Unpacking Whiteness & Antiracism in Community

Apr 26, 2022 | IDEA Blog

IDEA’s antiracism courses, first launched in December 2019, are planned with the support of a multiracial group of educators who play a vital role in shaping and informing all of our course offerings. Our work over the years towards antiracism and dismantling white supremacy has included workshops and learning experiences in and with multiracial communities as well as learning and affinity groups for BIPOC and white people.

Note: this article was written by IDEA’s Communications Director, Shawn Strader, after full participation in the fall 2021 cohort of IDEA’s Antiracism Course for White Educators.

Unpacking Whiteness & Antiracism in Community

“My default is whiteness and maleness. Those are the features of my identity where most of my privilege lies. If I don’t want to continue to replicate that, then I have to try stuff differently. I have to show up in different ways.” – David Johnson, Washington educator and past course participant

For all of the great things going on in IDEA’s Antiracism Course for White Educators, what really stands out is the genuine sense of community and connection in each session, not to mention in-between sessions and even once the course is over. It’s the people consistently coming together, imperfect as they are, guided by the notion that “the worst thing any of us could do in our work for an antiracist world is do this work alone” (thanks to my sister and dear friend, Shadiin Garcia, for these words).

The connection piece is integral to the course, and by no means happenstance. Course facilitators, Jonah Canner & Jill Ruchala, share a bit on the inner workings and rationale behind the course and how relational it is:

When designing this course we saw that there was a lot of material out there that did an excellent job of laying out what white supremacy is and what antiracism or an antiracist lens would include, but there was not as much that focused on how: how to embody antiracist values, how to do the internal healing needed to show up from a place of those values, and how to leverage the institutional power that one holds – specifically as a white educator – towards disrupting the patterns and practices that reinforce a culture of white supremacy. In focusing on the how, it became clear that building strong relationships – learning to grow with and count on each other to be loving accountability partners – was going to be a key factor in taking the theoretical what and turning it into an embodied how.

It’s in that space of being an active participant, having been encouraged to leave perfectionism at the door, that people break down the complexities of white supremacy culture and support each other as white people to make sense of what it means, looks, and feels like to build into an antiracist world. It’s a space where people challenge themselves to do better, experience some wonderful moments of joy and humanity, and get deep into what Resmaa Menakem calls Clean Pain, “choosing integrity over fear and standing in that fear with integrity and moving towards the unknown.”1

For this article, I interviewed three past participants from the course to get a sense of what brought them there in the first place, what they took away from the experience, and to amplify what they have to say about being white while practicing antiracism.

Carrie Morris, a past course participant and former public school teacher of 20 years, is now doing her dissertation with five other white women in North Carolina to center and engage around these questions:

  • How do white women embody antiracism for equity and leadership in North Carolina Public Schools?
  • What does it mean to embody antiracism and equity as a white woman?

“I have two master’s degrees and an undergraduate degree from three different institutions in North Carolina. Very little of my coursework included discussions about the racial struggles within the south, within North Carolina specifically, and the continuing struggles that are happening today.”

Carrie Morris, educator, doctoral student, and past course participant

Carrie continues: “The courses that I took as a student did not prepare me as a teacher or as an educational leader to deal with any of these things… to me, that’s wrong. So right now, working in a university position, how do we remedy that? How do we move? How do we help white people see what people in their community are struggling for? I don’t know… It first begins with being able to unpack what’s inside and, recognizing that, okay, yes, there are things I don’t know – so who do I surround myself with?

Carrie is only one of many individuals who have completed IDEA’s antiracism course. The questioning and determination she brings to her work is something that also shows up in class as cohorts process how to disrupt white supremacy culture together.

Leah Katz, a past course participant and special education case manager, co-coordinator of professional development, and teacher leader at a California high school, is finding ways to bring the learning from the course deeper into her work and life. After having questions about the course’s focus on healing, humanity, and ways of relating to one another, she’s now seeing new opportunities for meaningful connection in many directions:

“In order to acknowledge the harm we do in perpetuating racialized outcomes, we have to both identify with the person we harm when we do that – who’s the student who we’ve always thought about that way? – but also with our own humanity and reconnect with our reasons for becoming educators. Our responsibilities as white educators are all of these interweaving threads that I think help bring people together.

I think that there are people who need to, you know, just get some instruction on something to do in order to have a different outcome. And there are other people who need to formulate how what they’re doing is inconsistent with their values, and they bring about change that way.

I think all different kinds of people learn in all those different kinds of ways. But I just remember one really stark change for me was not really understanding why we were talking about healing when we were in the group of white people (in IDEA’s antiracism course), and now I’m understanding much more deeply what that healing means and how it positions us to serve our students better.”

Alongside weekly course sessions that focus on intentional community and connection, participants are asked to engage with readings, podcasts, videos, and self-reflective prompts meant to push and challenge their thinking. Another critical component of the course design is the series of BIPOC conversation partners who share their stories, bring additional critical reflection, and offer loving accountability to participants. All together, IDEA’s Antiracism Course for White Educators puts humanity first, supporting opportunities for people to feel truly seen, sometimes for the first time since they’ve dedicated themselves to antiracist work.

David Johnson is a past course participant and an educator who currently works for the state of Washington in their state funded preschool program. When asked what brought him to the course and what he gets back from being in this community, here’s what David had to say:

“I realized that I was needing somebody to reflect with, and part of that is around being accountable to what I hope happens on this path that I’m walking on…”

“I decided I needed a regular practice, and I couldn’t find it in my team and I had exhausted my friends. I just needed somebody to reflect with [on being white and working towards antiracism in the world]. Having worked with the course facilitators in the past, I was already familiar with the gentle, loving, compassionate approach to being with people and fully accepting everybody, no matter where they are in this continuum of doing the work.”

IDEA’s Antiracism Course for White Educators is currently supporting its seventh cohort of participants from around the United States. Upon completion of the course, participants are invited to engage in an ongoing Disruptors Network that convenes regularly to sustain the connection and community, and also to support emergent opportunities for collective strategies and pathways to disrupt white supremacy in personal and professional settings.

This course is more than study. It’s collective engagement and community building. It’s working together to source adequate responses to questions like:

  • Is there room for a white person’s humanity in antiracist work? If so, what does that look like?
  • How important is it for white people to make sense of their own humanity in their work to disrupt white supremacy culture?
  • What should white people hold themselves accountable to in the uphill struggle to build into the world in antiracist ways – BIPOC? Their students? Their own humanity?

IDEA’s Antiracism Course for White Educators runs twice yearly. If you or someone in your network is interested in participating in one of IDEA’s Antiracism Courses, please don’t hesitate to reach out at info@democraticeducation.org – you can get the general overview of the course here, and we’ll be announcing new course opportunities via our social media channels and on our newsletter.


  1. Resmaa Menakem lists the article from which this quote comes in the Resources section of his website. The article is titled, Dirty pain, clean pain, and the necessity of healing, written by Vina Kay and Kevin Reese, published by Minnesota Spokesman Recorder

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