Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change

Thank goodness none of this applies to me…

(reposted from here, and originally from the (defunct?) Colours of Resistance site.)

Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change
(and other people socialized in a society based on domination)

1. Practice noticing who’s in the room at meetings – how many men, how many women, how many white people, how many people of color, is it majority heterosexual, are there out queers, what are people’s class backgrounds. Don’t assume to know people, but also work at being more aware.
2a. Count how many times you speak and keep track of how long you speak.
2b. Count how many times other people speak and keep track of how long they speak.

3. Be conscious of how often you are actively listening to what other people are saying as opposed to just waiting your turn and/or thinking about what you’ll say next.

4. Practice going to meetings focused on listening and learning; go to some meetings and do not speak at all.

5a. Count how many times you put ideas out to the group.
5b. Count how many times you support other people’s ideas for the group.

6. Practice supporting people by asking them to expand on ideas and get more in-depth, before you decide to support the idea or not.

7a. Think about whose work and contribution to the group gets recognized.
7b. Practice recognizing more people for the work they do and try to do it more often.

8. Practice asking more people what they think about meetings, ideas, actions, strategy and vision. White guys tend to talk amongst themselves and develop strong bonds that manifest in organizing. This creates an internal organizing culture that is alienating for most people. Developing respect and solidarity across race, class, gender and sexuality is complex and difficult, but absolutely critical – and liberating.

9. Be aware of how often you ask people to do something as opposed to asking other people “what needs to be done”.

10. Think about and struggle with the saying, “you will be needed in the movement when you realize that you are not needed in the movement”.

11. Struggle with and work with the model of group leadership that says that the responsibility of leaders is to help develop more leaders, and think about what this means to you.

12. Remember that social change is a process, and that our individual transformation and individual liberation is intimately interconnected with social transformation and social liberation. Life is profoundly complex and there are many contradictions. Remember that the path we travel is guided by love, dignity and respect – even when it is bumpy and difficult to navigate.

13. This list is not limited to white guys, nor is it intended to reduce all white guys into one category. This list is intended to disrupt patterns of domination which hurt our movement and hurt each other. White guys have a lot of work to do, but it is the kind of work that makes life worth living.

14. Day-to-day patterns of domination are the glue that maintain systems of domination. The struggle against capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism and the state, is also the struggle towards collective liberation.

15. No one is free until all of us are free.

[Thanks to Carl in the comments for the idea to link to this song by the late Solomon Burke]

From the Colours of Resistance web page


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
This entry was posted in activism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change

  1. Carl says:

    at number 15 – Solomon Burke (RIP)

  2. Sarah Irving says:

    Could perhaps usefully add: Practice challenging repugnant macho behaviour and abuses of power, or at least not dismissing people who challenge them because it’s your white male buddy that’s doing them, and he’s a great guy when you’re in the pub/at meetings, or he’s really heroic really:

  3. chris irwin says:

    I would go absolutely insane and could not organize my way out of a paper bag if I crippled myself with this mindset during meetings. Its more of the “oh we are not poor, oppressed, diverse, blah blah enough to be effective or to organize.” No wonder the radical left and progressives of this country are so crippled and ineffective.

  4. dwighttowers says:

    Hi Chris,

    thanks for a) stopping by and b) taking the time to comment.

    I am interested that you think this list would automatically be “crippling”. I would say that any new habits (which is what these amount to) do indeed take a little time and energy, but slowly become more automatic. A I’ll make an assumption that you – like me – are a white male. I will then make an assertion that perhaps you will disagree with. White males tend to have more “social power” (the ability to get their ideas at least heard etc – see above) than other groups. Now, the thing about some forms of power (especially ones you’ve not earnt) is that they can be invisible. Douglas Adams put it best, IMHO, in his book Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency with the line about the rider doesn’t spend much time thinking about the horse, but the horse thinks of little else besides the weight and whims of the rider. But as people with that unearned “invisible” power, is it not our responsibility to root out that privilege?

    I would say that the recommendations did NOT state or imply that white males weren’t able to take part in organising because “we are not poor, oppressed, diverse, blah blah enough to be effective or to organize” and that you’ve perhaps set up a straw man there?

    But look, I am only disagreeing with you, and I am not trying (and trying not) to slap you down or imply anything about your beliefs or the efficacy of your actions (which would be difficult, since I don’t know you!).

    Finally, I would be very interested in your answer to the following question – why is it that most radical left and “progressive” meetings (not actual protests and demos, but committees and meetings) are dominated by loud white males? Or perhaps that does not gel with your experience?

    Best wishes, and thanks again for taking the time to comment.

  5. chris irwin says:

    No actually most of the organizations I organize with are dominated by loud opinionated white women who have no problem telling me to shut up.

    I am addressing this in another comment box–let me write what I wrote there here.

    Once I watched a movie called “Berkeley in the 60’s”. It had a former black panther who explained that during a point in their campaign they had all these white middle class kids come from Berkeley who wanted to be Panthers. He said they to…ld them to go back to the white middle class communities they came from and organize there—that the Panthers had the Ghetto’s organized and it was exactly those white middle class communities which were part of the power structure that they did not have access to.

    Then I read a book by this guy named Abraham Maslow called the The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. In real real short he said that you cannot expect people who are concerned about food and shelter to care much about saving the whales. That basic need will always trump higher needs or objectives.

    It was during the decades that I read and watched those two pieces information that I watched radical community after community after community blow itself apart. To lump it together it always seemed to be based on the fact that we were not to poor, black, Hispanic, gender balanced, etc enough to organize.

    Meeting after meeting, group after group I watched discussions on these matters slowly eat away at the effectiveness and tactical objectives of the organizations—it often what felt like lost or misguided attempts for an objective no one was sure was trying to be reached. Meanwhile the underlying objectives and reasons for the meetings themselves was lost.

    With the exception of one group—the local green party here in Knoxville in the early 90’s. They actually discussed these issues in a way that did not do this—they were the exception.

    It was also during this period I began noticing in my studies that many of the revolutionary hero’s of history had come from the middle class. Voltaire, Che Guervera, Emma Goldman before she left Russia, even Malcolm X went through a period of middle class existence.

    Speaking of Malcolm X I have a rare video of an interview with him where he states clearly that he always mistrust when white people try to join black organizations cause invariably they try to grab control and screw up the organizing. He suggested white people form groups and act in solidarity with, rather than trying to become—black organizations.

    If Maslow was still around what he would say is that the wealthy and privileged classes are to invested—they benefit from the status quo—to fight against the system. The poor of course are to worried about feeding their families and themselves. This would explain the large role the middle class has played in so many revolutions in history.

    In this context as I helped organize shutting down KKK rallies, organized soup kitchen for the homeless, participated in housing takeovers for the homeless, started pirate radio stations, etc that I came across this trend of white middle class kids destroying their own efforts at organizing and at times blow apart organizations for not being poor, gender balance, Hispanic, black—enough.

    In effect this often became and excuse for the white middle class to stop organizing for change—and at times become an obstacle for change.

    Solidarity to me has come to mean real material support—not talk—not endless workshops which go anywhere, but real material support. An example of this was when the Sincere 7 was organizing rallies my group helped logistically and physically. When we came to help we brought walky talkies, food, signs, people and resources. Real physical solidarity. Rather than destroy ourselves for not having enough Native Americans in our group–when the Cherokee had a few of the Crow clan come and ask for help we brought people and material help. Create a real power base with what you have—then offer real support rather than platitudes and crippling the very machine which makes that support possible.

    Another example is when we greenies started a pirate radio station in Knoxville—provided material support—then the diversity came. Organizationally and philosophically for my work when I organize I value 1 organization which provides material support over 100 which simply fight about not having enough enviros and host all day diversity trainings. Direct feedback I have received from former Panthers, Hispanic and organizers in other groups has reinforced this believe that they to have this preference.

    In this rambling context what I am suggesting I suppose is that organizations which are predominately white and middle class, rather than ripping themselves apart for not being something they are not—instead organize and become strong with who and what they have, and then offer real solidarity with other organizations of different demographics and organizations—coming to offer support periodically with real tangible resources and materials rather than the worse sort of tokenism.

    The irony in all this is often the worse offenders of this are products of the white middle class. I have never had an African American, or Hispanic, or Cherokee (all of which groups I have worked with and have assisted materially in different campaigns) come to a meeting and complain we were not diverse enough—it is always a product of the middle class. When they come its for the power base and material support we can offer, not our words.

    And usually this group-flagellation has been a destructive trend which shuts people up, makes people feel guilty—and does not mobilize or create stronger groups, and invariably drives people out. And shamefully this trend is to often cloaked in the guise of “diversity.”

    When the radicals have come from those other organizations, they have come to us because they know we can put fliers up, people in their rallies, provide food and material support rather than just talk.

    Make no mistake—what I am writing right now is thought crime. Diversity training, diversity workshops has become the favorite flavor chewing gum of the large industrial non profit community. Once in our Earth First! Group we were preparing to shut down our 8th KKK rally and we lost members who were with another organization which insisted they go to their planned “diversity” training (conducted by a white person) rather than help us shut down the KKK rally. I thought this was amusing but it seriously cut our numbers.

    For daring to challenge how this process has unfolded time after time after time one can expect to enjoy attacks and accusations ironically from some who would call themselves “Anarchist” but walk lockstep in their assaults on those who dar…e to challenge and question their basic assumptions.

    I would suggest its more important to build our organizational numbers, to build our power base and be able to provide a real threat to the status quo—and to provide REAL MATERIAL SUPPORT rather than hours of defacto group therapy sessions which wreck organizations rather than build them.

    But daring to challenge the assumptions of the predominately white middle class who engage in this destructive behavior is the quickest way to get attacked as being “racist” or “sexist” which to often they use as weapons to enforce to often their lock step assumptions and group—which requires often a complete ignorance of the work of the people they attack.

    Yes our society is sexist, racist, classicist, all the isms and schisms. But apparently its easier to challenge and attack these societal ills is easier at meetings with radicals than where you work, live and with your family. Pointing at a radical organization in this society and accusing it of isms is like pointing at a fish in water and claiming it is wet.

    And continued attacks and driving off older functional anarchist is a destructive trend. And I would given my experience of watching this for decades I would suggest that the products of the white middle class so insistent that they know they way—that they take the Latin phrase to heart Laudator Temporis Acti: Physician, Heal Thyself. Look into a mirror first and rid yourself of the ills you accuse others of first.

    Because if you do not first do that—your efforts to force your views and objectives on others will continue to be destructive and counter productive to mobilizing for real change in this society.


    Whats exhausting is I have had this exact same conversation about half a dozen times over years. Many of those with experienced radicals lamenting how their incredibly functional hard working groups got destroyed under this rubric.

    After aw…hile you want to stop pointing out the emperor has no clothes cause its a movement(s) wide problem. The most destructive element to radical organizing groups with a large middle class contingent is the middle class contingent.

    Its not about “diversity” which is a laudable goal. Its like what the republicans do with the “patriot” act and such doublespeak. They never call their bills what they are.

    More often than not under the worthy sounding name of “diversity” the efforts should be more accurately coined “our efforts to capture an organizations mission and put us in control of discussions and eventually drive the effort into the ground as those who came for a specific goal find themselves dragged into a fight which has nothing to do with why they came.”

    Its not the discussion of sexism, diversity or racism which is the problem–its the disfunctional products of the white middle class who use those words to become exactly what they claim to be fighting.

    Its like one of those games where you pass a message around a circle and see at the end how warped and changed it has become from the original message.

    It really is the messengers not the message.


    Often what I want to say in effect is “look white middle class kid I am hip to your efforts to address these issues–but your half assed experiments have blown apart to many groups and you really have no idea what your doing–you just deman…d the right to experiment on other groups.”

    In fact if there was a “diversity” process that was proven to work–that had left a string of stronger, more active, more effective radical organizations for the last decade in their wake–I would be the first in line.

    Or if the proponents were more honest and said “look–we really have no idea what the hell we are doing, or what we are talking about–but we would like to make some basic efforts to figure it out.” that would be better.

    But to often its forced on use like we are children that HAVE to take their medicine which they act like they are SURE they know what we have to do and its in our own best interest.

    And god help us if we dare point out the opposite–or dare point out the rather terrible track record.

    Of course its not fair to lump all efforts of these disfunctional products of the middle class into one sum. But trends do become apparent after a few years in a few states with a few radical organizations.

  6. chris irwin says:

    Now lets look at these suggestions on a case by case basis.

    1. Practice noticing who’s in the room at meetings – how many men, how many women, how many white people, how many people of color, is it majority heterosexual, are there out queers, what are people’s class backgrounds. Don’t assume to know people, but also work at being more aware.

    Well first I don’t care what your sexual preference is. As an enviro it really matters less to me what sex one monkey is humping another monkey. Under this I am suppose to figure out who is gay–who is straight–find out what peoples class backgrounds are–all the things I really don’t care about.

    And really isn’t that exactly the opposite of what we should be doing? Why should someones sexual preference matter to me at all? As an anarchist I find this kind of offensive. Sure we have bi and gay people come to our meetings–but I don’t look at those peoples and see “gay” I see hard working functional member of our organization–someones sexual preference should be not relevant in our group format and I would find it offensive if someone asked me mine in order to follow this.

    Yes if I tried I could figure out who had middle class parents, who is poor–who is gay, etc. But this intellectually feels like exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.

    It should not matter. And the risk of offending someone–or defacto accidently outing someone who may just want to come fight to keep mountains blown up and have no interest of their sexual preference or orientation to be common knowledge of an environmental groups should be addressed.

  7. chris irwin says:

    2a. Count how many times you speak and keep track of how long you speak.
    2b. Count how many times other people speak and keep track of how long they speak.

    As an organizer this is exactly the last thing I want people to do in meetings. I want people to be paying close attention to what is being said–not counting who is saying what. If process is breaking down and facilitation and stack is not being observed then it is everyones responsibility to address this.

    And I reject this whole concept I have heard of the last few years of “stand back so others stand forward” aka “shut up so others will be so inspired by your shutting up that they will speak.”

    This shows a fundamental ignorance of human psychology which disturbs me. We are primates–we learn and act by example, this is human sociology 101. We are inspired by others acting unafraid and speaking–by example.

    I am by nature a quiet book nerd who got dragged into organizing due to my over active conscience. For years I was the quiet person who said nothing at meetings–and was horrified and occasionally driven off when singled out in meetings–I was painfully shy. I even had to take classes for the speech anxious.

    And from that perspective when I people who speak up and talk out being shut down for being to outspoken it shut me down. It was examples of loud unafraid (and yes occasionally male–but female to) voices that inspired me to come out of my shell.

    A samurai clan leader once said “give me the thieves, liars, misfits–these are people I can do something with–saints make poor fighters.”

    The folk who stand up against the status quo are often by nature loud, brash, unafraid–and occasionally a little nuts. Mice will not create chance we need the lions to. To often this head counting to make sure everyone speaks the same amount has exactly the opposite effect–it shuts down those who are loud–and destroys the examples which basic human sociology tell us primates need to become loud and unafraid themselves.

    We are not saints–we are a loud brawling combative lot and must be. But to often we create rules like we expect saints–and rules which ignore basic human behavior.

  8. chris irwin says:

    But if a few are controlling the meeting–are always facilitating, and process has broken down so no one else can speak–that is an organizational problem which must be addressed.

    But alas it has been my experience that it is really fricken hard to take an existing group and retrain them to create a better process.

    Its always easier to start at the beginning of a group to establish a healthy meeting format. Then those who started as organizers in that group take it for granted that meetings are suppose to use rotating facilitation, stack taking–and the process is fair and open.

    Its amusing to me when folks go from a working process which is where they learned to organize–then visit another city and are horrified by the slow, cumbersome, ineffective processes they see.

  9. chris irwin says:

    4. Practice going to meetings focused on listening and learning; go to some meetings and do not speak at all.

    So go to some meetings and do not participate at all. Or be silent.

    This is not what I want or need organizationally as an organizer at all. Its hard enough to keep a meeting active, rolling and working without some of our most active members not speaking at all.

    If enough do this the group dynamic will break and if the most active and outspoken members are being silent it would cripple my organizational efforts.

    Maybe if we had the luxury of so many active members and only one or two people did this–but in my organizing circles and efforts it often takes at least 2 years for the community to jell.

    I want everyone to speak out, organize and sure as hell not remain silent. Silence is the problem–silence is the enemy of effective organizing in my efforts.

    Sure if one person (occasionally me) is given to rambling monologues or is taking to much time the facilitator should tell me or them to shut the hell up–move on the stack, and the stack taker should go in order.

    But this generally seems like advice not created by a working organizer–but instead someone from the outside who is engaging in an intellectual exercise of something that might be good–or might work.

  10. chris irwin says:

    Please understand that I mean no offense by these comments. I am at heart I suppose a pirate and would of been better suited a few hundred years ago on a pirate ship attacking Spanish ships laden with stolen Inca gold and slave ships.

    Which brings up another point–I and others studied the pirate bilaws in detail–the rules you signed onto when you joined a pirate ship (which as a historical note where often gay, some women, political dissidents, etc). One of the things we found was the rules had to be few and simple–pirate do not remember to complex rules.

    These are at least 15 –which is about 5 more rules or suggestions than you would of been required to sign up to join a pirate ship and go out and sink ships of the empire.

    And some of the rules do not seem to have much basis in practicable day to day organizer.

    I would suggest less–simpler, and battle tested proven tactics.

    but avast mates pardon any offense–I am no saint simply an old crusty burnt out anarchist organizer.

    • dwighttowers says:

      Hi Chris,

      absolutely no offense taken. Many thanks for taking the time and energy to comment. For me it comes down to whether we want to be a club of self-congratulators or if we want to be effective and have an impact in our chosen field. For me, the latter. Thus have come up with terms like “smugosphere” and “transruptive”. And have tried (with very little success) to get those in ‘the movement’ to think about what pathologies keep us down. The ones mentioned in the post are one part of that, but if we only focus on the identity politics, then we fail, as you’ve stated so eloquently. If you have a blog/website, please do let us have the address, and I’ll stop by/boost posts. If you’re too busy actually, um DOING stuff, then feel free to tell us about it at various times – I’ll happily open up DT for guest posts from you.


  11. chris irwin says:

    Thank you so much. I am writing about this on a facebook discussion based on someone who posted this link.

    I like to question and challenge everything–especially what I think and am doing. I would welcome your comments–but all the blogs I work on are field work regarding strip mining and other work–so your welcome to comment.

    Intellectually diversity is the thing. We do have a problem in how radicals organize here in America–and I welcome honest attempts to address this.

    I believe its because of what happened to the radical communities in WWI and the Red Scare. Both those events essentially decapitated the radical leadership/institutional memory forcing many young radicals in the 60’s to in effect “recreate the wheel.”

    Then you had COINTELPRO which continued this. I believe that this artificial forcing of the American radical movement to become a “youth movement” has become institutional in America with crippling effects.

    In effect the government no longer has to decapitate our institutional memory–we do it ourselves.

    Before WWI if you were a young radical you had several established anarchist and radicals you could pick and chose tactics and methods from.

    We no longer have that, which has crippled our various movements.

    Combine that with living in a racist, sexist society (which are social constructs in and of themselves) and we start seeing the nature of the fishbowl trap we are in.

    The ideas above are an attempt at group analysis–which is a good thing. I believe though we have fallen to often into the classic trap of being fish in water trying to critique the water.

    They say in the legal field that a lawyer who represents herself has a fool for a client. This is because you are to caught up to view and act objectively.

    But anyway–thank you for providing a space to discuss, debate and even argue these points out. Its through that process that any real progress will be made.



  12. Pingback: The legacy of COINTELPRO «

  13. chris irwin says:

    Manners. God I have been wanting to write this for ages but I kept forgetting. Really in all this anti-oppression/diversity discussions–at its root–we are talking about the rather quaint and old fashion habit of good manners.

    Its rude to be a male talking over and taking over all the time. Its poor manners to treat a woman different because she is a woman in meetings. Its in bad taste to say rude things which offend trans friends who are getting involved.

    A solid dose of Ms. Manners might be the magic bullet for these organizational difficulties we are discussing. A simple application of polite social etiquette might be the simplest path of all.

    Structure is always important–an autocractic meeting structure will still benefit from everyone being polite–but it will still be hierarchical by its very structure.

    I am very serious about this. I have a worn copy of Ms. Manners huge book–and Amy Vanderbilts as well. Truthfully Ms. Manners book was more useful–though Ms. Vanderbilt did give me useful hints on how to turn down an invitation to dinner at the white house.

    Addressing this as a question of good manners is a well worn path culturally–and helps perhaps create the non-oppressive atmosphere without all the confusion of random social constructs and all the rest.

    Manners. Good social etiquette. This would appear to be a better social path for the specific goals articulated.

    Culture jamming is the concept of hijacking cultural images and practices for political purposes and occasionally just for fun.

    Good manners/etiquette seems to be cultural common theme just laying there waiting to be picked up and used to help the radical community be as welcoming as possible to others.

  14. Pingback: Mind yer manners, ya mugs «

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s