For four days next week, hundreds of people are expected to attend the White Privilege Conference, scheduled for March 9-12 at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Now in its 23rd year, the conference seeks to move racial dialog in the United States beyond issues of diversity and inclusion, conference founder Eddie Moore Jr. told QCity Metro.
“Our focus is on people who want to do stuff and really challenge themselves at a different level,” he said.
A career educator, Moore is founder and director of The Privilege Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Green Bay Wisconsin.
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Everyone has some degree of privilege, Moore says. The issue is whether privilege is used for good or for ill.
How would you describe the White Privilege Conference?
It’s a high-level conference designed for people who want to move beyond diversity and inclusion, kind of one-on-one entry-level conversations, and get into conversations about systemic power, systemic privilege, individual power, individual privilege, through the lens of examining white supremacy, white privilege and other forms of oppression.
What do you hope people will take away from the conference?
Three things. One, just some real challenging conversations, opportunities to have challenging conversations about what’s going on in our world and what we can do about it beyond just, “Can we get along?” Two, to do things about it, because what we can do individually can be different than what we do as a system, as an institution, but we’ve got to understand both those dynamics. And lastly, everybody’s got work to do. It’s not just about white people doing the work or one group of people doing the work. We argue everybody’s got privilege. And by understanding it, it’s not to say that that’s bad in every case. In fact, we argue if you understand privilege, you could actually do good things with it.
If we all have privilege, why call it the White Privilege Conference?
White Privilege Conference is the name because of the original design of our nation and how important white skin and white ideology and white policies, white conditions, white institutions — I mean, everything in the earliest designs of our nation was focused and centered in that narrow way as it relates to white. And so that’s where we start. But again, it expands out to gender, it expands out to religion, it expands out into ability and language. And so we really start with white just because that’s an essential part of how our nation got started.
This is your 23rd year hosting the conference. I’m not sure I had heard the term white privilege 23 years ago.
Yeah, that’s such a good point. Part of why I started the conference was because of that very reason as it relates to the topic. We had a lot of diversity conversations going on back in those days, but I felt like we needed to do more than, “Can we get along?” Diversity and those kinds of conversations are important; I’m not saying that that’s not an important thing to study and look at, but I felt like we had to, if we’re going to see some real systemic change, we had to go beyond diversity and look at white supremacy, white privilege and other forms of oppression.
How many people have registered so far in Charlotte?
Roughly roughly 600-plus. We are hoping to get 700 to 800. It’s the first time we’ve been gathered since the pandemic, but we’re excited. We got both a live version and a virtual version, and we’re just excited to be able to come back together face to face because we haven’t been able to do so for two years.
What can Charlotte attendees expect?
Workshops and speakers that are challenging, informative and action oriented. Topics related to local and regional issues and concerns with an emphasis on action. Diverse participants, diverse content, diverse art, music and spoken word, and a community of people committed to building relationships and having a positive impact individually and systematically.
In past years, what has been the racial makeup of the conference?
It depends on what state we’re in. So primarily, though, the consistent breakdown has been about 60% to 75% white and the other possible 40% to 25% people of color. Again, when we were in Iowa, it was 75-25. When we’re in Charlotte, possibly because of the more diverse populations in that area, in that region, we could see more 60-40.
We’re seeing a lot of pushback against phrases like white supremacy and the teaching of Critical Race Theory. What do you make of that?
Well, the good thing is, I’ve been practicing since 1999 dealing with that kind of resistance. It’s just a different form today. But keep in mind, as we mentioned earlier, this conversation, this conference, has been convening since the year 2000. And so we’ve had all kinds of resistance in different ways. Really, our model is, there are some pancakes you’ll never flip over. This conference is not for everybody; we understand that. This is America. People have the right to have a difference in opinion, but we’re not going to spend our energy with the most resistant folks. In fact, I believe, I argue, we have more good folks willing and ready to grapple with some of these issues. And sometimes they’re just looking for a space to do that. And that’s really where our focus is.
Has it always been called the White Privilege Conference?
Yes, since Day One. And the other thing that we remind people of is that we’ve always had young people. In fact, over the last 10 years, especially 15 years, we’ve always had high school kids ready and participating and wanting to learn more about this topic. Again, we’re not trying to convert them to thinking any different way or convince them to think like we believe. And so I think it’s worth mentioning how young people have always been a part of this conference. And yes, it’s always been named the White Privilege Conference.
What good has come out of the conference in the last 23 years?
Well, I think we mentioned it earlier. Twenty years ago, not a lot of people were talking about white privilege or even knew about white privilege, to be honest with you, and definitely not white supremacy. I think 25 years ago, when you said “white supremacy,” they thought you were talking about people wearing hoods and burning crosses. Now we know, based on some news events in our country, that people who believe and support white supremacy ideology actually wear suits and Polos and work in banks and work as educators, work as lawyers. So I think that this conference has been a great place to expose more people to the understanding of white supremacy and to be more aware that white supremacy is not just people wearing hoods.
And once they have that understanding, them what?
They could look at how they hire people, look at how they deal with some inequities and disparities; they can use that lens to go beyond, “Is it just a race problem? Is it just a black-white problem?” but to really look at, “Hey, this policy was designed with white supremacy ideology to be for white people, by white people. Maybe that’s why there hasn’t been change for 25 years, 50 years, 100 years.”
Are you optimistic when it comes to race relations in this country?
I like to say I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic; I’m what I call pesstimistic. Pesstimistic means I have a belief in things getting better, but I only believe that because I back it up with action. Pesstimistic means you’re optimistic and you’re taking action.
What would you say to Black people in terms of making racial progress?
We’ve made some progress, and there’s still some work to do. And the work is not just being in buildings, having jobs, but we need to look at some internal kinds of things as it relates to white supremacy and also looking at some ways that we can continue, as we move forward and ask for more progress and work towards more progress, to be more comprehensive, inclusive. I think the work of people of color, Black folks specifically, is really just being more collaborative and being also introspective and understanding the internal damage of white supremacy.
Can we help ourselves?
We must. It must be affinity groups, meaning Black on Black. But it’s also got to be multicultural groups. It’s got to be a combination of those things. We can’t work in silos anymore. Yes, we can help ourselves and be focused independently and in small groups, but we’ve got to have multicultural, collaborative kinds of frameworks as well.
What was the particular spark that caused you to launch this conference?
Well, I’ve just got to blame God. I’ve got to blame divine intervention. I never grew up thinking someday I’m going to be the founder of the White Privilege Conference. This conference is divinely inspired. I can’t really point to one incident, one thing. I just feel like, as I continue to grow in my education, something came to me to say we can do more, you can do more. And that’s really the seed from which the White Privilege Conference was planted and grown from. And that seed came from something far greater than me in my sleep, in my reflection. And I always say to kids, when your candle gets lit while you’re sleeping, never let anybody blow that candle out. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do — keep that candle lit for the rest of my life and doing the work no matter who tries to blow it out, because this candle was a divinely lit candle.