'Not good white people vs. bad white people'

Race Conscious Dialogues help white people unpack their biases

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Almost two years ago, Dot Lambshead Roche, an Oak Parker, decided to start talking about racism among her white peers in the community. The former high school social studies teacher, now home with her kids, was among a multi-racial group of residents wondering how to approach the topic. "We landed on the idea of small cohorts as a way to deepen our understanding."

Roche says the groups were intentionally kept small and intentionally limited to white people. "Participants are more likely to be honest with themselves when truths can be shared and people of color should not be put in harm's way as we do the work."

At first, the groups were primarily dialogues between Roche and community members, but she quickly realized that the group needed a facilitator. She turned to friend Brynne Hovde, who three years ago was among the founding members of NOVA Collective, a woman and black-owned business that offers programs, products and consulting services that build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce. 

Hovde says with NOVA, the desire was to, "change how organizations think, specifically around the tenets of white supremacy." She and Roche formed Race Conscious Dialogues (RCD) as a volunteer and grassroots community effort to challenge those tenets at home. 

For them RCD is aimed at white people who want to deepen their awareness of identity, power and privilege, and then develop tools for anti-racism work. 

Each RCD is set up as a series consisting of four sessions, each lasting three hours, held in space donated by Academia in Oak Park.  Each session is preceded with light readings to be done at home and is facilitated in partnership with the Nova Collective. The series is framed around unpacking and understanding Whiteness, what Roche and Hovde call: "our own racial identities, the historical and current harm being caused by whiteness and guided discovery of what we can do to disrupt racism and dismantle white supremacy."

Hovde says while the framework of each series is the same, there is an evolution to the program. "The curriculum is definitely informed by some of our work outside of RCD and our thought partners, but as it evolves, it is also responding to what's going on here in Oak Park and in communities around Oak Park."

She points to changing terms as a bellwether of a changing community focus. "We were talking about diversity and inclusion. Now we're talking about equity and justice."

Roche says that while sessions might address pressing issues playing out locally, they intentionally keep the focus local and not national. "We're not talking about Charlottesville. We keep turning the lens on ourselves, talking about the racism that's happening in progressive, liberal communities like ours."

Roche also sees value in these conversations among parents raising kids in the village. "When we as adults engage in this personal work, we are able to talk more easily with our children about race, and learn and grow together."

For Hovde, RCD brings home the really important question: "How am I, as a white person, perpetuating racism? "We need to realize there's harm to undo in every white person. In our society, calling something racist is like the worst thing in the world."

Roche chimes in, "I think that the important thing people glean from participating [in RCD] is separating things out. You can be a good neighbor and a good friend and still perpetuate racism. It's not bad white people vs. good white people."

Both women stress that the RCD sessions are merely a jumping off point in a long journey. They point to Oak Park's 37 equity efforts currently underway and says there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Hovde says, "If people can leave these sessions and start to support and amplify the voices for equity already out there, that can lead to change."

Most of their participants tend to be women, but men also attend, and the age of the average RDC participant varies. While many participants are parents of kids currently in Oak Park schools, Hovde says that an older generation, who intentionally moved to the community decades ago because of racial inclusion, is also interested. "All ages are interested in this. This space is conducive to wherever we are on the journey."

As they tackle issues such as white privilege, gifted and talented programs in schools, policing, safety and feminism, RCD can be eye opening. Roche says, "Seeing whiteness for what it is is something that people are doing for the first time here."

She sees a real need for white people to join in. "With this work, neutrality perpetuates the status quo. This requires plugging in, not checking out."

Hovde says it is about making time to make a change. "I'm a working mom in Oak Park, and I know how real it is to be so busy. Every time you make space for this, you see what you can do. Don't be too busy to do this important work. It is an act of self-care. I call on white women to take part in this crucial mission."

"As a community, we have to say, 'there's no amount of racial inequity that is acceptable."

SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY).

Love the Journal?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Wednesday Journal and RiverForest.com. We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

28 Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Wanda Lucas from Raleigh  

Posted: September 27th, 2019 5:30 AM

Information is life, What if you can change your school grades or upgrade them, for more information on this, check thehackhub .co

Bruce Kline  

Posted: May 9th, 2019 2:11 PM

I agree with Tom's overall point. And in terms of the "market place of ideas" IMO, Ramona, Alex and James are spot on. When a "private group" is reported on (or seeks recognition) in a public forum which this website is, we - the public - have every right to throw in "our two cents" irrespective of your disagreement, Jason. "Vigorous" dialogue is the very nature and essence of an open society and a vital democracy.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 9th, 2019 1:14 PM

@Jason. Of course, people can have all the private groups they want. We have the right to the freedom of assembly. When a story is written about it though in a public forum, are we not allowed to express our opinion? This forum has created a robust dialogue, but it seems like the "progressive" left prefer a monologue or a lecture. As you have the freedom to criticize my words and thoughts, I have the freedom to do the same in return. I have gone to a few of these "white interventions" and I have found them to be extremely sophomoric and belittling. It's like AA for white people (nothing against AA) I encourage you to attend one as well and let us know your thoughts. Looking forward to it.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: May 9th, 2019 11:18 AM

@Jason: The recent anti-"whiteness" fever that has infected Oak Park recently is larger than this single group, don't you think? The fact that anti-"whiteness" campaigns are currently present in our public schools, in village public policy and business and in other areas is a concern to me and apparently also to others here. The particular activist group profiled in this article seems to be at the tip of that spear and I do think that they need to be challenged both on the premise of their activism and the approach they've chosen to seed their world view in Oak Park.

James Peters from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2019 11:05 AM

@Jason. The group is no longer "private." Lost that with the article and comments, including those by you and Deb Wolkstein.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2019 10:31 AM

@Jason - when people start using "whiteness" as a derogatory term in an article, which is happening a lot all of a sudden in the WJ, it is going to get comments because people are appalled by that. Unless you think it is OK implying that any religion or race can be described as us having "too much" of. It is insulting in ALL cases and should never ever happen. If they want to get together, great, just don't write dumb stuff like that and post it in the town paper. It is only in here so they can try to sell some video training and workbooks. WJ should ban hate speech like whiteness from now on.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: May 9th, 2019 6:56 AM

I swear you would think some people here believe Oak Park is forcing people to go to this or something. It's a group that people choose to go to. Are people not allowed to have a private group based on something they care about in this town? Are you forced to go? It's amazing how some have to complain about everything on here. How dare you have a private group where people want to work on themselves!! The real problem with this is that the people who could benefit the most from the discussion won't ever go. Here's a wild idea. if you think this is so stupid then why don't you go and see for yourself and tell everyone why this effort doesn't make sense.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 11:03 PM

@ Michelle "The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort." Thanks for making my point crystal clear. This is all about YOUR comfort? If your motives were truly about others, it would be about their comfort, NOT YOURS!!! Go to Moo and Oink on Saturday afternoon instead of Whole Foods and you will experience some real discomfort. Lastly, you mean to tell me you actually pay a fee. Is that your tithe to the cause before you attend confession?

Libbey Paul  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 10:24 PM

This program has been transformative for me personally. I am happy that other white folks have continued to show up and do the work to help make this a more equitable and inclusive community, supporting the efforts of the 37+ equity focused organizations in our area.

Michelle Roser Major from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 9:41 PM

I have attended this course and have helped facilitate it. RCD is not about white people feeling good about themselves?"I'd say quite the opposite. The fee to take the course is nominal so this is not about lining the pockets of the course organizers. I agree with other commenters that the abundance of negative comments here are exactly why RCD is desperately needed in this village. "The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out?"blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true?"?"Robin DiAngelo, "White Fragility: Why it's so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism"

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 6:00 PM

"Negro." How quaint.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 5:27 PM

@ Ms. Powell. I NEVER denied there was a problem. I'm ridiculing the methodology because ultimately its NOT about people of color, it's about white people feeling good about themselves. As a woman of color, I can tell you the last thing I want from white people is your pity, support, coddling and fake concern. If you really want to do people of color a favor, just get out of our way. I know how to navigate the world and can mange without you. Don't criticize people who haven't participated in your "sessions". Just because YOU think they are helpful, does NOT mean it is. So what if you now understand YOUR "implicit bias". Good for you!!! Now you can go tell all your white friends how wonderful you are and they can give you a pat on the back. See how that works? You are NOT in a position of power over people of color. You CANNOT change anything for people of color. Instead, just be respectful and courteous, like you are to everyone else. And please stop (not specifically you) with this moral high ground mightier than though crap. Are there "sessions" you can attend to expose your implicit bias to people with different ideologies? Those would probably be more beneficial.

Teresa Powell  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 4:50 PM

It's discouraging to see all these negative comments. None of these people have participated in these sessions or they would know better than to say these things. I attended last November's sessions and encourage other people of good will to sign up and deepen your understanding of the inherent racial bias that works against our friends who are not able to identify as white. Lesrn how you can make a difference rather than denying there's a problem and ridiculing people who care.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 3:51 PM

"The white liberals aren't white people who are for independence, who are moral and ethical in their thinking. They are just a fraction of white people that are jockeying for power?They are fighting each other for power and prestige, and the one that is the football in the game is the Negro?The liberal elements of whites are those who have perfected the art of selling themselves to the Negro as a friend of the Negro. Getting sympathy of the Negro, getting the allegiance of the Negro, and getting the mind of the Negro. Then the Negro sides with the white liberal, and the white liberal use the Negro against the white conservative. So that anything that the Negro does is never for his own good, never for his own advancement, never for his own progress, he's only a pawn in the hands of the white liberal. The worst enemy that the Negro have is this white man that runs around here drooling at the mouth professing to love Negros, and calling himself a liberal, and it is following these white liberals that has perpetuated problems that Negros have. If the Negro wasn't taken, tricked, or deceived by the white liberal then Negros would get together and solve our own problems." .......Malcolm X

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 3:45 PM

Krissy Bee, Lacey Sikora, Dot Roche and Brynn Hovde, I'm just curious. How many black people were in attendance at your respective weddings?

Krissy Bee from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2019 3:24 PM

This is a great article. The work being done in these cohorts is vital to our community. Many of the comments here are a perfect example of why this work is so necessary. I'm very glad that this is available as part of the work Oak Park needs to be doing. If any of the white readers don't believe they need this course I would encourage those folks to consider that they may have a great area of opportunity to learn and that taking the opportunity to join the cohort might be an eye-opening experience.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 8:42 AM

@ Romona Lopez: May I might add, excess funds should be used to purchase abandon homes in the Austin area, rehab the homes and rent tth homes to Section 8 voucher holding residents. Nothing is so fulfilling as owning rental income in a depressed area.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 7th, 2019 8:22 AM

This is where Neo Marxist go to confess their sins to the thought police so they can feel good about themselves. "truths can be shared and people of color should not be put in harm's way " They think so little of people of color, they believe the truth will harm them. Thus, feelings are more important than facts. " We keep turning the lens on ourselves" Of course you do, this is all about white people, NOT the people you claim you want to help. "calling something racist is like the worst thing in the world." No, it's not. It's the worst thing in YOUR world. If these do gooder, white people really wanted to understand the black community I suggest the following: 1. Instead of attending your "diverse" church on Sunday, attend an predominantly black church. 2. instead of shopping at the Sugar Beet, head to Moo and Oink on a Saturday afternoon. 3. Next time you have a week off, instead of going on vacation to some island rent an Airbnb in Austin. Until these "progressive" anti-racists" white people actually get out of their comfort zone, they will never be "woke". By not doing so simply demonstrates this "movement" is all about making themselves look and feel good and nothing more.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: May 6th, 2019 3:31 PM

@ Tommy "Big" MacMillian: :Excellent, well done. Perfectly written prime prose.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2019 2:26 PM

Life advice from people with tattoos should be limited to buckling up before the rollercoaster takes off.

James Peters from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2019 11:29 AM

Wonder if they have a "Hate Hath No Home Here" sign in their front yards?

Alice Wellington  

Posted: May 3rd, 2019 12:42 PM

Candace Owens - White Guilt: a trend that needs to die https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=at0t53G3C7U&t=

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 2nd, 2019 11:25 PM

Thank you for bringing common sense to the conversation Amy!

Amy Mariani-cortez from Wood Dale  

Posted: May 2nd, 2019 9:14 PM

I am a teacher and teach kids to respect ALL people regardless of race. I refuse to accept the comment in this article that says there is racial bias in ALL white people. Really? That's judging ALL white people to be racist. I make no apologies for my being white and will continue to teach my students the way I have been teaching them for over 18 years. I think some people should take up a hobby and stay away for political issues. The world would be a more peaceful place!

Michael O'Malley from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2019 1:25 PM

Why do I feel, after reading this article, that I just read a brochure for gay conversion therapy. (Just substitute gay for white or whiteness.) Can't white people just be white people? Why do we now have some mental disorder that can only be treated by self-flagellation at the direction of the NOVA collective's "thought leaders"?

Gregg Kuenster from River Forest  

Posted: April 26th, 2019 12:53 PM

Austin ... you want someone to walk across Austin Boulevard. Ditto Mr. Nevins Nobody in Oak Park wants to exchange, people or culture across Austin Boulevard. Let's all pat ourselves on the back because we can see the border. Let's not think about Black Dad's losing their Driver License because they are behind on the child support. Oh No ... that is not our problem. Westlake Hospital closing. Oh No ... that is not our problem. Our problem is we need to talk about THE problem.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: April 26th, 2019 11:36 AM

Wouldn't it enhance their "equity and justice" movement if the people at these sessions lived in Austin and sent their children to the public schools there? Otherwise, sadly, I can only view this as a "talk the talk" effort and certainly not a "walk the walk" one.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: April 26th, 2019 10:18 AM

I too often hear activist groups (usually led by white leftists, mind you) say that "We need to have a conversation about race ". Unfortunately, what they really have in mind is a one-sided lecture by said activist groups. An actual "conversation" is usually the last thing they have in mind. I'm sorry but as a Latino, white looking person, or otherwise, I prefer not to be lectured by pseudo-academics who are simply trying cynically to use race as a cudgel and a means to pad their own pocketbooks.

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2019

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad