As practiced by Christina Holmgren and Jayne Sommers
Episode at a glance:
>> 0:01. Christina Holmgren asks: How might white women build genuine, trusting relationships so that black women can trust them as allies?
>> 02:30. My unanticipated realization about how my collusion with white supremacist culture affected my students’ understanding of race and power — and how I wasn’t attentive enough to realize it at the time. My thinking is influenced by the work of Christina Holmgren and Jayne Sommers, as well as by the podcast Scene on Radio. I develop a new (and helpful) understanding of the tension between my teaching choices and students’ agency.
>>09:58. Christina is a Black, cis-gender woman, scholar, and educator with over a decade of experience working within higher education. Her leadership experience includes the recruitment and retention of diverse student populations, with a focus on accessibility, inclusivity, and equity. She currently works as the Program Manager of the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she also serves as an adjunct instructor of advocacy, changemaking, and student development theory education. Her scholarship and research interests include racial and social identity development, trauma-informed pedagogical practice, Black feminist thought, and culturally sustaining pedagogy.
>>10:49. Jayne Sommers is a white, cisgender woman. She’s also an educator, scholar, parent, partner, and community member. Prior to becoming a full-time faculty member, Jayne spent a decade working in undergraduate student-facing positions at a number of higher education institutions. Her current appointment as an Associate Professor in the department of Educational Leadership at the University of St. Thomas allows her to pursue her teaching and scholarly interests, which coalesce around transforming education to serve, honor, and center the lived experiences of historically excluded populations. Jayne works in community with others to identify, resist, and interrupt the exclusionary influences of white supremacy, heteronormativity, and ableism in higher education.
>> 12:53. Jayne Sommers and Christina Holmgren kick off their conversation about interracial feminist co-mentoring as a disruption to white supremacist culture. The foundation of a successful co-mentoring relationship is black women and white women sharing power and partnering in that relationship. This involves recognition of the historical trauma black women have experienced, and the roles white women play in creating and sustaining that trauma.
>>16:27. Christina describes her experiences in higher ed as continuously learning how to negotiate her sense of self and agency while simultaneously carrying the emotional labor of navigating white spaces. These experiences are not only individually isolating for Christina — they are also normalized in the history (and current moments) of higher ed. The structural avoidance of black women’s voices and experiences is part of what prompted Christina to tackle the problem of the relationships between black women and white women in higher ed.
>>18:39. Jayne describes her path as a faculty member has felt isolated, which has come from knowing what feels wrong about higher education and feeling like she hasn’t been able to find collaborators to do that thinking with her. She was shaped by her early training in feminism, which she understands now as ignoring the ways that the lives of women and color are affected by the intersection of racism and sexism. She now is committed to interrogating how her socialization as a white person into white supremacist culture shows up in her teaching, research, writing, advising, and her personal relationships.
>> 20:50. Jayne begins to tell the story of how this paper on interracial feminist co-mentoring came into being. Christina was not looking for a mentor when the two of them began working together, and she explains her early personal suspicion of Jayne’s request to work together, contextualizing her suspicion within the structural and historical ways white women have treated her in higher ed.
>> 24:56. Christina lays out the conditions she established early in their working relationship: that Jayne would take on the work of dismantling white supremacist culture on her own without requiring Christina’s participation, and that Christina could show up authentically in her own writing.
>>27:12. Jayne connects these ideas to colonialism and white saviorism, which ignore the knowledge, experiences, and agency of people of color, arguing that traditional mentoring relationships replicate those traditional and harmful ways of thinking and being.
>>30:26. Christina shares that in this case, she felt able to build trust with Jayne because she openly, and without defense named her own lens as a white woman and acknowledged her blind spots. Jayne describes this as a much-needed paradigm shift away from traditional white feminism, which historically ignores the lived experiences of women of color.
>>32.04. Christina introduces Tema Okun’s work on white supremacist ideology, including the tenets of perfectionism and the competitive, compulsive need to know everything, both of which lead white women to disbelieve things outside of their personal experience. This way of knowing serves to gaslight black women who are told their experiences aren’t true or don’t matter.
>> 33:33. Jayne addresses how additional tenets of white supremacist ideology — such as the worship of the written word, the sense of urgency that serves to prioritize individual work over communal work, and quantity over quality — are upheld in higher education and function as gatekeeping. It can feel like a risk to try to navigate higher ed, especially the tenure and promotion process, in any other way or to embrace a collaborative approach.
>> 35:33. Christina emphasizes the need for white women to share power, which can feel like a risk to white women who have been socialized within academia. She is unequivocal about the necessity to re-distribute power within interracial feminist co-mentoring relationships. She reminds us of the impossibility of saying that you want to be an ally and that you want an inclusive campus culture if you’re not willing to give up something to make space for someone else. She also reminds us that this work on equity is not comfortable: it’s a radical dismantling of oppressive structures that work to take power from black, brown, and queer folks.
>>37:12. Jayne discusses the idea of comfort, and white women’s socialization to racial comfort at the expense of black women. Because white women become uncomfortable when we’re challenged to consider not just black women’s race, but ours as well, the intersection of white supremacist culture in higher education and sexism make it very difficult to build the kind of relationship that she and Christina have.
>> 41:41. Christina’s condition for working with white women — that their words must align with their actions in both public and private spaces — prompts Jayne to argue that if white women are interested in increasing the representation of black women in faculty and administrative roles in higher education, we need to be constantly and consciously committed to educating ourselves about how white supremacist ideology shows up in higher education. We can’t truly do that until we understand how it has influenced our personal journeys and individual relationships. In other words, we have to go “in.”
>> 43:13. Christina argues that unless white folks start doing the necessary work to dismantle oppressive structures within higher education, black and brown folks will continue to be systemically excluded. And a part of that work is making space for those from historically excluded backgrounds and elevating their experiences to a larger scale. And this is why a feminist co-mentoring approach can be so transformative. It disassembles this misconstrued ideal of the objective intellectual and it really inserts the emotional experiences of those in academia, particularly those experiencing oppressive structures. So it can be mutually beneficial and empowering for black and white women to show up for each other. The key, though, is recognizing that both parties bring value to the space and can learn from each other.
>>45:10. Jayne and Christina discuss the challenges for white women to show up not just with eagerness but with authenticity and a genuine interest in establishing relationship. Black women need to see that white women show up as genuine allies in public spaces and not just private ones.
>> 48:14. I ask Jayne and Christina to speak to the dismantling of the white supremacist culture at historically white institutions. Jayne talks about the insidiousness of individualism and sense of urgency that higher ed perpetuates, which makes it look challenging to slow down and do deliberative, collaborative work in community. Christina reminds us that the job of dismantling white supremacy is a job for white folks and others who hold privileged identities.
>> 53:01. I ask Jayne to address the interplay of individualism and racism by helping white folks on college campuses understand how they can intervene. What does the work actually look like? Jayne’s answer? It begins with humility. Christina adds that white women need to accept that there are limits to their understanding of black women’s experiences. Jayne posits that these this ability to acknowledge the limits of understanding for white women are the counterpart to the boundaries black women set. Christina emphasizes how much this being in community is liberating.
Readings and resources:
White Supremacy Culture – Still Here, by Tema Okun: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XR_7M_9qa64zZ00_JyFVTAjmjVU-uSz8/view
Tema Okun’s White Supremacy Culture website: https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/
Scene on Radio: Seeing White https://www.sceneonradio.org/seeing-white/
Some Thoughts on Mercy, by Ross Gay. https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/451/some-thoughts-on-mercy
Peggy McIntosh’s Knapsack of Privilege https://psychology.umbc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/57/2016/10/White-Privilege_McIntosh-1989.pdf
Contact Christina at email@example.com
Contact Jayne at firstname.lastname@example.org
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