White privilege series packs house at First Church UCC

First Church UCC member Allyson Yoder leads a community discussion during the White Privilege: Let's Talk Series on Sept. 14, 2017. (Harper Speagle-Price/DD)

Community members crowded First Church UCC Thursday night for the part one of a white privilege discussion series.

“We were expecting people from the church to attend, and instead we had a ton of people from the community register which is really exciting,” said Allyson Yoder, one of the facilitators of the talk. “I think there’s kind of an opening right now where white people are eager to learn about white privilege and racism.”

The discussion was part of an ongoing series entitled “White Privilege: Let’s Talk Series,” intended to start a conversation and raise awareness about white privilege. The first meeting of the series took place Thursday night at First Church UCC in Phoenix, facilitated by Yoder and the church’s Senior Pastor James Pennington.

The event was opened up on Facebook, and the church had to close registration for the initial meeting due to the amount of interest.

“My hope for this training is that people who attend over the course of the series will build a practice of reflecting on their whiteness and white privilege and noticing racism with new eyes,” said Yoder.

The first session served as an introduction to the series and to go over the expectations for the meetings to come.

“The current administration has turned over the underbelly of America,” said three-year congregation member James Pennington.

He said the White House is a part of America filled with bigotry and misunderstanding.

Pennington said the goal of the series is to educate and interrupt racism and racial microaggressions.

“My feeling is that this is really a critical discussion right now. Racism is just rampant,” said Pennington.

A microphone was passed throughout the sanctuary as participants were invited to share their perspectives and thoughts on concepts such as white fragility and implicit bias.

“This is the stuff we don’t like to talk about,” Pennington said. “Part of the end game would be for people to use their whiteness as a way to stand as allies with people of color.”

After an overview of the topic and lots of input from the attendants, the meeting ended with participants splitting into smaller groups to discuss and ask questions.

Multiple attendants expressed concern over how to achieve more political diversity within the meetings.

“I see us moving backwards as a nation. People are now taking their masks off. It’s extremely scary,” said Sharon Parks, who attended the discussion. “I really think it would be really good if we could get more of a mixture of people, so we’re not like preaching to the choir.”

Despite this many in attendance acknowledged it was a step in the right direction.

“What’s interesting to me is that this is a conversation that white people are having among themselves, and that’s what’s refreshing as a person of color who does this kind of social justice work,” said Neal Lester, a professor of English at ASU and the director of Project Humanities, an ASU initiative.

Lester will be facilitating one of the upcoming sessions. He said this discussion is no more urgent than it was before the election of Donald Trump.

“We have always needed to talk about difference and talk about the ways in which whiteness commands a certain kind of authority in this country on so many levels,” Lester said. “I hope people will not only become aware, but then they start doing something.”

The group will meet every Thursday at 7 p.m. for the next 5-6 weeks and the events are open to the public.

Contact the reporter at hspeagle@asu.edu.