By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“I was thinking of an oil tanker,” theological student Allen Corben proposed during last Sunday’s white-racial-awareness workshop at the community room in the Fox Hills Mall in Culver City. The all-white group, gathered to examine their own “ethnicity” on the way to enhancing their racism-fighting powers, had been assigned to use the “right brain” to draw an unspecified sea vessel representing whiteness in America, and Corben was fighting the forces favoring a luxury liner. “We have a great deal of resources, but there’s a storm behind us . . . We’re moving out of a period where we were on top.”
“Yeah but it’s all white people, not just us . . . Should we represent, in some way, Nazi skinheads? Where are they?” asked Rebecca Barkin in a hesitant tone, sending Corben, armed with a colored marker, to a porthole below deck, where he sketched in a tiny swastika.
“I’m going to make a ship of multiculturalism and our contingency is reaching out to it,” Jill Murray, a sign-language interpreter, said later.
“Probably not everybody’s reaching for it,” said Barkin.
“But we are,” Murray responded quickly.
Through exercises like this, the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews), since 1992, has been helping white people get active in anti-racism work, adjunct staffer Lise Ransdell said. The workshops are a rare opportunity for our National Tragedy to be tackled in a sea of white faces, she noted. (Limiting attendance to Caucasians helps break down the barrier of white guilt, Ransdell explained.)
The workshops’ goal is to help participants shed feelings of inertia and helplessness about ending racism born, in part, of their myopia as white people.
“For white people, there’s a certain amount of catching up we have to do in terms of racial issues,” Ransdell said. “White people don’t have a good sense of how the history of white people in the United States, and the history of racism, still affects white people today.”
In the initial ship-drawing exercise, however, Corben and his fellows seemed less anxious to confront white racism than to depict themselves as a happy band of anti-racist rebels — letting the banner of bigotry fall along the way to the white supremacists. That way of thinking was confronted during the discussion that followed, when it was pointed out that, as nice as it may be to envision a multicultural society, “a lot of things are in the way,” Ransdell recalled.
“We also had a fascinating discussion about skinheads and the psychological concept of projection, and whether any ugliness in us, we’d rather turn and see in them — it’s those people who are awful,” Ransdell added.
The NCCJ white-awareness workshops are part of a broader movement that has produced at least two national conferences on “White Identity,”in Berkeley and Riverside, Ransdell said. But the NCCJ remains a national model, she added.
“There’s a lot of interest nationally in replicating what we’re doing here,” Ransdell said.
In the end, Corben’s group settled on a tanker flying the pirate’s skull and crossbones; members of the crew representing the workshop participants mutinied, throwing cannons overboard.
“I’m like the Joe Average person; I think it’s important for me to be involved in dismantling these structures,” said Corben, a self-described white, middle-class, married straight guy. “The way white people think is, Everyone else is ethnic; I’m the standard. We have the privilege of being white, but that has to be invisible. We don’t like to believe it’s true; we just like to enjoy it.
“But no one wants to put people from the bottom in charge. So it’s important to change folks in the middle who will be the leaders of tomorrow.”
The PCH club in Wilmington hosted hundreds of hardcore kids, straight-edgers, crusties, indie rockers, and spiky Mohawks-and-patches punks, but it didn’t survive a single visit from an L.A. Timeszone reporter.
“The PCH club had to close its doors after authorities discover[ed] it did not have proper permits,” read the subhead over a November 2 article by Stefanie Frith of the South Bay Weekly (a Los Angeles Times community paper). What Frith failed to disclose was that it was her letter to the LAPD’s Harbor Vice Division questioning the club’s legality that triggered the permit investigation in the first place.
“This takes place in a warehouse,” she wrote, according to Harbor Division officials. “Just walking in makes you wonder if it’s legal.”
After the story was printed, South Bay Weekly staff did not respond to requests for comment on the paper’s role in the closure. But in an earlier interview, city editor Michael Martinez, who contributed to the story, said that Frith’s letter was a “very standard” request for information and not a complaint. Frith contacted the police after Alex Maciel, who had run the all-ages club since 1997, told her that officers had visited numerous times during his drug-and-alcohol-free shows and left without asking about permits, Martinez said.
“We were out to do a story that morphed beyond our original intent,” said Martinez. “We had no intention of causing injury to anyone.”
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