Are you aware of identity-based affinity groups in your workplace? Or in your faith community? Or other communities of which you’re a part? If you’re a person of color or a member of another marginalized community, the value of such a group may seem obvious to you – such groups can be a chance to engage with others who share some key aspects of your life experience; they can act as support structures, sounding boards, and resources. But if you’re part of the dominant culture identity group, you might think that choosing to spend time with others in the same dominant identity group would only contribute to and exacerbate racism and marginalization. After all, isn’t white supremacy the problem? How would a group that could effectively be labeled “whites only” help to combat that? Shouldn’t you be spending time unpacking race with the BIPOC community?
In an attempt to be anti-racist, well-intentioned white-bodied people engage in conversations with people of color in ways that might feel like progress. But what feels powerful and meaningful for the white person might only serve to resurface pain and trauma for the person of color. This can ultimately do more harm than good – reinforcing the systemic belief that people of color are here to serve white people, educate them, and help them feel better about themselves (not dissimilar to the “Magical Negro” trope in fiction). The white person’s experience is still the one being centered.
Just as affinity groups can be key sources of support for members of marginalized groups, affinity groups for white people are a crucial step in helping those in white bodies to engage and reckon with their own power and privilege. These groups can examine how to center the voices and experiences of members of the BIPOC community. They can act as support structures, accountability partners, and safe/brave spaces to ask questions, to be vulnerable, and to be imperfect.
As I have written about before, people often believe that the opposite of marginalization is assimilation. But assimilation is a melting pot, where all the unique elements are blended together, all the unique textures are smoothed away, until all that’s left is a uniform mixture which mostly conforms to the majority. A more honoring response to marginalization is a mosaic, where the unique colors and textures are highlighted and contribute to an overall image of beauty.
So how can this idea be helpful this week?
This Week’s Tip:
Explore the benefits of affinity groups for you.
- If you’re a member of an affinity group now… Take some time to articulate how the group is supporting you. What are you getting from being in the group? Are there ways you would like to engage more deeply? You may wish to express these reflections in the group itself, or share them with others you trust.
- If you’re not a member of an affinity group now… Investigate what affinity groups are available to you through your workplace, your faith community, your local community, or in other communities to which you belong. If you don’t find any, to whom could you speak to find out if there are any in the works, and/or if you could be involved in creating one? Online groups can be a good entry point, and a way to interact with others in a more anonymous environment – one that I have joined recently is White People. DOING Something. on Facebook, but there are many out there.
- Continue learning, reflecting, and growing. Affinity groups are not the be-all end-all, and are not a substitute for doing racial equity work in mixed-race environments. But they are resources to go to when you have reflections on the work you’re doing elsewhere.