Towards Anti-Racist Enrollment

Enrollment isn’t easy.

But I love the work of enrollment. I see it as patient work that grows over time. It’s the art of the relational connection and the invitation to dream and fall in love with a different vision of the future… together.

I love enrolling people in co-ops, in heterodox economics, in the long, slow, relational work of community organizing and building power.

I start by listening. I ask lots of questions and draw folks out. I get excited by their vision and share a bit of my own. It animates something inside of them. I invite them to contribute. Gradually, I enroll them in coming along side the work I’m doing. This week, I find myself enrolling folks in the work of:

  • Start.coop accelerating the growth of young co-ops.
  • Driver’s Seat weaving labor organizing into a co-op of Uber and Lyft drivers.
  • My Neighbor Ministry building authentic relationships with the homeless.
  • Receive her in the Lord inviting the Catholic Church to again ordain women as deacons.

And a few hours ago, I was asking a charter school CFO to sign a natural gas contract negotiated by the Community Purchasing Alliance, the co-op I co-founded with Metro IAF (a network of low income people & faith institutions building power and make change).

Then I find myself being spread thin and returning to the question: What is my most important work? What is the work I’m being asked to do in this moment? What is truly mine to do?

To tackle the questions I care so much about, I find myself returning to the summers I spent in El Salvador as a young person experiencing unconditional generosity and hospitality from the poorest people I’d ever met. They taught me to accompany others — especially the poor and allow them to show the way.

Their witness, and the powerful experiences I’ve had alongside others like them over the years, reminds me to recognize the work that my life has called me into. It’s work at the intersection of movement building, economics, the church, inequality, and injustice.

As I’ve spent the past 12 years learning about these spaces and organizations, I see how the work I’m most being called to now, is the places where this work intersects with those most excluded and marginalized. The rural poor of Guarjila, Chaletenango in El Salvador endured so much violence (because they were marginal in the eyes of their government and the US Government), yet they opened their homes and spirits to receive me and teach me — and the liberation and freedom I felt with them transformed me. I need to learn to create organizations and systems that are against the kind of oppression that led to their suffering. I need to learn to be anti-oppressive and anti-racist. And I believe that’s what this moment is also calling me to learn.

To be anti-racist, I believe we need to see our own liberation as being bound up in the mutual liberation of others, especially our Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) brothers and sisters.

This immediately pushes me to see how I need to be enrolled in more projects with BIPOC leaders. To be enrolled in the work of Black leaders, I need to learn to listen and show up as an ally that uses my white skin privilege, not to ask questions and challenge their assumptions or satisfy my curiosity or lack of understanding, but simply to listen long enough to see if their vision for change aligns closely enough with my vision for me to see it as valuable to do the work they’re asking me to do. If I trust them, and build enough of a relationship where I really do believe in their leadership, then I begin to see how I need to humbly submit to trusting their instincts and show up when they ask me to show up.

They may call me out on my blind spots, and in those moments, I need to notice my white fragility and not shy away from continuing in the work. The journey has led me to feeling ashamed of how my white silence, white apathy, white centering, tokenism, white savior-ism allows the systems of oppression and racism to continue. But with the new awareness, I can begin the next day able to see these tendencies in myself and in others and begin to bring their awareness to these things that aren’t easy to see.

To be anti-racist is to see the places we’re being invited to enroll in the projects led by college friends, folks at church, neighbors and family…. and white colleagues who invite us to their projects — but instead to say “no” to those projects and to pro-actively and intentionally make time to meet with Black leaders. To be anti-racist is to make meaningful time to listen, learn about, and learn from BIPOC leaders, so that we can allow ourselves to be enrolled in their work and the projects they’re inviting us and needing us as white allies to lead.

I’m beginning to see that often times, it feels (and is) risky to put our white bodies in places where Black leaders invite us (or need us) to be. Often times, we’re invited to take a risk sooner than we think we’re ready. If we allow ourselves as white allies to leap & dance with this fear and risk, we begin to show up as allies and we’ll be invited by Black leaders to enroll further in the work with them.

Part of our job as white anti-racists is to really listen to what Black movement leaders that we trust and believe in are asking of us (often times there aren’t that many of them in the spaces we’re in), so it’s incumbent upon us to quiet our analytical minds, and trust that by showing up and doing what they ask of us, we might be led into deeper relationship, deeper understanding… and from that place, we might be invited into deeper enrollment. Along the way, we might experience a kind of transformation, that helps us see and learn new things that might be part of our own liberation.

For me, I’m still new on this journey, but before I enroll more people on my journey (and in my work and my projects), I’m trying to learn to allow myself to be enrolled with more BIPOC leaders that I believe could show me the path to my liberation & theirs and the building of a more just economy that I so desperately believe is needed.

Published by Felipe Witchger

Felipe actualizes organizer-entrepreneurs for new economic praxis. He facilitates collaboration between community institutions for more equitable community wealth building. By developing leaders and allies, Felipe believes marginalized communities can build the power they need to change institutions, systems, and our culture. Felipe also loves building sandcastles.

2 thoughts on “Towards Anti-Racist Enrollment

  1. I really appreciate this post – I agree whole-heartedly. I like the way you talk about surrendering (although you didn’t use that term!) and quieting the analytical mind in order to gain understanding. Sometimes I feel that we have swung so far towards “rational” values in dominant white spaces that we have atrophied our ability as humans to make deeper connections that can lead to more lasting, more just, change.

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  2. Felipe, this is just such an incredibly beautiful passage. It sneaked up on me and stopped me in my tracks:

    “…it’s incumbent upon us to quiet our analytical minds, and trust that by showing up and doing what they ask of us, we might be led into deeper relationship, deeper understanding…and from that place, we might be invited into deeper enrollment. Along the way, we might experience a kind of transformation, that helps us learn and see new things that might be part of our own liberation.”

    It’s easy to see the place this passage is coming from, and it’s a beautiful place. A place of humility and openness to expanding into some of the depths that white supremacy has robbed us of.

    I’m wondering if it might be useful to be a bit more specific about the need to “quiet our analytical minds.” I do NOT think you mean it this way, but someone who doesn’t know you might think you’re saying that projects led by BIPOC are less rooted in logic and analysis. Or that the cogency of their analysis is not always immediately apparent, and thus requires some amount of blind trust at the outset.

    In other words, why does a “white style of analysis need to be distinguished from a BIPOC analysis? (I would ask the same question of Helene in her comment above.)

    Take this comment with a grain of salt! I think the post is great.

    Like

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