“The significance of seeing race, class and gender as interlocking systems of oppression is that such an approach fosters a paradigmatic shift of thinking inclusively about other oppressions, such as age, sexual orientation, religion and ethnicity… In this system, for example, white women are penalized for their gender but privileged for their race. Depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of the oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed” –Patricia Hill Collins – Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination, 1991
Where is the White Noise Collective?
We are originally and primarily based in the SF Bay Area, specifically Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, CA. We recognize that we do our work on Chochenyo Ohlone land. All events, dialogues, workshops, and mailing lists on this website are reflective of our SF Bay Area collective.
The White Noise Collective chapter in Providence, RI can be found here, with information on how to connect and plug in. The NYC chapter can be found here.
We also travel and may be able to come to you.
Vision/What Are We About?
Through blogs, workshops, monthly dialogues, and in coalition with other individuals and organizations, our work aims to:
- Encourage exploration of what it means to navigate white supremacy, patriarchy, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, and other oppressive ideologies through the experience of both gendered oppression and white or light skin privilege, as these two identities/experiences often hold contradictory messages, expectations, and antidotes;
- Deepen awareness of our unique relationships, individually and collectively, to the various dominant stereotypes, images, narratives and roles that are used to structurally uphold systems of oppression;
- Collectively investigate patterns and struggles common among people at the intersections of white or light skin privilege and gendered oppression that influence or limit the potential intersectionality of our anti-racist work;
- Develop greater self-awareness, literacy, and accountability in order to show up with more integrity to the social justice movement work in which each of us is involved.
We are informed and inspired by the intersectional analyses of influential Black feminist theorists as well as the work of our antiracist white ancestors. We share a vision of working toward a world free of white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity and other oppressive ideologies, and see our particular part of this vision as working towards a world in which:
- All people who experience gendered oppression and white/light skin privilege will feel inspired, empowered, and equipped to act up and be fiercely and creatively committed to social justice and racial justice movements, especially those led by people of color;
- All people who experience gendered oppression and white/light skin privilege will feel connected to a supportive community in order to foster self-awareness, self-reflection, responsibility, shared power and the literacy and skills necessary to actively dismantle oppressive structures of power;
- “White feminist” movements, people in helping and buffer zone professions and all people will recognize and stop perpetuating patriarchal, colonial and racist practices.
Some of our guiding questions:
- How do experiences of cisheterosexism, patriarchy, rape culture and trans and/or cis misogyny impact the work to challenge race privilege and systems of white supremacy?
- How do these two factors — the intersection of gendered oppression and white or light skin privilege — interact, and what are the privileges and responsibilities involved?
- How can we support each other to overcome our unconscious blocks in order to become more effective in our work?
- What effective, strategic actions can we take that can disrupt the interdependent systems of white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, ableism & capitalism?
- How can we learn from our political and biological ancestors to become more aware of what has been passed down to us in order to heal from and transform how it impacts us today?
Participation/How to get involved/Who is welcome
Our workshops are an entry point for those new to our work (though not necessarily new to the work of examining privilege and oppression) and from there, participants are invited to attend dialogues, write blogs and contribute resources. As a collective we occasionally make exceptions to this “workshop-as-entry-point” policy for folks new to the Bay Area or the White Noise Collective who have extensive experience in anti-oppression/anti-racist pedagogies and who have explored the intersection of race and gender in other settings. Before extending an invitation to someone who has not participated in a previous dialogue or workshop, we ask to have an in-person, email, or phone conversation.
In all of our spaces, we aim to create a healthy “container” free of defensiveness, compartmentalization, competition and fear. While much effective work that addresses privilege and oppression happens in caucuses (identity groups), the work of White Noise Collective is not caucus work. We gear our work at the intersection of white privilege and gendered oppression, but we understand that not everyone navigating at this intersection identifies with these terms. We aim to hold a space that respects participants who have come from a broad spectrum of racial and gender identities, including those who identify as genderqueer, transgender, mixed race or anyone who identifies as having experienced white/light-skin privilege and gender(ed) oppression. Our participants and organizers come from a wide range of class backgrounds, though most have been able to access some amount of higher education.
We recognize that the gender, class and racial identity of someone may shift over time, and through different contexts. (i.e. someone can be raised with white privilege in another country and be a person of color here, or visa versa). We ask that each person who participates in a White Noise workshop or dialogue understands gender and race in this way – as social constructs, as fluid, and with room for different individuals to have unique responses to the experiences of it. While we can work towards shared understandings of the impacts of structural inequality, we ask that all participants focus either on larger patterns or on our personal relationship to these identities and not assume pronouns, experiences, or identities, or universalize their ideas to everyone in the room.
We examine white privilege in order to challenge both institutional and interpersonal racism, and to untangle and undo the ways racism operates on people socialized as white. We recognize white privilege is supported by an entire system of white supremacy, which is “the values, beliefs, ideals, behaviors, and cultural markers that justify racism on all levels (individually, culturally, and institutionally)” ~Heather Hackman and believe that if white people are not actively working to end this system, they are perpetuating it.
What do we mean by “gendered oppression”?
“Gendered oppression is the systemic manner in which certain groups are privileged or disadvantaged because of their gender. Because gender is such an integral part of society, we may unconsciously subscribe to harmful and inaccurate gender stereotypes. These socially constructed assumptions about gender do not describe essential characteristics of men, women, and people outside of the gender binary, yet they often claim to. This maintains the gendered power difference that allows certain groups to benefit (socially and economically) at the expense of others.” (Feminists@MIT)
The system of white supremacy is deeply interwoven with cisheterosexism and the system of patriarchy. Examining systemic and internalized cisheterosexism is about challenging the gendered oppression of all people. We recognize cisheteropatriarchy as based on a white supremacist, rigid gender binary system, that devalues femininity and femmes. Our collective efforts are deeply committed to a world in which the interdependent systems of white supremacy and cisheteropatriarchy no longer exist.
As an organization we believe accountability is important, and we have found ourselves in an extended dialogue about what accountability should look like and mean for us. We recognize that accountability structures that might look accountable through one lens might look problematic through another lens (for instance, some believe that it is important to always have a person of color in the room when white people are meeting to discuss racism, while others believe this is tokenizing. Some believe white people should not rely on people of color to do the work for them / should be doing their own homework, but some believe this might create a white echo chamber). Currently, here are some of the practices we include:
- Following the leadership of people of color: Foregrounding the analysis of POC writers, organizers and scholars within our own analysis; taking action within POC-led coalitions; and responding to requests from POC organizers for strategic interventions
- Transparency: we make our dialogue notes public and strive to visibilize our practices and policies
- Soliciting feedback: we send out surveys annually through our listserv, facebook and website; we also send out surveys after workshops and specific projects
- Informal advisory: some of our core members have personal relationships with elders and others with whom they check in about our work and with whom they check in with when issues arise
- Listening: we openly accept and integrate any feedback we receive from community members who are aware of our work
- Doing our Homework: we strive to stay aware of current and historical analysis about the themes we explore; we also try to remain in a state of constantly questioning the work we do, the assumptions we make and the ways we function in the world
- Financial Policies: We are an all-volunteer collective and do not profit financially from the work we do. We give a portion of our workshop proceeds to POC-led organizations doing frontline work or research related to the themes we are exploring. We focus on making these offerings to the organizations that we partner with in our work as well as to those from whom we draw our resources as part of a deeper process of relationship and movement building. To date, these funds have been used to support the Ohlone Land Trust, BAAITS, People’s Grocery, Anti-Police Terror Project, People’s Kitchen, Ella Baker Center, BLM Bay Area, and Southerners on New Ground.
We do have concerns about the ways the current structures and feedback mechanisms may function to insulate us from the feedback we need to hear and we look forward to continuing to evolve these structures. We are considering many possibilities, including formalizing advisory relationships and identifying ways to seek more diverse feedback that does not feel tokenizing or that makes others do the work we should be doing ourselves. We welcome feedback from community members as we evolve this conversation.
How did the White Noise Collective begin?
We started by accident. One of the co-founders (a white ciswoman) was approached by another co-founding white ciswoman to co-facilitate a workshop in Theater of the Oppressed. As they didn’t feel comfortable having two white ciswoman facilitators leading people through deeply personal issues of oppression in a racially diverse group, they decided to create a workshop specifically for white ciswomen. They used the Theater of the Oppressed exercises to look at both internalized oppression and internalized privilege. A monumental number of issues were dredged up through this process, and the participants requested another workshop with more time to explore what came up. The following year, another longer workshop was offered, and even more issues were generated that we wanted to continue talking about. Participants requested ongoing monthly dialogues and a blog to continue the exploration. So that is what we did. While founded by cis women, our group and leadership has expanded to include trans folks, gender non-conforming and genderqueer identities.
The White Noise Collective also began to develop a gender inclusive curriculum that counters the patriarchal, cismale-centric and compartmentalized white anti-racism curriculum in prominent use. We chose a popular education approach that starts where people are, invites their whole selves into the room, builds the intra-connections among participants and their experiences and ideas, generates new ideas and actions, and is guided by a love and trust in humanity.
Since then, everything we have created and offered has been in direct response to what participants and community have raised and requested.
Core Members, Advisors & Contributing Bloggers
Core Members – West Coast:
The core people who currently make the blog and collective happen:
Jay Tzvia Helfand joined the WNC Core in Spring 2016. They are a gender variant, white, jewish, queer, chronically ill, farmer, organizer, anti-zionist, educator and body worker. Jay is trained as a youth restorative justice mediator, and currently serves as an outreach worker for a community-based food access nonprofit. They have organized in a number of racial and economic justice spaces, and currently they also organize with the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. Centering healing, they are committed to decolonization, consent, the ocean, embodiment, transformative ritual, creative process and collective liberation.
Beja Alisheva has been a core member of the White Noise Collective since Nov 2010. She is a queer-identified visual artist, writer and activist/organizer, and is currently working as an intensive case manager in the Tenderloin of SF where she is reminded daily how systematic oppression is and where she has led clinical trainings on ‘Racism in Mental Health’ and ‘Microaggressions.’ Over the years, Beja has been involved in various anti-colonial, radical mental health, prison abolition, racial justice, and anti-zionist campaigns. She is also a core organizer of Flying Over Walls/SF Bay Area Black & Pink, a queer/trans prisoner solidarity and letterwriting project.
Zara Zimbardo, M.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Social Transformation. For the last fifteen years she has been a body-based therapist both in private practice and community health centers. She was the producer of an award-winning alternative current events television series, and leads workshops in critical media literacy at schools throughout the Bay Area. As a former member of the National Council of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the nation’s oldest interfaith peace organization, she worked in solidarity with nonviolent activists resisting militarism in the US, Palestine/Israel and Colombia. Ongoing research interests include the politics of representation, Islamophobia, collective memory and nonviolent social movements. She is an adjunct faculty in the School of Undergraduate Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Nicole Wires joined the White Noise Collective in January 2012. She is an adventurer and avid reader who feels most at home in the mountains. She currently works at a food justice non-profit organization in the Bay Area, where she spends time building a resilient, self-determined, community-based food system and reflects regularly on the limitations of the non-profit industrial complex.
Julia Sebastian became a part of the white noise collective in 2012. She is most often found dancing, throwing pottery, or in a late night meeting. She currently works for a national racial justice organization as a writer and researcher. She believes in the power of research justice as a means to incite the process of healing, reflection and action that breeds resistance and vision for a society beyond neo-colonialism and racist capitalism. Most recently she has been involved in fighting and envisioning a Bay Area without displacement.
Core Members – East Coast:
Ellen Tuzzolo has been fighting for racial, social, and environmental justice as an educator, youth advocate, organizer, campaign director, policy analyst, and strategist For as long as she can remember. Ellen is most fired up by freedom, ending mass incarceration, practicing antiracism, living and learning outside, and breaking down barriers that prevent people from seeing and loving each other. During her many years in the south, Ellen worked on efforts to end mass incarceration, improve conditions of prisons and youth detention facilities, and stop the school-to-prison pipeline with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and the Justice Policy Institute. As founding board member and Executive Director of Friends of Camp Little Notch, Ellen helped ensure the conservation of 2400 acres of Adirondack wilderness and jump-started the re-opening of a summer camp for girls. Ellen is honored to serve on the board of the Albany Social Justice Center and loves spending time with her amazing family and friends.
Levana Saxon, M.Ed is an organizer and educator with Practicing Freedom, using participatory action research, popular education and Theater of the Oppressed to generate collaborative community-led change. Over the last 18 years she has trained and facilitated thousands of children, youth and adults. Some of the groups she has worked with include the Paulo Freire Institute, Rainforest Action Network, Center for Political Education, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Youth In Focus, El Teatro Campesino, Ruckus Society, and multiple Oakland Public Schools. She was a co-founder of the White Noise Collective. She can be found at www.practicingfreedom.org
Kelley S. Abraham began working with the “Todos: Sherover Simms Alliance Building Institute” co-leading anti-oppression and alliance building workshops for young people and adults around race, gender, class, heterosexism, and ageism in 2001. She went on to develop and facilitate workshops using the “Todos” model independently for small groups and organizations committed to surfacing and uprooting institutional, interpersonal, and personal oppressive cultures and practices. She has been engaged in youth and community development work since 1999. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching from Bard College and Bachelor of Arts in History from San Francisco State University. She is a proud alumni of all four the Peralta Colleges where she began her college career.
Paul Kivel, social justice educator, activist, and writer, has been an innovative leader in violence prevention for more than 45 years. He is an accomplished trainer and speaker on men’s issues, racism and diversity, challenges of youth, teen dating and family violence, raising boys to manhood, and the impact of class and power on daily life. Paul has developed highly effective participatory and interactive methodologies for training youth and adults in a variety of settings. His work gives people the understanding to become involved in social justice work and the tools to become more effective allies in community struggles to end oppression and injustice and to transform organizations and institutions. Paul is the author of numerous books and curricula, including Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, which won the 1996 Gustavus Myers Award for best book on human rights, Men’s Work, Making the Peace, Helping Teens Stop Violence, Boys Will Be Men, I Can Make My World A Safer Place, and most recently, You Call This a Democracy?: Who Benefits, Who Pays, and Who Really Decides.
**If you have thoughts about our themes or want to expand on something we discussed in a dialogue, lets talk! We welcome everyone who participates with us in these conversations to dive deeper into the work through researching or blogging for our website. We have established blogger criteria and a process of supporting each other’s writing that we can share with you. We can loop you in from afar if you are not in the SF Bay Area or Providence, RI.