to happen there, a small group
of people decided to organise the event in Bristol. Everyone involved
was a volunteer. There was no formal funding for the event and a
breakdown of the costs is available on the blog:

https://raceprivilegeidentity.wordpress.com/2009/05/01/logistical-
feedback-from-the-gathering/

Over the course of the weekend patterns of conscious and unconscious
racist behaviour came to dominate the space, problems that were raised
throughout the weekend and were highlighted in the final plenary by a
group predominantly comprised of people of colour.

Examples of this behaviour are:

• White people dominating discussions, both verbally and emotionally,
and not being aware of how they take up space;

• Diverting conversations away from race;

• White people asking people of colour to educate them about their
oppression.

As white organisers of the gathering we take responsibility for how
the power dynamics were played out in the space. These issues were also
raised during the planning of the gathering and we recognize that we could
have implemented strategies that would have highlighted these behaviours
from the beginning of the event, so we would have been in a position to
better address them as they arose during the weekend.

We think that as a network it is important to recognise collective
accountability and ownership of these issues when they arise in the spaces
we create together.

We are keen to hear feedback from people who attended the gathering,
so that we can take what we are learning forward, as communities who
want to challenge racist structures and build relationships to overcome them.

Please send your feedback to this email address or post comments on the
blog so that they can be used as a resource for people who organising
future events.

The following statement was written by the white organisers of the Race,
Privilege & Identity gathering. Not all of the organisers were white.

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2 Comments

  1. This wasn’t bought up at the plenary but I think that problems similar to the ones outlined by the white organisers with relation to race occurred in the deaf and disability awareness workshop.

    At one point, people with disabilities were explicitly told that they ought to tell orgasnisers of gatherings, conferences, etc., in advance, about their ‘requirements'(asking people with disabilities to educate people without disabilities about their oppression and implying that it is more practical to, instead of making a space fully accessible, ask individual people to highlight their disabilities in advance in order that they might be ‘catered to’).

    Discussion about disability in its historical context, the deafness/disability ‘controversy’, how to make spaces as accessible as possible, and the ways in which money concerns are used as an excuse for not making spaces as accessible as possible (instead of adopting a principle of never holding gatherings or conferences that are not fully accessible) had been taking place. These came to a halt as a certain amount of defensiveness about the non accessibility of the space we were currently in was bought to the centre of discussion. Space then had to be set aside in order to reassure organisers that nobody was criticising their gathering, in order to clear the air so that the dialogue could be allowed to continue (a hijacking of space).

    Also, money concerns were mentioned, which functioned to divert discussion away from disability (and towards the difficulties people without disabilities experience in organising gatherings and conferences).

    I think it is worth emphasising that even in a space explicitly created for awareness of deafness and disability, in which people were actually being educated about disability, the desire for inviduals with disabilities to be used as educational tools was still strong (ie., it was clear that some people were expressing a preference to privately use individuals with disabilities as educational tools rather than to take up the education they were being offered by the facillitators and the room as a whole).

  2. Most of the useful content, the analysis and thought around the way that racism functioned during the event(the bullet points)in the White Organisers Statement, came directly from the feedback of the ‘group predominantly comprised of people of colour’ in the final plenary. There seems to still be a lack of engagement with racism even in this statement presumably written to reassure that the problems of the weekend arose out of lack of understanding, rather than the failure to check the dominance of white interest and subjectivity over the weekend. I feel the white organisers might have said more themselves to demonstrate an acknowledgement (albeit a bit late) of how whiteness came to dominate an event where people had come to discuss ‘Race, Privilege and Identity’. At the event I noticed an almost total lack of focus on the above issues, whole workshops managed to pass without the words being spoken by the participants at all. In this way the gathering functioned to deflect discussion away from Race, Privilege and Identity in a way that catered to the calming of many of the white participants racial anxiety.
    I find the description of the way that ‘patterns of conscious and unconscious racist behaviour came to dominate the space’ inappropriate. Racism did not ‘come’ from nowhere and for no reason to dominate the event. The event was racist because it provided an environment where people felt comfortable and supported in expressing their racism. That is, the event provided a safe space for many of the participants to express their racist anxieties about people of colour and to feel that a mixed gathering where people had expected to be discussing ‘Race, Identity and Privilege’ was a legitimate place to do this. Racism did not ‘come’ to dominate the event, it was permitted to do so.
    I am curious to know how the event was promoted, who knew about it and how were people made aware that it was happening?
    Also, why did the event not go ahead in Manchester? Was what happened in Bristol anticipated eaerlier in the process of organising it?
    After reading the statement I did not feel that if the same organisers were to organise such an event again that it would be anti-racist, or that the same priviledges and interests wouldn’t dominate as they did in Bristol.


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