A Workshop Experience

It was the first day. We were going around the group, each sharing feedback. I was feeling shy about my own inconsequential contribution, but when it was my turn, I was surprised to see our leader, Niyonu Spann, with a look of rapt attention listening to me deeply. I realized then that I carried around with me an inner tape that went something like: "I don’t know much about this subject, and besides, hasn’t the world heard enough from us clueless white folks? I should just be quiet and listen . . . maybe in a couple of years . . ." That was the beginning of an incredible week of noticing how so much of my internal dialogue kept me from being at ease with others, especially people of color.

I wanted to stop feeling awkward around people of color. I will never have a full awareness of what it is like to be a person of color, but I knew enough to figure that as a white person I represented the oppressor to them. Hence, my greatest gift would be to give people of color plenty of options to not interact with me! I now saw how the static, frozen image of guilty white oppressor versus angry victim of color tends to keep everyone stuck playing the same old tune. My shame at being white had kept me frozen and held people of color at an arm’s length even before I got to know them. We needed a vision that empowered us to move beyond this "stuff." I asked that my heart open to the Divine within me.

Melanie Sax

Melanie Sax, an attender of Madison (Wis.) Meeting, recounting an experience as one of 30 who attended a weeklong workshop, "Beyond Diversity 101," led by Niyonu Spann at Pendle Hill in March 2003.