In June Donna Minter, founder and executive director of the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute, was at a racial healing conference in Virginia where she met David Campt, a national figure in the conversation on racial equality.
“I went through a version of his White Ally Toolkit training,” she said. “It was like, ‘OK, now I have some very practical strategies about how to open up positive, productive conversations with the racism skeptics in my life.’
“I said to myself, ‘I’ll bet there are some people in the Twin Cities who really want to take this training.’ There are a lot of white folks who want to do the right thing and don’t know how and need guidance.”
A link on the institute’s website (mnpeace.org/events.html) lists appearances Campt will be making. The first is at a pay-what-you-can seminar 7 p.m. Thursday at Faith Mennonite Church, 2720 E. 22nd St., Minneapolis.
Campt served on President Bill Clinton’s White House Initiative on Race. It faced resistance from staffers “who didn’t think the issue was a good idea,” said Campt, whose workshops have a low quotient of white guilt. “The theory of change is that that happens through private conversations with other white people who, either because of familial acquaintances or family connections, have built up trust with those people.
“White people who believe racism is real [sometimes] use strategies that tend to undermine trust, not build it,” he added. “They tend to precisely use things that we know are not persuasive. The idea is to teach people those skills and a little bit of practice in using those skills so they can go out and do that work.”
I reached out to Campt, aka @thedialogueguy on Twitter, for enlightenment.
Q: Is the name the White Ally Toolkit ever off-putting?
A: Yes, that’s why it has an alternative name, the Ally Conversation Toolkit. If you notice, it has the acronym ACT. There are a couple reasons for having a dual name, new branding. One is there are a whole lot of companies who would not like to sign a check over to [laughter] to a group called White-something. Also, the method of engaging this topic could be applied to other topics: men around sexism, straights around homophobia, and you can go down the list. Over time, the project will expand to those, but I am first trying to get the race piece done.
Q: I’m going to guess that a lot of white people are not interested in the tool kit.
A: As polling data shows, something on the order of 55 percent of white people don’t think racism is real or think racism against white people is just as big of a social problem. That is a fact that guides the project. The goal is to shift that 55 percent to 45 percent by 2025. That’s not going to happen by everybody going to a workshop. That’s going to happen from tens of millions of conversations between white people where there is no facilitator, no people of color present.
The goal of the project is not to reach every white person directly but to reach the 45 percent and equip them with good conversational tools to be more persuasive to the 55 percent.
Q: Have you been called the White People’s Whisperer any place beside other than “TDS”?
A: [Five seconds of full laughter.] A couple friends sometimes call me that. One of the friend’s cousin works on “The Daily Show.” That’s why I got on “The Daily Show.”
Q: When you agree to go on “TDS,” does a producer tell you to do your thing and ignore the fact that a comedian like Desi Lydic is being obnoxious and offensive? I thought she missed the mark with your appearance.
A: Oh, wow. You didn’t like it? [Hysterical laughter.] That’s interesting. People vary so much in their reactions! What really happened is a friend of mine and I wrote the script and their writers got hold of it and there was some ad-libbing in the moment. I’m sorry it didn’t work for you. It worked for a lot of people. [Laughter]
It certainly is the case in the minds of the original producers and my mind as the ultimate writer that comedy is going to come primarily from me playing the straight person role and her doing the comedy. She played the role of clueless and not getting the point.
Q: What explains the popularity of blackface in 21st-century design by Prada, Gucci, the people who came up with the blackface design for Katy Perry shoes and the Burberry noose hoodie?
A: I will not portray myself as a broad interpreter of fashion. There’s always been this weird relationship with blackness in the culture. You know that expression “People like black culture but don’t like black people”? There’s always that. Part of that is fetishizing of the culture because, to a lot of white folks, we seem more authentic, more real, cooler, but that admiration gets mixed in with jealousy and disdain and diminishment. …
Part of what’s going on with the blackface craziness is people can’t do blackface anymore. Anything that smacks of that becomes verboten. … You still want to touch blackness — ask Iggy Azalea and people like her, you want to come up to it and touch it and be around it and embody it — but you can’t put the makeup on your face. … Then it comes out in these weird products. And since there [is] no black person in the room bringing any kind of sensibility or sense of appropriateness to what’s going to go down in the marketplace, you get these stupid decisions.
Q: How did that t, which comes out of nowhere, end up on your surname?
A: I have no idea. One goals is to look into that. I found a document of my great-grandfather’s without the t.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.