Undoing Racism

Racism is a learned behavior and undoing racism is a learned behavior. One of the country’s leading scholars on undoing racism will be speaking in Peoria Jan. 22 at Bradley University.

David Billings will talk about his new book, “Deep Denial: The Persistence of White Supremacy in United States History and Life,” during a presentation that will benefit teachers, police officers, social workers, students, physicians, parents, students, school administrators, politicians and the general public.

“David is a great speaker, with great clarity,” said Portia Adams, director and associate professor of the department of social work at Bradley University. “He is nonjudgmental and able to speak with both white and Black people. It is an intellectual process to recognize racism and act differently.”

Billings, 71, is a white Southerner who has worked in this field since 1962. Adams said at one time almost every social worker in New York City attended programs presented by Billings.

“It is ironic growing up in an environment so determinedly White Supremacist, but members of my family saw this and gave me the schooling for moving beyond that,” said Billings, one of the founders of The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, a nonprofit focused on teaching how to undo racism. “The idea of ‘whiteness’ is not tied to ethnicity but to a power structure.”

Although he puts White Supremacists on the outer fringes of society, he said people who claim to abhor racism but do nothing about it are part of the problem.

He believes organizing is key to combating racism and points to major societal changes from the women’s movement to the labor movement as examples of change achieved through organizing. Although the Civil Rights Movement attempted to do that, those who disagreed with civil rights started almost immediately to dismantle the achievements. He said we are now at a turning point, and our tool is the voting booth.

PBS correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault:
“No one speaks to racism and its cure better than David Billings, a white Southerner who has seen it all. His is a voice that needs to be heard. It is a voice with a perfect pitch.”

“I hope people come and feel they can talk and ask questions that they might not have been able to ask in the past,” Adams said. “I have seen people come out of David’s workshops and start thinking about racism in new, creative ways.”

Billings would like to see mandatory classes on racism in schools and universities.

“Most of us are in deep denial. Being white is a psychological state. Students should have the opportunity to understand this in high school and college. We need a strategic response to racism.”

Besides the basic unfairness of institutional racism, research has shown it is detrimental to white people and the economic vitality of a society. Peoria ranks at the top of a nationwide assessment of the worst communities in the country for African Americans.

“I hope people in the audience leave with the understanding we can undo racism,” Billings said. “Face it, understand it, see guidelines for resolving it. I used to believe racism will not change in my lifetime, but I don’t believe that anymore.”

Adams said, “Before I went to his trainings, I had studied African Americans. I am one. He conceptualizes and speaks in the clearest way about racism. He opens the conversation, everyone is welcome and no one is put on the spot.”

There will be copies of “Deep Denial” available to purchase after the presentation scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center, Bradley University.

Clare Howard

Clare Howard is the editor of the Community Word. She can be reached at communityword@yahoo.com

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