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Towards addressing racism and white supremacy culture in the work of the Deep Adaptation Forum

If you have spent time in Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF) spaces, whether in the DA Facebook group, the Professions’ Network, in other circles, or taking part in DAF events, you will be aware that these spaces are predominantly white, western, and middle-class.

This demographic makeup, in itself, isn’t something to be ashamed of. But what does it entail, in terms of enabling and embodying loving responses to our predicament?

In April 2020, the results of a wide-reaching, participatory Strategy Options Dialogue process were released. A very clear need emerged to prioritise strategic activities that would address the mainly white, western, and middle-class identity of the DA Forum, and make DAF spaces safer and more welcoming to people, cultures, and identities that are currently not present or engaged. Some helpful guiding questions were offered:

  • Do we need to become more diverse?
  • Can the DA framing be helpful for people outside the current membership?
  • How can the DA ‘conversation’ be enriched by learning from the politically, environmentally, or socio-economically displaced? The gender non-conforming? The widely ranging disability communities? How can it benefit by learning from communities that have found ways to be extraordinarily resilient in the face of extraordinary challenges?  
  • Should we be ‘reaching out’ to more people in the Global South or to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) in the Global North?
  • How should we go about reflecting on these issues?
  • And how should we best go about decolonising our own hearts and minds?

In July 2020, the DAF Diversity and Decolonising Circle was convened to reflect on, and ultimately address, the main forms of separation and oppression that characterise our modern industrial societies, and which those of us who were socialised into such societies carry with us wherever we go, including Deep Adaptation Forum spaces.

The Circle was initiated by volunteers, and continues to be led by volunteers. It is supported actively by the DAF Core Team, and by generous external guidance from Nonty Sabic, who is, amongst other things, an educator in diversity and racism awareness. We are hoping to bring in participation from many more DAF participants in the coming weeks and months. If you would like to stay informed as these activities evolve, or if you would like to support the initiative as it grows, please leave us your email address here. If you don’t have the capacity to be involved, financial support in the form of donations are very welcome! 

Here’s a summary of our work over the past seven months, some of which you may have seen or participated in, and some which thus far has been less visible. While there are many forms of separation and oppression, the focus of our circle, since we began, has been on making DAF spaces safer for everyone, particularly people identifying as Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour.

Our first initiative was organising the DAF “Dismantling Racism” training, in November 2020. Over 30 active DAF volunteers took part in this training from across the network – advocates, Facebook group moderators, core team members, holding group members, facilitators, and volunteers in the Professions’ Network. (Prior to the training, Nonty recorded this Q&A with Jem Bendell, the founder of the Forum). Most participants reported having greatly benefitted from this awakening (or reawakening) to the subtle and horrific impact of systemic racism in our societies, and within ourselves. Those people have now formed a ‘Making DA Spaces Safer’ group, and have been supporting each other in deepening their awareness and skills for making spaces feel more welcoming and inclusive. This has included trauma awareness training for facilitators, and exploring topics such as accountability and ‘calling in’ (rather than calling out).  Heather Luna was a member of the D&D circle from October 2020 to late January 2021. During this time, she set up and ran multiple workshops centered on the patterns of white supremacy culture, and we were able to look at how it shows up in each of us and in the ways we relate in DAF. Many DAF volunteers – as well as some of us in the CT – have benefited greatly from learning in these workshops. She also generously volunteered her time to further educate us around raising awareness of the vulnerability we have to the normalisation of eco-fascism. As a result of all these efforts, new ‘Deep Listening for Decolonising in DAF’ gatherings have been piloted, as spaces where white people can do our own work around understanding, identifying, and sustaining the careful process of dismantling internalised racism. We do this in an effort to avoid further damage due to the blind spots in white western culture that prevent us from being true allies, and to reduce the necessity of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour having to carry the burden of educating us. These events will be offered on a regular basis to the wider DAF community starting in March 2021. The work of the Diversity and Decolonising circle has also had some influence in other emerging activities and conversations in the Forum: a new ‘multi-lingual’ experimental space looking at ways of sourcing live translation for DA gatherings, ongoing developmental work around creating explicit community accountability and conflict transformation mechanisms within DAF, and bringing more awareness in general to the ways in which climate justice and social justice are inextricable aspects of the unfolding planetary crisis.

Our aim, in curating and hosting such activities, is threefold:

  1. First and foremost, to raise awareness of, and bring focus to, the forms of privilege and harmful patterns of thinking and behaving that all white western people carry with us as our historical heritage, and unconsciously perpetuate, even as we face a future of increased conflict and societal disruptions;
  2. To listen to, learn from, and stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, in meaningful and non-tokenistic ways;
  3. To make it possible for more non-white, non-western people to feel safe enough to engage in DAF spaces and activities.

These first seven months have felt like a first phase; whilst the circle’s activities have been many and varied, this phase has been mainly characterised by learning… and a lot of unlearning. We are conscious that this is a hugely ambitious program, and that we are still only at the beginning of this journey. Although we have been on a very steep learning curve over the past half-year, we still have so much more to learn in order to live up to our mission! And so, inevitably perhaps, we keep making mistakes – and trying to learn from these mistakes. One area where we have fallen short of our aspirations is in enabling effective ways for DAF members who identify as BIPOC to engage directly in the circle’s work, and in a way that feels safe enough, particularly around the issue of emotional labour implicit in ‘educating white folk about racism’. This will be a high priority in coming months. As we move into the next phase of this work, we aim towards greater transparency and clearer communication, particularly around an evolving approach that reflects DAF’s ethos of embracing complexity and multiplicity of perspectives. And ultimately, while the current focus has been on the role that internalised and systemic racism plays in ongoing exclusion and oppression, this conversation will broaden and deepen, to embrace all of the ways in which insidious ‘othering’ – of people, groups, and the natural world – is at the root of, and continues to contribute to, unnecessary and harmful patterns of separation that can be amplified as people experience increasing fragmentation of the usual sources of support and sustenance.

We often find ourselves trapped in patterns of thinking and behaving characteristic of what has been termed “White Supremacy Culture”. We have understood that these harmful ways of being and doing in the world are systemic in modern industrialised societies, and thus present in all of us to some extent or other. Our commitment is to raise consciousness about them, so they can be dismantled over time, starting with ourselves. Therefore, all feedback on our work is warmly appreciated (you can write us at the email below).

Far wiser folk than us identify this as representing generations of work, so we also try to encourage patience and gentleness with each other and ourselves as we learn to “unlearn.” In this respect, we try to foster a culture of “calling in” over one of “calling out” in DAF spaces. We know that raising these topics explicitly and consciously, as we have done, has been a source of tensions in our community. We are hoping to work with and through these tensions.

We, in the circle, remain focused on how our engagement in this work can help DA Forum volunteers and people involved across the whole of the DA network in responding positively to their anticipation of collapse. Therefore we hope to continue this work – a most challenging and crucial work – with you. Together, let’s look unflinchingly at the burdens we carry, and try to transform our hearts and minds, with courage, accountability, and humility, so we may come closer to truly loving responses to our global predicament. 

The D&D Circle:
Sasha Daucus (DAF volunteer)
Wendy Freeman (DAF volunteer)
Nonty Sabic (Circle member and external guide)
Dorian Cave (DAF Core Team)
Kat Soares (DAF Core Team)
Katie Carr (DAF Core Team)
Contact us:

Image by NatureFriend, on Pixabay

decolonising, dismantling racism, diversity, get involved

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