In the past couple of years, many of us who identify as “white” have gotten clearer about the need to move beyond saying we “aren’t racist” and condemning racist violence into a more active role in creating equity and inclusion. We want to do this, but often we don’t know what that actually looks like, or what we need to be doing differently. We get what feel like mixed messages about stepping up and stepping back. We are afraid of making mistakes. We want to be part of the solution, but we don’t know how.
This kind of stuckness is exhausting.
Feeling like we need to (or should) know what to do when we don’t is scary and exhausting.
Making mistakes that hurt other people is painful and discouraging.
Feeling like we are not being seen and heard well, or that people don’t want to see and hear us, is alienating and exhausting.
Trying to make change where there is lots of resistance (internal or external) is all of the feelings above, plus, often, enraging.
We (all of us, not just “white” people) often experience equity and inclusion work as frustrating, discouraging and exhausting. There is no question that it requires effort, and that it is inherently challenging to our habitual ways of being and doing. And, doing the work of deconstructing the assumptions and patterns rooted in our dominant/dominance culture and exploring other ways of navigating the world can also be renewing and restoring.
Doing affinity group work – that is, with people “like us” – is one way to build your capacity to make changes that will concretely increase equity, inclusion and the shared sense of belonging – in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in your family, in your larger community, in this deeply divided nation, and in the world as a whole.
I know from experience that time spent working in affinity groups can give us room for reflection, for processing feelings and experiences in a container where we are not harming others and can be held with generous accountability wherever we are on the journey. They allow us to both dig deeper and have the experience of being held and supported as we do the work.
Affinity group cohorts are also a container where we can focus more deeply on the somatic aspects of the work. What happens in our bodies as we navigate differences and as we try to shift how we do that, and how does that impact our ability to do the work? How do we learn to recognize reactivity when it rises, and settle our bodies so we can move from a more open and curious place rather than from fear and defensiveness? This practice is critical to deepening our capacity to do this work.
What Happens in Affinity Groups?
Generally, there are two kinds of affinity groups – people who self-identify as members of the dominant/privileged group in a given identity pairing (i.e. white/BIPOC, male/female, straight/queer, etc.), and people who self-identify as members of the oppressed group in that pairing. (All of us have intersectional identities and likely have some identity categories where we are in the privileged group, and some where we are in the oppressed group. For folks who carry one identity and often pass for the opposite in a pairing, or otherwise don’t fit clearly into the normative binary, things get even more complex.)
Many things can be done in affinity groups, but the most basic answer to the question is that they are some combination of:
- Sharing experiences, questions, struggles, successes, learnings, hopes, fears with other folks “like us,” so we don’t feel so isolated and can learn from and with each other. In workplace-based or other ongoing groups, this can include giving each other regular support as we engage with challenges and opportunities.
- Analysis development – The facilitator and participants can share frameworks, readings, podcasts, etc. that allow us to develop deeper and more useful analyses of equity; inclusion and belonging; systems of privilege and oppression; dominance culture; historical, lineage and individual trauma; intersectionality; theories of change; roles in social change and transformative justice; etc. so we have more context for the work we are doing, and more tools for navigating the journey and doing the work.
- Somatic work – The facilitator can offer regular somatic practices to help build participants’ ability to recognize reactivity as it rises in their systems and become more resilient, more able to interrupt those reactions, settle the body, and move to a place of more openness and curiosity rather than fear and defensiveness.
If this feels like something you want
I regularly offer a six-session, facilitated Affinity Group experience designed for folks who identify as “white.” (BIPOC folks who want to participate are welcome.) Check my Workshops page to see if there is a group forming that you can participate in.
I also offer facilitated affinity group work for organizations and communities. As a white, cis-gender female, bisexual/queer, mostly able-bodied person at the tail end of middle aged, I design and facilitate cohorts of people who identify as white, and cohorts of people who identify as female. I am also open to facilitating cohorts of queer folk, and cohorts of people who experience agism because they are “too old” (as opposed to “too young”).
I am also committed to BIPOC folks getting the institutional support they need to feel safe, to heal, to wrestle with their own internalized white supremacy and dominance culture norms, and to coalesce around their own needs, desires and visions. I can’t, as a white person, facilitate those containers, but I am happy to help your group do a process to discern what other kinds of cohort (or other kinds of support) work would be useful in your situation and what resources might be useful to support the design and facilitation of those groups.
If you have questions about whether this work is a good fit for you or your organization or community, please reach out to me. I will be happy to talk with you. I have also created this document you can view with some additional information about this work and my assumptions and background doing it.