She didn’t see it coming. Writer Nanette D. Massey had been doing live workshops, mainly with Rochester-based professional groups, for around two years. The workshop is based on Robin D’Angelo’s New York Times best-selling book White Fragility, which explores what happens when white people’s assumptions about race are challenged and how that dynamic perpetuates racial inequality. Then the pandemic hit. Massey couldn’t imagine being able to conduct the workshops without a live audience so, although Zoom wasn’t her preference, she gave the platform a shot. She soon found that her workshops became even more popular, especially as the Black Lives Matter movement gained prominence this past summer. Now, it is not uncommon for 100 participants to sign up for her Sunday Zooms, which she populates through Eventbrite signups.
“The presentation is still based entirely on White Fragility,” Massey says. “Black people are still seen as nonscientific and unable to be ‘objective’ when it comes to talking about race. What I do is, I tell stories from my life, and I relate the experiences back to a specific term or idea in D’Angelo’s book.
“The basic issue is reminding white people that all the dancing around we have to do to talk with them about race and make them comfortable comes at the expense of black lives. They need to be able to listen to nonwhite people tell their/our stories.”
Massey’s workshops join an increasing number of webinars and other online events attempting to increase efforts toward anti-racism. Many reading this may have already participated in such an event through their workplaces. But this is different; Massey is not affiliated with any institution, and her DIY approach makes for a free discussion that sometimes surprises her. She recounts: “A white woman named Shelley logged into one of my Sundays for the first time a few months back. When I sent my email blast with the topic for the following week, she sent me back a nasty email saying I was anti-white, that if I expect white people to climb on board I ought to talk nicer, and that she would never, thank you very much, return to one of my sessions. Shelley hasn’t missed one of my Sundays since.”
Massey is working on her own book as she continues her Zooms. Visit her website, nanettedmassey.com for information about her workshops.