What Is It Like to Attend an Antiracism Workshop?
With the passing of state laws excluding critical race theory from being taught in schools and limiting Black and Brown history from curriculums, awareness around racism and social justice have again become a hot topic.1 Business leaders are finding themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing to check the box for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) trainings but not wanting to ruffle the feathers of their employees around racial justice during this racially divided time in society. However, many businesses are pushing back against the banning of Black history and wanting to go the morally just route while needing to make a difference and provide lasting positive change.1 “Having an understanding of how race shapes norms helps any manager create a more empathetic work environment, one that can lubricate cultural changes towards equity and innovation.”2 One way for businesses to understand how race shapes cultural norms while also providing positive change for their employees is through antiracism workshops. This is more than just companies checking the DEI box. Many have heard about DEI trainings, but what are antiracism workshops and what is it like to attend?
Antiracism framework originated in the 1890s and had a resurgence in the 1960s.3 These workshops focus on learning about “positions of power that perpetuate institutional racist practices that systematically disadvantage ethnic and cultural minorities.”3 Elements of privilege and power/oppression are included in antiracism training. For the participants, ongoing self-reflection takes place. Also, discussions with willing People of Color are important to work through guilt, empathy, and rage.4
Antiracism workshops are more than what is provided with DEI trainings. DEI places an emphasis on participants being “sensitive to the cultural differences” of others, which would allow them to be more ethnocentric in practice.3 It focuses on cross-cultural practice, and cultural-specific knowledge and awareness.3 However, these types of trainings do not go far enough with certain groups of people understanding their privilege and power in society.4 Antiracism workshops are where the real work is done to make changes in individuals, systems, and society as a whole.
Antiracism workshops should contain interracial communication; advocacy; respect for other racial groups; the study of white culture and Black and Brown cultures; self-reflection on privilege, fear, and empathy; and the study of power and oppression.5 It should also include a segment on teaching the true history of the United States. Many history lessons were whitewashed of the racist underpinnings of American historical figures and events.6,7 Learning about this true version of US history will increase awareness of privilege and simply conducting an antiracism training will have positive results for participants.4,8,9
Antiracism workshops are available for groups, businesses, health care facilities, schools, nonprofits, and other organizations. Extraordinary and superb antiracism workshops are usually more than one day in length (because there’s so much to cover), in-person, and highly interactive (in order to have valuable conversations). Antiracism workshops dive into institutional, cultural, and individual racism; its real history; and the systemic effect on US society including the social conditioning of US citizens. Excellent facilitators will take the participants on a path of self-critique, small group interaction, large group discussion, watching pertinent video clips, and hands-on activities that offer a better view of what it means to be antiracist and antioppressive.
White participants will leave the workshops with a renewed effort to better themselves by doing concrete activities to begin or continue their antiracism journey. Black and Brown participants have described the workshops as being very cathartic and therapeutic for their spirit. Many people love how real the conversations are allowed to be. They also see value in listening to each other’s stories and experiences. While people tend to avoid workshop with topics that might make them feel uncomfortable, it’s the job of the facilitators to help such participants work through that feeling and get to the other side in a positive and refreshing way. Exemplary workshops are the opposite of sitting in a classroom listening to a boring lecture. Creation of a retreatlike atmosphere is ideal and acts as a haven for personal learning and growth. Attending an antiracism workshop would be a step in the right direction for personal growth and moral responsibility.
— Dennis Cornell, DSW, LCSW, BCD, has been practicing clinical social work for more than 20 years, and graduated with his Doctorate of Social Work degree specializing in research-based antiracism interventions for the white community from the University of Kentucky in 2022. He’s a veteran of the US Army and was the equal opportunity leader for his unit, and a behavioral health provider. As a social justice advocate, Cornell has lobbied for change for the LGBTQ+ community for many years. He’s been a social justice educator, writer, and facilitator on antiracism and intersectionality and was a member of the VA Medical Center Black/African American Special Emphasis Committee. He’s led many workshops and presentations on race, sexual health, military behavioral health, and gender identity/sexual orientation.
— Deborah Watson Kemp, MSW, LCSW, BCD, has been practicing clinical social work for 23 years. She earned her BSW degree at Western Kentucky University in 1998 and her MSSW from Kent School of Social Work in 2001. She has experience as a regional program manager for a private social services agency as well as extensive experience providing group therapy, dual diagnosis therapy, and children/family therapy. Kemp is currently the program manager for the Post 9/11 Military to Veteran Case Management Program at a community hospital. She was the chair of the Diversity and Inclusion service-level Committee and the recent past chair of the VA Medical Center Black/African-American Special Emphasis Committee. She’s a part-time professor at an HBCU.
Cornell and Kemp lead antiracism workshops at Anti-Racism4U.
2. Lazu M. Why the critical race theory fight matters in the business world. Banker & Tradesman. July 11, 2021. https://bankerandtradesman.com/why-the-critical-race-theory-fight-matters-in-the-business-world/
3. Abrams LS, Gibson P. Reframing multicultural education: teaching white privilege in the social work curriculum. J Soc Work Educ. 2007;43(1):147-160.
4. Robbins CK. White women, racial identity, and learning about racism in graduate preparation programs. J Stud Aff Res Pract. 2016;53(3):256-268.
5. Singh S. What do we know about the experiences and outcomes of anti-racist social work education? An empirical case study evidencing contested engagement and transformative learning. Soc Work Educ. 2019;38(5):631-653.
6. Bussey SR. Finding a path to anti-racism: pivotal childhood experiences of white helping professional. Qual Soc Work. 2021;20(4):1025-1042.
7. Feize L, Gonzalez J. A model of cultural competency in social work as seen through the lens of self-awareness. Soc Work Educ. 2018;37(4):472-489.
8. Berg KK, Simon SR. Developing a white anti-racism identity: a psycho-educational group model. Groupwork. 2013;23(1):7-33.
9. Devine PG, Forscher PS, Austin A J, Cox WTL. Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: a prejudice habit-breaking intervention. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2012;48:1267-1278.