By Seth Carpenter, Staff Writer-
On Thursday, Jan. 28, UTC’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, directed by Rosite Delgado, held an online event for students and faculty titled Moving Forward Together: White Allies and Accountability.
The event was facilitated by Dr. Beth Douthirt-Cohen, the senior diversity officer at Frederick Community College in Maryland.
Early into the event, David Steele, the director of civic engagement at UTC, discussed the role that white people can too often play when people of color are fighting for racial justice by reading from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
In the excerpt, he talked about the “white moderate” who constantly asks people of color “to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”
Douthirt-Cohen made a point about acknowledging the people in her life who have shaped her understanding of racial justice and, in doing so, showed the importance of open dialogue, even when it may be uncomfortable.
This concept of finding others who “push your lens” and understand racial issues is key to being an ally, according to Douthirt-Cohen.
She also stressed that everyone should feel welcome as an ally.
“There is room for you here wherever you are in your journey,” Douthirt-Cohen said. “Believing you need to show up perfect is a tool of oppression. It keeps people of color from living their lives, and it keeps white people from doing the work they need to do.”
Douthirt-Cohen also touched on some of the common struggles associated with being a white ally, including understanding one’s group identity.
“Most people who are majoritized in any way, when we’re thinking about our majority identity, we think of ourselves as individuals, and we want to be seen as individuals,” she said. “And the truth is, racism hangs out also in our group identity, and we have difficulty owning and understanding our group identity.”
The concept of actually being an ally and what that means also came up during the event. For Douthirt-Cohen, it involves moral obligation, commitment to social justice, and getting past patronizing paternalism for people of color and instead, pursuing collaboration.
An important aspect Douthirt-Cohen spoke on is the tendency of white people to focus too much on the individual rather than the systemic.
She explored the ways in which white people today can be distanced from the systemic forces that may have indirectly helped them while hurting people of color and leaving it all to the individualistic explanation that they worked for everything they have.
Douthirt-Cohen also talked about dynamics that maintain a racist status quo, including putting too much focus on intent rather than the impact of actions, individual acts instead of patterns, and focusing on a single bad actor rather than the systems that perpetuate these actors.
“As much as we can interrupt in ourselves ‘this isn’t the time,’ this is the time,” she said.
The next MOC Forward event, A Discussion of Race and Sexuality, is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 11. Anyone who is interested in attending can find the Zoom link on the MOC Forward event schedule online.