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Last Saturday my organization hosted a half-day Summit. Our Summits are a time for us to hear back from the community, spend time unpacking interesting information and thoughts, and charting our way forward. For this event, the group decided to explore what our histories look like. Not textbook histories like WWI, civil rights movement, etc. We took a more nuanced look at how our personal histories inform our futures. One of the questions Jondou and our group came up with is forward-looking, but informed by our past (slightly edited): “What will be the consequences if we do not address racism and injustice?”
We live in a society where the consequences of racism are with us. Here is a short list of consequences of not addressing racism. But before we all get too depressed and stop reading after number one, I’ve also included possible ways to disrupt racism and create better futures for ourselves, pocs and white people. As a side note, these weren’t answers that came out of the Summit, these are my thoughts on the prompt.
One. We will cease to exist. If we do not address racism communities of color, our ties to place such as South Seattle, our ways of life will no longer exist. Forces such as gentrification and displacement will go unchecked and our communities will no longer exist as we know them, we will be systematically erased.
Disruption: Exist, simply existing and holding space for communities of color to authentically be ourselves is important. Jondou shared a story of how his family and another multi-racial family had a picnic in a park and how good it felt to be together and holding space despite the gentrification around them. For white allies do your part, allow community groups to use your space to meet (discount or gift space to poc led and embedded groups), invest money into poc embedded organizations, shop at poc owned businesses.
Two. Whiteness continues. Unchecked racism means we cater to and assimilate into white norms. Many people of color consciously or unconsciously cater to and assimilate into white norms, it is how we need to function to not get beat down every day. This is racism at work in an underhanded and slight way.
Disruption: Call out whiteness. Calling out whiteness can be as simple as saying “I would like to invite a poc to answer the question first. If they pass that is fine, but having a poc answer first will allow us to center people of color’s thoughts.” Calling out whiteness can also be looking at where we need to focus on pocs, such as who is represented in data and is that dataset hiding people of color.
Three. We follow noise vs. substances of issues. Racism thrives on noise and echo chambers. Not to minimize the current injustices and atrocities facing families separated at the border – it must stop, but there is so much noise in the debate. Today’s noise in the news cycle about it is the coat Melania Trump wore which on the back said: “I Really Don’t Care.” Don’t get me wrong it is offensive, but if we’re focused on that noise and not paying attention to the substance on how the hell ‘we’ as a collective society allowed families to be separated to begin with is where racism thrives.
Disruption: Focus on the substance of an issue and listen to what people of color are saying. Take time to dig deeper and figure out where the systemic issues around race play into a topic.
Four. Colonization mentality runs rampant. If we leave racism uncheck modern day colonizing forces, such as wealthy people and their companies will seep in and change our ways of thinking and being, just like in all of the teen dystopian novels that are on summer reading list (e.g. The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.) where we all comport or have to conform to other’s norms.
Disruption Four. Learn about colonization and work to undo it. Colonization sounds like this gigantic force that overtakes communities. It can be that way and it can also show up in smaller ways, learn about it. Watch this short video about Standing Rock and how settler colonialism shows up. (Thanks to Heidi for sharing the video.) Work to undo colonizing tendencies, start small by learning the Indigenous place names for where you plan on traveling or where you live. Such as I learned that where I live in Seattle used to be known as the green-yellow-long-spine, I need to dig deeper to learn more including the actual Duwamish place name, it takes a bit of work but through the effort I’ll learn something new.
Five. We become less healthy. Unchecked racism has already changed the way many communities eat. Native Americans and Indigenous people have lost traditional foraging and hunting grounds, the salmon runs that sustained them since time immoral are now decimated. If I also think about health in the global sense of the word food and connections lead to healthier societies. In communities that are more tightly bonded, even if they are poor, their health outcomes are greater, people report they are happier and live longer. Racism thrives on isolating people and creating enemies where they didn’t exist before. It thrives on finding weaknesses and exploiting the weaknesses to create a sense of othering versus belonging, when this happens we all become less healthy.
Six. We stop aiming for better and we stop dreaming. Racism is great at reminding us to stay in our places. It hurts whites and people of color when we do this. A few weeks ago in a planning meeting Jondou put up the prompt “How will we know when we have educational justice? What will it look, feel, taste, smell, or sound like?” I honestly said I couldn’t think of an answer because I spend so much time trying to stop bad policies and practices from happening I don’t spend time envisioning a better future. Perhaps I’m also afraid I’m inadequate to answer that question which is a function of racism too, who has the right to define our futures?
Disruption: Start dreaming by listening. Listen to people of color and don’t dismiss what we have to say. You may not agree but check your biases and do your part by listening without dismissing, and examine without defense.
We have the power to combat racism every day. It isn’t hard but in the spirit of Color Brave Space we have to be kind and brave in calling it out and acting to correct it.
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