UpROOTing Racism & Undoing Oppression: A New Approach

Photo: Jasmine Roberts

By Keryl McCord and Ashley Walden Davis | August 3, 2017

Back to the Basics, Down to the ROOTS. That’s the theme for the 41st ROOTS Week Annual Meeting and Artists’ Retreat. This means we will focus on a core part of our mission, “eliminating all forms of oppression.” Eliminating all forms of oppression means that our country must face race, America’s original sin, while being mindful of the ways that multiple systems of oppression are at play, including sexism and transphobia, classism and ableism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and xenophobia. In the era of Trumpism and increased visibility of hate groups, this year the urgency of this part of our mission feels more important than ever.

Several years ago ROOTS committed to offering UpROOTing Racism and Undoing Oppression training at each ROOTS Week. We contracted outside facilitators to conduct these sessions and from the feedback, we recognized that members really wanted to do this work ourselves. This is the work many of our members are engaged in throughout the year, and so ROOTS members believed that, as the saying goes: everything we needed was in our own house. Moreover, we as a community know ourselves better than anyone else, we know the nuances of the ROOTS Week environment – the old wounds that need healing, the histories of specific triggers and hurts. Who better to do the work of UpROOTing Oppressions than our members? Finally, we were hearing the importance of providing several entry points to this work, so that we were supporting the needs of those who might be new to it, and offer something for those who have been in the room for the past forty-one years.

This Year’s Training: What to Expect

Thus we set out to design an UpROOTing Racism and Undoing Oppression training that would be impactful for the entire Alternate ROOTS community, that honored our values and principles, and nurtured our vision of how we share space and interact with one another. Early this year, a planning team was assembled including ROOTS general and voting members as well as representatives from the ExComm and staff. This team led us to an overall framework and approach, and then invited additional ROOTS members in to serve as facilitators at ROOTS Week. Everyone involved is engaged in anti-oppression facilitation in their own work and communities year-round, and we’re envisioning facilitators as guides rather than experts, knowing that participants come to this work with a great deal of collective knowledge.

This year we have created a learning environment for everyone to enter the process wherever they are. The training is designed to have smaller group learning and space for sharing around these difficult, uncomfortable issues. Throughout the week there will be two all-conference sessions – an introductory and closing session – as well as four 90-minute small group breakout sessions. The sessions will explore personal relationships to racism, systemic and institutional racism, analysis of intersectional oppression, as well as first responder tools and strategies to resist racism. You can see your program insert for more detailed descriptions of each session.

ROOTS Week is a Healing Space and a Haven

As we move into the difficult, vital work of UpROOTing Racism and Undoing Oppressions together, we invite you to keep in mind the specific environment of ROOTS Week. In the weeks and days leading up to our Annual Meeting, there are a flurry of calls, emails, and texts that all exclaim – is there still a chance for me to come? I have to be there! Is there any room left? I’ll sleep on the floor! What can I do? I need this! The flurry continues at ROOTS Week; people just show up. And we think: ROOTS Week is a space for those in need of healing, and it is a haven for those in need of community.

This year we sense an urgency to gather in ways that are different than in past years. There’s a hunger to connect, to be with those who share our values about and commitment to art, community, and activism. The extremists and right wing appear to be more organized than ever – weekly or monthly organizing meetings and broad legislative strategy around issues that often are antithetical to our lives, our communities.

Our community is experiencing crisis and trauma in this chaotic political environment. And we, our beloved ROOTS community, are experiencing these things in isolation from one another. We may catch up with each other at various conferences a couple times a year if we’re lucky. But this place in the mountains, ROOTS Week, this is ours. And as we catch our collective breaths, heal and hope, and make art, as we love, and hug, we must also fortify ourselves with knowledge.

We will bring our values, our whole selves, operating from a place of love and best intentions. But we are also a microcosm of the world that we live in. We have not perfected eliminating all forms of oppression – namely, capitalism, sexism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, patriarchy, and class oppression – which affects how we show up and are able to be with one another.

But we are on the journey. We are on a journey to continue to transform Alternate ROOTS from the inside out and create a community and practices that reflect our values that we can in turn continue sharing outward, to, as Adrienne Maree Brown says, create a world that doesn’t yet exist. A world where everyone thrives, a world rooted in equity and justice.

Alternate ROOTS supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in communities of place, tradition or spirit. We are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. As Alternate ROOTS, we call for social and economic justice and are working to dismantle all forms of oppression—everywhere.