On November 18th, 2014 Women Writers of Color (WWOC) at Pratt Institute presented an anti racism workshop. Pratt Institute students, faculty, artists and surrounding literary community met for a discussion on race using Audre Lorde pedagogy. The workshop was led by Ama Codjoe, an educator, writer, and dance artist with roots in Memphis and Accra, Ghana. The event was hosted by Mahogany L. Browne. Women Writers of Color (WWOC). WWOC is an organization housed at Pratt Institute created to bring together the student body of Pratt & its surrounding literary community, as a platform to celebrate the literary contributions of women writers of color.
The purpose of workshop and discussion was to discuss racism and it’s many manifestations. For example, Structural Racism-a system of advantage based on race: the systematic distribution of resources, power, and opportunity in our society to the benefit of people who are white and the exclusion of People of Color. Structural Racism broken down in three ways. Individual Racism, the beliefs attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism. individual can be deliberate, or an individual may act to perpetuate or support racism without knowing that is what a person is doing. Cultural Racism-refers to the behaviors that reflect a worldview that overtly and covertly attributes value and normality to white people and whiteness, and devalues, stereotypes, and labels People of Color as “other”, differenet, less than, or renders them invisible. Institutional racism- refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for differenet racial groups. The institutional policies may never mention any racial group, but their effect is to create advantages for whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from other racial groups. Privilege– unearned (conscious and unconscious) access and power based on systematic bias. Race- a species categorization of people based on physical features, psuedo-scientific research, and geographic location/origin which is broken into the following according to the U.S. government:
Black, White, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American/Indian.[Dream Yard Learning Community Race Unit]
Actually the discussion was more of a classroom instructional with Ms. Codjoe presiding infront of the classroom. Ms. Codjoe was well informed, prepared and personable. I would have appreciated a robust discussion, a conversation. One providing an enriching experience for both attendees as well as presenter. The format prevented attendees from experiencing an organic free flowing discussion and engaging each other. The overall discussion was polite and lacking the energy a discussion of this type would normally ignite. There were momentary flickers then they died out. One of these flickers happened when we were broken down into groups. Once broken into groups, instructed to describe photos placed on walls, specifically to describe what we saw. There was expectation for something about to happen. A missed opportunity came when an attendee described a field of sharecroppers incorrectly as slaves picking cotton. Philosophically she was correct. Time prevented correction and further dialog.
On returning to our seats another attendee described an incident in which her parents and brother went missing. She called the police and described her parents who are white. The person questioning her asked for the color of her brother’s hair, under the assumption he was white. She had to remind the person questioning her to remember to tell the police her brother is Black. She said, “I realized the police could have come to my home and when my Black brother answered the door shot him, because a white girl reported her family missing.” “It turns out my parents went fishing without informing me.” Again, time and another missed opportunity for dialog. A third opportunity came when a student spoke of being bi-racial and identifying as Black with a white father. She went on to speak of misconceptions that because she’s bi-racial there is a perception she has the same privilege and entitlements as whites. Three strong conversations unto themeslves. This could have made for a dynamic discussion.
The evening ended with a cultural performance with slam performers from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
Perhaps, a more informal circle format would have worked better with Ms. Codjoe joining the circle. Face to face direct engagement could have resulted in a more passionate, enthusiastic and intimate community exchange.
Ama Codjoe is an educator, writer, and dance artist with roots in Memphis and Accra. She received her B.A. in English from Brown University and was a Presidential Fellow at Ohio State University where she received her M.F.A. in Dance Performance. She is an emerging poet and Cave Canem fellow. Her work has been published in the Tidal Basin Review and her work is forthcoming in Cave Canem Anthology XII: Poems 2008-2009 (Willow Books); she has been a feature poet at The Southern Writers Reading Series and Cave Canem Fellow readings at Association for Writing and Writing Programs (AWP) in Washington, D.C., Adelphi University, McNally Books, and “Weaving In and Out” in Manhattan. In August 2011, she was chosen as one of Black Bottom’s Tuesday Poets. Ama currently resides in the Bronx.
Congratulations Mahogany L. Browne and Women Writers of Color for providing quality and needed programming. Community artists who came out in support were Idrissa Louise, Saretta Morgan and Lorraine Currelley, who shared a poem.
© Lorraine Currelley 2014. All Rights Reserved. (photo credit Lorraine Currelley.)