• Alyssa McQuaid

CPB Entry #5: Anti-Black Racism Panel with Dr. Charis Newton-Thompson

Updated: Feb 9

Dr. Charis Newton-Thompson is a formidable woman. She is my role-model, my mentor, and someone I consider a dear friend. I was lucky enough to be paired with her through the OISE mentorship program last year and we have stayed connected ever since. She has helped me develop my research, work through difficult conversations, and her support was critical in my decision to join this Black Identities course this year. Her

opening presentation for the Anti-Black Racism Panel hosted by the Ontario Principal’s Council (July 2020) discussing the development of white racial identity was eye-opening and oddly comforting. As much as I know courageous conversations are critical in dismantling anti-Black racism, I do not look forward to confrontation. My belief was that people who say and do problematic things are willfully ignorant. This thought made me angry and made me feel responsible for approaching these people with hard truths and with little regard for how being “called out” would make them feel. This approach is very likely to end in an eruption of negative emotion with little progress being made as a result. Charis’ words shift my perspective on the intentions of these individuals. People who I used to think were willfully ignorant I now see as moving through a process of developing their white racial identity.

Recognizing that another person is going through a metamorphosis soothes my mind and has opened up mental space to deal with difficult people I will encounter in the workplace. This revelation I am experiencing reminds me of a conversation I had with the professor of my Indigenous Experiences with Settler Colonialism class about dignity. I asked my professor about how she maintains a cool head during conversations with difficult people so that her message comes across as she intends it. She told me that she focuses on maintaining not only her own dignity but the dignity of the person she was engaging in conversation. She spoke of how the goal of conversation was to not only hear but understand the other person; something that is impossible when respect for one another and each person’s dignity was not upheld. Looking at the reactions and words of others through the lens of Janet Helms’ Six Stages of White Racial Identity Development creates space in my mind to approach these difficult conversations with empathy. This lens also allows me to not take someone’s reaction personally which allows me to dissociate from my ego. With my dignity intact I can return the favour, making room for effective communication.

Charis has provided me with guidance with how to navigate difficult conversations before. It is helpful to now understand (even if it’s only on a surface level) how she uses her knowledge of these stages of development in practice. In future, I plan to explore Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Can We Talk About Race to find out more about the stages of Black racial identity development.

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