On Tuesday, May 11, 100 attendees gathered for Unraveled Network Part I: Confronting White Supremacy in the Workplace. The partnership between Twin Cities Daily Planet and Pollen Midwest pushes individuals and organizations to peel back their bias and fragility to dissect how institutional racism and white supremacy are barriers to the work they do.
Through a moderated conversation between local leaders David Stewart, Director of Production at Guthrie Theater, Ryan Williams-Virden, Dean of Students at Hiawatha Collegiate High School, and Beth Zemsky, an intercultural organizational development consultant, the panel shared the ways they’ve seen white supremacy manifest in the workplace and what they envision when a workplace centers around equity.
Listen to the entire panel discussion:
Sound Bytes (but seriously, grab your headphones and listen to the full discussion):
“We hire for difference, we onboard for similarity.” – Beth Zemsky
“Being liberal doesn’t liberate you from white supremacy.” — Adaobi Okolue, moderator
“What a luxury and a privilege that is to say that you are tired of this conversation when you don’t exist in this conversation.” — David Stewart
“White people: you need to feel like your own liberation is at stake in dismantling racism (because it is).” — Ryan Williams-Virden
“What really needs to happen is for white people to become less defensive.” — Jamie Millard, moderator
*Audio provided by Nancy Rosenbaum and captions provided by LaTreena Felegy.
Attendee Takeaways from Maya Beck:
David Stewart had a lot to say about concrete actions he’s taken at the Guthrie, such as adding Affinity Spaces or filtering all major decisions through the Guthrie’s core values.
- “Theater—we’re not as normal as we’d like to think we are. […] We’re the only industry that can legally discriminate against people.” — David Stewart
- “There are very few white men in this room, but that’s where the power resides.” — David Stewart
Ryan Williams-Virden was overall dope! He called himself something like “the token white man on the stage” in response to a question I asked, but he was also the one who 1) quoted Baldwin, 2) urged the deconstruction of whiteness, and 3) used the mostly strongly intersectional approach throughout the talk.
- “Whiteness keeps us separated from the community, from wellness.” — Ryan Williams-Virden
- “Oftentimes white people will think of [equity work] as ‘doing something for people of color’ instead of doing it to save your own soul.” — Ryan Williams-Virden
I love, love, love Beth Zemsky. As someone who does the work and understand both sides of the table, someone who has experiential and theoretical knowledge, she estimated equity work to take around 7-10 years of work, and introduced the crowd to the Disability Rights concept of Universal Design: that addressing whoever is most marginalized creates better access for everybody. She also validated some personal experiences of mine (that’s another story, but it has a happy ending) and gave techniques for marginalized people/POC to deal with inhospitable environments, or techniques for organizations to do diversity work before they even have any color.
- “Diversity is ‘count the people’. Inclusion is ‘the people count’. Equity is ‘the outcomes count.'” — Beth Zemsky
- “Intent doesn’t always match impact.” — Beth Zemsky
- “As white folks, our comfort is a privilege.” — Beth Zemsky
- “What’s our goal; what’s our role; what can we do without losing our soul?” — Beth Zemsky quoting Alfonso Wenker
Attendee Takeaways from Cori Lin: