Workshop explores facets of racism

Portland State University students examined race relations and components of oppression in American society on Saturday courtesy of a national bus tour.

Fifteen students attended and were led through a three-hour program that was facilitated by Nisha Anand and Laura Close.

The first part of the workshop examined individuals’ personal relationships to racism developed through lifelong conditioning. The second part looked at how racism and forms of oppression have become structural and institutional. These parts were tied together at the end with discussion about people’s ability to organize collective power to work for liberation on all fronts.

Anand is a trainer with the Ruckus Society, an organization based in Oakland, Calif., that works with high school students, working professionals, organizations and activists in order to change their relationships with the environment and each other. Close is an organizer and trainer with Students Transforming and Resisting Corporations, and is a student at Portland State.

Both fed off each other’s energy and passion for making a positive difference and got the group involved in different exercises that had students like Amara Marino and Laura Campos agreeing on how unaware they are of the effects of privilege in society. Close and Anand were trying to demonstrate to the group how certain socioeconomic groups of people are more privileged than others merely for reasons of class, gender and race.

The workshop started with participants introducing themselves and answering the question of what they like best about being the race they are. Anand said this was designed to open the eyes of those who may take for granted the quality of life they enjoy due to the wrong reasons, such as race and gender.

Anand also spoke of how race came to be a factor in American society.

“Society defines the qualities that separate individuals from each other,” Anand said. “Without society determining what race individuals are, race would fail to be such a significant matter.”

The first exercise performed was the Power Shuffle. Many of those present had prior experience with the activity. Everyone lined up in the middle of the room and after a series of questions that required a step forward for answers regarding privilege and backward for answers from those who had experienced hardship, the room became divided significantly.

Close asked everybody in the room to think about why only women and the two people of color present were at the back and white males were at the front. Everybody then got into groups and discussed why it is privilege is commonly associated with being white in America. They also exchanged views and ideas about how those disparities can be abolished.

Campos, a Native American who says she has experienced forms of racism as a student in Portland State’s art program and also within the student senate – of which she is a member – feels that professors need to undergo more sensitivity training to better interact with students of color.

“Two minority students have stepped down from senate this year due to not feeling validated for their participation,” Campos said. “Also, a few minority students have switched out of the art program because of what they called subtle racism from the teachers.”

Campos did credit Portland State for the hiring of Isaka Shamsud-din, an African American artist now teaching art classes, but said that he lacks support from the majority of other professors in that department who are not African American.

Those were the types of comments that made their way into the discussion and had each student contemplating how to reverse trends of subtle racism.

Anand and Close travel around the country on what they call their “traveling bus tour” to perform workshops similar to this. They both are highly concerned with these issues and are dedicated to doing their part to make a positive transition from personal and structural racism in America to a society that is equitable and more harmonious.