Conversation about race starts with events, book group

Youth event in Palo Alto to bring people together for recreation

Vowing to change the nation's culture of racism by beginning locally, hundreds of Palo Alto residents gathered at the University AME Zion Church in Palo Alto on Monday, July 27, to watch a film on white privilege.

The event is just the start of a commitment by nearly 200 people to openly explore their own attitudes on race and to understand the perspectives of other races and cultures in the wake of the Charleston church massacre and police killings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and other cities, said Rev. Kaloma Smith of University AME Zion.

In the coming months, there will be a book group centering on important writings about race, panel discussions and, in September, a youth community day at which people can get to know one another.

More than 21 groups, from churches to youth organizations, are planning the event, Smith said. The church will hold a planning meeting on Monday, Aug. 3, at 6:30 p.m., which is open to the public.

"One comment that was made is that we are stratified here," Smith said. "The goal is to bring kids of different backgrounds together, not to sit around the campfire and sing 'Kumbaya' but to naturally interact in a creative environment."

Smith opened his church on July 6 for the first community discussion, and more than 200 people attended. Monday's event, which included a viewing of the film "White Like Me: Race, Racism and White Privilege in America," drew about 160 people, followed by a robust discussion about what white privilege looks like.

The self-examination was at times painful, Smith said.

"People truly did not understand the nature of their biases" before the movie, he said. "The discussion wasn't angry people yelling at angry people. Some people were shocked, angry and frustrated in a reflective way."

People are realizing there is a certain level of responsibility the individual must take to create true social change, he added.

"Some said, 'You can't take the emotional weight and responsibility and put it on blacks or Latinos.' The people speaking the hate are speaking for you (if you are not black or Latino). The problem of the world is the good people who stay quiet," he said.

Ultimately, the answer is not to be right but to make sure we have change, Smith said.

"I just want us to go through a process where we all grow together."

Michelle Ho, education programs assistant at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, attended the film showing and panel discussions. She joined University AME Zion's conversations on race after the Charleston massacre, but her passion for racial reconciliation was planted a long time ago, she said.

"I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, and went to Yale. It was a formative time. I saw the power of a multi-ethnic community in life together," she said.

Then Ferguson happened. The killing of a young, unarmed black man by a white police officer led Ho to post her thoughts on Facebook. She was stunned by her friends' comments.

"What a chasm in dialogue. I don't even know where to begin. These were my dorm mates from college and friends from my own church community. I feel we're on completely different parallel universes here," she said.

"It woke me up to the reality; it was a very hard moment. In church, I found refuge in conversation," she said, adding that she was organizing a discussion on race at her church, Palo Alto Vineyard, when she learned of AME Zion's programs.

The discussions at University AME Zion have brought something she longed for.

"I craved connecting. I'm so thankful there is this space," she said.

While there is diversity in the Bay Area, "The way in which we have organized our lives, the way we work and play," has mostly remained isolated from other races and ethnic groups, she said.

Any true examination and resolution of racial issues in America must begin with the black experience, she added. Black people, because of their history and current treatment in this country, are positioned as the most powerful icons for change.

"It's through the lens of blackness that we understand how the structure of white supremacy permeates the whole society. That's why we need their voices to see clearly and see humanity from that," she said.

The book group, which Ho is spearheading, will launch Oct. 10 and with a continuation on Nov. 14 for a discussion of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," by Michelle Alexander. The book group will take place at 10 a.m. at AME Zion Church.

Monday's planning meeting for the youth community day will take place at University AME Zion Church, 3549 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

An upcoming panel discussion in September will be led by a range of people: persons of minority heritage, the young and the old and those from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Information is available from Smith at 914-374-4255 or

Related content:

African Methodist Episcopal Zion members mourn in aftermath of Charleston killings

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16 people like this
Posted by Robin
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2015 at 11:58 am

In a country where a Democratic candidate is made to apologize for saying "all lives matter," this group would be better off discussing political correctness run amok.d

11 people like this
Posted by C Wilson George
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2015 at 1:24 pm

The idea of social change--change that results in undoing the work of the last two millennia of intellectual, economic and scientific progress is certainly something must be resisted, not embraced.

The idea of “white privilege” might have had some legs fifty years, and before—but not today. Blacks are not excluded from voting. Blacks are not told they must ride at the back of the bus. Blacks can open their own businesses. Blacks can request passports, and travel to any country in the world that accepts Americans (visas might be required). Blacks are not prohibited from owning property, being landlords, speaking in the public forum, or marrying whom they wish. And the list goes on and on.

It would be interesting to put together a very comprehensive list of rights that we citizens of the US enjoy—comparing the rights that Whites have vs the rights that Blacks have. It’s a sure bet that the list of check marks in each column would be the same.

Differences in the cultures are at issue here—not “privilege”.

43 people like this
Posted by Stella
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2015 at 2:54 pm

"The idea of "white privilege" might have had some legs fifty years, and before—but not today." You ARE kidding, amiright? No?

Wow. Nice bubble ya live in!

Try being born into a family that has been discriminated against for decades. We're not talking about DWB or the obvious stuff that still goes on today, but the really nasty systemic stuff that keeps folk down for generations.

Perhaps the family rented in a neighborhood that was redlined by banks for decades, preventing home ownership despite employment, and thus the financial benefits accruing for generations, along with the lower quality underfunded schools.

Compare that to a family that was able to take those financial benefits and send their kids to college.

Wonder which family is still feeling the effects of discrimination?

That's just one example. The list is long. Try to get out of the bubble, more.

28 people like this
Posted by Look Again
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2015 at 3:57 pm

You think the U.S. is racist? Go to France, England, or Germany--where multi-cultural ism has been deemed a failure; or any Arab nation; or any Adian nation, especially Japan ( the Japanese feel that they are the Chosen People).

California, BTW, is the least racist state in the US, perhaps the world ( and I have lived in six different states and three other countries).

3 people like this
Posted by @Look Again
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 2, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Trying to make a case using anecdotes and "I-know-this-to-be-true" statements is NOT making a case -- it's merely stating an opinion.

Quite frankly, you are the one who should look again. Only, you should take off your ideological blinders first.

15 people like this
Posted by Swede
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 2, 2015 at 6:53 pm

"white privilege" is the priviege we whites invoke to insist we aren't privileged.

see also: blinders

12 people like this
Posted by Maren
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 3, 2015 at 11:10 am

Thank you for posting this. I wish I had known about the film.
I had looked at the AME Zion website after the church shooting earlier this summer, but at that time nothing was posted.
I will be at the Book Group.
As a white woman who grew up in Palo Alto, has lived in NYC and Chicago before returning, I know that I STILL have much to learn about my (unconscious) white privilege; I welcome this conversation.

16 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 3, 2015 at 11:44 am

I'm sorry but this guilt trip just annoys me. I'm not going to raise my kids to feel guilty about something they had no part in. As long as they treat everyone they come across the same, then that's what is all about as far as I am concerned. We do not have a race problem in Palo Alto, as far as I can see.

Yes, you're right, I may not get it.

But, should we also make others feel guilty about their past? We have people of German descent in Palo Alto. Should we make them feel guilty about the holocaust? We have people of Japanese descent in Palo Alto. Should we make them feel guilty about the horrors of WW2? We have people descended from English Protestants in Palo Alto? Should we make them feel guilty about the way they treated the Irish? We have people descended from Irish Catholics in Palo Alto? Should we make them feel guilty about how the IRA set up bombs in England? We have people descended from the French and the Russians, should we make them feel guilty how they killed innocent women and children just because they were rich and part of a ruling family?

No of course not. We should learn from the past yes. But we should stop this nonsense.

My white male children are not going to find it easy getting into colleges where equally educated black children get treated much more favorably. They are not going to get jobs in high tech companies where foreign nationals are much more likely to get the well paid jobs they are interested in. They are not going to be able to afford to live in Palo Alto because of overseas investors paying big bucks for "investment opportunities".

No, white privilege may or may not exist elsewhere in the country. But around here, it doesn't exist.

24 people like this
Posted by APriveledgedWhite
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 3, 2015 at 12:31 pm

I agree that a guilt trip gets us nowhere. However, I do think all of us need to become better educated about systemic racism and how it affects our society. The best source I know of is john a. powell a Professor at UC Berkeley Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. He takes the blame out and helps us understand racial tensions in a historical context.

Here is one interview which is an example of his eloquence and analysis:

Web Link

Another great quote I heard was from the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. She spoke at a Canopy event years ago and said it is not about Equality, it is about Equal Opportunity. Yes, some people are brighter than others, some people work harder than others, and yes, these people should be rewarded for their talents and efforts. However, I personally don't want a society that is stacked against people because of their race, gender, religion or whatever else that makes them different than me.

I would submit that our society will only get stronger if we collectively understand these distinctions between individual racism and structural racism and work to continuously improve our nation founded upon "liberty and justice for all."

15 people like this
Posted by Look Again
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 3, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Yes, there is racism in the US, especially the Deep South. But of all the different states and countries I have lived in and visited, California has the least of it, particularly the Bay Area. This is probably because educated and open- minded people are drawn to this area.

Europe, Asia and the Middle East are FAR more racist and sexist, too. I can't speak for Africa or South America because I have not been to either place yet.

4 people like this
Posted by @Look Again
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 3, 2015 at 12:57 pm

So have you been to the Central Valley? The area north and east of Sacramento? Anywhere in the so-called Inland Empire?

Trust me, your statement that "...of all the different states and countries I have lived in and visited, California has the least of it..." will need major revision.

102 people like this
Posted by Stella
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 3, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Good Gawd!

This is not about YOU, get over your bad self - you do not have to teach your children about whatever guilt you may/may not feel.

This is about recognizing systemic racism, it's direct results, and the many ongoing lingering effects.

"Yes, you're right, I may not get it."


10 people like this
Posted by dennis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 3, 2015 at 5:25 pm

There is plenty of racism, but it is not coming from the white community. Just go next door and I can tell of my experiences of seeing and experiencing East Palo Alto as I grew up, self destructing with the disappearance of Ravenswood High, banks, stores, and entire neighborhoods boarded up with iron bars to keep their own neighbors from stealing from each other. I remember our sports busses from Cubberley having their tires slashed and being called white trash and all sorts of profanity from Afro-American students as we jogged the track. Afro-American girls would beat white girls in the restrooms in high school when there was failed segregated bussing. I have been mugged, beaten, stabbed, and robbed, along with experiencing knowing multiple girls being raped, all by Afro-American men. In short it is the Afro-American communities of America that continue the legacy of racism with blame, denial, always playing the victim that continues it's plight of negating education, crime in their own neighborhoods; with more black on black murders than ever committed on them by whites. If the Afro-American leaders of America want to really change racist attitudes in our country they have to look no further than the nearest mirror and their own communities.

4 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 3, 2015 at 6:01 pm

The term "white privilege" was ginned up by progressive liberals in an attempt to lay a guilt trip on everyone who isn't "of color." It's the same group that profits from corporate "sensitivity training" classes designed to shame whites into taking responsibility for something that happened over 200 years ago. These same profiteers have infiltrated college campuses across the country spewing the tired, old vitriolic song and dance. "You're bad because you're white". "Your race has kept everyone else down." What garbage.

C Wilson George, who posted earlier in this thread has it right. In fact, the pendulum may have swung in the direction of racial favoritism for Blacks and Hispanics, but not for Asians (wonder why Asians don't get preferential minority treatment).

These so called "conversations on race" are all about placing blame on a single group (whites). None of these conversations ever address the inherent problems within the Black and Hispanic communities. I won't bother to list them. We all know what they are.

60 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 3, 2015 at 8:06 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

So many bigoted, disgusting, arrogant comments.

My thoughts run more along the lines of wanting to know what sort of security is provided for participants.

29 people like this
Posted by Be Kind PA
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Aug 4, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Be Kind PA is a registered user.

Unfortunately, most people do not understand the concept of "white privilege," and assume it means that whites are bad or should feel guilty. Understanding white privilege is about all of the non-obvious benefits whites have, simply by being white. It means knowing when you go into a store a sales person isn't going to ignore you, or worse, follow you around to make sure you don't steal anything. It means knowing when you walk into a room you are unlikely to be the only person of your race there. It means when you succeed, get promoted, or get accepted into a prestigious school no one assume it was because of affirmative action.

The goal is simply for white people to gain an understanding of what people of color experience. Only through awareness can we work toward mutual understanding an acceptance.

White privilege does NOT mean white guilt.

31 people like this
Posted by white male Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 4, 2015 at 1:51 pm

white male Palo Altan is a registered user.

It is not about guilt; it is about responsibility, and about understanding the impact of hundreds of years of oppression that people of color have experienced in this country, oppression that was and continues to be sustained by our institutions. Whether it was living during the period of enslavement, or following that, navigating the world of Jim Crow, or dealing with our contemporary policing and penal systems, there is no question that we whites have no idea what the lives of our brothers and sisters of color are like on a daily basis. I recommend reading, with an open mind and an open heart, "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It will change how you think about our society.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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