World Trust

5 Steps to Productive Conversation about White Privilege

Posted by Lisa Abbott on November 6, 2014


It IS possible -- and necessary -- for white people to engage others in authentic conversation about privilege. There are productive ways to go about it. These five steps we've shared before can be applied to the clip "Understanding White Privilege" from the World Trust film Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible.

Use this approach to start small and practice leading a group conversation using a short clip as a focal point.  No professional training in diversity activity facilitation is required, and these steps can be covered in less than an hour. Gather a few people together and give it a try. Let us know how it goes!

  1. Make it about learning.
    Instead of trying to convince someone about the existance of privilege, invite colleagues, family or friends to gather with the intention of learning something new. Then when you come together, ask people to share what they hope to get from a conversation about race. This can help create an environment of connection and trust.

  1. Take time to review the System of Racial Inequity.
    All great anecdotes, like the ones in this clip, are personal. When talking about a stories that deal with privilege, it can be tempting to focus on individual behavior as the problem. However, it is important to understand that a self-perpetuating system is the bigger context and driver of inequity.  The first speaker in the clip below, Francie Kendall, refers to this when she talks about "prejuduce plus the power to institutionalize that prejudice, to put it into laws..."

    • Providing a frame gives people a common understanding of the dynamics at play, and will enable deeper conversation. Using the World Trust graphic of the system is helpful; it can be found here

    • Tip: The World Trust frame contains some important concepts like white privilege and structural racism.  Brush up by referring to the glossary in the Cracking the Codes Conversation Guide ahead of time and have it on hand.

  2. Watch the clip “Understanding White Privilege” together.

This clip, embedded below, is an accessible 2-minute series of stories shared by white educators and activists from the film Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible. We like this clip because it features white role models talking about their own experiences of privilege.

  1. To start the conversation, simply ask: "What stood out for you?"
    This question affords people a doorway into sharing their own experience of privilege. Sharing personal experience, rather than opinion or ideas, builds community and connection with others. It also enables everyone to practice listening and learning from each other.  If your group is four or larger, it is a good idea to pair off for dialogue. This way, there is less pressure to get it "right" and more possibility for personal connection.
    Keep the conversations brief. Depending on how much time you have, 7-15 minutes is fine.

  1. Move forward.

Bring dialogue to a close. Feelings in the room may run the gamut. Some may be energized by new learning, or relieved to finally talk about privilege. Others may feel quiet or unsettled as they take in waht it means to have unearned advantage. Still others may remain unpersuaded. All of this is to be expected. Remember, you aren’t trying to convince anyone or fix anything. To integrate the experience and move forward, we recommend that you focus points of curiosity and next steps. What new questions have emerged?  What ideas do people have for further learning or action?

You rock!  Authentic dialogue about white privilege takes courage. Regardless of the next steps you take, simply by fostering a productive conversation you have created an opening for others to have a shift in understanding.

This same 5 step process can be used with other World Trust clips to gain deeper understanding of the system of inequity, and to build the skills to analyze and talk about race. Clips are available on our YouTube channel, WorldTrustTV.

World Trust produces film and curricula resources to support diversity efforts in education, health care, nonprofit, philanthropic, faith-based and governmental institutions. Our facilitators engage thousands of people each year in cultural diversity workshops that are rooted in love and justice.

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Topics: Film: Mirrors of Privilege