by Rayya Ghul and Jonas Wells
At the Solution-Focused Collective’s Action Space held in July 2020, it became clear that one of the issues uppermost in people’s minds was the social injustice of racism and white supremacy and a desire to ‘do something’. At the Action Space event, our guest speaker, Elliott Connie challenged all of us to look at our role in maintaining the white privilege that we who are white or ‘pass-as-white’ might have and to begin to act to dismantle it within ourselves as a first step.
To this end we, Jonas Wells and Rayya Ghul, invited people engaging with the Solution-Focused Collective to participate in a series of four, fortnightly discussion groups where we could explore how to do this from a solution-focused perspective. These took place from October – December 2020.
We called the group ‘Dismantling Racism’, a very bold title and one which some members thought overambitious. However, we quickly filled the 12 spaces we had offered and afterwards one participant told us:
“The title of the invitation, ‘SF Dismantling Racism Discussion Group’, sounded very attractive to me, because it collects a few of my biggest passions: Solution Focus as an instrument to change the world (in the smallest and biggest meaning possible), ‘dismantling’ as a rebellious, activist battle call, appealing my furious anger when it comes to injustice, and racism especially, and a discussion group as an active, triggering use of a conversation. The challenge remains : how to make use of our SF mindset, tools, conversation attitude, … to brutally change the reality of racism? But since the start of this discussion group it does not seem that (alone) crazy anymore.”
Our participants included people from seven countries and five continents – pretty good for only 12 participants! All were white or passed as white with two members whose spouses are black. We had people who had done a considerable amount of anti-racism work and some for whom this was relatively new. There were people from therapy, academia, social work, government agencies and solution-focused Associations.
We decided to run the group on solution-focused principles. Rather than an anti-racism ‘course’, we wanted to create a space for the participants to co-create the discussion. As a starter for thinking about white privilege and how it might affect us as people and as solution-focused practitioners, we populated a Padlet with a variety of resources and invited the participants to engage with something before the first discussion and to be prepared to talk about it. Participants were also encouraged to add to the Padlet and we used it to collect some of our reflections. It enabled common reference point for learning but also options for self-exploration. People could choose what spoke to them and go from there.
The Padlet is private to the group, but here is a flavour of some of the resources. Click on the titles for direct links to the resource (unless the text colour is black).
Very Bad Therapy 4. Race, Rupture and Repair
Me and White Supremacy, Layla F Saad
So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
We started the first session by exploring our best hopes and then co-created the subsequent three sessions from then on. Two of the participants from the Zebra Collective (add link) who run anti-racism training offered to share some of their training with the group, and this was incorporated into the second session and was much appreciated. The people who responded to our request for post-group feedback all spoke of how the loose structure really worked for them.
One said: “the expectation that I would have to contribute to an intelligent conversation caused me to think harder about how to prepare for the group – a fixed structure would have let me to ‘just do what was needed and no more’.”
Another said: “the Dismantling Racism group was excellent to be part of because of the enthusiastic discussion, the genuineness of those in the group, the effective running of the time and organisation of each session and that Jonas and Rayya regularly checked in with the rest of the group to ensure the discussion were going in a direction all participants were happy with.”
Running a group as a co-participant in this democratic way is not as easy as it sounds. It requires a lot of trust – of the process, of the participants, of ourselves. We embraced the idea of ‘hosting’; creating space, trusting everyone to bring what was needed and accepting that once the guests arrive there is an emergent process, and our role as hosts was to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort and that they had enough to sustain their participation. The discussion group was not a diversity training group – it explored something else, a safe space for white SF practitioners who seriously wanted to explore issues of racism in new way with practitioners from different places in the world, working in different contexts and with different prior knowledge of the issue.
One of the truly remarkable aspects of the group was how rapidly people began to identify actions and projects they wanted to do in order to further their own anti-racism work. This began in the third session and was consolidated in the fourth. For some people this was manifested in conversations at home and in the workplace, and for others it was actions or projects within their sphere/s of influence. Some of the group have decided to undertake joint actions such as writing articles.
The original four sessions ended in December but some of the participants agreed to continue to meet and will be working together on projects and encouraging each other in our individual actions. We will be sharing these as they manifest.
We hope to start a new cycle of Dismantling Racism discussion soon, so look out for that notification on the Facebook group and Twitter or subscribe to this blog.