“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
What Are We About?
We are a collective of people who (mostly) identify as female and who have experienced the world with white skin privilege. As individuals, we come from diverse class backgrounds, religious and spiritual traditions, ethnicities and sexual orientations. 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 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 colonial and racist practices
We will experience a world free of white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity and other oppressive ideologies
Through blogs, workshops and monthly dialogues, we collectively investigate patterns common among people socialized as both white and female. We seek to understand how these patterns, such as cultural appropriation, passive aggressive behavior, and mythologies of white women as pure virtuous victims, influence or limit the potential of our anti-racist work? We use these spaces to develop greater self-awareness, literacy, and accountability in order to show up with more integrity to the movement work in which each of us is involved.
Some of our guiding questions:
How do experiences of sexism, patriarchy, rape culture and misogyny impact the work to challenge race privilege and systems of white supremacy?
How do these two factors — being socialized as a woman and as white — 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, patriarchy & 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?
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.
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 invite participation from people who do not specifically identify as white or female and 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 who identify as having experienced white/light-skin privilege and gender(ed) oppression. The majority of the participants thus far identify as experiencing the socialization of being white and female for all or part of their lives.
We recognize that both the gender 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 relates to gender and race in this way, and doesn’t assume pronouns, experiences or identities, or universalizes their ideas to everyone in the room.
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 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 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.
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”?
The system of white supremacy is deeply interwoven with sexism and the system of patriarchy. Examining systemic and internalized sexism is not only about challenging gendered oppression of females but of all gender minorities. We recognize patriarchy as based on a rigid gender binary system, that devalues both who and what is considered female/feminine and queer. Our collective efforts are deeply committed to a world in which the interdependent systems of white supremacy and patriarchy no longer exist.
What do we mean by the term “white woman”?
When we say “white woman,” we are not necessarily referring to a personal identity. We are referring to a dominant or mainstream identity with certain images, messages and narratives that have been used to uphold systems of oppression. It is an identity that many who have experienced socialization as white and female often have to negotiate with, whether by resisting, conforming, imitating, subverting or distancing. It’s this negotiation and relationship to “white women” that we are investigating, whether it is our current identity, a past or new identity, or a personal or political connection to the effects of this identity. In our dialogues and workshops we honor every body’s unique relationship to the themes explored. Even if we have never had a Barbie, we know what she looks like, what she symbolizes and what oppressions are committed in her name.
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 are also supporting the development of independently-operating chapters in the Northeast (specifically in Providence, RI and NYC). We also travel and may be able to come to you.
How did the White Noise Collective begin?
We started by accident. One of the co-founders (a white women) was approached by another co-founding white woman to co-facilitate a workshop in Theater of the Oppressed. As they didn’t feel comfortable having two white female facilitators leading people through deeply personal issues of oppression in a racially diverse group, they decided to create a workshop specifically for white woman. They used the Theater of the Oppressed exercises to look at both internalized oppression and internalized privilege. A monumental number 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.
The White Noise Collective also began to develop a gender inclusive curriculum that counters the male-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:
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 where she is reminded daily how systematic oppression is and where she has led clinical trainings on ‘Racism in Mental Health,’ ‘Microaggressions,’ etc. Over the years, she 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.
Jessie Justin (Bio coming soon)
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 (Bio coming soon)
**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.