Why white men?

Most people express discomfort with the idea of white men gathering to talk about racism and sexism. Have we taken mansplaining/whitesplaining to a whole new level? Are we even allowed to do this?

At Stepping Up we feel strongly that at the intersection of whiteness and maleness is a potent combination of social power, and that well facilitated identity work and activism by white men is an essential step toward more equitable relationships, institutions, and systems.

Many people are unsure of the role white people should play in these conversations. To understand how we can enact change, we must first understand our whiteness. At Stepping Up, we believe racism in America is as much about whiteness as anything else, and that white people must understand their own identity more deeply. Our tendency to think of whiteness as “neutral” makes it easier for white folks to think of people of color as the “other.” We urgently need to look more closely at whiteness, its history, and the ways it influences the culture and actions of white people. We all actively participate in a racialized society, whether we like it or not. We're mobilizing white people to be more thoughtful about how we choose to participate.

Perhaps the most important reason we create groups of only white men, is that white people (men especially) tend not to speak up in mixed-identity race conversations. We don’t want to say the wrong thing. When white men enter a room with only other white men, and we successfully create a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere, we can say things that might be hurtful, or deemed stupid, in other contexts. The conversation goes to new, messy, and exciting places. We make mistakes. And, we thoughtfully unpack and learn from those mistakes. This is when we truly begin to grow.

Finally, it’s critical that we’re working in partnership with women and people of color on all of our programming. We’ve developed critical partnerships to do exactly that. So far, in our experience, the response from people of color to Stepping Up has been, nearly universally, some version of “Yes! Please! Do it yesterday!” It would be absurd to speak on behalf of the entirety of any group, however, many people of color express that they’re tired of explaining racism to white people. Many are also tired of race conversations being focused on people of color while ignoring whiteness. White identity is complex. Let’s start by cultivating a firmer sense of ourselves so that we can be more confident and capable allies when we enter more diverse environments.

Why this? Why now?

From leaders and staff in the tech sector, to education, and the nonprofits -- many white men see an increasing need to turn inward and do this meaningful work. This impulse comes from professional necessity: “I don’t want to say something stupid, offensive, or hurtful.” And, perhaps more importantly, it comes from a spirit of action and integrity: “How can I be a good guy?” That’s what Stepping Up is all about!

Can you be more detailed about what happens in the workshop?

The workshop is primarily focused on the emotional responses most white men (really most people) have when confronted with racial stress. During the workshop we'll do a brief guided meditation, conduct a few exercises to articulate our own racial identity (not something white men do very often), go over some interesting race data and the reality that race is purely a social construction, learn some tactics for dealing with racially tense moments (helpful tools whether you see/hear something inappropriate or you're being called out for doing or saying something inappropriate), and then (perhaps most importantly) we’ll take some time to reflect on our own bias and behavior and make a plan to move forward. It’s a jam packed day.

Why the focus on Tech?

The tech sector is under increasing scrutiny as issues of gender and racial inequity come to the forefront of our national consciousness. We believe the responsibility of Tech is twofold: The first is to create robust and sustainable pathways into the field for women and people of color (not a small task). The second is for the white men who work at tech companies to undergo the personal work of understanding and deconstructing their biases. This is the best path toward creating welcoming workplaces for women and people of color.

Why the focus on Educators, Nonprofit Leaders, and Board Members?

Those of us who often serve communities of color have a responsibility to look closely at our own biases. We can only see others and their needs well if we see ourselves and our own biases clearly. Implicit biases are often invisible to well-intentioned leaders who hold them, and they can be harmful if they’re left undiscovered. Let’s do the meaningful personal work that will free us to serve others more effectively.