In early July, 20 people, mostly Brookline residents, sat in a room and talked about race. More specifically, they talked about racism and how, as white people, they could work to prevent it. This meeting was a part of the White People Challenging Racism: Moving from Talk to Action workshops.

WPCR is a grassroots course led by a network of facilitators who teach Boston area residents first how to identify racism, and second what actionable steps they can take against racism. “The idea was that white people need to take ownership of racism,” says Alexandra Steinhauer, a WPCR facilitator. “We need to have accountability for perpetuating racist systems.”

No one wants to be called racist, but as Steinhauer says, there are no guaranteed safe spaces in this conversation. The WPCR workshops allow white people the opportunity to learn and discuss race in a constructive group setting. Steinhauer notes that for many white people, it’s a matter of never having noticed racism before. One of the privileges of being white is that you don’t have to notice. As the workshop goes on, participants share stories every week of interactions they had or conversations they looked at differently now that they are more adept at identifying structural racism.

The workshop isn’t just about how people of color are being oppressed; it’s about how white people are, often unintentionally, doing the oppressing. “We focus a lot on what whiteness means, how the way in which white people are brought up is not neutral, it’s connected with a perspective of dominance,” says Steinhauer. “It’s a mindset shift to start noticing racism.”

Some of the actionable steps workshop attendees take away are having conversations with their family, making artwork on the subject if they’re a writer or an artist, or speaking up at work when they see a racial injustice committed. Steinhauer encourages students to write a journal of their race journey, noting when they see a situation differently because of their whiteness. Awareness is key.

Though some of the facilitators are people of color and people of color do occasionally participate, Steinhauer says they are intentionally trying to keep the onus on the white participants in the system. She says, “It’s an important balance to respect people of color’s opinions without forcing them to always be teachers in this.” 

The next Brookline workshop will be held on Wednesdays October 15-November 12 at the Brookline Adult and Community Education Center. The cost of all five sessions and materials is $85.

By Celine Colby