Social activists prepare to examine race at White Privilege Conference

This is not going to feel good: The National White Privilege Conference is coming to Kansas City. 

The notion that whites in America step into their communities with more advantages of earned and unearned privileges than their neighbors of color is a hard conversation starter. 

The social activists who urged the annual conference to come to Kansas City know that talking about “white privilege” brings charges of reverse-racism. It gets lampooned as white guilt. 

But everyone’s pain and discomfort is a good place to start the talk, says Seft Hunter, executive director of Kansas City’s Communities Creating Opportunity. 

“It’s like putting your hand on a glass-top stove,” he said. 

With the first swell of heat, you want to snatch your hand away. But this experience means to arouse self-examining pain, Hunter said. 

Diverse crowd expected

He’s not just thinking of the diverse crowd of close to 2,000 people expected from around the country downtown Thursday through Sunday on a mission to strengthen a collective struggle against inequity and systemic oppression. 

He’s thinking as well of the wide Kansas City community surrounding the scene and so many people who will take pause at the provocative words: white privilege. 

The image of the stove, Hunter said, came from the Rev. Susan McCann, the rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Liberty, Mo. She was another of those who wanted the conference to come. 

This is Kansas City’s moment to confront its own racially and economically stressed history together, Hunter said. 

“This is such an important moment,” he said, quoting McCann, “it’s too critical to take your hand away from the stove.” 

In order to examine white privilege, he said, “you have to legitimize discomfort as an appropriate way to feel.” 

Lessons learned from previous events

This is the 18th-annual gathering of the conference, started by Eddie Moore, founder of The Privilege Institute in Denver. This is the first time Kansas City will host. 

Can Kansas City handle it? 

Eva Kathleen Schulte, the former executive director of Communities Creating Opportunity — known as CCO — wondered that when a friend invited her to the 16th version two years ago in Louisville, Ky. 

Even before she met Moore or the sponsoring group, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, she imagined the difficulties the event courts. 

Moore recounted in his blog after the 17th-annual conference in Philadelphia that “personal attacks, derogatory language … harmful and vile threats” were some of the costs for holding “open and honest discussions on white supremacy, white privilege and oppression.” 

For people among the white majority who struggle economically with no trust funds in sight, many see perceived favors extended to minorities as reverse racism. A famous Harvard University study in 2011 showed the disparate views of racism, with just 16 percent of whites believing there is still “a lot” of discrimination, compared to 56 percent of…

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