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White privilege: Minnesota planners says conference will take on sensitive topic head on

It’s a little risky getting the word out so early about the White Privilege Conference in Minnesota next spring, planners say.

That’s because it’s a provocative topic. And there’s always the possibility that the “haters,” as one of the organizers puts it, will descend in mass and try to disrupt peaceful discussions about the advantages of being white in America and the oppression that has led to.

Still, that’s not happened in the 11 years since the conference founding in Mount Vernon, Iowa.

And, there are still too many people who don’t know what the White Privilege Conference is to not get the word out, a triumvirate, the local chair people, told me over a bowl of soup the other day.

Lisa Albrecht started with a full head of steam. “White people don’t often understand we are born with a set of benefits, whether we like it or not, that advantage us as white people in the world,” said Albrecht, a white University of Minnesota professor in the school of social work in the undergraduate social justice minor program.

It’s a conference and discussion “built on the premise that the U.S. was started by white people, for white people,” according to conference materials.

“What white folks don’t understand is their privilege and power in the system of how the USA works. When you hear ‘U.S. citizen,’ do you think of Raul? Somebody looking at him and asking, ‘where are you from?’ I’ve never been asked that,” said Rick Purcel, who is white and who works as safety and systems coordinator for the Minneapolis YWCA, as he talked about colleague Raul Ramos at the table across from him.

“For me as a person of color, I always have to think of who I am,” responded Raul Ramos, senior access and opportunity specialists with the Minnesota State Colleges and University Diversity and Multi-Culturalism Division. The conference is his opportunity to “rejuvenate” himself and to work with like-minded people “interested in turning this country into an anti-racist, multi-cultural country,” said Ramos, who also facilitates the Higher Education Anti-Racism Team, a group of local colleges and universities.

Conference theme and speakers
More than 1,500 people from all over the country are expected to attend the conference set for April 13 to April 16, 2011, in Bloomington. The theme is “This Land is Whose Land? Defining Citizenship, Understanding Access, Taking Action.” Hosting is the new Minnesota Justice Collaborative, which includes Minnesota Colleges and Universities, Augsburg College, the YWCA Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota, among others. Conference sign-up begins in mid-January.

Speakers include:

Rose M. Brewer, scholar-activist, professor of African-American and African studies at the University of Minnesota, as well as co-author of “The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide” and Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, “feminist, revolutionary, and historian.”

The conference is far-ranging in its inclusivity, with privilege topics extending beyond skin color to gender, sexuality, class and disability. All are woven together, the planners say, adding that issues of poverty and land ownership for Native Americans will figure prominently in the Minnesota conference.

As for the conference shaking up folks?

“This conference is on the radar of conservatives because it threatens the status quo, because we’re not just talking about individual change, we’re talking about systems change,” said Albrecht.

“Understanding, connecting, respecting” are keys to the conference, Purcell said.

It’s all about trying to transform institutions, building lasting relationships, said Ramos. For more information or to volunteer, email him at:

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Kimbers Cadieux on 08/24/2010 - 10:55 am.

    Not denying that racism exists, but there sure seems to be plenty of money to be made by continuing to assert that nothing has changed and not celebrating the change in attitude by so many over the 50+ years I’ve been alive.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/24/2010 - 12:18 pm.

    This is how the Left plans to transform America into their socialist utopia. Tie it to race.

    That was Bill Ayers’ strategy for electing Barack Obama … use white female liberal guilt to elect a Leftist to “totally transform America” in his words, and paint all his opponents as racists. It worked too. Temporarily.

  3. Submitted by Mohammed Ali Bin Shah on 08/24/2010 - 01:24 pm.

    “For me as a person of color, I always have to think of who I am,” responded Raul Ramos, senior access and opportunity specialists with the Minnesota State Colleges and University Diversity and Multi-Culturalism Division.

    So, Raul always thinks about race, and has a government job that focuses on Race, and here he is in an article about a forum on Race. Maybe Raul needs to focus on his accomplishments, his skills, and his productivity, and not his race.

  4. Submitted by Tim Brausen on 08/24/2010 - 01:47 pm.

    This conference addresses a major issue that needs to be consciously examined by people. Though we’ve made tremendous progress in individual attitudes and relationships, and also in many highly visible instances, the fact remains that the results of current and past policies in Minnesota has created more racially stratified society than we had even 20 years ago, according to a report done by the Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University and ISAIAH.

    ISAIAH is a faith-based, non-partisan, ecumenical organization of almost 100 churches in Minnesota, that is working on issues of opportunity and access for all. They recognize the need for racial equity for all people to have opportunity in our society. They are working to make our government leaders understand that healthy communities require equal access to jobs, transit, health care, housing, and opportunity. Targeted restorative investment, designed to promote racial equity, is required to address structural problems that have resulted from years of disinvestment in our cities and our communities.

    Any conference that encourages people to examine this problem is to be applauded. We all need to work to make this a more just society.

  5. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 08/24/2010 - 03:55 pm.

    I know that we cannot grow up in this country without being racists, to some degree and somewhat unconsciously for many. White privilege was something I learned about later at a Minnesota Council of Churches workshop, and I’m now very aware of it. I did not understand very well what systemic racism was until I started researching for a book and found the many ways, deliberate or unintended consequences, in which African Americans have been shut out of the system, in terms of buying houses, getting an equal education, sharing in the G.I. bill, for example, and in other ways.
    Unfortunately–or this seminar would not be necessary–we obviously are still mired in it. That’s why there is such a big education and poverty gap between blacks and whites.
    Kimbers, I suggest you take this seminar and learn about all the money floating around to address this issue and why it’s still a problem. I suggest that you are one of the many who continue to cause the problem.

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/24/2010 - 05:32 pm.

    Ask Hillary Clinton about white privilege.

  7. Submitted by tom kendrick on 08/24/2010 - 06:19 pm.

    I’m a white elementary school teacher in a predominantly African-American urban school. I love my job and I love the students and families who come through my door. I have tried for years to encourage my students and their families to focus on the long term imperative of prioritizing education – REALLY prioritizing it – as the best, and perhaps only, way to really get ahead and break out of the culture of multigenerational poverty and dependence. Education is THE ticket, I tell them. A few make it. But it’s a hard sell, in spite of the lip service I hear.

    Yes, racism exits throughout our society, and it’s ugly, and it goes every which way. But until families themselves take up the charge of truly embracing the goals of education and make changes at home to support those goals, until fathers stay with the children they sire and stay involved especially in the lives of their growing sons, until the families’ priorities change from “live for today” to “work for tomorrow,” the infamous test score differences between blacks and whites and the racial disparities we read about in the news will not go away. This isn’t white privilege. This is, to paraphrase Gandhi, becoming the kind of change you want to see in your own life.

  8. Submitted by Kimbers Cadieux on 08/24/2010 - 08:26 pm.


    I have never responded to a particular commenter before and I’m hoping that the moderator will let this comment be published. We’ll see.

    When you suggested that I am “one of the many who continue to cause the problem” , I have to counter with perhaps you need to look in the mirror yourself. That was pretty judgemental on your part considering that you know nothing about me, the person I am, the things I believe and stand for day in and day out.

    It’s very easy to stand for doing what is right when your surrounded by people who agree with you. The real test of a person’s worth, in my humble opinion is how they act when they are alone.

    I have no issues with The White Privilege Conference in and of itself. None. I think it is valid and important discussion and I’m glad it takes place.

    I do however, question the wisdom of labeling (as the above article states) of the organizers labeling anyone “haters”. To me that seems incredibly counter productive to the goal this conference would like to achieve. That being, if I’m understanding you correctly, is bringing an end to systemic racism.

    What I meant by “but there sure seems to be plenty of money to be made by continuing to assert that nothing has changed” is that in this dollar driven culture, the subject of racism has become just a money making opportunity for so many. Need proof? Just look at how many talking heads are everywhere on both sides of the issue in our current media driven culture.

    I truly believe, to my core, that the top of the power bases on all sides of the issue are more than willing to laugh all the way to the bank as they keep us fighting among ourselves. This to me is is the real cause of oppression.

    I also believe that a reminder of how far we’ve come since the march on Selma in 1965 (my first memory of awareness that set me on my course in my life to do my part to make this world a better place for all) would be a good thing and would not take away from the fact that much more needs to be done.

    Anyway, if you came back to this article and read this, thanks for listening. I think we both want the same thing, we’re just coming at it from different directions.

    Have a good evening.

    Warm regards,

  9. Submitted by Patrick Coleman on 08/24/2010 - 09:20 pm.

    Tester, the vacuousness of you comment shows that you have no real information (data) to support your initial statement, just reaction.

  10. Submitted by Liz Oppenheimer on 08/24/2010 - 10:07 pm.

    I attended the White Privilege Conference for the first time this past April, and I intend to go again in 2011. So I want to offer a few things from my own direct experience there, as a White woman.

    1. More than once, I was part of a workshop, caucus, plenary session, or small group that reminded us to turn our gaze to the educational, legal, political, medical, and financial (and other!) *systems* that directly or indirectly reinforce White privilege. This conference helps unite people of color and White people in our work to bring equality, dignity, and social justice to all who experience oppression.

    2. As a Quaker, I thought I was farther along in my understanding of how my unearned privilege impacts any number of situations–in my faith community, with my family, with my friends of color. The WPC took off blinders I didn’t know I was ever given to wear!

    3. I was impressed by the number of people of color who attended the WPC. I was impressed how *all* adult participants were integrated into all aspects of the conference. Too often I have gone to “diversity trainings” and have felt that the participants of color were “tokenized.” Not so during this event.

    4. The films–most of them documentaries–that were shown each night, followed by discussion, were thought-provoking and in some cases, transformative.

    5. Since attending the conference, I have talked openly with my family about our unearned privilege based on skin-color, as well as systemic oppression. I have talked with a stranger who used openly racist language, and I am participating in local events and discussions like this.

  11. Submitted by Addy Free on 08/25/2010 - 08:10 am.

    Corrections: The annual White Privilege Conference was founded by Eddie Moore, Jr. at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa where he was the then Director of Intercultural Life. After the second conference was held at Cornell he left his position at Cornell to take over a similar administrative role at Central College in Pella, Iowa. At the time of the conference’s founding he was not a member of the faculty.

  12. Submitted by Cynthia Boyd on 08/25/2010 - 09:35 am.

    Thanks, Addy. The story has been amended.

  13. Submitted by Addy Free on 08/25/2010 - 09:50 am.

    Hi Cynthia, thanks for your attention to that. The amendment seems strange to me though. As I mentioned before, the conference was not founded in Pella, but in Mount Vernon. You were right, however, that Eddie founded it, though he wasn’t a member of any faculty at that time–why not leave his name since he really was instrumental in that.

    At the following URL (second item) you can see mention of Eddie’s involvement and the year of both the first and second conferences:

  14. Submitted by James Hamilton on 08/25/2010 - 12:45 pm.

    White privilege is a reality I see in action every day, courtesy of my son’s experience as a non-white in Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S. I don’t need a conference to understand how much I’ve benefited from the color of my skin in the last 60 years; my son has taught me, simply by living. Unfortunately, those who might benefit will be the last to attend or to consider that we are in fact privileged today.

    Yes, we’ve come a long way in 50 years, given that we no longer murder “race traitor” civil rights workers, bomb school children or lynch black men in Duluth.

  15. Submitted by Toby Haverkamp on 08/30/2010 - 11:58 am.

    The idea that focusing on something called “white privilege” will end racism is not only inane but has some interesting historical roots as well.
    Just type in the words “white privilege” on and numerous books spout out the following messages: Daryll Wing Sue speaks of “micro-aggression toward minorities, cultures and ethnic groups; Thandeka (Learning to be White)insists that white children are taught to be racists from birth and in the book (Dismantling Racism) the author states:”racism permeates the individual attitudes and behaviors of white people.”
    Of course there is no proof that racism will end when privilege ends and privilege has no color. Does a Saudi Arabian male have white privilege over his wife and family? All cultures, ethnic and religious groups and even sports teams contain levels of privilege. Obviously “privilege” contains numerous levels form the earned to the unearned-the deserved and the un-deserved.
    Those who foment this “white privilege” nonsense know full well that focusing on white people to “give it up” are guilt mongers of the worst kind. Robert Lifton in his book: “A Study of Brainwashing in China” refers to this as the “Cult of Confession” that is: white people are to confess to crimes one has not committed and to ones they may commit. Some of this guilting is evident on blogs where white people agonize whether they have said the right thing to a person of color or, as one white woman write:”should I show my African Art collection to an Afro-American friend”?
    Time to go to work in my highly privileged state job.

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