NJPAC Panel discusses Role of “White Allyship”

Photo: Used with permission

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s PSEG True Diversity Film Series recently sponsored a virtual panel of all white advocates titled, “White Fragility—A Conversation About Allyship,” which I believe will be of interest to the readers of Arts & Culture Connections.

A week prior to the event, participants were encouraged to watch a video about the book, White Fragility, read by author Robin DiAngelo. More than 700 people watched the discussion via Facebook Live or Zoom, which was offered as part of NJPAC’s monthly Standing in Solidarity programming.

Launched in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Standing in Solidarity is a series of initiatives designed to offer greater understanding of current racial disparities, as well as a forum for learning about the actions all citizens can take to advance the cause of equality. John Schreiber, NJPAC President and CEO, says about the series, “Conversations about justice, equality and access have always been an integral part of NJPAC’s role as an anchor cultural institution. As America’s most diverse performing arts center in terms of programming, staff and audiences, these values are embedded in the Arts Center’s DNA.”

The “White Fragility—A Conversation About Allyship” panel was moderated by Richard Cammareri, Director of Community Engagement at the New Community Corporation. The panelists, who discussed their allyship efforts were:

Tobie Stein, Ph.D., author and two time Fulbright Specialist, and a member of the Diversity Scholars Network at the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity

Becca Zimmerman, a senior at Pitzer College majoring in Political Studies and Economics, and President of the Pitzer College Student Senate. She is on Pitzer’s COVID-19 Task Force and collaborates with current students and fellow alumni of Newark Academy, a private school in Livingston, N.J., to challenge what she says is deep-rooted racism in the school’s policies and culture.

Mark Katz, Ph.D., John P. Barker Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; author, and founding director the U.S. State Department’s Next Level program, which promotes hip hop music, dance and arts as a tool for cultural diplomacy.

Each panelist discussed what they are doing to uproot racism in their respective circles, and they offered guidelines for white people to implement to become change makers. Tobie urged white people to stand up and utilize white privilege to dismantle the system. She also she said white people have an obligation to interrupt and dismantle white supremacy and white fragility. Becca noted that children are never too young to learn about racism and, if socialized, they can recognize it when it is happening. Mark talked about the importance of taking inventory of your power; to be thoughtful about the opportunities you take, and he discussed the importance of cultivating successors. He said it’s important to be aware of “the space you’re taking up as a white man,” and he recommended that prejudice be confronted daily.

Other important issues discussed included teaching children about racism and a discussion about the phrase, “All Lives Matter.” Looking towards the future, the panel discussed the importance of self-reflection and taking action. Tobie stressed the importance of “calling out” white people for their behavior. The panel agreed that people should not only register to vote, but also vote in an informed way. They emphasized the importance of pushing politicians for answers on the issues of social justice. I found the dialogue about the meaning of allyship and what it looks like, transparent, honest, as well as insightful.

I invite you to participate in this month’s PSEG True Diversity Film Series, which will be held on Monday, September 21, 2020. The program will feature a nationwide screening of the documentary about the late Congressman John Lewis, “Good Trouble,” and an online panel discussion.

As NJPAC’s senior advisor on Community Engagement and a leader of the Arts Center’s newly established Social Justice Programming Task Force, I believe these presentations can open a door. However, to walk through that door requires action. It is the intention of the task force that these programs offer direction about what can be done to ensure that the principles of respect for all people, equity, inclusion and access become the foundational values of our community.

If you were an audience participant in the “White Fragility—A Conversation About Allyship” program, please share your thoughts below. All other thoughts and comments about this topic or other issues are always appreciated and welcome.

One thought on “NJPAC Panel discusses Role of “White Allyship”

  1. Thank you Donna for this wonderful synopsis and review of the evening. I appreciated the opportunity to participate and advocate for racial justice in the performing arts workforce. Thank you for making this panel discussion possible.

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