How We Save Ourselves from White Saviors

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2013 at 1:18 am


“The same forces that make borders, racism, and militarism have seeped into our relationships, our communities, and ourselves… we will make time to do the work of building ways of being with one another that do not replicate the hierarchies that marginalize us in the first place…We know this is hard.  We will probably mess up sometimes, but we will do our best.”

HAVOQ, Undoing Borders Manifesto 2011

We are six poc and former members of SF Pride at Work/HAVOQ, a queer social and economic justice organizing collective and LGBT constituency of the AFL-CIO.  We are writing to share our victory interrupting and challenging the toxic, white supremacist culture of our former organizing collective. As we’re moving toward our collective liberation, toward living our dreams and desires, we want to share this exciting moment with other people of color struggling inside the activist-progressive-non-profit-radical-left and beyond.  Expect more communiques in the coming weeks as we hope to illuminate seven years of internal struggle with systemic oppression, something that cannot be accomplished within a single document.  We hope that inside these stories you will find solidarity and inspiration for your own struggles, as well as some tools and strategies for moving toward individual and collective liberation.

Many of us poc resigned from core volunteer positions within the group last November 2012, citing various experiences of structural oppression within the collective including specific acts of anti-black racism and sexual harassment.  Our experiences as poc had been consistently marginalized as the means to keep the organization together, all under the guise of being ‘multicultural’ and ‘multiracial’.  During meetings and in a series of documented statements, we identified the chapter’s origins, culture, and structure as contributing factors to our experiences of oppression and marginalization and asked for accountability.

In March 2013, when the collective was set to approve an organizational proposal that would further entrench the oppressive structural dynamics, two of us former poc board members returned to the March General Meeting to voice concerns and opposition.  During the meeting, white members reacted defensively by dismissing and minimizing our concerns as irrelevant and destructive.  With our concerns shut out of the consensus decision-making process, the proposal was approved.

In response, we asked 19 members of our poc communities to bear witness to the group’s oppressive internal dynamics during the April 2013 General Meeting.  This allowed us to finally have a meeting where the number of people of color in attendance matched the number white people and to stage a successful intervention within the normative culture of white supremacy inside of SF PAW/HAVOQ.

Our goals at the April General meeting were to re-center our needs as people of color, to interrupt white supremacy as well as the silence it perpetuated, and to fulfill our mission statement within our organizing home: An injury to one is an injury to all.  To realize our goals, at the April General Meeting we demanded that the past and present white members of SF PAW/HAVOQ enter a public and transparent transformative justice accountability process to heal and transform the conditions of white supremacy, misogyny, and ableism embodied in the collective.

To ensure the success of this process, and to stop the ongoing harm caused by SF PAW/HAVOQ, we also demanded that all external work, fundraising, and paying of white staff come to an immediate stop.  We also demanded that former poc members who collectively organized this intervention be financially compensated for the exploitative use of our emotional, educational, and traditional labor and for the tokenized use of our identities and experiences to produce social, political, and actual capital for the organization.  After an exhausting four-hour-long General Meeting, all of our demands were adopted by consensus.

One strategy emerged from this intervention right away and we are proud to share it with you now. SF PAW/HAVOQ has become one of the few groups we know of that has agreed to engage with and invest resources into public organizational accountability work around white supremacy, misogyny, and ableism. Finally being paid for our labor by the organization is a bittersweet personal and political win for the six of us, who over the past 7 years put thousands of hours of unpaid labor into transforming the harmful structures of the group. It is also a win for anyone else who has done this type of work. It sets the precedent that when groups put the burden of solving their oppressive organizing cultures directly on those of us who experience the oppression, rather than doing the work themselves, they are to provide material compensation for that labor.

This September, under the facilitation of Rhizome Consulting Project, SF PAW/HAVOQ held its first session of the Transformative Justice Accountability Process with past and present  members who are willing to do so.  While some in the collective have embarked on this journey, the majority of members have chosen not to participate in the process.  To those members, we say: “We hope you reflect on how your actions further prove and perpetuate the very dynamics within the collective that we have organized to make visible, interrupt and transform.  This process remains open to you; we hope you are willing to join this transformative process.”

White people have shed tears, mourned, and lamented this process as the ‘end’ of SF PAW/HAVOQ and its work for social and economic justice. However, we insist that this painful process of transformation is the work. It is the liberatory work we’ve been committed to all along. And this is just the beginning…

In our ideal futures, we are all working interdependently, in multi-racial coalitions to dismantle the intersecting structures of oppression and to surface more liberatory practices in our organizations and movements. At present, however, the conditions of patriarchy, white supremacy, and ableism prevent us from getting there. This is part of the “why?” of the process: to challenge and shape white leaders, within and outside of our group, to continue to address and dismantle white supremacy.  It is transformative processes like this that make these futures possible.

Free-er now from  carrying the burden of whiteness, we look  forward to looking inward, reflecting on what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve learned, and what mistakes we’ve made over our 2-7 years of participation in this collective.  We’ve now organized ourselves into an all poc collective so we can take accountability for and address our own collusion with the misuse of power over those years.  We’ve intentionally excluded white people from this process in order to create safe(r) space for us as poc to center, acknowledge and interrogate our different experiences under the poc umbrella.  This press release is a part of working toward making amends to each other and our greater communities for the ways we reproduced, or failed to challenge, the anti-blackness, settler-colonialism, ableism, misogyny and white supremacy that went down in the organization.

Please stay tuned to undoingborderscollective.tumblr.com for future communiques.  We can be reached at undoingborderscollective@gmail.com.


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