online course on race, power & privilege | Autumn 2020

Facing up to race, power and privilege

a #dareconf online course
Autumn 2020
Canary Wharf, London. Photo: Matthew Foulds

Deconstruct the denials that sustain racism

A course for professionals who want to challenge racism but find themselves implicated in the very systems they oppose.

Those of us who benefit from the status quo desperately want to distance ourselves from the racist right, from police violence, from social and healthcare systems which consistently neglect ethnic minorities and poor people. But our gestures of allyship—checking our privilege, advocating for diversity, the smokescreen of “unconscious bias”—don’t challenge the power structures which reproduce oppression.

These HR-friendly performances of contrition allow us to demonstrate sympathy while obscuring our complicity in the maintenance of the status quo. We cling to bogus explanations of racism as individual prejudice instead of engaging with the history of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, slavery and mass incarceration—and the racist ideas used to justify them. We know the hashtags, we say all the right things, but when it comes to putting our privileges on the line by challenging institutional power, we retreat into denial.

But there’s another way. During this online course we’ll analyse the ways in which society prevents professionals from recognising the power structures which underlie systems of oppression. Participants will support each other to move beyond denial by exposing the neoliberal myth of meritocracy. By facing up to the reality that we didn’t achieve our positions through “merit” and hard work, we’ll open up a space to forge cross-racial political alliances that prioritise common interest over shared identity, in pursuit of collective liberation.

Feedback from past courses

“I wanted to learn about the history and the structural issues that got us to where we are today, and I did. But I also got something I hadn’t expected at all—a lesson in critical analysis and how everything is insidiously linked to race/class issues.”
Shazia, Senior Project Manager, Shelter

“It challenged me to critique the way things are rather than just try to operate within them and not say anything to the contrary. I feel I’ve started to grasp the interlocking elements of this issue, and that’s a success.”
Jack, Accelerator Manager, Impact Central

“A structured space to dig deeper into what anti-racism is and what I can do to challenge racist practices. I wanted to reflect on how I can be anti-racist in my day-to-day work, and while my personal behaviour is important, the training has left me thinking more about my role in either upholding or challenging systemic racism.”
Daisy, Community Organiser, Shelter

“A well-facilitated, knowledge-packed course on a vitally important subject and I wholeheartedly agree with the underlying principle, which I took to be, anti-capitalist.”
Hannah, Campaigner, Positive Money

“It’s opened me up to looking at and understanding racism at a much deeper level, and has give me the confidence to openly talk about race, power and privilege more.”
Shabnam, Senior Digital Fundraising Executive, Shelter

“I think that we need the language of revolution to be part of our discussions. I think we need to tap into the energy of revolutionary thinkers and leaders. And I think a lot of people need the support of a small group of peers to work through the uncomfortableness.”
Breandán, Civil Servant

Questions and answers

How do I know whether this course is right for me?

The course is for professionals who recognise that they benefit from the status quo and want to start actively resisting systems of oppression in their work and life. If you…

  • haven’t yet studied the historical roots of present-day oppressions and the relationship between power structures like capitalism, imperialism and colonialism and modern concepts of race
  • want to dedicate time and energy to deconstructing the denials that allow you to continue business as usual
  • are willing to forge cross-racial political alliances in pursuit of collective liberation

…then this course is for you.

How can a white man facilitate a course about racism?

Jonathan Kahn is an experienced facilitator and conference organiser. Below he answers a common question about his role in this online course.

My life has been shaped by racial and class privileges: financial security, elite education and access to well-paid tech jobs. Which raises the question: how can a white, middle-class cisgender man like me lead a course about racism?

There’s a school of thought which holds that white men can have no role in dismantling oppression because we’re “the very embodiment of reactionary-vested-interest-power”. In this view, liberation will only come from the oppressed of the world rising up to overthrow the system. This is a legitimate, rational viewpoint and if you subscribe to it, you won’t see value in my leadership of this course.

Even if you subscribe to the opposing school of thought—which argues that liberation can only come from cross-racial alliances that put common interest above shared identity—you may still be concerned when you see people like me in positions of power, eg as a facilitator. My view: if those of us who benefit from the status quo are going to take part in such alliances, we need to step up and take responsibility for our own learning. It’s possible to learn from the perspectives of Black people without making demands on their time and energy (for example by reading Black scholars.)

When white people warn me against leading events about racism, they’re often “concern trolling”: feigning concern about the damage my blindspots might cause, to obscure their own evasion of responsibility for upholding systems of oppression. Open discussion of race and class is still taboo in professional circles, which creates a convenient excuse for inaction. Real leadership requires us to expose this pretence by breaking the silence about professionals’ complicity in the reproduction of oppression.

Is this course aimed at white or BAME people?

Both. Our syllabus features scholars who theorise race as inherently tied up with class and gender. As American public intellectual Dr. Cornel West put it,

Part of the problem with talking about race in America… because white supremacy cuts so deep in the culture, people begin to think it has magical powers. It just floats above American history, as if it’s just part of our DNA in a biological way. But all conceptions of race in the modern world are grounded in predatory capitalism, so that the talk about whiteness and Blackness becomes a way of rationalizing social structures like slavery and Jim Crow and… trying to extract labor, resources. It’s an attack on their humanity and identity, but it’s tied to economic structure. So, to talk only about race means we hide and conceal the social structures that are generating unbelievable suffering for everybody.

While it’s clear that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people are disproportionately affected by poverty, by disparities in health, education and employment, by oppressive policing etc., and it’s also clear that white people are over-represented in middle class, professional positions, our social structures are too complicated to support a simple “race-first” analysis. Just as there are some white people who are harassed by the police, there are some BAME people who benefit from class privilege. (This doesn’t exempt them from experiencing racism, nor does it make their experiences the same as white people’s.)

This course is for anyone who identifies as a professional, as someone with certain class privileges which make you complicit in the social structures which maintain what West calls “predatory capitalism”. At no point in the course will you be asked to “speak for” a racial group or share your personal experiences of racism or other oppressions.

Why are you running this course now?

We organised the first #dareconf leadership retreat on race, power and privilege over three days in October 2019, in a youth hostel in West Wales. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic we began to redesign the syllabus as an online course. After the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, and the subsequent global uprisings, several people contacted us to ask about an online version of the retreat. Because of this we’ve brought forward our plans and are now launching the online course sooner than originally planned.

Why are you charging for a course about structural oppression? Where does the money go?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to a perverse feature of today’s economy: the more socially valuable a type of work is, the less well paid. Thus, today’s “key workers” are some of the lowest paid in the country, and they’re expected to keep working during lockdown, taking the highest risks to their health while they literally keep the rest of us alive.

In the same vein, there’s a widely held expectation that activities related to social justice should be delivered for free, uncontaminated by the profit motive. Professionals don’t question paying thousands for a tech conference or a coaching programme for managers. But when it comes to paying a modest fee for a training course about power and privilege, some people ask, for example, why we’re trying to profit from the unpaid labour of activists.

There are two reasons why we charge for this course. First, commitment. While many of us might prefer to live in a gift economy or socialist state, in today’s economic system the ritual of handing over money for something is a crucial marker that we intend to make change. Second, we believe that the experience, time and energy we put into creating learning experiences has value, and that it’s reasonable to ask for payment from people who wish to participate.

The money goes towards direct expenses (Zoom licences, computers, broadband, web hosting) and compensating the facilitators for their time preparing, organising and delivering the training. Any remaining profits go towards development of new material and courses. At the moment we do not receive any external funding for this work.

What is your cancellation policy?

If after booking your place on the course you can no longer attend, you may book onto another of our online courses within a period of two years from the original date, without additional charge. Your booking is non-refundable and you can’t transfer it to someone else.

What technology do I need to participate?

We deliver the course using Zoom. You will need:

  • either a computer or a tablet, with the Zoom app installed
  • headphones
  • a reliable internet connection

The course is interactive so you will need to turn on your video and audio to take part.

What if my question isn’t answered here?

Please get in touch.

Cost, dates and booking

The course costs £129. You’ll pay online via credit or debit card. Each course is limited to 20 participants.

The course runs on Tuesday evenings (London time) over 4 weeks. Please make sure you are available for all of the sessions before you book.

September evening course Sold out

  • orientation session: Monday 7 Sept., 7–9pm
  • main sessions: Tuesdays 8, 15, 22, 29 Sept., 7–10pm

This course is sold out.

October evening course

  • orientation session: Monday 5 Oct., 7–9pm
  • main sessions: Tuesdays 6, 13, 20, 27 Oct., 7–10pm

Each week there is a reading and assignment to complete, plus a 20–minute catch-up call with another person on the course.

Book your place