(Photo credit is Jenny Graham. Pictured: (left to right): Christine Norton-Cotts, Liz Peck, Laura Shrewsbury, Rick Anderson, Catherine Foster, Emily Ehrlich Inget, Elib Crist-Dwyer, Katherine Gosnell.)
(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)
Diversity & Inclusion blog salon: The Role of Allies. Ed note–this post was written in response to Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez’s post, A Colored Conundrum, based on discussions that emerged from the 2014 TCG National Conference’s Identity Affinity Groups and the Intergenerational Leaders of Color session.
The White Allies for Equality (WAE) affinity group at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival would like to express our support for the right of affinity groups to consist of those who self-identify as a member of that group. We don’t view that policy as exclusion—or segregation—rather a necessity for effective progress.
I’ll explain. But first, some background. WAE was formed through the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s diversity and inclusion efforts and is made up of 11 employees from a wide range of departments in OSF’s 500-person company. OSF has regularly employed the services of a diversity and inclusion consultant, Carmen Morgan, who has been instrumental in the formation of our group as well as a People of Color (POC) group here at OSF.
WAE has been in existence for more than a year with the mission to provide an open, nonjudgmental, safe space for white allies against racism to acknowledge our privilege and promote institutional change. We are building a learning environment in which to promote personal growth and encourage continued growth for our organization. We also plan to offer support and resources for company education and to work toward eliminating the marginalization of all people based on race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, age and ability.
Some of us participated in OSF’s five-session Diversity and Inclusion Facilitator training in 2012–2013 that created a body of facilitators to assist with difficult conversations about race, class, gender, etc. During the training, we were made to understand that people of color are weary of having to explain racism to white people. Some of the white facilitators thought it’s time for us to share that work, but not necessarily in the same room and at the same time as those we are in solidarity with.
Here’s why: Talking about race and class and privilege in a way that promotes understanding and breaks down barriers is difficult. Everyone needs to have a safe space where they can share their deepest concerns so that the work to eradicate racism in our workplaces and in our communities can be clearer and more intentional. Part of affinity means feeling safe while you make mistakes, knowing this group of people understand you. Because this is true for our group, we understand that this would also be true for affinity groups for people of color.
Even though the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has a nationally recognized diversity and inclusion imperative which brings artists and patrons of color to our community, we still live in a predominantly white, rural community, which from time to time witnesses acts of discrimination and racism. As a white-ally affinity group, we feel we are in a key position to provide education for our community regarding white privilege and to work toward the elimination of discrimination.
The fight for equality and fair treatment for all is ongoing. We would love to be in touch with other white-ally affinity groups working in theatre. If you are interested in starting one, we’d be happy to share with you what we’re learning. Please feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
OSF’s White Allies for Equality:
Rick Anderson, Scenic Design
Elib Crist-Dwyer, Scenic Carpenter
Darcy Danielson, Music
Emily Ehrlich Inget, Costume Rentals
Catherine Foster, Communications
Katherine Gosnell, Education
Christine Norton-Cotts, Costume Shop
Liz Peck, Company Management
Laura Shrewsbury, Box Office
K.T. Vogt, Acting Company