“If you are willing to dare to look white supremacy right in the eye and see yourself reflected back, you are going to become better equipped to dismantle it within yourself and within your communities.”
– Layla Saad, “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor”
At YWCA Dayton, we know the work of eliminating racism is work that must first begin within ourselves. As a way to live out this important part of our mission, our team recently started reading through Layla Saad’s powerful book, “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor.”
Over the next eight months, YW staff will unpack the book’s content through monthly all-staff discussions and department-wide small groups. Outside of those conversations, staff are encouraged to keep a journal for personal reflection, knowing that this work is both collective and individual in nature.
Outlined as a 28-day process, Saad’s book is a “personal anti-racism” tool designed to teach readers about the dangers of systemic racism and how they can stop contributing to white supremacy in the world. “The work,” as Saad calls it, is about taking responsibility for explicit and implicit biases and understanding how white supremacy has manifested itself within our lives.
Creating an anti-racist culture is critical for all that what we do – and stand for – as an organization. As the only domestic violence shelters in Montgomery & Preble counties, the work we do on a daily basis involves caring for a diverse population of women and families. In order to do this, we must better understand the way in which power and privilege shifts staffing dynamics, and the role that racial trauma has played within our clients’ personal experiences.
“In order to build anti-racist cultures and communities, we must first start by facilitating personal anti-racist work for those who benefit from white privilege,” said Donna Long, YW director of advocacy and outreach. “Doing this work in a group allows participants to see and understand that it’s not just them who has experienced unconscious racist thoughts and beliefs.”
YWCA’s commitment to racial justice and civil rights runs deep. In 1889, YWCA Dayton opened the country’s first YW branch for Black women and girls. Over the years, YWCA Dayton has led the way in service delivery through an intersectional lens – recognizing that all women cannot be fully empowered as long as some still experience racial injustice and discrimination.
Today, we remain committed to ensuring that everyone is afforded equal protection under the law, and our intersectional mission to eliminate racism and empower women demands that we show up to advocate against the oppression that many groups and individuals endure, including through recognizing the interconnected experiences of discrimination and disadvantage that women face from their overlapping identities.
Through initiatives like Stand Against Racism, YWCA is raising awareness about the impact and need to combat structural racism in our communities. Earlier this spring, more than 1,250 people participated in the 21-Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge, which provided daily opportunities for deeper reflection around the impact of social injustice.
In addition to opportunities for personal transformation, reading “Me and White Supremacy” gives our team a chance to think more critically about how we’re structured as an institution and what our policies and procedures might communicate to people of color. Do they say, “Black lives matter here,” or not?
“The importance of doing this as an organization is that we collectively walk through how systemic racism works; demonstrating how it shows up in the lives of non-BIPOC, and how they can stop contributing to white supremacy in the workplace and in the world,” said Long. “My hope is that this collective work helps create a culture of mutual trust, support and accountability.”
Along with our staff, YW’s Board of Directors is also working through the book together. Reading the book will better equip these community leaders for the work they do for YWCA Dayton, as well as creating anti-racist environments within their respective fields.
“In order to be true advocates for racial justice and equity, we must first be prepared to grapple with our own behaviors and thought processes that reinforce oppressive structures,” said Castel Sweet, YW board member and director of community engagement and diversity, equity & inclusion at the University of Dayton. “Cultivating a space where we can have courageous conversations allows us to talk through tough topics and decisions that impact the work of YWCA Dayton.”
Our journey with “Me and White Supremacy” began this spring and will continue through the end of 2021. If you’d like to engage with this book or are interested in other materials on the topic of racial justice, check out our Media on a Mission page, which features a wide selection of books, podcasts, playlists and more that align with our mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.