The following article is by John Bonnice, Chair of the O’Sullivan Centre Board. John is also Co-Chair of the Bendigo Reconciliation Committee and is a facilitator of forums on organisational white privilege, cultural self-reflection sessions and Conversation Circles
During Reconciliation Week in May 2018, the Bendigo Reconciliation Committee organised a range of Conversation Circles with the focus on creating dialogue between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal around issues of mutual concern.
One of the Conversation Circles centred on exploring what it means for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and agencies to work in partnership. In exploring the issue of partnership, it quickly emerged from the feedback of Aboriginal people present in the Conversation Circle that a key barrier to true partnership between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people/agencies was the failure of mainstream organisations to recognise and address the impact of organisational white privilege that exists in mainstream organisations.
Whilst it is commonly recognised that white privilege exists for individuals, the issue of white privilege existing for mainstream organisations is not recognised, discussed or explored. It was agreed at the Conversation Circle in May 2018 that there was a need for a resource that enabled mainstream organisations to start the process of reflecting on their ‘organisational white privilege’, the benefits that exists for organisations by virtue of this privilege and also a resource that supported actions which addressed the impact of ‘organisational white privilege’. The Bendigo Reconciliation Committee worked on the development of such a resource which was completed in September 2018. The resource was titled ‘Identifying and Addressing Organisational White Privilege’.
The aim of the resource is to support organisations in exploring the nature of organisational white privilege, the circumstances in which it exists and provide some questions that organisations could use to explore their ‘organisational white privilege’ and its impact on Aboriginal people. It has been hoped from these discussions within organisations that this will lead to actions which address the impact of‘organisational white privilege’.
To see the resource link to https://innovativeresources.org/exploring-organisational-white-privilege/
The Bendigo Reconciliation Committee distributed the resource to over 150 organisations across Victoria inviting organisations to work with the Committee in using the document in their organisation. It was also distributed to over 12,000 subscribers to the St Luke’s Innovative Resources online newsletter. The response to the resource was very revealing. The feedback from Aboriginal workers and leaders was highly supportive of the resource and the need for organisations to explore the issues raised. Comments included:
The reflections from Aboriginal people on organisational white privilege highlights the ingrained nature of this privilege. Examples include:
The response from mainstream organisations was very mixed. There was support from individual workers who committed to passing on the resource to their senior management. However, the response from the senior leadership of mainstream organisations was extremely limited. Through contact with organisations about the resource it seemed there was an indifference to engage on the issue bordering on blatant reluctance. Yet, many of these organisations profess to being culturally competent. It has been a slow process to get organisations to reflect on the issue of white privilege.
In addition to the resource, the Bendigo Reconciliation Committee has developed a 2-hour workshop for organisations to explore the issue of ‘organisational white privilege’ using the resource as the basis for the discussions. The workshop focuses on the following areas:
In 2019, the Bendigo Reconciliation Committee has conducted the organisational white privilege workshop with 7 individual agencies plus 4 other workshops involving multiple organisations.
Discussions during these workshops the following has emerged:
The workshops have also highlighted a range of actions that organisations could do in the future to address organisational white privilege. These included:
In summary, the workshops have highlighted how much work needs to be done by organisations in addressing organisational white privilege and the current lack of thinking on this issue.
For further information on the resource ‘Identifyingand Addressing Organisational White Privilege’ and how your organisation may start on the journey of reflecting on organisational white privilege please contact John Bonnice on firstname.lastname@example.org