People of the White Privilege Conference


Wes Peters

Photo of the logo of the 2019 White Privilege Conference on its pamphlet. Taken on Mar 22 by Wes Peters, staff writer.

The White Privilege Conference (WPC) is an annual event that fights back against white supremacy and toxic masculinity. It was founded in 1999 and has continued annually for 20 years, teaching thousands about racism and white nationalism. This year the conference was held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa from March 20 to March 23 and included 10 members of the Urban community.

The goal of the conference was to bring people from around the country together to learn about and combat racism. A day at the conference consisted of keynote presentations, workshops, and caucuses (affinity groups). The keynote presenters included everyone from equity consultants to leaders of multi-million dollar organizations. They presented on the science of racism, the statistics behind racism, and personal experiences with racism. The workshops were run by teachers, activists, and many others. Each workshop consisted of a group of people talking about the topic and one person guiding the discussion. One of the workshops I went to featured a panel of activists that included Peggy McIntosh, Author of “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., the founder of the conference. I learned about things ranging from advice for young voters to guidance on talking about racism with family members. Another workshop I attended was about sundown towns. Sundown towns are cities or neighborhoods that are completely white and were extremely prevalent during the early to mid-1900s in the U.S. The workshop was run by Jim Loewen, a sociologist, historian, and author. In this workshop, I learned what a sundown town was, how to recognize one, and their harmful effects on society. I went to a lot of other workshops, and each taught me new things about racism, toxic masculinity, and white supremacy and how we can combat them in our everyday lives.

This year, Urban sent six teachers and four students to the WPC. The teachers that went were Charlotte Worsley, Clarke Weatherspoon, Lindsey Collins, Raina Mast, Steven Speier, and John Warren. The students were Tess Cogen ‘21, Melia Filipow ‘20, Sally Cobb ‘20, and me (Wes Peters ‘21). The purpose of sending Urban students and teachers to the WPC was to discuss racism in our lives and bring our new knowledge back to Urban. Weatherspoon believes that “if we want to have a strong understanding of structural inequality, and what that looks and feels like, going to the Midwest and talking to a group of people about the way that structural racism and discrimination function is really important,” he said.

The mix of people at the conference was extraordinary and included teachers and activists from around the country. I interviewed three people from different parts of the country at the WPC to find out their background and learn their opinion on the conference. I choose to speak with these people after I heard them say something during a workshop that resonated with me. I interviewed Kate Klaire, the Director of Student Life at the Berkeley School in Berkeley, California, Betty Andrews, the President of the Iowa-Nebraska National Association for the Advancement of Colored People State Area Conferences of Branches, and Tom Lees, the Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Delaware Valley Friends School in Philadelphia. My goal in interviewing these people was simply to understand their reason for being at the conference and why they think it is important. I also wanted to find out new things about the conference, and understand other people’s perspectives of the WPC.

Here’s What I Learned

Over the course of interviewing these three people, I learned the significance of the conference and how powerful its message is. People come from around the country to learn about white privilege and try to change their own biases and opinions.

Tom Lees

I’m an Associate Diversity Director at Delaware Valley Friends School. It’s outside Philadelphia, PA. The WPC reinforces the commitment to diversity, [and] it gives new strategies. I’ve been doing this work since 1960, and I don’t intend to stop. The WPC gives me new ideas and reinforces things that I already knew. This is my third year at the WPC but I’ve been doing diversity work with students since 1967.

Phone Number: 610-640-4150  

Email: [email protected]

Kate Klaire

I’m here with the Berkeley School. This particular conference experience with Heather Hackman has been about recognizing that I’m the person she referred to as “the white liberal on the shore, waving out at the people in the boat, who are doing the real work.” The most important part to me is that we as white people are doing this work together as individuals. If I’m working on myself to build my awareness around dismantling white supremacy and recognizing that in myself, then I can also be helpful in supporting others to that as well. This is only my second year [at the conference] but I feel like I will come for forever more. I’m in such a loving space to do the most difficult work and I find that there’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like WPC in terms of having to do the work that is the most foundational of any work that needs to be done. So it’s completely transformational.

Phone Number: 510-665-8800   

Email: [email protected]

Betty Andrews

I’m here on my own but I’m the president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP. I work a lot in policy, and I work a lot in making sure people have equitable experiences and dealing with those intrinsic, deep systems that prevent people from having those experiences. I came to make sure that I am keeping those skills sharp and to understand and listen. I really like some of the workshops. I think it’s interesting to hear people from various parts of the country talk about what they feel is relevant. I also like taking that in but also testing and challenging that. I think it’s very important if something is asserted to challenge it. I worked for the WPC for about three years, but that was in its infancy. From then, coming to see what it’s grown into, and seeing the energy that’s in the room, and how dynamic it’s become is incredible. That energy is motivational.

Phone Number: 515-288-7171

Email: [email protected]