Dear White People: POC Affinity Groups Are Not For You

Kathryn Gaudet '19

Kathryn Gaudet '19

Geethika Bathini '19

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Dear White People,

No, you’re not invited to affinity groups for people of color. Here’s why:

Affinity groups are used to bring together people who have a common identifier (race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender expressions, family structure). Anyone who can speak from the ‘I’ perspective is welcome in an affinity. In contrast, alliance groups bring together people who have a common commitment to an identifier group. Alliances welcome all individuals who either identify as members or support that specific group.

One argument against affinity groups is that some people feel they are exclusive. Affinity groups are not a way to segregate the people of the identifier, but rather a form of support. They facilitate safe spaces to build resilience, help members prepare to engage deeply with other groups, and empower each other to take action. Imagine always being the only or one of the few people of your race in your classes and teams. When you are consistently the minority, it is hard to find people who fully understand your experiences as a person of your race. Race-based affinity groups facilitate spaces where there is a critical mass that belongs to the identifier. Being surrounded with people of a common identifier allows people the safety and comfort to be authentic with an affirming and supportive group. It is possible that if there were people in an alliance meeting who did not belong to that identifier, members of the group may not feel comfortable to fully voice their opinion; therefore the group would not be able to facilitate the same type of authentic conversation possible in a closed setting.

Another argument against affinity groups is that “we are all the same” and “we should not try to separate ourselves through creating these groups”. While we are all human, calling everyone the same erases the unique experiences of individuals.

Multicultural Affinity (MCA) is an alliance at Worcester Academy which is open to all POC (people of color). In addition, we have many other affinities for more specific groups such as Black Student Union (BSU), South Asian Affinity Group (SAAG), Nuestra Voz, and White Students Against Racism (WSAR). Anyone who identifies with these groups is welcome to join or create a new group.

So no, you’re not invited to affinity groups for people of color, but if you still feel excluded or want a space to talk about race, White Students Against Racism is a place for you to voice that opinion. Students Activists and Allies (SAA) is also a group that all people are welcome to go to if you are interested in making the Worcester Academy community more inclusive to all people.

2 Comments

2 Responses to “Dear White People: POC Affinity Groups Are Not For You”

  1. Mark Richards on November 30th, 2017 8:47 am

    Many years ago in my early 20’s I took up residence in a “Cooperative Community Home”. We had an amazing mix of black, asian, white, and latino housemates. Although all of us were busy with jobs and school, we shared dinner together each week and joined in various activities. Deep friendships developed and with this, trust, respect, understanding, and human kindness.

    It wasn’t a utopia. All ’round us, trouble was brewing. In Dorchester and Roxbury, race riots were in full swing. As an Emergency Medical Technician, my ambulance was once pelted with rocks and I barely escaped injury from the stones and glass. The anger was boiling over and anyone even resembling “the man” (the authorities) was a target. Even the police were cautious patrolling the areas I worked. Made for some dramatic times.

    Irony: our home, and its cultural and ethnic mix, was a very safe space. Except, perhaps, when the dirty dishes and laundry piled up! (So much for the “cooperative” part, I often grumbled, dishrag in hand).

    I had no idea then, but today see the experience as a living laboratory which shaped my life and through which, upon healthy foundations, maturity bloomed. Such progress could not have happened in a vacuum.

    In present context, social maturity might be defined as an expression of human kindness and respect irregardless colour, race, clothing style, asset, liability, or anything else. I see that this is difficult to find in the American landscape, and in many other societies, where a mix of culture foments radical change, rather than assimilation and enhancement.

    This story is not intended to dampen the need for affinity. Such groups might provide opportunity to gain an understanding that we are not alone in meeting social challenges as these pertain to race and identity. However, it may be helpful to keep my story in mind, and to synthesize its lesson.

    Exclusivity and inclusion are polar opposites. Rather than having a focus on what we are not, let’s explore, within the common ground (note the reference to that central green of campus) of who we are, together.

    If we are to find peace among our differences, aim for the positive and seek that which is indeed common. Lacking inclusion, much may be lost, both for those who are shut out, and those behind the walls of a safe space.

    We have much to learn from one another. Let’s get started!

    [Reply]

  2. Andrew on December 7th, 2017 9:27 am

    You’re amazing, Geethika!

    [Reply]

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Dear White People: POC Affinity Groups Are Not For You