How To Be White (at #PoCC12) – Part 2

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Chris Thinnes


If you simply must read Part 1 of this series, click here:


Gentle Reader:

Well, now I’ve done it. At last night’s #PoCC12 & #SDLC12 “Appreciation Reception,” a few of us who are blogging for PoCC were introduced and got to say a few words. I admitted semi-publicly that I am, in fact (drum roll, please) the white PoCC Blogger. I don’t think anybody saw it coming.

I acknowledged what everybody already knows, but we don’t talk about so much: that the role of white folks in the People of Color Conference is a matter that has been fraught with controversy these last 25 years. So the good folks at CTA decided this summer that we might as well ‘poke the bear’ this year. Gently, anyway. And so I understand this series of posts as an opportunity to be part of the stick.

So this idea of a white blogger at the People of Color Conference is either a great idea, or it’s not — which someone will need to decide after this first experience. You can help provide input towards that decision by offering feedback to these posts in the comments.

Anyway: when last we spoke, I suggested that I would try “to offer to some invitations to white folks for how we might behave ourselves the next few days in Houston.” In a first offering towards a “Code of Conduct for White Folks at PoCC,” I said a few words about:

1. “This is Not a Diversity Conference. This is Not an Educational Conference.”

2. “Do Not Expect to Be an Honored Guest” and

3. “Attend and Embrace Affinity Group Sessions”

In tonight’s episode, let me add another couple of invitations:

4. Shift Your Attention from ‘Sensitivity’ to Skills

As we recognize our private and collective commitments to diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice, let’s not stop at affirming ourselves and our ‘values.’ Let’s examine our behaviors, and determine some strategic actions in these days together, for how best to support people of color and their allies in our communities.

There is surely no more compelling or credible authority on the matter of turning our attention from ‘values’  to ‘skills’ — more specifically, from ‘cultural sensitivity’ to cultural competencies — than Dr. Steven Jones. Find his workshops on the conference schedule. Go to them. (He’s a featured speaker in Session C, which is scheduled at the same darn time as the AIM workshop a few of us are facilitating, but you should definitely go engage in his workshop, and not ours, if you haven’t ever been around Dr. Jones before.)

A few weeks ago, Dr. Jones joined 8 other leading voices in education and child development at an event in Los Angeles, where he spoke about our collective obligations intentionally to develop these skills — for our students, ultimately, but necessarily starting with ourselves. Check out 20 minutes you’ll never forget below:



Preach it! By which I don’t mean “Preach it,” exactly, but something more like “please make a point to carry on this conversation in your learning community.”

A very wise person once told me — very gently, and very respectfully — after I vented a bunch of my feelings, “You see, Chris, here’s the thing: we don’t really care so much about how you feel. We care about what you do.”

Which brings me to invitation number 5:

5. Create These Kinds of Spaces at Your School

I don’t really know what it is about this conference that makes it possible to be vulnerable. I really don’t know what it is that makes it so easy to be honest. I have no idea what makes me feel like I make connections here that are more meaningful than those I’ll make at any other workshop, conference, professional learning opportunity . . . call it what you will. I don’t really need to know.

What I do know, however, is that I don’t ever really experience anything like PoCC in any but the most private spaces of my school’s community, regardless of the incredibly healthful and intentional efforts we’ve made over the last several years.

At the affinity group facilitators’ session this afternoon, for example, we were led through a few simple minutes of exercises in which I felt I made closer connections with a few folks than I’ve made in quite some time. I learned more about a few people I’d never met, in those few minutes, than I’ve made with familiar friends of mine in several months. I felt listened to, and heard, and I know I helped to provide that experience to some new friends as well.

So one of my takeaways this year — which is great for me, because we’ve hardly even started! — is to work with other like-minded folks to create these kinds of spaces at my school. So be here, while you are here — but I encourage you to file away a few experiences in the next few days and adapt them — in order to seed such conversations and connections at your school.

 –     –     –

More to come at some point soon. I’m trying to figure out why watching Beasts of the Southern Wild with a close colleague on the plane, and then seeing hundred of kids lined up for the Odd Future show at the House of Blues last night, were so deeply moving to me. If I figure it out, I’ll let you know.


You can follow Chris Thinnes on Twitter at @ChrisThinnes