As overseas Americans living in Paris, we were far away from the 24/7 coverage of the protests in the U.S. after George Floyd’s death and the ensuing BLM protests. We missed out on the face-to-face discussions with American family, friends, and co-workers on this issue. For a lot of us, our certainties about our country were shaken up.
We— Beth Austin, Sharon Moore, Mia Vieyra, and Kay Bourgine— are members of the Association of American Women in Europe (AAWE). In response to the killing of George Floyd, we did what many white people found themselves doing—asking ourselves what we could do.
“REWIRE is teaching me how it is my responsibility, as a white woman, to work on systemic racism in our society.”-—Mia Vieyra
Kay Bourgine brought to our attention a training program that her sister, Rev. Barbara Prose, was running through her UU Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma – REWIRE a program for “Rewiring Your Racial Consciousness.”
We were intrigued by this initiative and though it could be an important part of a wider effort within the AAWE. On June 24, AAWE organized a zoom presentation by Barbara which was well attended. Members were enthusiastic and curious. It was agreed that putting together an all-AAWE group would strengthen relationships within such a group and it would benefit the entire club.
After the introductory REWIRE session, we had 13 people to commit and begin the work of REWIRE a few months later. Our class began in October 2020 and continues through May 2021, which we have learned is the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Our REWIRE class includes people from three time zones, France, California, and Tulsa!
“The REWIRE program helps keep the issue of racism at the forefront of my mind while providing tools to explore and reflect deeply on the world and my place in it as a white woman.”—Sharon Moore
REWIRE at the core
For our class, each 90 minute session is facilitated by Barbara and is composed of a compulsory reading assignment, journaling between sessions, quizzes or thought-provoking questions, and suggestions for “deeper dives.” Deeper dives are actions you can take to intentionally step out of your comfort zone, for example, go shopping in areas where you are in the minority; get involved in a community effort in an area you are not usually in; observe how you yourself feel in these situations and how others respond to you.
Discussion and sharing anecdotes and experience is integral. We have found that an important part of our work is personal reflection, soul searching and exploring our own histories, stories, and beliefs. Our REWIRE group has formed a safe and non-judgmental space as members share.
There is real discomfort in doing this work.
Guilt, despair, anger. We feel tricked by the laws enacted 400 years ago which artificially created a white race. We are seeing how much work there is to do in each of us. Often, many white people don’t have the vocabulary or the “habit” of looking at the racialized world we live in.
A stark example of our racialized world is how Black Lives Matter demonstrators were described by the media and treated by police in comparison to how the recent Capitol rioters were described and treated. The disproportionate treatment was particularly evident in the description of the events as they were unfolding.
Although over 93 percent of all BLM demonstrations were peaceful, language to describe the demonstrators in the media very quickly and often was negatively exaggerated using terms like “looters” and “rioters” whereas the description of the Capitol rioters were described as “demonstrators,” even after the violent and forced invasion into the Capitol.
The response of the police was equally disproportionate to the actual events in each case (BLM police response was overly and unnecessarily violent and there was virtually no police response to the Capitol incident for hours.)
What’s Next in our Quest to be Anti-Racist?
We really hope that this work by a smaller group will spark an interest in anti-racism work within our wider AAWE membership. It may be a call to action to get others involved and help them to see that there are things they can do to be more inclusive and actively anti-racist.
“As the current president of AAWE, it was impossible for me to spearhead any initiatives on anti-racism or to promote diversity within the club without taking a hard look at my own moral compass, my values and doing the work to make sure I was walking the talk (or at least trying to do better). Even if it is still an enormous task, I can already feel some changes within me, and hope they will ripple out within our organization.”—Beth Austin, AAWE President
This is an opportune moment for us all to reflect on what we can do going forward to make our organization a more diverse, inclusive and welcoming place, not just for women of color, but for all. If members take up the charge in their lives, it will, by osmosis, become part of AAWE.
Just as AAWE has supported women and children in our local and global communities for years, this is a new occasion for us to be allies and supporters of social justice and change. The goal is to evolve AAWE to be a more diverse and inclusive organization and for AAWE to be a safe haven for all.
“The work we’re doing with REWIRE is developing my awareness of the prevalence of racism in all aspects of our lives, the institutionalization of racism in the US and the privileges I’ve benefitted from my whole life just because of the color of my skin. It’s giving me guidelines to think about what I can do to help effect change.”—Kay Bourgine
Pictured: Beth Austin, Kay Bourgine, Sharon Moore, Mia Vieyra
We want to thank Beth Austin, Sharon Moore, Mia Vieyra, and Kay Bourgine for collectively sharing their REWIRE experience adapted from an article first published in the March/April 2021 AAWE News. As we become more racially conscious as a congregation, a country, and world, you may be feeling it’s time for you to engage. If so, please consider signing up for REWIRE, a racial identity group for white people to unlearn racism. New groups begin in April 2021. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.
Read more blogs and experiences about All Souls work toward Racial Justice and REWIRE at beyondbelief.online.