A Candid Conversation Between A White Woman And African American Woman About Racism With Ronita Johnson

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Here Justine Toms and her dear friend, African American and circle sister, Ronita Johnson engage in a most candid and revealing conversation on racism. Johnson has been most gracious with her time and talent to lead several groups in the summer and fall of 2020 to facilitate circles of frank and open conversations about racism. Justine has been part of several of these groups as a participant on the subject systemic racism and culture. This is a forthright and deep sharing between Justine, a white woman born into upper-middle class, and Ronita, an African American who has lived in the deep south and is the daughter of a preacher and civil rights activist. Here the two of us converse about what we've learned, what continues to scare us, and our hope for the future. Ronita says, “We have to realize that there's different treatment for different people depending on what they look like, depending on race. We have to talk about this because it's not going to go away like magic. There's no magic act here. There's no pulling the rabbit out of the hat. We have to grapple with this and it's not easy. It's painful. You mentioned creating a safe environment but that doesn't mean that it's going to be comfortable.” When asked how white people can become better allies to people of color, Ronita gives a sweeping list of things that people can do. First and foremost she says, “The first thing is become an antiracist, which means that you're not speaking from a place of neutrality when you say a nonracist, you have to say antiracist because that's an active word. It means you're not endorsing any kind of racial hierarchy or any kind of racial inequality. . . You need to understand your indoctrination, your socialization process. It is amazing to me how many white people don't know any black people, don't know any brown people, have never been around a black or brown people.” She ends our conversation by calling on the admonition of the late Representative and activist, John R. Lewis, who spoke about “good trouble . . . and said ‘if you see a wrong, be willing to speak up. Don't be silent. Don't be complacent.’ I think if we all took that on as a personal vow, all of us believing that we want to create a just society, I believe we could do it. But there hasn't been the momentum. There hasn't been the tenacity to keep going.” Hopefully this conversation will encourage many others to participate and seek out these kinds of deep dialogues. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


 Ronita Johnson has worked at the intersection of DEI which stands for diversity, equality, inclusion, and has been convening sacred circles for over 30 years. She cut her teeth in the corporate world as a first diversity manager in a large corporate organization in the 80s. Skilled in the practice of dialogue, she creates safe spaces for listening, learning, and self-reflection to bring conscious that which lies in shadow. In 2010, after a successful diversity consulting career, Ronita retired to devote all her energies to convening circles. She hosts online and in person circle gatherings, organic in nature and focused on authentic conversations toward excavating truth around life giving topics that matter. She, along with Justine Toms, are founding conveners of the Millionth Circle. She is also an original convener of Women Eradicating Racism and convener facilitator of Becoming Anti Racists.

Ronita Johnson is the author of:

  • Coming To Forgiveness: A Daughter’s Story Of Race, Rage And Religion (Ronita Johnson & Associates 2012)

She created and acts in the one woman show Forgivable.

To learn more about the work of Ronita Johnson go to www.embracedbycircle.com.

 Topics explored in this dialogue include:

  • How many white people are reluctant to speak candidly about racism for fear of saying the wrong thing and/or being offensive to people of color
  • How having frank conversations between whites and people of color can be safe but not comfortable
  • How Justine’s heart and eyes were opened to the truth of racism when watching the video of the murder of George Floyd
  • How the problem of racism isn’t just about a few bad actors; it is systemic
  • What will it take for America to stay “woke” and actually end racism
  • What is beyond the milestones of ending racism. What is the history of the struggles between the milestones of the 13th amendment, voting rights amendment, and desegregation legislation
  • What is the loophole that further enslaves people of color in the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution
  • What are the comparative statistics of fatal killings and suspects arrested and charged between whites and blacks
  • How are precious young black men removed from their communities
  • How is the school to prison pipeline unfairly targeting the black community
  • How the 9th Ward in New Orleans was unnecessarily bulldozed to make way for the gentrification of the neighborhood and displacing thousands of black businesses, schools, affordable housing, and people
  • What the Clippers basketball team coach, Doc Rivers, said, “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. ”
  • Why, up until now, Justine has not been paying attention to what was happening to blacks in this country
  • What happened to Ronita and her family when they moved back to Louisiana in 1953 when she was five and a half years old.
  • What was the strategy Ronita’s husband had to employ when stopped by a police officer while sitting in their car outside of their own home
  • How Ronita has to worry about her safety while even taking a walk in her predominately white neighborhood
  • How can white people become better allies to people of color
  • Why white people should not look for validation of their antiracism from people of color

 Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 8/26/2020   Program Number: 3709

Music Playlist

From Album:  Adventures in Afropea 1
Artist: Zap Mama

Opening Essay: Track 01 Mupepe
Music Break 1: Track 02 Bottom
Music Break 2: Track 04 Abadou
Music Break 3: Track 09 Din Din